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28 May 2015

TVET and Sustainable Development: Learning from Experience. What are we waiting for and why? By Enrique Pieck

By Enrique Pieck, Iberoamerican University, Mexico.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) policies and programs come and go and so their different focuses, approaches and acronyms flood the literature on this theme and make things a bit complicated (SD,[i] GMR,[ii] HRBA[iii], HDCA,[iv] VET,[v] TVET,[vi] TVSD,[vii] EFA,[viii] etc.). The point is that while TVET programs and policies are discussed, while developing countries manage to achieve better rates of economic growth and (sometimes) get the financial resources needed, while high levels of poverty will remain with us for several decades, and while training programs carried out by public organizations, NGOs and international cooperation agencies have (often) poor and isolated impacts on deprived people’s everyday living conditions, in many countries, very large proportions of the population remain strongly in need of programs that can offer them alternative means to have access to the world of work and improve their quality of life.

In this light it is difficult not to be sceptical about the international aims that are repeatedly set for education. Goals set (e.g. EFA goals, Millennium Development Goals) are continually pushed back and many of us wonder if they will ever be achieved if present strategies continue in place. It is a matter not only of aims, but also of socio-economic situations and processes that clearly require different strategic approaches depending on each country’s particular conditions and possibilities, above all in the case of developing economies.

Our argument is that many programs have had a serious impact on sectors of the population that live in poverty areas, and have left many lessons. Clearly the evaluation yardsticks go beyond productivity and efficiency notions (i.e rates of work insertions) that fall within the economic development paradigm. TVET programs can have meaningful effects in vulnerable areas, as long as we conceive of different notions of what can be understood as impact or quality. There are many social –and economic- impacts that are underrated when implementing and evaluating programs in these areas. Our point is that quality of TVET (its relevance) is referred to by the extent people in vulnerable areas can make the best out of it in terms of promoting their productive capacities and improving their socio-economic conditions / quality of life.

In underprivileged sectors, concepts such as work and employability have connotations of their own. While the formal labour market formulates specific demands to the educational system, in the informal sector, work is very much more linked to everyday living conditions of people in this sector.

Seen in this light, TVET is more closely aligned with productive activities –sometimes survival strategies- or with those which are doable and result from the nature of their contexts, than to the need to train in order to satisfy the demand of a formal market or respond to the exigencies of technological development as dictated by modernity (Pieck, 1999).

Examples in many countries abound of programs that have developed successful strategies for enabling low-income populations to gain entry to the world of work; strategies that have reinforced the local economy, and have generated new forms of participation. Such lessons are concerned with the need to have a social focus when addressing TVET programs in developing countries, a focus which is very much at odds with the prevailing tendency.

What and why do we wait for if we already have a considerable amount of evidence showing that when appropriately high-quality skills development programs are implemented in vulnerable areas, they can have a positive impact on people’s educational progress, and also on the socio-economic development of their communities?

In a context marked by globalization and technological development, work takes pre-eminence over employment; in underprivileged sectors it implies the need to master skills which take into account the diversity of work spaces as they occur in everyday living. Therefore there is a need to have an on-the-job focus and respond to the specific training needs that follow from the various problems associated with these modest business undertakings (i.e low-income women looking for organizational and financial assistance). In a large number of cases, these represent survival strategies of vast sectors of the population living in deprived areas and predominantly active in the informal sector. While many small economic ventures are not likely to hold off unemployment, nor they are going to generate big enterprises, they will open spaces of social participation, and offer people genuine avenues to live their civic lives in a different way.

All this requires moving beyond work market demands and giving greater attention to people’s needs in the small communities and local areas. There is an urgent need to have an effective pro-poor TVET policy with a special focus on addressing people’s economic needs and productive activities in vulnerable areas. We already know how to do it. What and why are we waiting for?


Pieck, E. (1999) Work-oriented Education for Youth and Adults. The Major Project of Education. Bulletin 50. Santiago, Chile: OREALC-UNESCO

Dr Enrique Pieck is an academic researcher at the Institute for the Development of Education of the Iberoamerican University in Mexico (INIDE-UIA). His main research interest is on TVET in vulnerable areas in developing countries. Email:

[i] Skills development

[ii] Global monitoring report

[iii] Human rights based-approach

[iv] Human development capability approach

[v] Vocational education and training

[vi] Technical and vocational education and training

[vii] Technical and vocational skills development

[viii] Education for all

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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