By Salim Akoojee.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, there has been a growing sense from both national policymakers and international agencies of the importance of private skills provision in all regions. In Africa, this has resulted in greater official acceptance of the important role of private provision of skills via private Technical and Vocational Education and Training (priVET), both through traditional apprenticeship forms and more formal sector oriented approaches.
In reality, relatively little is known about the complex nature of private skills provision in Africa or about the ways in which private provision can contribute to national skills systems. Considerations related to key developmental imperatives, including inclusion, exclusion, access, redress and equity and vulnerability are critical to an overall human development strategy and serve as the key features of the national challenges that face policymakers. PriVET needs to play a part, but managing its less attractive aspects is the challenge for policymakers intent on engaging the sector. This is complicated in the priVET sector because of the complexity of the sector. Understanding what constitutes the VET sector in general and priVET sector in particular, has to be a first step in ensuring that appropriate national responses are crafted in what has been referred to in the South African case as the ‘black box’ of education and training provision (see for instance Akoojee, 2011).
Definitional and Data Challenges
There are always definitional and data challenges when dealing with cross-national education and training in trans-national contexts and these are made all the more dire in developing contexts. Thus, in an attempt to understand the concept, the same terms used by various governments might refer to very different provision forms, making the area particularly difficult to analyse, let alone compare across different national contexts. The TVET case presents increased challenges (see latest GMR and this recent NORRAG blog for some of these) which multiply further in the African context. In Africa, where education and training systems have been influenced profoundly by former colonial systems, and subsequently by post-colonial attempts at radical transformation, the problem is that much more complex.
The broad definitional basis of this piece is one used by the 2001 UNESCO and ILO Revised Recommendation concerning Technical and Vocational Education which refers to TVET as “…a comprehensive term referring to those aspects of the educational process involving, in addition to general education, the study of technologies and related sciences, and the acquisition of practical skills, attitudes, understanding and knowledge relating to occupations in various sectors of economic and social life”.
The revised recommendation understands technical and vocational education as:
“(a) an integral part of general education;
(b) a means of preparing for occupational fields and for effective participation in the world of work;
(c) an aspect of lifelong learning and a preparation for responsible citizenship;
(d) an instrument for promoting environmentally-sound sustainable development;
(e) a method of facilitating poverty alleviation.”
It includes “aspects of education that are technical and vocational in nature, provided either in educational institutions or under their authority, by public authorities, the private sector or through other forms of organized education, formal or non-formal, aiming to ensure that all members of the community have access to the pathways of lifelong learning” (ibid). Such a comprehensive vision makes TVET qualitatively different from general education systems, which mainly consist of the familiar institutions of schools, colleges and universities, in which age and educational level correspond more closely than in TVET.
PriVET exist in Multifarious Forms in Different Contexts in Africa
An overview of key trends was identified using a range of available material on TVET in selected African countries to develop this synthesis. Initial considerations suggest that priVET exist in multifarious forms in different contexts in Africa. The nature of provision needs to be understood in terms of the varied characteristic types. There is a clearly a need to move beyond the ‘for-profit’, ‘not-for-profit’ and ‘in-house’ (in company training) provision forms. While this is a useful starting point, there needs to be an understanding of the phenomenon from the perspective of its responsiveness to ‘client’ types (pre-employed, unemployed and employed); purposes (employment or non-employed) and various provision forms (non-premises, premises and consultant driven client-based forms).
The implications of this for understanding the sector in terms of its size, shape and context of the way this sector operates is clearly important. Thus, how the sector is currently organised clearly has implications for its regulation and governance. While much has been done, there are some countries in which the private sector is still outside the loop of the national education and training sector. Thus, as a start, priVET must be recognised as a legitimate TVET provision form that serves as a significant component of overall education and training provisioning.
Financing priVET forms is always contentious and represents one critical reason for either its acceptance, tolerance or demonization. Importantly, the debate rages in some contexts for the public financing of the sector. On the one hand, there is a robust argument for financing of private TVET forms from the public purse, and on the other hand, there is an equally compelling argument, that this will take away its competitive edge. Clearly the existing infrastructure and funding available could be quite usefully employed for public purpose. Formal direct or indirect funding models are less likely to enable the development of private providers and might well undermine its critical entrepreneurial and demand-led edge. There is a convincing case for partnerships as opposed to competition (Ziderman, 2002). A public-private partnership form is proposed. Indeed, partnerships with other private entities might be equally useful, with a possible cluster approach together with public institutions This will enable synergy of provision be established. Clearly, the strengths of private providers need to be enhanced and utilised for national purpose, without ignoring their need for sustainability in the interest of quality provision to the most vulnerable in society.
Clearly much more detailed empirical information is required in order for a comprehensive understanding of the sector is to be acquired and the importance of this provision form to be realised. As the UNESCO 2012 GMR Report notes in its overview, “Any post-2015 international goals for skills development need to be more precisely defined and to set out clearly how progress can be measured. This should be based on a realistic assessment of information that can be collected, in order to avoid the problems that have plagued efforts to monitor goal 3” (p.5).
Governments are beginning to support private provision forms as they try to encourage mixed funding modalities to supplement their dwindling revenues. Clearly the need for private entities to embrace a government agenda in return for both legitimacy and sustainability provides an important impetus for expanding the relationship from simply regulation to enhanced engagement towards mutually agreed synergies.
Much can, for instance, be learnt from the Ugandan context in the capacity of the private sector to self regulate membership. A unitary structure, with important engagement with government and state regulation would greatly enhance the capacity of the sector to sustain itself. This will enable some degree of control, while still ensure that those less committed to quality provision are either weeded out or capacitated to provide programmes of improved quality. Creative engagement with priVET is therefore called for which takes a realistic perspective of what can be done to support national development objectives.
Salim Akoojee (PhD) is an education analyst specialising in TVET systems in developing contexts. Email: SAkoojee@merseta.org
Akoojee, S. (2011) Private Further Education in South Africa: Insight (from) the ‘Black Box’. Saarbrücken: VDM-Verlag.