TVET in South Africa and the international agenda: Are they transformative?

Overview
TVET has been moving up the agenda internationally as in many national contexts. In responding to the myriad of development challenges, South Africa has not been short in developing strategies to respond. This short policy brief examines the nature of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) policy and practice in South Africa and its relationship with keyregional and international policy pronouncements. Key regional (African Union), continental (BRICS) and global (United Nations) perspectives are examined. Current developments in TVET in South Africa are endogenous, but exogenous factors have potential to shape and reinforce the current policy trajectory, perhaps not in a manner that is as transformative as would be desired. This paper forms part of a series of REAL and NORRAG Policy Briefs on TVET and TVSD in Africa, and provides an assessment of the current South African trajectory following from an earlier piece by Lolwana (Lolwana, 2014) regarding the relationship between the international and national in South African education and skills policy.
 
Introduction
TVET has moved up the international education and training agenda as the need for skills and jobs dominatethe agenda of nations. In South Africa, TVET has become particularly crucial as a response to the jobs and skills crisis dominating the headlines of the popular press. The large number of youth not in education, training or jobs, together with the discourse of the skills shortage has provided the necessary impetus for TVET to become a significant element of the overall response to development. The transformation of the TVET system has, therefore become a significant concern nationally, with support of an international context for its revival. Unsurprisingly, the title of a recent UNESCO publication from which this agenda is drawn is appropriately named Unleashing the potential: Transforming Technical and Vocational Education.’ (Marope, Chakroun , & Holmes, 2015). South Africa has been well positioned to take on board
the international agenda. The recent accolade by South Africa in meeting the ‘Millennium Development Goals targets’ means that South Africa is considered
for better or worse as a significant ‘leader’ in the international policy terrain, at the forefront of responding to international norms and standards deemed appropriate. It is therefore not surprising that the country is, albeit surreptitiously, expected to lead in the implementation of the international Sustainable
Development Agenda, Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2015), referred to as Vision 2030. The SDGs are expected to
chart the international developmental agenda for the foreseeable future, at least until 2030. The increased attention to TVET in the international agenda, while
it provides an important, albeit limited and limiting focus on TVET, will inevitably place TVET in the agendas of aid-dependent countries and agencies that are
responsive to them.

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The glass is half full

The glass is half full! Let’s Grasp the TVET opportunities offered by the SDGs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salim Akoojee

International Research Associate and Consultant and NORRAG Associate

26th January 2016

 

After the dust has settled on the somewhat arduous Sustainable Goal-Setting (SDG) process, we have finally arrived at a point at which the TRANSFORMING OUR WORLD: THE 2030 AGENDA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT has begun its ambitious journey. As unwieldy, unrealizable, confusing, vague, and numerous as it is, the proverbial dye is has been cast and the horse has bolted. So what do we do now? It is clear that as imperfect as they are (see various comments on this blog), they are for better (or for worse) the only ones we have. Notwithstanding its key challenges, and without being overly apologetic, simplistic and dismissive about critical shortcomings, there is a real case to be made for seeing them as a well-meaning and useful starting point to engage the development agenda. It is after all by its own admission an attempt in “…setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision” (United Nations, 2015). It does define in a nutshell the importance of responding meaningfully to poverty, inequality and strife that essentially define our current condition. As such, it does represent a valuable tool in an attempt to respond to key priorities and challenges in the quest to make this world a better place.

With respect to TVET especially, there is clearly much to be celebrated in the SDGs and equally much to be gained by embracing what it has to offer. It does provide the much-needed attention to the necessity of vocational skills development in national and global transformation in support of the goals of poverty.

Lest we forget what the MDGs forgot!

If we accept, as Michael Gerber, ambassador and special envoy for sustainable development of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Prof. Peliwe Lolwana, Director of REAL at Wits University, point out that more attention has been paid to TVET in the SDGs than has been paid in MDGs, the task at hand, despite considerable misgivings is to make the best of this opportunity. While the MDG eight time-bound goals[2][3] provided an important ‘first take’ at international goal setting, it also made clear that the actual achievement of the goals are perhaps less important than its quest. As the Secretary General (of the UN) noted in one of the final reports of the MDG, “Yet, for all the remarkable gains, I am keenly aware that inequalities persist and that progress has been uneven”[4]. It would be presumptuous to suggest that the gains were the result of the MDGs[5], but awareness of the need to respond to them by various national players cannot have been ignored.

TVET was clearly not on that agenda of the MDGs. Only one of the goals specifically referred to TVET, that of, “promoting learning and life skills for young people and adults.” Of course, it was likely that Goal 4 (increase adult literacy) vaguely referenced some attention to TVET in so far as it linked to training with the formal and informal labour market. Little possibilities existed for the link between education, training and the economy, which meant that even in the quest for achieving employment outcomes contained in (target Ib[6]), there was little responsibility for the role of skills in enhancing this goal.

Also the fact that some notable progress had been made net primary enrolment[7] and less with respect to employment[8], says much about the development trajectory followed and the impact of the market when a key sector is left out.

Despite shortcomings, an International agenda setting is necessary. According to a WHO report, for instance, “The MDGs have been more influential than any other attempt at international target setting in the field of development”[9]. This is important. So, rather than repeatedly pointing out, as report after report has not been done (with EFA[10] for instance), it is perhaps useful to examine what has been achieved by an international agenda. It is perhaps more important to craft where we are now and what progress has been made. It is, therefore, important to have them there.

The SDGs: There is more than meets the eye

Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development” adopted on 25 September 2015 started its arduous path in 2012 as a result of the outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 conference) leading to the establishment of the Open Working Group on SDGs. The new development agenda with its 17 goals and 169 targets has potential to redefine the way in which development is understood. By integrating the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) around the themes of people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, there is a real possibility to continue to prioritize the fight against poverty and hunger, human rights for all and the empowerment of women and girls as part of the push to achieve gender equality, depending on where different countries are at in the developmental chain. Crucially, there potential to recognise that eradicating poverty and inequality, creating inclusive economic growth at the national level and preserving the planet globally are inextricably linked and that the relationships between each of these elements are dynamic and reciprocal.

Since SDGs have to take account of diverse contexts, it does mean that such an agenda has to be necessarily broad. The extensive coverage of Education SDG #4 has been both revered and criticised. On the one hand, “It is surely worth celebrating the fact that all sub-sectors of education have been included in the SDG4.” while on the other hand, ‘the downside of SDG4, however, is that it covers everything! Thus while it is as referred to as ‘ambitious’ in its attempt to incorporate ‘the whole spectrum of education and training’ (King 2015-2016).

In the quest to see the glass as half full, the potential for securing the importance of TVET abound. The TVET storyline is ever present in the new SDGs. The education goal (#4[11]) is at the outset a testament to vocational and lifelong education. Not only does the title of the much touted education goal, (Goal 4) of the seven goals, reinforce the importance of TVET in the entire education and training system, it is clear that the quest for ‘inclusive’, ‘equitable’ and ‘quality’ education with reference to ‘lifelong learning’ must provide an opportunity for TVET provisioning to be foregrounded.

TVET features extensively in the new agenda. Two (of the seven) targets specifically refer to TVET (Goal 4.3 and 4.4[12]) all of the goals could be interpreted as supporting the TVET agenda. From the title which calls for an, ‘inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels – early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary, technical and vocational training’

Importantly, if we agree that TVET (or TVSD) is a ‘vector’ rather than a ‘sector’ (Carton, 2015), the importance and relevance of the component can be considered critical to achievement of most of the other goals – whether it be of poverty (Goal #1), hunger (Goal#2), health (Goal #3) or economy (Goal #8[13] and #12[14]) or Energy (Goal#7) or infrastructure development (Goal #9). Thus in the target for economic growth, notwithstanding the current critique about the favoured economic development path, the targets can similarly be quite easily retrofitted with a clearly defined TVET focus.

What then about current shortcomings?

This does not mean that we simply ignore the challenges made by various commentators that have tracked its trajectory since the heady days of 2012[15]. Of course there have been numerous miss-steps regarding the monitoring of said goals. It is true that there is a distinct lack of specificity in the education goals and the dearth of national content in the way they have been crafted (Palmer, 2015).

The long list of goals have been criticized for their extensive nature that will likely result in them being disregarded:

.               …end up with a long list of disparate goals – all important in their own right, but together making up a list so long that governments will almost certainly ignore it. The impact on actual lives would be close to nil (Melamed, quoted in Palmer, 2015)

While it might be true that the list are likely disparate but if governments do indeed ignore the goals (and they will be doing this at their peril), it is unlikely that they are doing this because the list is too long and disparate, but because, these governments by their very nature do not see themselves defined by a global agenda. As Prof. Kenneth King points out,

“Of course, China, Brazil, Russia, UK, and USA are not going to change their own national education plans because of this UN decision. Nor are Oman, South Africa and Chile…, to mention just a handful of countries with their own development plans” (King,, 2015).

The reality of ensuring that these goals are met has to be done at the national level, which is why it is important that national targets are NOT specified (although some commentators have considered this a weakness of the current agenda). The inspirational nature of the exercise should not be forgotten as is the real possibility that they have the potential to be (albeit selectively!!!) referred to by those policy-making and those making strategic decisions around resource allocation. Yes, this includes international CSOs and development funders, but the reality of owning this process has, unfortunately to be a national one. One that even an organisation with considerable stature and prestige like UN or its organs is unlikely to be very effective at, except from a distance, as an interested observer.

Where to now?

So, rather than repeatedly pointing out, as report after report has done, of the (lack of) progress towards EFA[16] and about how unlikely the goals are (to be) met, it is perhaps more important to craft where we are now and what progress has been made. It is, therefore, important to have them there. Global goals have always been, and still are, significant, for those that need to justify using them for various ends. But ultimately it is in espousing them that we have achieved much. As King reminds us, most governments are not waiting for global goals to begin with their development responsibilities. They are already underway. The global goals will give existing initiatives an impetus and direct, remind and cajole policymakers (and others) about their priorities and responsibilities in making their world a better one, underpinned by social justice, inclusion and a determined commitment to ensuring a better life for all.

It is, of course, time to move from merely espousing the rhetoric to action. Just how the goals are to be utilised is unfortunately left to governments and the populace to decide. The goals we have, as imperfect as they are, must be used to advantage. They allow options to respond to both the contexts of say South Sudan (where TVET and system formation needs to be urgently placed on the national agenda), and parts of Europe which by all measures can be considered to have effective systemic conditions in place but that needs to respond to new realities. Thus even in Spain, Portugal and Greece, for instance which in addition to the existing challenges as a remnant of the 2008 economic crisis and high youth unemployment, the immigrant influx creates a new dynamic that requires TVET review.

Implications for goal setting

In addition, the health warning regarding data challenges (Michel Carton and Velibor Jakovleski, 2015) is clearly an important one, as is the need for clearly defined funding regime as Charles Aheto-Tsegah reminds us in a piece entitles, “Without a Proper Financing Plan, Let’s Kiss the Education SDG Goodby”. But the reality is that should there be an expectation that this kind of exercise has to be managed in a way that other plans are. Is it perhaps unrealistic to expect that, as Steven Klees from the University of Maryland, who points out, “…fundamentally, despite good intentions, the international community has not been serious about fulfilling these commitments”. But just who is this ‘ghostly international community’ that is expected to make this work. It presupposes that there is an organization that can define just what needs to be done and how. So in a quite twisted way, the goal setting agenda is doomed to failure because it does not have an organ that can meaningfully take responsibility for its conduct or outcome. Ultimately, it needs to be pointed out that when we (and by this mean the entire world) are in all likelihood to pronounce in 2027, that the SDG goals have failed, it does mean that we have failed, as a collective to achieve them. As the limited achievements of some of the MDGs testify, it does seem that while we would have made some progress, that the key underlying conditions for achieving the really critical indicators to which we all aspire, i.e. poverty alleviation and hunger, might well not be achieved without some deliberate decision-making at the level of the nation state. Decision-making that is done collectively by government, private sector and communities involved in its achievement.

In reality however, that we continue to set gals and aspire to those considered appropriate is indeed an important one. The fact that we can agree that values underpinned by respect for human life, the quest for human rights, equity, justice and ensuring that the scourges of poverty and those vulnerable and disenfranchised both politically and economically are responded to is an important achievement. The aspirational nature of the exercise must not be forgotten. In this regard, there is clearly an argument to be made that that suggests that the goals can be used as a powerful means by which to advance the human agenda, while its role in advancing the TVET agenda has been cemented. The SDGs therefore provide a powerful avenue and an important basis for ensuring that the relationship between education and training, lifelong learning and livelihoods development is ensured.

In closing

The key potential of the SDG agenda is that it provides a framework for action. While there are considerable challenges that need to be addressed, the key feature of a global agenda setting exercise is crafting that vision. It has placed TVET on the agenda. While we are not quite there yet, the grassroots implementation context has been secured. Global goals have always been, and still are, significant, for those that need to justify using them for various ends. But ultimately it is in espousing them that we have achieved much. As King reminds us, most governments are not waiting for global goals to begin with their development responsibilities. They are already underway. The global goals will give existing initiatives an impetus and direct, remind and cajole policymakers (and others) about their priorities and responsibilities in making their world a better one, underpinned by social justice, inclusion and a determined commitment to ensuring a better life for all. It needs to be owned at national level.

We need to remember as Palmer reminds us, “We should not forget that the SDG ‘targets are defined as aspirational and global’ (UN)…..and that …(The) global targets are meant to be adopted / adapted to the country level; it is therefore about national level implementation of internationally agreed priorities – that draw on the global ambition of the SDGs.”

The SDG has potential for providing an agenda that could result in a coherent framework for action. While there are considerable challenges that need to be addressed and we are not arguably there yet, TVET has been placed in the international education and training agenda. The reality of responding to diverse implementation contexts means that such an agenda has to be necessarily broad. The importance of international goal setting cannot be ignored. According to a WHO report, for instance, “The MDGs have been more influential than any other attempt at international target setting in the field of development”[17]. This is important.

The SDGs have done one thing well - they have ultimately placed skills development and vocational education on the global stage as a key component of the education and training terrain, and we should not lose sight of that breakthrough.

Salim Akoojee is international TVET research associate and consultant

The longer version of this blog is available @ Website: http://eduvoc.org.za/

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In this regard, the need for redefine both consumption and production sectors can suggest a very focus for TVET from traditional production to an awareness that production has to be focused on sustainable consumption and re-production in line with the sustainable development agenda.