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Photo: Laura Mougel / Flickr
Photo: Laura Mougel / Flickr

“Productive capabilities develop TVET’s contribution to social justice”, by Gavin Moodie.

written by: Gavin Moodie published 2019-07-24 updated 2019-07-24

Education International’s new report on "Technical and Vocational Education and Training as a Framework for Social Justice" charts a new way for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to advance social justice.

This is the second project Education International has commissioned on TVET’s role in supporting social justice. The first, Global Trends in TVET: a framework for social justice which was published in 2016, proposed the notion of ‘productive capabilities’. This project extends that work through seven  national case studies that explored different types of TVET systems and the nature of the societies and economies in which they were embedded: Argentina, Australia, Côte D’Ivoire, England, Ethiopia, Germany, and Taiwan.

The new report proposes that TVET advance productive capabilities, which are what people are able to ‘be and do’ at work and through work to realise themselves and their goals. Productive capabilities extends the human capabilities approach developed by the economics Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and the philosopher Martha Nussbaum to underpin TVET system design and funding, the role of TVET teachers and institutions, and TVET curriculum.

Productive capabilities  refer to the resources and arrangements of work and the broad knowledge, skills and attributes that individuals need to be productive at work, to progress in their careers, and to participate in decision-making about work. TVET students need to understand how their field of practice fits within their communities and societies, and they require the capacity to be ‘citizens’ within their field, so they can help shape its future.

Productive capabilities are located in and concentrate on an intermediate specialised level, the vocational stream. A vocational stream links occupations that share common practices, knowledge, skills and personal attributes. Vocational streams increase horizontal flexibility and transferability at work by linking occupations in a broad field of practice. They also increase vertical flexibility and progression by supporting education and occupational progression in a broad field of practice.

Education International’s report proposes productive capabilities as an alternative to human capital theory which continues to shape TVET despite being empirically flimsy and normatively bankrupt.

Research for the report found that productive capabilities rest upon broader social, economic, cultural, and physical resources. TVET also depends on ‘soft infrastructure’: institutions which enable societies to operate, such as the general education system, health and social services, the legal system, and the finance system.

The report argues that all post secondary qualifications should have these three roles, although the emphasis on each role may differ with each qualification:

  1. Labour market. Qualifications should provide entry to and progression in the workforce.
  2. Education. Qualifications should provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to study at a higher level in their field or a closely related field.
  3. Society. Qualifications should contribute to society by developing students’ appreciation of and contribution to culture and society. They should develop individuals’ capacity to contribute to their families, communities, and occupations. Qualifications also contribute to social inclusion by supporting inclusion in education and the labour market, and by contributing to a more tolerant and inclusive society.

TVET to develop productive capabilities would develop individuals in three domains:

  1. The knowledge base of practice. This includes the theoretical knowledge needed for the field of practice, but also for higher-level study within the occupation. It also includes knowledge about the history and trajectory of their field of practice, ethical dilemmas and debates, and knowledge about sustainable practices.
  2. The technical base of practice. This includes industry knowledge and skills, or the ability to perform particular roles and tasks, that transcend particular workplaces.
  3. The attributes the person needs for that occupation. This includes attributes such as ethical practice, but also effective communication skills, the capacity to work autonomously and in teams, creativity, information management and so forth. While these are sometimes described as general or generic, they are understood differently in different fields of practice and need to be developed in specific disciplines and occupations. Since capabilities are embedded in their context, productive capabilities require an understanding of the nature of work, the relationship between education and work, and the kind of qualified person we want to produce.

The report argues that TVET institutions have an important role anchoring their communities by:

  • ‘proactively working with social partners in the region and nationally (where appropriate) to support sustainable and inclusive social and economic development;
  • anticipating, elaborating, codifying and institutionalising the knowledge base of practice for the future as well as the present and in considering the way work is changing and the implications that this has for a curriculum for the future. This is a crucial role that would support innovation, and requires appropriately qualified and supported teachers who engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning and in research on the way their field is changing;
  • offering students a sufficiently comprehensive range of programs that enable them to realise their aspirations and providing students with the broad range of services and supports that are needed to successfully achieve their goals; and,
  • developing qualifications that meet the needs of students, communities, local industries and regions.

TVET also has important roles developing occupations and industries. It:

  1. Is a reservoir of accumulated expertise and resources;
  2. Is expert in organising knowledge, restructuring knowledge for new purposes, and presenting it for new audiences (teaching);
  3. Transfers new ideas from outside the occupation and local industry; and
  4. Has a potentially valuable role in codifying, restructuring, and systematising rules and procedures of practice, not only to construct curriculum, but to establish assessment standards which can be important industry standards.

The report argues that to fulfill these roles TVET needs to have strong institutions with expert and well supported teachers, education support workers and administrative staff. TVET also needs to become institutionalised in the sociological sense of being generally understood by the public with established norms and organisational forms which are reinforced by the expectations and behaviour of other institutions, organisations and actors.

Education International’s full report by Gavin Moodie, Leesa Wheelahan and Eric Lavigne may be downloaded here.