According to a joke making the rounds on social media networks, the Vice Chancellors of our three oldest Universities were invited to board a plane. After they were seated they were told that their own students manufactured the plane. The Vice Chancellors of Cape Coast University and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology hurriedly jumped off the plane, screaming; “blood of Jesus, save us” The Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana however calmly remained in his seat and proceeded to a newspaper read. When he was asked why he was so calm he replied “if my students made this plane, then it will not even start!”

This joke attributed to one Nana Quaku Boateng though funny, goes to the heart of everything that is wrong with technical education in Ghana. Industry leaders have long complained about the calibre of graduates they are forced to recruit every year. For a variety of reasons, these graduates are simply not ready for the job market most employers have no option but to retrain them at extra cost.

The low standard of training students are getting in institutions all over the country is one of the reasons that employers put such high premium on experience when recruiting. The assumption is that the experienced candidate is better acquainted with industry practice and standards.

Heads of institutions have given reasons for the disconnection between training curricula and the expectations of industry, including ill-equipped laboratories and workshops, over concentration on theory vis-a-vis practical work, and demotivated teaching staff.

As part of Government’s efforts to improve technical education in the country, the Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET), has introduced Competency Based Training (CBT) as the flagship of the reforms. In technical speak, CBT is an outcomes-based, industry driven education and training programme based on industry generated standards. In simpler terms, CBT is a system of learning where emphasis is laid on the needs of industry. Training institutions that operate CBT are acutely aware of the fact that they are not training in a vacuum. They are mindful of the fact that they are training for industry, and that their graduates should pass out with the right competencies to enable them be absorbed as seamlessly as possible by industry.

One of the key characteristics of CBT is that industry participates in deciding the content of training programmes.

Also CBT is outcomes-based, in that there should be a clear understanding on the part of both learners and facilitators, as to what the training is supposed to achieve. So in the illustration above, our university dons should have been comfortable in the knowledge that if the students had taken a course in airplane building then they would be deemed to have qualified only if assessment proves that they have mastered the technique of building airplanes that will start, take off, fly, and land safely.

CBT has otherwise been described as standards based, high performance learning, and transformational education.

As the Jamaican training and development expert Paulette Dunn-Smith points out, the requirements (standards) of the workplace are transferred to the training process, so that individuals who are trained on these standards are fit for the job in which they are placed.

Additionally, rather than what is traditionally known as a course or a module, CBT is undertaken in Units, so that every skill, competency, or learning outcome is packaged in a single Unit. Unlike in the traditional systems of education, learners are at liberty to take as long as they require mastering a particular Unit. In cases where the learner already has mastery over a particular Unit, they are not obliged to take that Unit. Once they satisfy the assessment requirements, they are at liberty to skip that Unit. Learners therefore have the opportunity to take each Unit at their own pace until they achieve the required certification.

Different forms of CBT have been experimented with in Ghana. However with the introduction of the 8 level National Technical and Vocational Education and Training Qualifications Framework (NTVETQF) as spelt out in the COTVET L.I. 2195, the process of harmonizing CBT in Ghana is completed and implementation underway . Under the new reforms CBT as a national policy is not optional and all institutions are expected to take the necessary steps to comply.

In spite of the obvious advantages of the CBT mode of learning, there are some surmountable challenges ahead. With its emphasis on hands-on practical learning, CBT is more expensive to administer, since learners must have access to industry standard equipment and practice during training. However if we are ever to fly comfortably in made-in-Ghana airplanes, then it is an investment worth making.

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