TVET's turn to Make its Mark

In Favour of Professional, Technical and Vocational Training (PTVT) - but not at Education's Expense ardently advocated, just as the encroachment of explicit employment preparation and the world of work's practices and values upon general education or schooling is strenuously opposed.

The world changes. We try to identify the trends, avoid the looting and the riots and the retributive aftermath, and predict at least some parts of some futures. In the wake of our limited understandings, so-called TVET - by fits and starts - evolves.

We should train for those futures. Instead we train, at best, for the vaguely perceived, politically mediated presents and, all too frequently, for the erroneously recollected pasts.

Capacity development should be for the individual, the immediate community and the society. All too frequently it is for the human resource unit, the corporate body and the formal economy.

We exchange ideas and evidence and genuinely strive to learn from one another - especially if the fruits of that expert-level intercourse will bring us personal credit - handicapped all the while by our belief that schemes which worked in Oxford will now work in Omdurman.

We are all especially enthusiastic and uniquely uncritical about our own initiatives ('the TVET innovator as hero') but less so about re-applying those schemes of others, allegedly proven efficacious elsewhere and elsewhere, by those whom we do not know - mainstreaming is consequently much less effective than piloting.

The objectives and indicators for (and hence the evaluation of) major so-called TVET and skills development programmes should, at the super-goals and overall objectives levels, extend to their measurable contribution to poverty reduction and social justice.

Any vision for vocational preparation must be grounded upon the realisation that paid and otherwise rewarding work will be in increasingly short supply and that, for the very many, the income-generating future will be characterised by spasmodic bursts of insecure, often part-time and typically lowly-remunerated (self-)employment.

Give a man a fish and he may feed his family for an evening. Teach a man to fish and he may obliterate his age-old eco-system.

It is surprising that some of the heartiest advocates of so-called TVET simultaneously endorse qualification frameworks which require, say, a highly skilled plumber to obtain a university degree in medieval history in order to advance any further up the ladder.

The 'ladder' is a medieval deception.

Schooling is widely perceived as a route away from unskilled primary production ("I am too educated to do the job my parents did") and, consequently, agricultural skills development is inhibited in its utility as a means of poverty alleviation.

The poor status of TVET is a major universal problem. It may best be overcome by conceptualising and organising all work-related training and preparation (internships, BTEC professional awards, seminars in management, apprenticeships, medical degrees, shop-floor work-experience, bar examination preparation et cetera) as elements within a unitary policy and administrative framework. Hence PTVT (Professional, Technical and Vocational Training).

PTVT should embrace a constructive critique of the world of work including its assumptions and the power relationships within it; the importance of professional associations and trades unions as guardians of standards and campaigners for equity should be emphasised, as should skills in workers' rights advocacy and practical capacities in various forms of industrial action.

Many youngsters reject schooling and keep on asking "why should I learn this?". The temptation to sugar coat the pill of compulsion with the saccharine of relevance should be resisted. Given that most work for most workers worldwide will be tedious, exploitative and soul-destroying, those designing and delivering education would be well-advised to steer as far away from it as possible.

'Vocational Education' and 'Education-for-Employment (e4e)' are self-contradictory oxymorons [the redundancy is for emphasis and deliberate].

Although plumbers, carpenters, electricians and suchlike are in short supply, and thus earning good money, there is a tendency for students and their parents to give higher preference and esteem to university degrees, often in traditional and 'ivory tower' subjects. This tendency is to be welcomed as an admirable recognition of the principle that education should not be in thrall to employment.

No child should leave school without basic skills - a love of learning, a respect for knowledge, a desire for wisdom, a critical fluency with contemporary technology, the ability to remain creatively human when unemployed, a fascination with that which is difficult, a unique set of enthusiasms stimulated and underwritten by education. Then and only then may PTVT commence.

Some suggest that schooling is mainly about getting a 'good job'. As most school-leavers worldwide will fail to get 'good jobs', then who should be regarded as the failures: the school-leavers themselves, their underpaid and powerless teachers, or those who propagated those falsehoods in the first place?

Education should be about being, not becoming. Given that life itself should be as pleasant as possible, education should be enjoyable - characterised by laughter rather than sorrow, by joyous self-discovery rather than over-disciplined and competitive homogeny. As an end in itself, education should be fun.