TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com) 
Apr 27 - May 10, 2009

Despite the fact that technical and vocational training institutions can play an important role in reducing unemployment in Pakistan and share responsibilities of higher learning engineering and professional schools of building skilled workforce, it is unfortunate that these institutions have not gained the deserved attention essential to improve quality of their outputs.

Like other public sector education that heavily depends on the parish to enhance its efficiency, public-run vocational and technical training centres also are faltering to produce desirable and effective for the economy human capital due to financial strains. Government has authorised technical education authorities, provincial labour and manpower departments, and social welfare departments to supervise public-funded mono and polytechnic and vocational training institutions, which offer short courses, diplomas, and bachelor of technologies under various occupations. When there are more than two government bodies for performing single task, institutional conflicts or underperformance are very common in the effect. Perhaps, this is why government established National Vocational and Technical Education Commission (NAVTEC) that was authorised three years back in 2006 to lead vocational and technical trainings imparted in different government centres in accordance with economic potential.

In line with the establishment of the commission, Sindh Technical Education and Vocational Authority (STEVTA) was formed under an ordinance promulgated by the Governor Sindh to centralize and regulate functions of vocational and training centres operated under different supervisors across the province. The authority is thus far non-functional because of some controversies that stirred protests among government officials. It is said that the authority would be handed over to the private sector that would run the centres under revised guidelines and terms and conditions. Clearly, this would chuck permanent teaching and non-teaching staff members out of the government, robbing them of their public service endowments.

When this scribe contacted Humayun Aaqil in Karachi, who it was revealed had just been transferred from the post of Regional Director NAVTEC, for his comments, he said that he was not sure whether centres would be 'privatized'. "It is obvious that STEVTA will have board of directors comprising of industrialists and businesspersons," he asserted. "One finds it not difficult to understand what impact private involvement would exert on fees structure," commented Abrarul Haq District Officer (technical education), city district government Karachi. We are running the centres under tight budget. Majority of them we are operating on self-help basis. "Fourteen centres are non-SNEs," that means without Sanction New Establishment. Consequently, programmes being offered on self-help basis demand high fees as more as Rs8,000 per annum, which is more than government-funded programmes. Additional amount is spent on hiring teachers on periodical basis and other expenditures. "A teacher costs average Rs.5000 per month."

Centres under CGDK have diploma of associate engineering (equivalent to intermediate), technical school certificate (equivalent to Matriculation), and other skill development courses. Further fourteen centres are under construction by the district government. There are around 35 mono and polytechnic and vocational institutions supervised by the government in Karachi. He said fees would jump to sky high once private sector takes on onus of imparting technical education, which he believed is a complete state responsibility. While private institutions offer variety of technical and vocational courses, government run centres attract large numbers of students because of low fees.

"Obviously, we are also concerned about our job status in case of 'privatization of vocational and technical centres," he replied to a question. "If Chief Minister heads the authority, then we have no reservation." This would secure the future of score of government employees. Responding to a question if private boss will not strengthen industrial links and fund line, he said referring to technical centres, they are springboard of professional education instead of mere workshops. 'The thought that vocational training institutions are outbound supplier of entry-level workforce to companies, needs to be rectified.' This is a professional education paving way to further academic advancement. He urged government should take views of all those who might be affected with reforms in technical education system.

The technical and vocational institutions offer public an alternative education and skill enhancement plate forms where it is considered that focus remains on developing certified technicians and diploma holders as factors of industrial production. The concept is practical as such in Pakistan's economy where over 50 percent of GDP owes to manufacturing and agriculture sectors. The perception is simultaneously resulting into sluggish popularity build-up of these institutions, as they are believed to impart knowledge missed of theoretical substance.

However, the real problem is paucity of funds that are needed to meet routine administrative expenditures. While this can be resolved by the private investment, can thereafter worries of government staff be eliminated? Skilled workforce passing out of technical centres would become driving force of progress of manufacturing as well as service based companies such as IT and computer enabled services. Besides, the centres would promote entrepreneurship. The cumulative impact would bode well with economic growth. Public-private partnership may prove a viable option, but delegation of complete authority to private sector is drawing genuine fears of commercialization that will be detrimental to a large population unable to bear high fees. Advisably, government should allocate more funds for technical education in particular in Sindh and the capital city that has relevance with technical training because of its large industrial workforce. Then again, centralization i.e. supervision and regulation by single authority standardizes quality of education.