By Simon McGrath, University of Nottingham.
Amidst the current wave of international reports on skills, the most striking aspect of the Shanghai preview of the UNESCO WTR is the emphasis on a human development perspective on skills that stands in clear contrast to the economistic rationale of most of the reports.
It must be acknowledged that the skills GMR does attempt to marry the economic and a human rights perspective. Like the GMR, the WTR has a strong emphasis on equity, and here the influence of Tomasevski’s work as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education is very apparent (see my piece in NORRAG NEWS 46 for more on this).
However, the WTR goes further by explicitly looking backwards to a longstanding UNESCO tradition of thinking about learning, best represented in the Delors and Faure Reports, and about broad human development. At the same time, it is also influenced by the human development and capability approach and by more radical notions of work. Whilst these threads are also important to the thinking of other UN specialised agencies such as UNDP (human development) and ILO (work), the WTR is unique in its combination of such positions.
The WTR is an early example of attempts to draw on the capabilities approach in skills development (see IJED 32/5 and Norrag News 46 for early examples of this work) and it is likely to generate further interest in this approach. This offers the possibility of focusing skills systems more on the expressed needs and goals of learners and communities.
It is also quite radical in its approach to work and jobs, in an implicit but highly critical response to the employability orthodoxy. The WTR continues recent arguments (Standing 2011; McGrath 2012) that work and jobs are not the same thing: “Work must be rescued from jobs and labour. All forms of work should be treated with equal respect …” (Standing 2011: 160). It is sympathetic to our arguments that economists’ understanding of work are too narrowly focused on what counts in national statistics and ignores much work that is reproductive of society. Thus, it is standing against a dominant position that is both economistic and highly gendered.
Of course, economic perspectives and priorities remain of great importance, and the WTR reiterates this. Nonetheless, the three lenses (economic, equity and transformative) at the centre of the Shanghai summary of the WTR point to an attempt to transform the skills debate and to push it away from the narrowness of employability, productivity and competitiveness. It is in the success or failure of this attempt that the real measure of the Report’s significance will lie.
Simon McGrath is Director of Research and Professor of International Education and Development, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog post also appears in NORRAG NEWS 48, 2012: The Year of Global Reports on TVET, Skills & Jobs Consensus or diversity? (April 2013), available free online at www.norrag.org