At Takoradi Technical Institute right now, a dozen welding teachers have taken over one of the workshops normally used by their students. They’ve spent the past three weeks sweltering in protective gear as they brush up their technical skills in a refresher course organised by WRCF, and sponsored by the World Bank/Ministry of Energy’s Oil and Gas Capacity Building Project.
Among the teacher-turned students are three generations of welding instructors from Kumasi, Takoradi, and Kikam, all brought together now to try and update their skills for the next generation.
Marcus Abaidoo is the first one to arrive at the welding workshop Tuesday morning; he’s the welding program coordinator at TTI, and one of the students on the course. He studied at TTI himself a decade ago, before moving on to the polytechnic university, and then Winneba where he became certified to teach.
“At TTI, we have 4000 students enrolled – many more than before,” he begins to explain. “We have 508 students enrolled in the welding programme. It’s very difficult to teach them in those numbers, but we try our best.”
Marcus has been teaching for the past eight years, but since the first teacher training session in February, he’s already noticed a difference. He’s been using videos in the classroom for the first time, and has been trying to make his lessons less abstract. He already noticed an improvement in his angles from February, and now he’s working on open roots, a technique he’d never come across before.
It’s important to Marcus and the other teachers to keep their skills up to date – “Many of the students want to work in industry – in oil and gas and mining – and some want to set up their own businesses.” Marcus explains.
Balancing safety precautions with the need to give students hands-on experience in modern methods that will make them ‘employment ready’ when they leave school is a constant struggle for Marcus and his fellow teachers given their resources and class sizes.
Marcus has no interest in going to work for industry himself, but he wants to take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as possible and pass on the lessons to his students. TTI has already run some welding training for workers from the Takoradi port authority, and the hope is that TTI and the other technical schools will soon be able to take on more industry work. Moving to a more commercial model will allow them to reinvest training fees in resources to move to smaller class sizes and a larger focus on practical exercises, with the end result that students graduate ready to work to industry standards.
Eric is the youngest of the dozen students at TTI for the workshop, and not quite yet a teacher himself. He was one of Marcus’ students until two years ago, and since graduating he’s struggled to find work. A family friend got him a one month contract with a car repairs shop up the road not too long ago, and although he’s done bits of work here and there, he’s struggled. “My wish was to work in industry,” he says ruefully.
Esi, one of the other TTI instructors, says Eric’s situation is not uncommon. She regularly teaches classes of more than 90 students at a time; when she was a student there were 1/3 that number in the class, although still several times more pupils than the amount of welding booths in the workshop. When I asked Esi if the course in February has changed things for her, her frustration was visible. “We don’t have the consumables to practice with,” she told me. I asked her what her students move on to once they graduate. “They sit at home,” she said with a bitter edge.
Now back at school with his old teacher, Eric is determined to learn as much as he possibly can from the next few weeks. “We didn’t always have the machines and materials, so I didn’t have the opportunity to do a lot of the things we’ve been working on here,” Eric remembers of his student days. His experiences over the past few years have led him to reconsider industry employment. Instead, Eric is thinking of going into teaching himself, at Kikam Technical Institute, a 100 km to the west. Despite an apprenticeship from a young age, a steady job has been hard to secure without industry connections.
Paul has been working at Winneba training college in Kumasi, the teacher training school for technical trades, for the past two decades. During that time he’s trained many of the welding instructors in Ghana’s technical institutes and polytechnic universities, including Marcus.
Even being in charge of teaching many teachers has not given Paul access to the tools and materials necessary for their trade however. “The machines – especially in my school where I instruct now –have been there since 1965 when they installed them.” Paul tells me. “Some of these machines we’re using here at TTI – we’re being taught things we’ve never seen or done before.”
“Students often have to just make use of what is available for their project. And if what they want is not there, we make efforts to get them through the administration, but sometimes we encounter some problems, it takes a long time to go through the procurement system, and by the time the materials are in, the semester may have ended.”
Although many of these problems won’t disappear, Paul draws hope from other developments in technical education in Ghana. COTVET, the national Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Teaching, was set up in 2006 to oversee all aspects of technical and vocational training in Ghana. One of their first projects has been the development of a new competency based curriculum that will have a much greater emphasis on practical aspects of welding. And, Paul gleefully tells me, they’re building a new site for COTVET in Kumasi with modern shop equipment. Come 2018, his 1960s machines should finally be relegated to the past.
Between COTVET, the new curriculum, and the Ministry of Energy training organised by WRCF, Paul is optimistic about the future.
“I need to pass on the new ideas I’ve got here to the next generation so that they can use it; so they can also teach and teach better. Practically, what we’ve been doing is not the best compared to what we’ve learned here at TTI. By all means, there should be a change in the way I teach in future.” Paul finishes with a smile.
WRCF’s partnership with Ministry of Energy is just part of the foundation’s focus on changing technical education for Ghana’s future, and improving young peoples’ employment opportunities in the country’s oil, gas, and mining industries. A third and final course in September will complete the Ministry of Energy’s teacher upgrading programme using the new welding equipment. WRCF is also exploring how to increase opportunities for women and girls in the sector, and working with COTVET on the new competency based curriculum and supporting technical institutes as they develop new business models.
For more information about WRCF’s partnerships in technical education, please email our Resource Mobilisation Manager Kamil Mohammed at email@example.com