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TVET for a Changing World: Global Developments, Local Resonance

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:

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.

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1 Response

  1. Mike

    In the light of the impending UNESCO 2012 Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report, I have re-read NN46 and have again been heartened by some parts of it.

    For instance, I applaud the recognition of the relevance of our dangerous, dysfunctional world as it actually is (“… climate change, food security, economic crises and cultural diversity…”). I welcome the challenging of the “economic development paradigm” and “neoliberal assumptions”. I salute the embracing of “human rights, human development and capabilities, human security and human flourishing” and the convincing “conceptualisation of the contribution of [skills development] more broadly than that provided by employability”.

    And I certainly echo the call for a “constructive critique of the world of work including its assumptions and the power relationships within it; the importance of professional associations and trades unions as guardians of standards and campaigners for equity… skills in workers’ rights advocacy and practical capacities in various forms of industrial action” (which isn’t surprising as that extract comes from my own contribution).

    And yet I await the GMR with increasing foreboding. Two monstrous confusions characterise the bulk of this collection: the failure to recognise and brandish the distinction between education and training and the delusion that targeting technical and vocational but not professional skills can ever be (perceived as) anything other than a derisory second-rate option. So I fear that we now face a two-decade struggle to (a) retain the integrity of universal genuine education and (b) achieve effective skills development for all, without ‘b’ further infiltrating ‘a’ to their mutual impairment.

    The core of the debate is characterised by conceptual confusion. ‘TVET’ is being further fused with ‘general education’ to the detriment of both. And, despite the plangent disclaimers, the assumption that TVET is mainly for academic non-achievers still shines through.

    The observation that “…aid agencies have tended to view education as an end in itself, rather than as a broader conduit for development” is really a matter for rejoicing rather than regretting, but this is not the moral drawn in NN46.

    Positive too is King and Palmer’s recognition that “education systems… are not supplying adequate skills to the economy” – this is the task of training but very, very definitely not that of education. Education should be concerned with enjoyment and fulfilment and engendering a lifetime love of learning for its own sake; certainly it has nothing whatsoever to do with labour market proficiencies.

    I call upon NORRAG members strenuously to oppose the encroachment of employment preparation and the world of work’s practices and values upon general education and schooling.

    I appeal for imaginative and effective Professional, Technical and Vocational Training (PTVT) and I advocate conceptualising and organising all work-related training and preparation (internships, BTEC professional awards, seminars in management, apprenticeships, medical degrees, shop-floor work-experience, bar examination preparation et cetera) as elements within a unitary policy and administrative framework.

    For if the skills required by doctors, editors, lawyers, managers, artists, public administrators, authors and suchlike are excluded from the skills development framework, then the belief that ‘TVET’ can ever be other than “a low status, low quality educational pathway” will prevail as a dangerous delusion.

    And if education cannot disentangle itself from training, and if development partners continue to view and assess education’s role and performance in terms of labour market provision, we shall for all time have unfulfilled youth, fractured societies and flawed economic systems. So let ‘Expel Employability from the Classroom’ and ‘Spectrum-Wide Skills Development’ be prominent amongst our slogans as we battle the conventional TVET idiocy.

    Mike Douse

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