By Qian Tang.
After a period of neglect, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is now firmly on the agenda of governments around the world. Youth unemployment, social exclusion and poverty have led many decision-makers to refocus their attention on providing skills development opportunities that respond to evolving social and economic demands. Far from being the weakest link in education systems, TVET is emerging as a cornerstone for the transformation of education and training. Indeed, the development of skills through TVET is now one of the most often-cited priorities by ministers of education in both developing and developed countries. In recent years UNESCO as a whole, and many countries, have adopted strategies for TVET.
Unfortunately, too many young people and adults continue to lack access to learning opportunities, cannot find decent work or have jobs that under-utilize their competencies. Many people are living in poverty and face huge challenges in accessing the skills needed for healthy and productive lives. It is clear that TVET must change to respond to these needs. The key issues discussed at the 1999 Second International Congress on TVET in Seoul – such as changing labour market demands, TVET throughout life, innovation, access, equity and governance – are still valid today. But we must now also address newly-identified issues that were hardly debated then, such as climate change, food security, economic crises and cultural diversity. The recent events in many Arab countries have demonstrated young people’s thirst for more social justice and equal opportunities in education, training and work.
Maximizing the contributions of TVET to social and economic development requires that we develop a more diverse conception of TVET, encompassing a multiplicity of purposes, providers, settings and learners. This means acknowledging that the formal, public TVET system is only one part of the full picture, and giving policy attention to the different places where skills development occurs – by making visible, appreciating and supporting TVET learning wherever it occurs, including in local communities and workplaces. At the same time, we must remember that, generally speaking, TVET by itself does not create jobs; it is therefore important that decision-makers also put in place the right policies and conditions to stimulate economic development.
Similarly, we need to establish new types of partnerships, networks and alliances between diverse stakeholders within and between countries, including not just North-South cooperation but also South-South and North-South-South cooperation. More regional and international dialogue will increase the opportunities for learning from each other and exchanging experiences.
These relationships should support innovative resourcing arrangements to ensure more efficient, equitable and sustainable TVET. Mixed financing models based on contributions from the public and private sectors as well as local stakeholders and civil society increase the funding base. Moreover, where employers benefit from the availability of skilled personnel, they can also share their expertise and offer access to relevant technologies, mentoring and work placement opportunities. Multilateral and bilateral partners, as well as non-governmental organizations, can complement these efforts at the country level.
In order to advance progress in these areas, UNESCO, as requested by many of its Member States, has developed a TVET Strategy for 2010-2015 that sets out three areas of action: the provision of policy advice, conceptual clarification and the improvement of monitoring, and acting as a clearinghouse to inform the global TVET debate. Together with the International Labour Organization, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Training Foundation, we also established the Inter-agency Group on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (IAG-TVET) in 2009. The Group, which has now been joined by regional development banks, is in the process of designing indicators for TVET and supporting the enhancement of national monitoring and evaluation capacities.
These topics and more were central to the discussions at the Third International Congress on TVET, which UNESCO convened from 13-16 May 2012 in Shanghai. The Congress was a major opportunity to advance the global debate on the roles of TVET in social and economic development. It was also an occasion to jointly examine the findings of the forthcoming World Report on TVET, which will focus on transforming and expanding learning opportunities. Furthermore, the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report will have, as its main theme, skills development for marginalized young people.
TVET is surely one of the best investments a country can make, especially when it is made available equally to girls and boys, women and men. We must now match the new prominence given to TVET for development with the resources and policies to ensure that TVET delivers, for the benefit of all.
Qian Tang is the Assistant Director- General for Education UNESCO, Paris. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This piece first appeared in NORRAG NEWS Towards a New Global World of Skills Development? TVET’s turn to Make its Mark, No.46, September 2011, pp. 14-15.