As early school dropout rates in Tanzania continue to be a major problem both in villages and towns alike, a vocational training college is getting to the root of the problem by turning learners into ‘studentpreneurs’ , using a self-sufficiency model where the education pays for itself.
The project is being carried out by the Professional College of Njombe, which has been recruiting girls and boys from rural areas – between the ages 16 to 20 – who have dropped out of school after primary or early secondary education. It is giving them a second chance to gain theoretical and practical skills, while at the same time earning and saving money. Evarist Bikorwomuhangi, the college’s General Manager says eliminating the burden of school tuition/fees and giving students more self-confidence is the key to solving the country’s school dropout problem.
“It can be observed on the ground that most of the people who have dropped out of school are at adult age but can hardly engage in meaningful activities to enhance production and contribute to the overall development of the country,” Bikorwomuhangi says.
Students are taught practical skills such as carpentry, agriculture, masonry and brick laying – they hope to also offer electricity, mechanics, plumbing and driving next year. And, in addition to main courses, they also teach information and communication technology, computer applications, English and communication skills, entrepreneurship, life skills, engineering science and mathematics.
What is unique about the project is that as well as teaching students these skills; they are also given the opportunity to sell what they create at college and confidently negotiate for better prices and services.
Bikorwomuhangi explains: “The students first undergo instruction on how to market and sell through the help of the entrepreneurship teacher and marketing manager. We have a school shop through which some of the products are sold by the students. After the teaching and instruction in the school shop, the students then sell among the local community surrounding the school and in Njombe town.”
Not only does this allow for the education to pay for itself, students are left with money for themselves and are in turn taught about earning, saving and investing.
“There are a number of success stories from the institution. We are able to sell about 10 million Tanzanian shillings worth of furniture products per month, broiler chickens at about 7 million per month, and vegetables and fruits at an average of 2.5 million. All these are undertaken by the students in terms of production and sales,” Bikorwomuhangi explains.
“We have challenges too, but our successes far outweigh our challenges and we are on the upward trend and look forward to growing all our business lines further and introducing new ones.”
Bikorwomuhangi believes this is an approach that can be successful in other regions and countries throughout Africa. For those looking for some quick tips, he offers the following advice:
- Start now rather than tomorrow.
- Do market research and understand what sells most and how best to sell it.
- Develop good relationships with the community around the institution.
- Invest in quality and build a customer database to keep them informed about what is happening.
- Share the model with the community and make them know the real value being created by the institution and the kind of help the learners are receiving.
- Be effective in their production and deliveries to reduce the chances of competitors taking over the business.
- Ensure teachers, students, fellow employees and management fully understand the model.
Evarist Bikorwomuhangi will be sharing more project insights – successes, challenges and advice – at the eLearning Africa Conference, taking place from May 20 – 22, 2015, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.