At first glance, the Arusha Technical College (ATC) in Tanzania captivates visitors with its vibrant green spaces and distinctive white and mustard-colored buildings.
But beyond its picturesque facade, this college located in Arusha’s central business district has become a thriving center for renewable energy studies, thanks to a regional skills development program.
Empowering Dreams of Renewable Energy Engineering
Yohana Mawaka, a 22-year-old aspiring electrical engineer, began his journey at Arusha Technical College in January 2020. Opting for a three-year electrical and solar energy engineering course, Mawaka made a deliberate choice to pursue his passion.
Having already completed his secondary education at Mwageza Secondary School, he was determined to contribute to a sustainable future in the face of increased environmental awareness and shifting energy demands.
In his second year of studies, Mawaka has already accomplished impressive feats. He has successfully built a portable solar lantern system, capable of lighting and charging devices. Reflecting on his experience, Mawaka emphasized the practical skills and encouragement for creativity provided by the course, which have been empowering for him.
Transforming ATC into a Center of Excellence
Arusha Technical College hasn’t always been the preferred choice for higher education. In the past, students overlooked the college due to its traditional educational program’s perceived inadequacy in meeting current industrial needs.
Moreover, the lack of emphasis on practical skills, shortage of qualified teachers, and outdated facilities posed additional challenges. However, in 2019, ATC was selected as one of the 16 Regional Flagship TVET Institutes (RFTIs) in the $293 million East Africa Skills for Transformation and Regional Integration Project (EASTRIP).
This project, financed by the World Bank, aims to enhance the quality and accessibility of technical and vocational education and training programs in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.
The Arusha Technical College Coordinator, Mr. Sithole Mwakatage, envisions the transformation of the decommissioned Kikuletwa Renewable Energy Training and Research Centre (KRETC) into a regional center of excellence for renewable energy.
This center, located in Hai district, will focus on hydropower, solar, wind, and bioenergy. The revitalized KRETC will engage students in the daily operations of its power plant, further enriching their practical knowledge.
Changing Perceptions and Bridging the Skills Gap
Traditionally, Tanzanian students who achieve the necessary grades in their form four (O’ Level) exams have the option to pursue A’ Level studies and then progress to universities. However, Technical and Vocational Colleges (TVET) like ATC have historically been overshadowed by the preference for university education.
Although with a changing landscape, more TVET colleges are aligning their programs with industry demands, yielding positive outcomes for graduates.
EASTRIP’s Impact on Skills Development
EASTRIP supports three additional RFTIs in Tanzania, in addition to Arusha Technical College, as part of its efforts to enhance TVET programs. The project also supports seven colleges in Ethiopia and five in Kenya.
To access funds, these institutes are required to establish college-level Industrial Advisory Bodies, develop strategic investment plans, validate their curricula with industries, enhance trainer and management capacity, and upgrade their training facilities.
The Revitalization of KRETC and Expansion of Opportunities
KRETC, an 87-year-old institution, is currently undergoing a remarkable transformation. Not only is the center being repurposed, but its hydro-power plant is also being rehabilitated to generate approximately 1.65MW of electricity by the end of this year.
Students from Kenya and Ethiopia will soon have the opportunity to join KRETC as part of EASTRIP’s student mobility program, further enriching the center’s vibrant learning environment.
A Paradigm Shift in Enrollment and Empowering Students
With an estimated 11 million young Africans entering the job market each year, addressing the skills gap becomes crucial. A World Bank report from 2019 highlighted that a lack of skills is a significant obstacle for about one-third of enterprises in Sub-Saharan Africa.
EASTRIP, now in its fourth year of implementation, has witnessed a remarkable increase in student enrollment. The project has surpassed its target of enrolling 20,000 students annually in long-term and short-term training programs, with a notable increase in female enrollment.
ATC, in particular, has experienced a 133% surge in enrollment, from 2,017 students in the 2015/2016 academic year to 4,693 students in 2021/2022. This growth includes a significant rise in female students, highlighting the changing perceptions and opportunities for women in STEM-related fields.
Magreth Kulaya, a final-year student at ATC, challenges stereotypes as she pursues a diploma course in electrical and hydropower engineering.
Breaking the notion that TVET students are considered failures and overcoming the belief that engineering is a challenging path for women, Magreth sees the benefits of the TVET path and the productive skills it imparts.
Sensitization and advocacy campaigns by ATC have played a pivotal role in transforming the mindset of students and parents regarding TVET education.
Dr. Musa Chacha, the rector at ATC, recognizes the positive impact of these efforts, emphasizing the importance of raising awareness about the potential and benefits of a TVET education. By encouraging visitation to their colleges, they have provided firsthand experiences of the valuable opportunities available.
As EASTRIP continues to strengthen enrollment and empower students, Tanzania’s Arusha Technical College stands as a testament to the transformative power of practical skills development and renewable energy studies.