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Strengthening technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in Pacific Small Island Developing Countries (SIDCs) post COVID-19

Dr Scott K Phillips, Honorary Associate Professor, UNEVOC@RMIT University

Introduction

Writing on the future of young people in the Pacific, Catherine Wilson notes how Pacific leaders and their citizens appreciate the critical role education plays in improving human and economic development performance. Wilson observes: ‘Young people will be a boon to Pacific Island nations if they are prepared, early in life, with the skills and knowledge needed to perform active roles as leaders and drivers of social development and economic growth.’ (Wilson 2020) But progress in achieving educational outcomes in the region, especially when measured against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), reveals a patchy picture.

A recent progress report on the SDGs found that while the Pacific Islands region was making good progress on increasing the numbers of qualified teachers, it was not achieving sufficient progress on other goals. These included the extent to which all girls and boys are completing free, equitable, and good quality primary and secondary education, and women and men having equal access to affordable technical, vocational, and tertiary education. (Wilson 2020, citing data from Pacific Islands Forum 2018)

If education is to facilitate sustainable development in the Pacific Small Island Developing Countries (SIDCs), and reduce youth unemployment, it will be important to improve the provision of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in the region. A key imperative is to align vocational education and training with local employment and societal needs.  As Wilson notes: ‘Education and skills development are essential for equipping young Pacific Islanders with the capabilities not only to secure jobs, but also to drive entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic growth — the combination of which provides the development, public service, and governance expertise necessary for the region. (Wilson 2020) In this blog post, I present a brief overview of the policy context and challenges associated with facilitating this skills development in the region. In subsequent blogs I will analyse the priorities Pacific SIDCs have identified to help them achieve their skills, youth employment and sustainable development objectives.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in Pacific Small Island Developing Countries (SIDC): The Policy Context

While education systems in the Pacific SIDCs have established structures around formal primary and secondary education, there is a need to build ‘what happens next’ by creating pathways for school leavers into further training for participation in the world of work. Although provision of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in the region has grown, TVET systems of curriculum design, training provision, and partnership with industry have not always been aligned with Pacific Island countries’ sustainable development needs and labour market requirements (UNESCO 2020:1).

In this context, UNESCO is supporting selected Pacific Island countries based on expressed needs to ensure TVET quality, effectiveness and efficiency at the systems level, and to ensure coherence between curriculum, the needs of learners, and the labour market (UNESCO 2020).

This focus is in line with UNESCO’s Pacific Strategy 2018-2022 commitments to advance Pacific Islands’ TVET capacity as a key resource for facilitating sustainable development. As the Strategy states:

UNESCO will also seek to support efforts to ensure that TVET provides quality education and training to match labour market demand, to better equip young people for employment both within their own countries, for overseas employment; and equip people with the skills for creating their own livelihood opportunities. Effectively reducing skills mismatch requires the creation of a comprehensive long-term strategy, one involving public/private partnerships among governments, employers, and education and training institutions. TVET is also important for ensuring social justice and sustainability. A coordinated strategy is required that builds solid skills through high quality education involving all relevant stakeholders. (UNESCO 2018: p.23)

At the request of UNESCO, researchers associated with UNEVOC at RMIT University – Professor Peter Kelly, Dr Seth Brown and Dr Scott Phillips – are assisting in efforts to transform implementation of TVET programs in 15 Pacific SIDCs, including Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tuvalu, Tokelau and Vanuatu.

In doing this, we recognise many Pacific countries:

  • are looking for new and/or enhanced TVET programs in senior secondary schools.
  • are seeking to develop strategies to improve both the access and participation of young women in TVET, thereby adding to efforts already undertaken by countries to strengthen TVET linkages with private and public sector employers.
  • are planning to leverage information and communication technology as a tool for enhancing access to, and delivery of, TVET.
  • are seeking support in creating programs to recognise prior learning and gain formal qualifications that will be recognised in their own country as well as in others throughout the region.
  • are seeking to develop their information systems for TVET data collection, to enhance their capacity to monitor and evaluate TVET participation and outcomes. (UNESCO 2018: 22-24; UNESCO 202O: p. 1)

Aligning Pacific SIDCs TVET priorities with UNESCO’s TVET priorities

The UNEVOC@RMIT team is helping UNESCO’s Pacific Office to consult stakeholders from SIDCs about their three year TVET project implementation priorities (2021-2023) and the beneficiaries of those projects, identify implementation partners, and clarify possible donors for priority activities. In reviewing national development priorities (as set out in the country-level development priority statements in UNESCO’s Pacific Strategy 2018-22) as well as regional and global agendas for sustainable development, we have distilled Pacific countries’ stated TVET priorities into 5 key themes:

  1. TVET for 21st Century Skills
  2. Greening TVET
  3. Digital TVET Curriculum and Delivery
  4. Pathways through TVET – secondary and post-secondary
  5. TVET information systems

We will, of course, refine this preliminary understanding through consultation and further analysis. Countries’ TVET priorities are closely aligned with the global priorities for TVET as envisaged by UNESCO. The UNESCO Strategy for TVET (2016-2021) has been framed so it is consistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably:

Goal 4: Quality Education

  • Target 4.3: Equal access to TVET for all women and men
  • Target 4.4: Relevant skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
  • Target 4.5: Gender equality & equal access to TVET for people in vulnerable situations

Goal 5: Gender Equality

  • Global Indicator: Number of countries with laws and regulations that guarantee women aged 15-49 years access to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

  • Target 8.6: By 2020 substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training

Goal 13: Climate Change Mitigation

  • Target 13.3: Improve education, awareness raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning (Katayama 2018, slide 2)

In light of this SDGs focus, the UNESCO TVET Strategy 2016-2021 articulates three pillars of priority areas:

  • Fostering youth employment and entrepreneurship
  • Promoting equity and gender equality
  • Facilitating the transition to green economies and sustainable societies (Katayama 2018, slide 4)

Post COVID-19 challenges for Pacific SIDCs in advancing TVET provision

While Pacific SIDCs have been working to advance TVET provision in their countries on the basis of their national strategies as well as global frameworks such as the UNESCO Pacific Strategy, the SDGs and the UNESCO Strategy for TVET, the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for the TVET sector globally during 2020 and beyond.

Pacific countries have been affected by these difficulties. The ILO-UNESCO-WB Joint Survey on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Skills Development during the time of COVID-19 (2020), which surveyed TVET providers, policy makers and social partners, and received 1,349 responses from 126 countries in May 2020, has pointed to a number of these COVID-related challenges:

  • About 90% of respondents reported complete closure of TVET centres in their countries as a response to the spread of the pandemic. Partial closure was more commonly reported by respondents in some regions, mainly Asia and the Pacific, the Americas, and Europe and Central Asia.
  • There have been disruptions to the provision training, exacerbated by providers lacking the skills for remote training provision, having insufficient time to produce training videos, and having low internet access.
  • Respondents are concerned that demotivated students are more likely to drop out of TVET programs.
  • Low internet access among poor students is an impediment to remote learning.
  • The closure of businesses during the pandemic has made it difficult or impossible for students to complete workplace-based practical training – a critical element of TVET learning.
  • Similarly, apprenticeship programs have been hampered by lockdown restrictions placed on enterprises. (ILO-UNESCO-WB 2020: pp. 4-9)

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on TVET provision has been profound in several ways.

  • Prior to the pandemic, distance learning was not widely used in the countries participating in the ILO-UNESCO-WB survey. However, take up of distance learning has picked up slightly during the pandemic. In Pacific countries, training is being provided partially remotely and partially face-to-face. (ILO-UNESCO-WB 2020: pp. 10-11)
  • In regions where TVET providers regularly used distance learning before the outbreak – including Pacific countries – remote training provision has been available, whereas in Africa no online or offline distance learning is being provided due to cancellations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. (ILO-UNESCO-WB 2020: pp. 10-11)
  • Some face-to-face provision is continuing, where possible. In Kiribati, for example, after an initial closure of educational institutions for two weeks, all training activities resumed as normal because there were no business closures. To facilitate COVID-safe learning experiences ‘the Ministry of Health, WHO and Kiribati Family Association have provided information and training sessions to all staff and students about health and safety precautions related to COVID-19.’ (ILO-UNESCO-WB 2020: p. 14)
  • mix of online platforms and offline tools (including written resources such as self-paced learning guides and learner notes) is being used in countries where online access is limited.
  • Financial constraints put a brake on accelerating necessary investment in resources to enhance TVET provision. While there is evidence of some countries committing extra resources to develop new learning materials, deploy new technologies and expand online and distance learning infrastructure, the ‘likelihood of TVET institutions committing additional resources for the use of distance learning seems positively correlated with countries’ income level.’ (ILO-UNESCO-WB 2020: pp. 16-17)

The imperatives to enhance TVET provision for developing skills matched to labour market, social justice and sustainability goals

The UNESCO Pacific Strategy 2018-2022 sets out clear priorities for ensuring that TVET plays a crucial role in enabling Pacific Island countries to develop skills especially in their young people that are matched with the needs of labour markets and entrepreneurialism in their own countries and throughout the Pacific region (p.16).

As well, TVET is recognised as contributing significantly to promoting social justice, empowerment and the capacity of people (especially young people) to participate in implementing policies that secure sustainability and improved quality of life in Pacific SIDCs (p.16).

A key strategic goal in UNESCO’s vision for Pacific regionalism is to ‘support the transformation of TVET through the promotion of TVET policy reviews involving broad range of stakeholders with consideration to increasing scope of modalities.’ Aligned with this is the priority to ‘support the use of ICT as an enabler of education.’ (p.44)

A related priority is to ‘promote regional and international recognition and accreditation of local TVET qualifications and facilitate knowledge sharing through enhanced regional and inter-agency cooperation.’ (p. 44)

In addition, a further priority is that ‘TVET sectors, through the appropriate national governance and management structures, are supported through the provision of policy advice, technical assistance and skills reinforcement to review and reposition the sector to provide relevant, quality seamless learning pathways and lifelong learning opportunities.’ (p. 57).

These UNESCO priorities for TVET are reflected in the national development priorities statements of the Pacific Island countries, as detailed in the ‘Part V Country focus and alignment of development’ section of the UNESCO Pacific Strategy (pp. 67-143).

Similar TVET priorities are also evident in the Pacific Regional Education Framework (PacREF) 2018 – 2030: Moving Towards Education 2030, which covers 17 Pacific island countries as well as Australia and New Zealand. Under the policy area of ‘learning pathways’, for example, the PacREF prioritises developing ‘models for TVET that emphasize its value, relevance to industry and the labour market.’ (PacREF 2019, p. 9) Similarly, it emphasises developing models for TVET which ‘facilitate opportunities provided by ICT’. (PacREF 2019, p.9) And it speaks of the importance of partnerships in the region with agencies like ‘the Australia Pacific Technical College (APTC), that have made and are making significant contributions to Pacific education and training outcomes’ – particularly as regards improving TVET outcomes across the region. (PacREF 2019, p. 14)

The way forward in a COVID Normal World

The challenge in the post COVID-19 context is to gain clarity on the state of play in implementing these priorities in Pacific countries. This will involve identifying with key country stakeholders what progress has been made and where resources are needed to achieve full implementation of their country’s TVET priorities in the post COVID-19 context. Overcoming challenges to TVET learning in a COVID Normal World will require coordinated investment in the rebuilding of economies and enterprises and strengthening of partnerships between governments, businesses, development funding institutions and education providers.

It will also involve looking beyond players such as Global Partnerships for Education – which does not support projects in TVET – to map how to match countries’ strategic priorities and ways to mobilise resources. Including by matching priorities with funding partners outside the Global Partnership for Education – such as in DFAT/NZ Aid Bureau/ADB/World Bank/IMF/Gates Foundation/Pew Research Centre/Graemeen Bank/Volkswagen Foundation and so on.

RMIT University’s UNEVOC Centre is working with UNESCO to facilitate this mapping and matching.

References

Katayama, H (2018) ‘Global overview on TVET policies for employment and entrepreneurship’, UNESCO Presentation to Regional Workshop on Developing TVET Policies Designed to Increase Skills for Employment and Entrepreneurship in Asia-Pacific, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, UNESCO Paris, accessed online at https://teams.unesco.org/ORG/fu/bangkok/public_events/Shared%20Documents/EISD/TVET/2018/RW_TVET%20Policies%20for%20Employment%20and%20Entrepreneurship/2-%20KATAYAMA-PPT_Tashkent_May2018_Hiromichi_Katayama_Rev.pdf

ILO-UNESCO-WB (2020) ILO-UNESCO-WBG Joint Survey on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Skills Development during the time of COVID-19  accessed online at https://www.oitcinterfor.org/sites/default/files/unesco_ILO_survey.pdf

UNESCO (2018) UNESCO Pacific Strategy 2018-2022 accessed online at https://ar.unesco.org/sites/default/files/unesco_pacific_strategy_2018-2022_0.pdf

UNESCO (July 2020) ‘Terms of Reference for TVET intervention in Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu Review of policy, action plans and modalities for the strengthening of TVET in senior secondary and community lifelong learning programmes in selected Pacific States’ , document provided to researchers via PDF format from UNESCO.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (2018) SDGs 4.1 and 4.3: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2018 Pacific SDGs Progress Wheels, 2018, https://www.pacific.undp.org/content/dam/fiji/docs/UNDP-PO-2018-Pacific-SDG-Progress-Wheels.pdf.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (2019) Pacific Regional Education Framework (PacREF) 2018 – 2030: Moving Towards Education 2030, accessed online at https://www.forumsec.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Pacific-Regional-Education-Framework-PacREF-2018-2030.pdf

Wilson, C (2020) ‘Demanding the Future: Navigating the Pacific’s Youth Bulge’, Lowy Institute Analyses, accessed online at https://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/demanding-future-navigating-pacific-youth-bulge#_ftn26

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