Some of the students at Ningbo Polytechnic pose for a picture in one of the workshops at the college.
Costa Mano Online News Editor
Thirty Zimbabwean students studying Mechatronics Engineering at Ningbo Polytechnic College in China have lauded the Zimbabwe-China co-operation saying the friendship has opened unimaginable doors for them.
Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field that refers to the skill sets needed in the contemporary, advanced automated manufacturing industry.
The students are part of the Applied Talents Joint Teaching Programme (ATJTP) between Ningbo Polytechnic and Harare Polytechnic.
The ATJTP is under the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Cooperation Project implemented by the Chinese Ministry of Education, the China Education Association for International Exchange and the Commonwealth Association of Technical Universities and Polytechnics in Africa.
The programme provides young Africans with vocational and technical education based on generally-accepted industry standards to cultivate a young workforce and highly-skilled technical workers needed to expand employment and promote socio-economic growth in developing countries.
The main building of the Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering
Harare Polytechnic and Ningbo Polytechnic agreed to co-operate in knowledge and technology transfer, cultural exchange programmes, training of staff and students in emerging science, technology and engineering.
The agreement will span for five years and during the period 90 students are expected to benefit from the programme.
The students, who have been in Ningbo since March, spent their first-year learning in Zimbabwe and are now in China for 18 months inclusive of attachment in that country and will write examinations while in China.
The final year will see them return to Zimbabwe culminating in their HEXCO examinations.
On graduation, they will have dual qualifications one from the HEXCO examinations and a Chinese Diploma.
The students expressed their joy for being part of the inaugural group sent to the college.
Chantelle Rutendo Chuwe said it was a great opportunity to be exposed to technology that is not locally available in Zimbabwe.
Students working on a project
“Our programme basically is on studying mechanical and electrical engineering together with the ultimate goal of achieving automation. The programme has been an eye-opener for my colleagues and myself and we want to make our country proud especially when we bring back new skills to Zimbabwe. We are privileged to be here. We also deserve to be here because there were over 100 students who sat for the exam that got us here. It is the 30 that you see that made the grade,” said a visibly elated Chantelle.
Tafadzwa Katupira said he was eager to bring back home the knowledge he was acquiring to ensure Zimbabwe develops and achieves its Vision 2030.
“I am happy, the relationship between Zimbabwe and China is what brought us here and I am grateful for it. I will repatriate the knowledge and technology back home. The experience has been good because we are learning new and advanced technology; studying electrical engineering as our major and this will help us a big deal when we come back to Zimbabwe,” he said.
Ningbo Polytechnic was founded in 1959 and is a leading college in TVET located in Ningbo, a city located halfway down the coastline of the Chinese mainland bordering the city of Shanghai to the north and south of the Yangtze River Delta. It is a major transportation hub well-connected by a network of highways, railways, air and shipping routes.
Ningbo is known for being a major port and industrial hub in East China’s Zhejiang province
Ningbo Polytechnic is a council member of the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI) and has an enrolment of 12 000 full-time students and more than 600 full-time lecturers. It has three campuses, eight schools and 34 programmes as well as over 100 global partners.
College programmes are closely linked to industry’s needs and the curriculum is designed according to occupational standards required by industry.
Production processes in certain industries are included in the learning process which is why the students studying mechatronics use the modern machinery currently in use in industry with some students actually producing products for industry.
The college’s president Professor Huibo Zhang said after China’s BRI was proposed, they established the Belt and Road Technology Transfer and Collaborative Innovation Alliance in 2017.
Under the BRI, President Xi Jinping made five proposals one of them being cultural exchange covering education.
“In the alliance, we have businesses, schools and a small number of government agencies. The idea is for everyone to share information and see what kind of projects we can organise. It is all about mutual learning for example China has learned from Germany’s dual-track vocational education system and now we have our own best practices and we want to share that with other people through the alliance.
“The idea is helping each other grow and succeed. This kind of mutual teaching is good for the teachers and students. These kinds of partnerships also help our school’s internal governance.
“Even though we give, it is reciprocal. Our circle of friends extends to every developing country in the world,” he said.
The exchange programme is partly funded by the college as well as Ningbo’s Municipal Government in the form of scholarships from the city. Zimbabwean students do not have to pay tuition and they receive a monthly stipend from the college.
Professor Zhang and his interpreter Qingchuan Zhao
“We want to make this programme a beacon, a showcase of our success. It however does not put a big dent on our budget so we are able to offer the current package to them. The idea is to help these young people succeed and grow as quickly as possible. We want to use their success to demonstrate how good the programme is which will be helpful for following cohorts of students coming over.
“I think in the future we will expand the programme and that means expanding the types of disciplines, subjects offered and types of learning modes. We want to explore new modes of offering that education to make it more accessible to a wider number of students. This can also mean sending our teachers to Zimbabwe to build teacher capacity,” said Professor Zhang.
The 30-student cohort currently in China, made up of 22 males and eight females, also takes part in various extra curriculum activities that has allowed them to interact with local and other international students.
Some students are however struggling to communicate in Chinese despite having spent the first year in Harare learning the language.
“ The only barrier is language. If they can get over the communication barrier, then there are more resources for them to use. We want to empower students so they can achieve personal success and eventually contribute to the success of their own nation,” he said.
He said getting employment would be easy for the students if they speak the Chinese language.
“For the local students here, when they reach their second year of studies they already have employment contracts with local companies. The average employment placement for this college is over 98 percent. My hope is for students to graduate and work here for a few years before going back to Zimbabwe and then maybe start their own businesses in their country,” he stated.
Shen Xingang, Vice Dean of the Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering said it was important that students start off with the regular machines before moving to computer numerical control machines commonly referred to as CNC machines.
The Ningbo Polytechnic leadership hosted a group of editors from Zimbabwe.
These machines are critical in the manufacturing industry. The complex machines are controlled by a computer and provide a level of efficiency, accuracy and consistency that would be impossible to achieve through a manual process.
According to the Universal Technical Institute, the CNC is a process in which pre-programmed computer software dictates the movement of factory machinery and tools. As a result, manufacturers can produce parts in less time, reduce waste and eliminate the risk of human error.
“The focus of the programme is to impart practical skills in Mechatronics to Zimbabwean students. These skills are most needed by these students. During summer we are also giving them expansionary courses that go beyond Mechatronics including digital sales, online marketing and website design.
“In China e-commerce is developed; so we are teaching them about these skills as well. We are making a big effort to help them raise their language skills because language is also an important tool,” said Mr Shen.
In March this year, Cabinet approved the Zimbabwe National Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Policy, an all-encompassing framework that seeks to harmonise and standardise the co-ordination of learning across line ministries so that the education system produces wealth creation and entrepreneurship opportunities.
The policy is part of the Government’s plan to transform the education system from the traditional Education 3.0 model to 5.0, which is grounded on the production of goods and services.
TVET Policy is anchored on; reconfiguring and strengthening programme infrastructure, strengthening human capital infrastructure, developing and maintaining physical and digital infrastructure, strengthening the legal infrastructure, and facilitating the deployment of innovative financing infrastructure.
It is envisaged that implementation of the policy will culminate in the realisation of; a centrally co-ordinated and regulated TVET qualifications system, harmonised and standardised qualifications, in line with the Heritage-Based Education 5.0 Model, guaranteed horizontal portability and vertical articulation of qualifications across line ministries and improved quality of TVET across Ministries, in line with the country’s Vision 2030.
Professor Zhang pointed out that if people are to understand China’s development they must first understand its vocational education.
He described China’s vocational education as the secret weapon to their developmental success.
“There are several different scenarios in Chinese vocational education. The first one is that the national government gives a lot of supporting policies for vocational education.
“Every year many incentive policies for vocational education are rolled out either at the national level or at the local level. On the policy level, there is a push for more emphasis and encouragement for vocational education especially in the last two decades, these policies are becoming more numerous.
“In China, we have the law of vocational education so it is entitled by law to carry out a diverse range of activities. China considers vocational education to be a distinct type of education that deserves its own framework. This framework encompasses vocational education at the secondary level and tertiary level,” he said.
China has the biggest vocational education system in the world with over 12 000 schools both at secondary and tertiary levels. They have over 100 000 programmes with an annual enrolment of 10 million students.
The total number of students in these schools has reached over 27 million. Every year the employment rate for these students has remained at 90 percent.
Forty percent of students at both secondary and tertiary levels are enrolled in vocational education. These are just the figures for people in full-time education, if we include those that are in part-time training then the number reaches hundreds of millions.
There 1 400 consortiums for vocational education encompassing 30 000 companies that take part in the vocational education system.