Education International
Education International

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET): the promise and the product

published 23 February 2016 updated 23 February 2016
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TVET has been a growing area of interest, not just for Education International, but for UNESCO, the OECD, for regions, for countries, for teachers and for students. TVET is focused on transitions. It aims to provide learners, both students and adults, with ‘skills for work and life’ (UNESCO). It is a critical plank in the move towards lifelong learning for all and aims to provide equal opportunities for all young people and adults to learn. There is little to argue with in all of this. Education and training is central to our growth as people.

However, all is not blooming in the garden. The very nature of TVET and its focus on students in the lower quartiles of academic achievement has led to an insidious status creep which has seen the market respond to this need in many regions with inadequate, unconnected programmes that cost students not only money, but time, following courses that fail to assist them in transitioning to either more learning or to the workplace.

For instance in New Zealand a governmental metric focused obsession with an 85% pass rate at level 2 NCEA (the year 12 qualification) led to the provision of youth guarantee programmes which may well have helped gain students credits, but did not necessarily give qualifications that would connect either to the workplace or to higher education. In fact for one cohort that was tracked through to three years later, those who had seen an upswing in their achievement at level 2 had in fact sunk below the achievement average of their school based colleagues three years later and had not been able to connect to further learning opportunities.

If TVET is to be successful it needs to respond to the need to transition students from school to training, from school to the workplace, from training to the workplace or from the workplace ‘back to school’. The hard edged definition between work and education is melting with transitions in and out of learning over a lifetime becoming more common. Lifelong learning is also now becoming established as an unalienable right.

UNESCO has recognised the importance of this educational link and has also acknowledged the weakness inherent in current provision. However, too much of it is separated from the process of teaching global citizenship. The response from UNESCO typically places monitoring and evaluation and quality assurance systems at the heart of the response, whereas it’s much more the need for the re-professionalisation of tutors and the connection of programmes to larger systems of knowledge that is going to make the bigger difference.

Holland has recognised this as a central foundation for its TVET which at school level is separated into three strands, a professional qualification which will aim to provide students with something that can be used in, say the plumbing trade; a transitions strand which provides qualifications that connect to higher education and further learning; and crucially a citizenship strand which is focused on connecting students to a values based education that focuses on allowing them to progress to the sort of active citizenship that is envisaged at a transnational level.

Systems are context specific so what works in Germany may not work in the UK and vice versa. However, there must be some givens. If this crucial level of education is left to the market, different imperatives are going to drive the courses. If the state has a substantial say, as it does in Holland, in what is taught and the connections it provides to further learning, there is a better chance of success. If teachers are well qualified (again the Dutch are seeking to have all teachers qualified at the Masters level), have good professional learning opportunities and are involved in the development of the policy, things in TVET are likely to get better still.

There are clearly different pressures for TVET at secondary school level, as a post-secondary leg up, as a pathway to apprenticeships and as a workplace support, but all of them depend on the factors pointed out above. Transitions have to move learners from one place to another in a sympathetic learner centred way that links all students whatever their gender, ethnicity, class, physical or intellectual level at the point of access. Only when TVET can move all students forward will we see progress to the sort of lifelong learning that we all want so much.