Scholarly Technical Education Publication Series (STEPS) Vol. 3

Community Attitudes towards Vol. 3 2017 Technical/Vocational Skills on Youth Enrollment for Skills Training: A Case of Youth Polytechnics in Kiambu County, Kenya


    Peninah W. Kamau
    Dolphine O. Wanga
    Castro N. Gichuki
    Department of Applied Community Development Studies, Egerton University, Kenya


Education and appropriate skills training are key ingredients to individual and national development. Inadequate development level in Vocational Education (TVET) in a country, leads to poor industrial development. In Kenya, the technical/vocational education offered before independence created a negative attitude where few students opt for technical/vocational education. This hampers creativity, innovation and acquisition of entrepreneurial skills which are vital to the development of technologies that would lead to rural industrialization. Youth polytechnics have been identified as major centers for youth development and training, yet have very low enrollment. This study investigated community attitudes towards vocational education on students’ enrollment for training in youth polytechnics in Kiambu County, Kenya. The population of the study included community members from Gatundu district. Purposive, sampling techniques were used to select the study sample. An interview schedule was the instrument used for data collection. Content analysis was applied on the qualitative data collected. Findings indicated, negative community attitudes and poor image on youth polytechnics as reasons for low enrollment levels. These findings are likely to stimulate action on restructuring the management of youth polytechnics to raise public appeal.


According to the Skills Gap Analysis Report of the Government of Kenya (2012) and the Kenya youth policy paper (RoK 2007), seventy five percent (75%) of the population in Kenya are youth, and only 39% of this population are absorbed in the job market leaving the rest unemployed. Majority of the youth are found in the rural areas and due to the scarce resources they migrate to towns to compete for the scarce job opportunities. They end up in the slums where they are vulnerable to recruitment into gangs and militia groups to eke out a living. Upon realizing this, the Government of Kenya is in the process of restructuring technical/vocational education with emphasis on the crucial role of youth polytechnics (RoK, 2007). This training will harness the creativity and innovativeness of the youth through relevant education and skills training programs. Ultimately, it will prepare the country in focusing on realization of the millennium development goals and Kenya Vision 2030. The youth polytechnics (YPS) have been initiated not only to solve the problem of unemployment but also to offer an alternative path way for attainment of skills under the technical, industrial and vocational education and training program.

Geert (2008) defines Technical, Industrial, Vocational, Entrepreneurship Training (TIVET) program as a form of education which mainly leads participants into the acquisition of practical skills know-how and attitude necessary for employment in a particular occupation, group of occupations or self employment. Its main role of providing skills that improve productivity, raise income levels and improve access to employability has been widely recognized. Bonn resolution (UNDP, 2004) emphasize the importance of TIVET as a ‘master key’ for alleviating poverty, promotion of peace and environmental conservation to improve quality of human life and promote sustainable development in Africa.

According to Nyerere (2009) TIVET institutions in Kenya comprise of technical training institutions (TTIs), demonstration centers, Youth Polytechnics (YPs), Institutes of technology (ITs) and National youth service skills development centers. These institutions were established to offer TIVET education programs. Kenya’s political violence in December 2007 exposed the threat of a large population of unskilled and unemployed youth amidst growing poverty. To address some of the underlying problems the government made an initiative of reviving the youth polytechnics in the country.

There are over 700 youth polytechnics in Kenya but only 639 are registered with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and sports as vocational training centers. Out of this number, 134 are private while 505 are government-owned. The courses offered in the youth polytechnics include: fashion & garment making technology, building technology, hair and beauty, carpentry and joinery, welding technology, electrical installation and wiring, information technology, agri-business and entrepreneurship. Nyerere, (2009) points out that out of a youth population of 75%, a total of 61% are unemployed and have no employable skills majority living in the rural areas and urban slums.

Community Attitude Towards Technical/Vocational Skills

The negative attitude towards vocational education dates back to the colonial history of Kenya. Academic education was perceived to have a higher social status than vocational education. This also means that they generate opportunities that attracted higher wages in white collar jobs, creating a stereotype that those working under the technical field are second-class workers. (Bogonko, 1992). The report from the Government of the Republic of Kenya (1999) points out that the vocational education introduced in Kenya before independence helped its graduates to perform subordinate tasks while foreigners supervised them. This created a negative attitude and as a result few students opt for vocational education especially in rural areas. This, therefore, would cripple creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial skills, which are vital to the development of technologies that lead to industrialization.

According to Kinyanjui (2007), a negative attitude towards vocational education is not only among the community members, but also manifested among teachers/ instructors and learners as they feel inadequate academically. This acts against effective mentorship from the teachers. The lack of business mentors or positive role models within the rural set up whom the youth can look upon with admiration, reinforces this perception. Having been used to a curriculum that is too academic and theoretical, the youth have developed a culture of dislike for practical based courses. This may have militated against the concept of self employment and rural industrialization propagated by vocational training through youth polytechnics. The optional nature of technical subjects in secondary education tends to create the impression that the non-technical subjects are more important. This attitude is strengthened by the recurrent inadequate budgetary allocation by the government to TIVETs and the recent developments where technical institutions and national polytechnics are being transformed into universities to offer non-technical subjects (Muindi, 2011). The fact that technical/vocational education is not well established in the public Universities reinforces the attitude as observed by Mahinda and Mcleanard (2004).

Ngerechi, (2005) argues that for Kenya to cater for the changing technological systems and economic development, a change of attitude towards vocational education must be addressed. The author further suggests that TIVET education system should not create inequalities in the education system. Instead it should provide good quality vocational education and training comparable to general academic education to avoid suspicion on quality by the society and raise public appeal. The skills gap analysis report published by the Government of Kenya (2011) finds that the buildings and other teaching learning resources in public youth polytechnics are in poor condition compared to other public learning institutions. This could also create an impression that the youth polytechnics are of less importance as training institutions. Tilak (2006) observed that vocational education is an equity measure with a rural bias; it allows the rural community to acquire skills, develop talents and creativity. It serves the needs of the relatively poor by providing employment opportunities within the rural set up. However, contrary to the foregoing argument, the low enrolment seems to suggest otherwise.

In 1985 Kenya introduced a new education system where students would take 8 years in primary school, four years in secondary school and four at the university, hence the term 8-4- 4-education system. The system was introduced to inculcate knowledge, skills and attitudes, which would change their perceptions and prepare the youth for the world of work (Obura 1996). However, technical education at primary school does not exist at present, while at secondary school level technical subjects are optional, and only few students opt for the subjects due to negative attitude and the cost burden (ROK, 2006). The community was also supposed to contribute towards the cost of offering technical subjects, which meant more financial burden on the parents.

This strategy was meant to help the society understand vocational training better (ROK, 1991).Technical/Vocational education has not recovered from the tainted image as it is still seen as low quality education. Semejju (2004) suggests that community involvement would create a better understanding of the socio-economic benefits of the youth polytechnics to the development of the catchment area. Community involvement promotes a sense of ownership and increases accountability to avoid misuse of resources. The community may also be involved in curriculum design and implementation to ensure that courses offered are appropriate to the available opportunities and socio-economic development activities in the area (ILO, 2001). The programs in the youth polytechnics lack public appeal and stature due to negative publicity and poor image arising from the physical structures and the traditional nature of the courses offered. For them to take their rightful place in the community, youth polytechnic courses need to be more responsive to the development activities of the areas as well as the technology in place. This may be in terms of participating in social economic activities and projects that address the immediate needs of the society. This approach may lead to increased community acceptance (UNDP, 2005), and an increase in enrolment.

According to Shiundu and Omulandu (1992) the youth polytechnics were intended to provide socio-economic development to the rural community by implementing the following: Introducing the youth to certain ethics to prepare them for the world of work; Equipping the youth with skills and attitudes that would lead to their involvement in income generating activities; use of the skills acquired to engage in sustainable livelihood, to uplift their standard of living and that of their communities by creating employment for self and others thus stemming rural-urban migration. This mandate has not been achieved since independence.

Community attitudes towards youth polytechnics are not an issue of concern in Kenya alone. Tilak (2006) highlights factors that work against TIVET in Asian countries, as socio-cultural attitudes towards vocational education and a negative attitude towards vocational oriented jobs, which reduces the demand for vocational education. It is further argued that vocational education is perceived as a preserve of the poor and the educationally backward sections of the community, low achievers and drop outs that are not eligible for admission into higher education. Consequently, it only attracts the racial minorities and women. This perpetuates inequalities in the education system which is a common phenomenon in many developing countries. Gill and Fluitman, (2000) argue that mechanisms for resource allocation in developing countries do not favour vocational education, as it is more expensive to sustain than general education. The authors further argue that most of the developing countries do not allow the provision of sufficient resources for vocational education due to budgetary constraints. As a result, the returns from the system are very poor. This trend also tends to promote negative attitude towards TIVET education.

The Government of Kenya (2008) acknowledges the role that the youth polytechnics could play in imparting the youth with the necessary skills for rural development and self-employment. The gap analysis on youth training report points out that, investing in youth polytechnic training means investing in national security as this reduces idleness giving the youth an alternative productive involvement rather than engage in dysfunctional behavior.

The focus of this study was on Gatundu district which had twelve (12) youth polytechnics out of which eight (8) were public and four privately owned. The total enrolment in these polytechnics at the time of this study was 581, yet there is a large population of out-of-school youth. Training acquired from youth polytechnics would empower the youth with skills to start business ventures in the area. This would in return provide jobs to the youth, enhance security, as well as provide some of the unavailable services to the community. This would make the youth polytechnics more beneficial and change the community perception on vocational skills.

Purpose & Objective of the Study

The purpose of the study was to determine community attitudes towards technical/ vocational skills and its influence on youth enrolment for training in youth polytechnics in Gatundu district.

The following objectives guided the study:

  1. To determine the community attitude towards technical/vocational skills
  2. To determine the perceived benefits of youth polytechnics to the community
  3. To assess the community’s attitudes towards the courses offered

Research Methodology

This study used the descriptive survey design. The population for the study included members of the community in the areas where the polytechnics are located. Out of the eight public youth polytechnics in the district, seven (7) were purposively selected for the study on the basis of the number of trainees enrolled and how long the institution had existed at the time of the study. Snowball sampling technique was used to select a sample size of 50 respondents from parents of students in these polytechnics and opinion leaders from the local community. An interview schedule was used to collect data from the respondents, which was analyzed qualitatively. Experts in educational research validated the instruments. The instrument was piloted on 5 community members in the neighbouring Kiambu district.

The main area of focus was community attitudes towards vocational skills; attitudes towards courses offered, and perceived socio-economic benefits from the training

To achieve the objective the responses were captured at three levels as follows:

  1. The community general attitude towards technical & vocational skills.
  2. The perceived benefits of polytechnics to the community.
  3. The community attitude towards the courses offered by the polytechnics.

Results and Discussions

Table 1 below shows community responses as to whether they thought the youth polytechnics in their areas were effective training institutions. All the respondents (100%) confirmed that they are aware of the existence of youth polytechnics. Probing further on the role of these institutions as sources of youth training in skills, (12%) felt that the polytechnics were good for training people with intellectual disabilities. These responses were rated as negative, positive or neutral. Those whose responses were ‘yes’ to the statements were rated as negative, while those whose responses were ‘no’ were rated positive.

Table 1: Community general attitude towards youth polytechnics

Table 2 shows the responses on the perceived benefits of the polytechnics to the community. All the respondents (100%) perceived the polytechnics as beneficial to the community, but each had their own perceived benefits. Majority (60%) felt that polytechnics kept the youth engaged, 26% felt that they reduced crime in the area, while only 14% felt that they were offering some useful training to the youth.

Table 2: Perceived benefits of youth polytechnics to the community

The study was also interested in finding out what the community thought of the courses offered by the youth polytechnics. Table 3 shows a summary of the responses on community attitudes towards the courses offered. The results showed that 60% of the respondents felt that the youth polytechnic courses were only good for those who could not afford to train in other institutions. Further, 24% and 16% respectively felt that the courses were good for non-academic performers and school drop-outs.

Table 3: Community’s attitudes toward the courses offered

The figures in table 1 show that the largely negative attitude expressed by the respondents had perceptions that were not supportive of youth polytechnics while the positive were supportive of the youth polytechnics. This large percentage (60%) with negative perceptions shows that though the polytechnics are located within the community, they did not view them as credible institutions for skills training. Surprisingly, the respondents are parents and members of the community and the negativity demonstrates that they may not encourage their children to enroll in these institutions. The courses offered did not relate to the local activities either through provision of goods and services. This perception is also supported by Kinyanjui, (2007) who observed that the institutions lacked public appeal and that the courses were too traditional to attract the youth.

The results in table 2 indicate that the community did not perceive youth polytechnics as important training institutions. This may also suggest that those who enrolled their children only did so as the last resort because the fees charged are low hence affordable. For the institutions to gain acceptance in the community, they must be seen to contribute positively in terms of enhancing the quality of the lives of the community members. The old program which started in 1966 then referred to as ‘village’ polytechnics, was mandated to train the rural youth with knowledge skills and attitude leading to self employment. This would raise the living standards of the community and initiate rural industrialization (Kings, 2005). This study observed that this objective has not been accomplished, due to community attitudes’ towards the polytechnics which affect enrolment and security of workshops and equipment in these institutions.

Youth unemployment fosters dysfunctional behaviour, high levels of crime, violence and substance abuse. Unemployment also results in socio- psychological problems as it blocks their passage to adulthood due to prolonged dependency, inability to join a career and capacity for productivity. It also alienates the youth from the society and the democratic process, which may result to social unrest. The post election violence experienced in 2007 is a clear indication of the danger posed by unemployed youth.

Technical/vocational training would provide the youth with skills for productivity in self-employment, the youth would then be able to take advantage of the established revolving youth fund to create jobs for themselves and others. This could be done through having programs with skills that directly relate to solving prevailing problems in the catchment area and the job market. Since Gatundu districts’ main economic activity is small scale farming, short courses in farming and value addition as well as using the polytechnics as centers for community forums or activities that support the socio- economic life of the community would help to change the negative attitudes. A majority of respondents associated the courses offered with specific classes or categories of people in the society, for example; non academic performers, dropouts and the poor. These are perceptions likely to work against the trainees’ self-concept.

The study also found out that only 14% of the respondents viewed the polytechnics as beneficial but the skills offered could not be applied in the area as most shopping centers lacked electricity and the roads net work was poor. This fact limited the number of youth enrolling for skills training as there are no businesses relating to the offered courses except in garment making and public service vehicles driving. Twenty six percent (26%) viewed them as beneficial in reducing crime and idleness by offering the youth an alternative engagement and enhancing security in the community. The majority felt that the institutions could play a more meaningful role in empowering the youth if the skills provided were different or more advanced than what was offered by informal sector which a majority of the youth preferred. The results showed that the respondents supported the existence of these institutions. However, the institutions did not meet their expectations and this reinforced the negative attitude. A report from the Government of Kenya recommended the increase its financial and management support to youth polytechnics as they are critical in youth development. Public image of the institutions must be improved for them to be recognized as effective training institutions for the rural youth.


Based on the analysis of the participants’ responses to the survey questions, it can be concluded that the community attitude towards the youth polytechnics’ training is generally negative and that technical/vocational education is perceived as a preserve for the poor and non-academic performers in the society. The courses offered only lead to blue collar jobs; as a result the community did not perceive them to have any economic benefit. It is also concluded that the youth polytechnics have not achieved their mandate of training the rural youth with employable skills. The government, through its development blue print (Vision 2030) emphasizes on youth polytechnics as a pillar in youth development. This resulted to the commendable support that the government is currently giving to these institutions. The community is a main stakeholder in the polytechnics and ownership may be encouraged for them to be good ambassadors. Despite that, the view about youth polytechnics is still largely negative and the government should further explore more opportunities to erase that perception.

By providing technical/vocational training that matches the technological developments in place, the polytechnics would attract more students and reduce suspicion on the part of the community. Positive community attitude towards vocational education will be created if Kenya will achieve its rural development goal as envisaged in vision 2030.


Based on the findings, it is recommended that the youth polytechnics should further increase its involvement in activities such as construction of cattle dips, churches and caring for the environment in the rural areas would increase public awareness. This would enhance positive attitudes among the community and in return increase the level of enrolment and productivity.

It is also recommended that the youth polytechnics can be venues that will offer short courses to farmers and community groupsThese courses will be tailored to address the problems that affect the everyday living of these people and it will strengthen the reputation and image of youth polytechnics as reliable centers for learning and holistic development.

The government is also urged to consider matching the skills training with the job market and the development needs in the catchment area this will make the graduates competitive not only in Kenya but in the region.

Further research on a larger scale may be conducted to explore on how best to implement the recommendations made in this paper.


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