VET-related development initiatives predominantly focus on the introduction of new curricula in combination with modern training methods and delivery schemes. Therefore, the usual way of influencing the development of national VET systems consists in establishing such new and modern VET by supporting selected training providers with the aim to launch a roll-out throughout the country at a later stage of project development. This bottom-up approach is frequently used in bilateral and mainly donor-driven development projects, while at system level, the change from supply-driven and state-dominated VET to market-oriented VET requires more sophisticated strategies. For logical reasons, successful VET programmes combine both elements. Skill standardisation has become one of the key domains of current reforms in the field of VSD. Recently, the development and implementation of National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) has gained in importance. SDC provides an introduction into understanding and analysing VET Systems.
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Changing importance of systems development
Already in the 1960s and 1970s professional education (technical and vocational education and training - TVET) was an important field of activity in international cooperation. Technical assistance in this field focused on the support of training providers and the establishment of new providers in the sense of model schools and centres of excellence. The principal objective was to introduce modern, high-quality vocational training schemes, most often in the domain of traditional occupations in construction and trade as well as in the healthcare sector. These project investments may have successfully achieved the desired outputs but without necessarily leading to lasting reforms of the education sector, or even to the sustainability of project outputs. As a result, the approach had limited effects in terms of systems development because donor-supported model schools rarely served as a role model and, in the majority of cases, were not replicated.
In the 1980s and 1990s a shift of perspective in international cooperation in the area of TVET occurred. The input-oriented approach – involving substantial investment in infrastructure or curriculum development, for example – gave way to a wider focus on the impact of TVET on employability and labour market development. In addition, more emphasis was put on target groups in the informal sector and, as a result, on non-formal types of training schemes and a broader range of partner organisations. Simultaneously, attention was also directed toward the development of new financing arrangements, support to NGOs as flexible and efficient training providers, and programmes in entrepreneurial and income-generating skills for special needs groups. The emphasis is not primarily on formal professional qualification but rather on increasing sustainable access to vocational skills through labour-market relevant training and the resulting employability of participants and graduates.
While this trend led a considerable portion of the development programmes to continuously diminish their reference to the formal vocational education systems, bilateral and international programmes to support the reform of national education systems continue to exist in some states, particularly in the post-socialist countries in the western Balkans and the CIS. In this context, the major international programmes of the World Bank, the ADB, the EU, the ILO, the UNSECO etc. aim at reforming and modernising the entire VET system.
One of the key features of current reforms in the domain of VSD relate to the development of National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs). NQFs focus - in contrast to traditional skills standards - on training outcomes. However, there is still very little evidence on the impact of this model.
Bilateral initiatives by minor donors are also increasingly scrutinised for their system relevance. To ensure the sustainability of project results, great care is taken that the projects not only lead to selective improvements at delivery level but also to an expansion of capacities at systems level. Whether this generates a real impact and a tangible contribution to systems development remains a question of interpretation, because systems development in a narrower sense includes interventions that are directed at the system as a whole and not only at selected trainings, courses, or schools.
Developing the capacity of the education system requires more than staff training and curriculum development. It requires the whole organisation to be well embedded in the system to implement policy priorities and to employ good management practices. This may also require institutional change and reform.
Core functions of the VET system
Systems development aims at strengthening the capacities of the VET system in order to facilitate the achievement of its core tasks. The basic inputs demanded from the VET system for establishing high-quality TVET comprise:
a) Conducive environment / legal and institutional framework: Development of the normative framework such as laws and regulations as well as training and examination standards and practically viable financing mechanisms
b) Good trainers: Systematic basic and advanced training of instructors and trainers
c) Modern teaching material: Provision of the VET system with up-to-date teaching and learning media that correspond to the state of the art.
Strengthening the national VET system with respect to these three key functions requires a mix of different instruments which need to be reconciled with the specific situation and the objective of the programme.
a) Institutional framework of VET. Strengthening of national technical and vocational education and training agencies and institutions at the meso level (such as those responsible for standard and curriculum development or quality assurance) but also of bodies representing the interests of the private sector, whose needs are the key driving force in the shaping of technical and vocational education and training. International and bilateral cooperation programmes with such an objective must therefore also involve organisational development. This focuses on measures such as training of management staff through customised courses both at home and abroad, advice by international experts, coaching of key actors, development of national and regional networks, implementation of change projects and events to facilitate the exchange of experience, and possibly also study trips.
b) Training of trainers. Modernisation and reinforcement of the national authorities, agencies, and schools that are responsible for pre-service and in-service training of teachers, trainers and instructors in vocational education. Systems development can only be successful if it is accompanied by training opportunities for the actors involved. Measures range from the development of institutions required to improve the framework and context for training delivery to the development and embedding of long-term training strategies and services for teaching staff in TVET. International cooperation with this objective requires, depending on the context, the development of new structures because many developing countries are lacking appropriate institutional structures for this purpose. Transition countries usually possess a corresponding legal and institutional framework which, however, tends to be obsolete and underfunded and does not in any way meet the contemporary requirements.
c) Teaching materials. Development and provision of teaching and learning materials and tools: Based on the old adage “The textbook is the curriculum”, new curricula can only become effective if instructors are provided with properly adapted teaching materials. An adequate and qualitatively improved supply of the VET system with teaching and learning materials is not just a financial question, it also requires the development of local know-how to create modern textbooks, teachers’ manuals, and additional tools for classroom teaching and for training in school workshops. This is where development cooperation is offered great potential for cooperation programmes in which ICT applications will play an ever more important role.
In many developing countries, systems development is not limited to capacity-building measures for existing institutions. Rather, it also needs to engage in the creation and building up of important VET system components in order to provide the system with all necessary support functions. Institutional development may be required where the interfaces between the VET system and other sectors need to be improved, e.g. to facilitate the transition of school graduates into the labour force in the absence of an employment agency, or to develop a vocational guidance service that connects with the elementary school system.
In order to generate an impact at system level, donor agencies and international experts in the field of VET increasingly favour a holistic approach that takes into account the many interrelated aspects of quality education and training. A flexible mix of instruments is required whose key elements comprise specialist advice, advice on organisational development, and the training and further training of multipliers at the meso and macro levels. Provision of advice at the micro level in pilot projects or measures which target specific segments of the labour market may play a supplementary role.
For development cooperation initiatives aiming at systems development, it is an advantage if they comprise project activities at different levels and combine traditional project activities such as curricula development, provision of updated teaching and learning materials, and teacher training with capacity building interventions at all levels, i.e.
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