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Towards a New Global World of Skills Development? Or to Boldly Go Where TVET has Gone Before?

By Robert Palmer and Kenneth King.

A few decades ago technical and vocational education and training (TVET) formed a central part in the development strategies of many developing countries and development partners. Due to the emphasis on basic education  from 1990, TVET became marginalised within the educational landscape, and constrained by negative perceptions, which portray TVET as a low status, low quality educational pathway.

But the interest in TVET is back; both aid agencies and developing country governments are increasingly focusing on TVET, and 2012 has the potential to be TVET’s turn to make its mark. The 2012 Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report (GMR) – due on the 16th October this year – is dedicated to skills development. Concurrently, UNESCO is producing a World TVET Report and held the Third International Congress on TVET in Shanghai between 13-16 May 2012.

The 50 authors in this special issue of NORRAG NEWS 46, address a range of different dimensions of skills development.

New contexts, new challenges

TVET may be back on the international agenda, but there are new contexts and challenges in which TVET is expected to play some role (Qian Tang). Critical issues, addressed by NORRAG authors, relate to the relationship between TVET and youth (Gondwe and Boeren), lifelong learning and poverty reduction (Lamb), and marginalisation (Bessette) [other critical issues, of course, include the role of TVET in economic growth and sustainable development for example]. Others look at the role of TVET in EFA (King), in agriculture (Hartl, Heinemann), in the informal sector (Fluitman, Hofmann, Singh,  Thorsen), and in conflict (Hilal, Kondapalli) and post-conflict (McKibben) contexts.

New justification, new approaches

Several of the authors in NN46 look at TVET through a much broader lens than the labour market. In addition to any continuing concern with employment opportunities, TVET is acknowledged for its relevance to many other dimensions of human development. The current interest in TVET needs to be accompanied by a re-think in the way that TVET relates to development, as well as how we define and measure skills (Eats and Hall, Levesque, McGrath, Powell, Shoesmith).

The particularity of cultures and traditions of TVET

The cultures and traditions of TVET are hugely different at the country or even regional level as authors in NN46 illustrate by examining:

Training for what, and in what context?

The classic questions “Who should be trained for what?” and “How should this be organized?” are still very much valid today as they were decades ago (Comyn, de Moura Castro). Around the world there are large numbers of young people who are unemployed, economies that are not growing fast enough to provide jobs, and education systems that are not supplying adequate skills to the economy. But It is also clear that TVET by itself does not create jobs or growth.

Questioning ‘best practice’

Readers will recall the NORRAG NEWS special issue on ‘best practice’ (NN39). In TVET too there is a good deal of what passes as best practice that still needs to be carefully interrogated. Here policy learning is a higher priority than policy copying. Some of these ‘best practices’ have become extremely popular, e.g. national vocational qualification frameworks, competency-based training, or demand-led training, just mentioned, but they still lack a rigorous evidence base.

Researching TVET

One of the consequences of the two global reports on TVET in 2012 is that there will have been a large quantity of commissioned research associated with them. Certainly this will cover not only the ‘old chestnuts’ of TVET research, but also some of the new ‘low-hanging fruits’ of current TVET analysis (Carton, Maclean, Majumdar, Williams).

Full listing of NORRAG NEWS 46, Towards a New Global World of Skills Development? TVET’s turn to Make its Mark, No.46, September 2011.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG NEWS. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:

Robert Palmer is a member of the NORRAG team. Email:

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2 Responses

  1. Max Walsh (Manila, Philippines)

    I enjoy these NORRAG summaries so much.
    As a western academic and development aid professional living in the Philippines, I feel a little “out of the mainstream” but your articles, and the great links embedded within them, are wonderful nourishment for my appetite for the latest thinking.
    Thank you to Norrag and keep up the high standard of work

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