By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) is suffering from a 60 per cent student ‘drop out’ rate, with just one in four graduating within the normal timeframe.
The low student completion rate at the Bahamas’ primary technical training institution, which produced just 864 graduates (an average of less than 200 per annum) in the five years to 2014, has been cited as exacerbating the “structural hurdles” that continue to hold back the Bahamian economy.
BTVI’s relatively low output is highlighted in a Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) document, which warns that investment in the Bahamian workforce “is critical” to boosting this nation’s competitiveness and “faster, more inclusive economic growth”.
The CDB paper, which has been obtained by Tribune Business, delivers another damning assessment of the Bahamas’ failure to prepare its young and school leavers for productive careers in the workforce.
In particular, it warns that the Bahamas has an “unacceptably high” level of 15-24 year-olds with no post-secondary school qualifications. One in three men in this age group, or 33 per cent, have no certified education or additional skills acquired after leaving the public school system.
The CDB paper outlines a proposed $4.74 million from the Bank to overhaul both BTVI’s physical infrastructure and its governance/management regime, all of which is intended to improve the quality of technical and vocational education delivered to young Bahamians.
The project was supposed to have launched during the third quarter this year, after the CDB’s Board of Directors approved the loan at a December 2014 Board meeting. The launch event, though, has yet to take place, and the CDB paper’s contents have never been placed in the public domain until now.
Its data reveals that BTVI is in urgent need of significant upgrades, given the increased demand for its courses coupled with low graduation rates.
“Completion rates of BTVI programmes are low,” the CDB report said, “plagued by a high attrition rate of 60 per cent based on number of factors, including lack of financial resources and access to semi and low-skilled jobs (30 per cent), which is not unusual in the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) sub-sector.
“This results in graduation rates of 25 per cent in the prescribed timeframe, although students reintegrate into the programmes when promotion and career advancement prospects require the complete certification in the skill area.
“Between 2010 and 2014, there were only 864 graduates (49 per cent male and 51 per cent female). Consequently, a small proportion of students graduate with certified skills, as required by employers and necessary for career advancement.”
While acknowledging that BTVI was “a viable and responsive entity”, the CDB report cited the high ‘attrition’ or ‘drop out’ rate as being among its key challenges.
It identified pregnancies and single motherhood as a key factor driving the 60 per cent rate, along with students who are unable to handle “the transition from secondary school” and their lack of financial resources.
“It is not unusual for students to take jobs after completing specific training modules in a programme, such as block-laying in the construction technology programme,” the report added.
The CDB loan project aims to slash the BTVI ‘drop out’ rate by half within 15 years, cutting it to 30 per cent from 2029 onwards. This is to be achieved via a ‘phased’ approach, with the ‘drop out’ rate cut to 50 per cent between 2021 and 2024; to 40 per cent between 2025 and 2028; and 30 per cent from 2029 onwards.
While BTVI’s student enrolment rate increased by 37 per cent between 2012 and 2014, the CDB paper warned that current infrastructure and capacity constraints meant many applicants are having to be placed on waiting lists.
“BTVI is unable to accommodate a significant number of applicants and schedule classes as needed as a result of space constraints,” the report revealed.
“For the academic years 2012 to 2014, approximately 190 persons or 27 per cent of applicants were waitlisted annually, resulting in delayed skills development (for those who are admitted the next year) or continued skills deficits (for those failing to be admitted).
“Cumulatively, approximately 740 applicants (52 per cent males) have been waitlisted between 2010 and 2014,” the CDB added.
“In addition, an estimated 250 persons annually do not apply when advised that space is not available. These students have very limited options as BTVI is the main provider for entry-level skills training, and significantly more-affordable than what is offered at other institutions.”
Besides student access issues , the CDB paper also revealed that around 30 per cent of BTVI’s intake fail preparatory technical programmes. This, in turn, limits their ability to take Associates of Applied Science degrees.
And shortcomings in teacher quality, materials and subject matter were also identified. “The equipment, tools and materials in the TVET workshops/laboratories are inadequate and, in some cases, outdated, rendering those learning spaces non-compliant with regional facility standards,” the CDB report warned.
“While students are expected to procure their tools and equipment, many are unable to do so, resulting in a less than optimal competency-based instructional experience.”
It added that less than one in four (24 per cent) BTVI instructors had undergone ‘teacher training’, “and their instructional effectiveness is hampered by limited, even non-existent, knowledge of CBET (Competency-Based Education and Training) approaches and methodologies”.
The CDB paper connected these problems to the Bahamas’ persistently high youth unemployment rate, plus workforce skills gaps and deficiencies - all of which translated into lower productivity, competitiveness and economic growth.
“High youth unemployment is inconsistent with the country’s economic growth and human resource needs,” the report warned.
“However, on entering the Bahamian labour market, youth are ill-equipped to access employment opportunities in the wider economy, with skills levels that are a mismatch to the human capital needs of the expanding private sector.
“In 2010, 27 per cent of the country’s 15-24 year old population, 33 per cent of the young men and 22 per cent of the young women, had no form of post-secondary certification. These levels are unacceptably high,” it added.
“The investment in human resources development (HRD) is critical to addressing key structural hurdles such as limited access to quality post-secondary opportunities, which constrains stronger competitiveness and faster, more inclusive economic growth.”
The CDB report also warned that the burden of high youth unemployment was falling disproportionately on women within the 15-24 year-old age group.
“Young women are the most vulnerable labour-force participants in the Bahamas,” it said. “They are not only at highest risk of being unemployed, including during the slow tourism period in any given year, but are most likely to occupy elementary and low-wage occupations when employed in either the formal or informal sectors. “Further, although more women had post-secondary qualifications, they still exhibited disproportionately higher levels of unemployment, highlighting the limited relevance of the education and training system.
“The skills attained do not facilitate access to decent work in sufficient quantities for local women. There are a number of prohibitive factors affecting access to post-secondary education in the Bahamas; chief among them are matriculation requirements, limited available space, and cost.”
The CDB report said men tended to graduate from science, engineering and technology-based skills development programmes, giving them access to professions in demand that offered relatively higher wages.
Bahamian women, though, tended to graduate from social and personal services courses. “Thus, even at higher certification levels, young women enter the labour market into sectors that exhibit highly seasonal demands with comparatively lower earning potential,” the CDB report added.