The Covid-19 pandemic made it clear that as the world becomes increasingly interconnected so do the risks we face. It has affected people’s lives and national economies, and education is no exception. The lockdowns in response to Covid-19 have interrupted conventional teaching and learning practices. While remote learning has offered some educational continuity when it comes to academic learning, vocational education and training has been particularly affected by the crisis. Compared to general programmes, technical and vocational programmes suffer a double disadvantage, as social distancing requirements and the closure of enterprises have made practical and work based learning that are so crucial for the success of vocational education difficult or impossible. Yet, the Technical and Vocation Education and Training (TVET) sector plays a central role in ensuring the alignment between education and work and the successful transition of learners into the labour market, that are so important for the economic recovery of any country and for prosperity more generally.
As it brought some sectors to a complete shutdown, at the same time Covid-19 has accelerated the transformation and digitalisation of the economy. New industries emerged, creating enormous potential for innovation, creativity and progress. For the TVET sector it presented an opportunity to innovate and increase its attractiveness - from experiential virtual training to remote placements with employers - building bridges across countries and boosting inclusiveness of provision and work experience. In this context education and skills systems are increasingly looking towards international experiences to inspire and inform national reforms.
While a lot of the measures introduced by the vocational institutions worldwide were an immediate response to the pandemic and are already well documented by the International Labour Organization (ILO), OECD and national sector organisations, it is interesting to know how vocational institutions are adapting and what measures they are undertaking which will be sustained post-Covid-19, as well as what changes need to be introduced for the long term.
As an international problem Covid-19 requires international cooperation in the effort to solve it. The social, economic and educational recovery from the pandemic can be enhanced by knowledge transfer and innovation exchange. With this in mind, we brought back together fifteen TVET institutions from the five countries of the British Council’s I-WORK Programme (Improving Work Opportunities - Relaying Knowledge) to explore innovation, evolution and change stemming from the pandemic. TVET practitioners and leaders from Ghana, India, Malaysia, South Africa and the UK reflected on five key questions:
- How are institutional policy and structures likely to change to reflect the changing situation? Is this different for private institutions?
- What changes are proposed to the curriculum/occupational areas to reflect the rapidly changing demand and how are they identifying this demand?
- How will learners get the practical and work-based experience they need and what changes to work-based learning and apprenticeships are needed?
- What changes are needed to the skills and type of staff in the teaching institution?
- How can new delivery models and ways of working promote more inclusive practice?
We spoke to them as institutions approached almost a year of adapting their teaching, learning and support to localised lockdowns and the restrictions of the pandemic, and found that having dealt with the initial crisis-management implications of the pandemic, institutions were beginning to innovate and to evolve their thinking for the medium to long term. The national policy context may have been different in each country, but across the board innovation was a dominant driving theme for all the institutions, and the move to digital learning and teaching had brought benefits, opportunities and challenges that might not otherwise have been realised.
TVET institutions showed resilience, creativity and entrepreneurship during the pandemic. They developed new assessment, quality assurance and teaching methods, some of which can no doubt be translated into long-term practice. Staff and students benefited too by upskilling on digital tools and becoming more independent and resourceful in their approach to learning and work experience. For some institutions, these developments were new, creating curriculum opportunities and closer alignment with employers. For others, it was a case of reutilising what was already there and accelerating existing educational principles. The efficiency, sustainability and legacy of the changes brought about by Covid-19 suggest that a complete return to pre-pandemic TVET policy and practice is unlikely.
So, what can be learnt for the different experiences of our five study countries?
Join us for our virtual Going Global conference from 15-17 June 2021 where we will be launching our research ’How are vocational institutions innovating, evolving and changing as a result of Covid-19? Practice and perspectives from five countries’ to discover the latest insights from the TVET sector in the five study countries.
The research signposts key themes for national policy-makers and practitioners to support the TVET reform in the aftermath of Covid-19 and focuses on recommendations that are both practical and feasible, and that will benefit policy-makers and TVET institutions, their staff and students.
At Going Global you will hear the latest insights and research in the international tertiary education sector, forge connections with leaders from around the globe, and work together on reimagining tertiary education for a post-pandemic world.