Technical education and vocational training: Present status and future directions

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By Earle Fernando Technical education and vocational training (TEVT) generally refer to skills training for industrial, manufacturing, construction, and service sectors. It is also education and training outside the general education and higher education systems. TEVT covers a diverse range of training activities. These are undertaken by the government and private sector organisations. During the past four decades, the socio-economic setting of Sri Lanka changed considerably. Among the more significant changes that brought about social upheavals were youth insurrections of 1971 and 1989. The Youth Commission that probed into the youth uprisings recommended the establishment of the National Education Commission (NEC). Thereafter, the National Apprenticeship Board (NAB), Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) and the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) were set up. For over a century, the traditional home of technical education was the Ministry of Education. And vocational training was part of the employment services of the Department of Labour. In 1994, the government took a bold step. The main government providers of technical education, vocational training, apprenticeship, technical teacher training, and the TEVC were brought under one ministry. Thus, technical education and vocational training became mutually supportive, complementary functions. Also, for the first time, the TEVT sector was elevated to a Ministerial function. In 1977, the government liberalised the economy. This diminished the role of government and boosted the private sector participation in production, manufacturing, construction and services. Consequently, reform and redirection of education and training became an urgent necessity. Hence, in 1995-1996, the Government established three Presidential Task Forces on General Education, Higher Education, and Technical Education and Vocational Training. These Task Forces were responsible for the formulation and implementation of reform policies. The Presidential Task Force on Reforms in Technical Education and Vocational Training (TEVT) recommended sector-wide policy changes. The most significant changes are outlined under the following headings. The role of the Government The Task Force on TEVT Reforms recommended that the Government should move away from being the main provider of training and become its facilitator, standard-setter, regulator and coordinator. Accordingly, the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) was reconstituted and converted to a statuary body. Thus, the Commission has greater autonomy with increased representation of the private sector. And the TEVC became more functional and effective organisation. The primary objective of the TEVC is formulate skill standards, ensure quality, and to regulate and coordinate TEVT. The private sector participation, in particular, made it possible for the TEVC to respond more closely to emerging skill needs of the labour market. The participation of the private sector The private sector investors were offered a range of incentives including grants, duty-free imports, and tax concessions to setup training facilities. In July 2000, the government established the Skills Development Fund (SDF).The main objective of SDF is to assist the employers to train and upgrade the skills of their employees. The government contributed Rs. 100 Million to commence SDF. And the Employers Federation of Ceylon (EFC) and a private sector entrepreneur contributed Rs. 1 million each. This entrepreneur was the first chairman of SDF. Even with all these incentives, the employers were not motivated enough to invest in training and to upgrade the skills of their employees. They preferred to poach trained workers from other companies. This is a common practice even in more developed countries. Linkages between general education, university education and TEVT The Task Force on TEVT recommended that the TEVT system should offer opportunities for thousands who leave the general education system at different points to progressively acquire certificate, diploma and degree level qualifications. The underlying objective was to make TEVT more attractive to the large number of students who miss opportunities for admission to universities. The diagram illustrates these linkages. The Task Force also recommended the establishment of a degree- awarding institution at the apex of the TEVT system. Accordingly, the government established the University of Vocational Technology (UNIVOTEC) at Ratmalana. External assistance to TEVT Since 1998, the ministry responsible for TEVT initiated several steps to implement the TEVT reforms and to rationalise and streamline the system. The ministry also obtained external assistance from Germany, Japan, Korea and the ADB. The main objective of the multi-donor funded ADB Skills Development Project (2000-2006) was the implementation of reforms in TEVT. The main outcomes of the project are outlined in the following Sections. Skill standards, curricula and CBT The Skills Development Project formulated skills standards of several occupations. These covered existing and new courses. Competency-Based Training (CBT) was the main method of delivery of these courses. In contrast to the traditional, time-based training, CBT is a more systematic and flexible mode of training. Also, CBT provides opportunities for anyone within or outside the TEVT system to build-on what has been learnt already. The project developed planning and operational details of Skill Standards, Curricula and CBT, and a large number of related manuals and guidelines. National Vocational Qualification Framework A priority area of reform in TEVT is the development of a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Framework. This is the backbone of the quality assurance system of TEVT. It is one of main functions of the Tertiary and Vocational Training Commission (TVEC). The NVQ starts at Level 1, which covers core, entry-level skills. The Levels 2 to 4 correspond to increasing levels of competence at the certificate level. The Levels 5 to 6 and Level 7 correspond to competencies at Diploma and Degree levels respectively. University of Vocational Technology (UNIVOTEC) As mentioned earlier, the establishment of a degree awarding institution at the apex of the TVET system is one of the main recommendations of the Task Force. Accordingly, the government gave priority and obtained external assistance to establish the UNIVOTEC. The UNIVOTEC has some unique features. The degree courses are generally reserved for those completing certificate and diploma courses at appropriate NVQ Levels. Thus, for the first time in Sri Lanka, those who choose TEVT , or who are already in the TEVT sector will have opportunities to move up, exit laterally, gain work experience, earn an income, and return to acquire certificate, diploma, and bachelor degree qualification in a progressive manner. The UNIVOTEC adapted the German Fachhochschule (in English, this is known as University of Applied Technology) model. And Germany assisted in the establishment of UNIVOTEC. The main focus of UNIVOTEC is on new and emerging fields of technologies related to the new initiatives of the government aimed at harnessing local resources. Hence, the fields of study of UNIVOTEC include technologies related to wood and wood processing, clay and ceramics, foundry and casting, welding and fabrication, manufacturing and production, and polymers, plastics and rubber. Future directions If the initiatives of the Government to increase the quality and relevance of TEVT are to be sustained, early action needs to be taken to resolve the following issues. Eliminate duplication of functions and responsibilities of major training providers As mentioned earlier, the government brought together the main training providers under the purview of a new ministry. These are the Department of Technical Education and Training (DTET), National Apprentice & Industrial Training Authority (NAITA) and Vocational Training Authority (VTA). However, due to legislative and other constraints, these providers are saddled with overlapping functions and responsibilities. One way to eliminate these issues and achieve greater rationalisation and cohesion is to amalgamate these providers and establish a single statutory authority. Such an authority should have a clear mandate to plan and deliver technical education, vocational training, and apprenticeship in a mutually supportive and flexible manner. Establish an organisation to assess skills and award certificates Training providers conduct skills tests and issue certificates for their own trainees and apprentices. This arrangement is not satisfactory. It affects quality and acceptance. Hence, skills testing and certification functions of the government training providers together with staff and other resources responsible for such work should be transferred to an independent body. This body may be called the National Testing and Certification Service (NTCS). The sole responsibility of NTCS should be to conduct tests and award tests and certificates that conform to the NVQ framework. In addition, NTCS should offer opportunities for testing and certification for those who acquire skills on-the-job and under a master craftsman, and to those seeking foreign employment. If the NTCS is to perform this role, it should be an independent and autonomous organisation similar to the National Education Testing Service (NETS) of the Ministry of Education. Provide opportunities for work experience after training There is popular belief that combining training with production yield better results such as gaining work experience and recouping training costs. It is an attractive proposition. However, it has inherent drawbacks. The main objective of training is to impart skills. And, if production activities are planned strictly as part of skills acquisition, there is no reason for concern. Most often, production takes precedence over skills training. And there are abuses. Accountability also becomes an issue. Therefore, separate production units may be established and operated on commercial lines. The production units should have a manager and a core group of skilled workers, and support staff. Newly graduated trainees may work on contract basis for a fixed period, say maximum of two years. The instructors, teachers and other staff of training centres may work after their normal hours on part-time basis and earn some extra income. Offer incentives to the private sector to train and employ job entrants The private sector in general, except some multinationals and a few large companies, hardly invests in training job entrants. They claim that inflexible labour laws prevent them from employing job seekers let alone train them. The most common way is to recruit job seekers as learners and apprentices under the Wages Boards. Often, they are trained-on-the job. However, the preferred option of employers, both here and abroad, is to recruit those trained by other employers. When apprentices are sent by NAITA for on-the-job and in-part training, they are often treated as ‘free labour’ as NAITA pays their stipend. Consequently, the employers are less interested in NAITA apprentices than those recruited under the provisions of the Wages Boards. Also, the objectives, management capability of Skills Development Fund mentioned earlier may be improved by adapting the experience of neighbouring countries like Singapore. It may, therefore, be necessary to look at these issues afresh taking into account of the policies and priorities of the government and develop innovative programs that would fulfil the needs of the employers, aspirations of youth and the job seekers. As mentioned before, there are several successful models from other countries in the region. These may be studied, and adapted to suit the national needs. [The writer worked as a Senior Specialist of the International Labour Organization (ILO) for 17 years. On his return, the Government invited him to be the Advisor on TEVT. And, as member of the Presidential Task Force on TEVT Reforms, he coordinated the formulation and implementation of Reforms. He was also the Chief Technical Advisor, ADB Skills Development Project. At present, he is a Board Director of the Information and Communication Technology Agency, ICTA).]