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Education, skills and development: same goals but alternative approaches

Policy interest in skills development (or technical vocational education and training, TVET) to provide increased options for employment or self-employment has grown dramatically in the last decade and has sharpened with the economic recession. Consequently, this week the UK Forum on International Education and Training’s (UKFIET) 11th biennial conference on education and development invited delegates to examine a range of global challenges for education, including what skills can best meet the needs of highly mobile labour markets. As part of this discussion, I presented my working paper on Lessons for Developing Countries from Experience with Technical and Vocational Education and Training.

The conference was attended by almost 500 non-economists from universities, non-governmental organisations, consultancy groups and professional associations, working internationally on education and development. This year’s theme of Global challenges for education: economics, environment and emergency’ attracted a record number of papers spanning a wide range of perspectives and contexts, including a session on ‘Skills for work in changing macro-economic environments’ convened by Professors Kenneth King, Simon McGrath and Michel Carton.

In his discussion of the role of skills in 21st century development, Simon McGrath considered the orthodox Vocational Education and Training (VET) approach for development, as well as alternative approaches for TVET, including a so-called ‘capabilities perspective’ and an ‘integrated human development perspective’.

Following my presentation, I was asked to give my own view as a development economist on these alternative perspectives on TVET, and whether we should pursue an holistic approach to understand ‘skills’, encompassing technical skills (refined for a particular industry), employability skills (how to get and keep a job), generic skills (life/interpersonal) and basic skills (literacy, numeracy).

These were thought provoking questions, and ones that development economists and others at the recent World Bank Annual Bank Conference on Developing Economies (ABCDE), ‘Broadening opportunities for development’ had also considered. Here, panellists of the ‘Education’ session agreed that greater opportunities to create growth means investment in ‘human capital’, in both informal and non-traditional ways. This, in other words, equates to the education community’s more holistic view of post-primary education (traditional ‘general’ secondary education, and the development of life skills and key competencies).

Aside from this consideration of human capital at the ABCDE conference – and despite the World Bank’s many clients highlighting skills as a major concern in their Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers – skills do not feature high enough on the Bank’s new job creation agenda. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that the 2013 World Development Report will revisit job issues, which were last considered in the 1995 WDR. I hope this forthcoming report will herald a closer collaboration between the World Bank and the International Labour Organization by, for example, devoting more attention to the ILO’s ‘Decent Work Agenda’ and ‘Global Jobs Pact’ to ensure a coherent approach to employment policies, as well as the allocation of increased resources to the G20 approach to development centred on human resource development, private investment and job creation.

During the UKFIET symposium on the UNESCO Education for All (EFA)Global Monitoring Report 2012 (GMR12), GMR12 Director Pauline Rose usefully identified challenges that I believe the World Bank should address in its own WDR13:

  1. More than a decade after the World Education Forum established the Dakar Framework for Education, there is still a problem with regards to measurement and indicators of progress against Goal 3 (‘ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes’). I am hopeful that UNESCO and the World Bank will resolve this through their mutual contribution to Pillar 2 of the G20’s Multi-Year Action Plan for Development, which covers the creation of international comparable skills indicators.
  2. A secondary concern is whether UNESCO’s (and the education and development community more generally) definition and understanding of ‘skills’ – which goes beyond TVET – corresponds to that of the World Bank (and other development economists). If not, there are obvious implications with regards to the design of policies to improve labour productivity, reduce inequality and/or to achieve higher pro-poor growth.

In the end, despite the different approaches to skills development, the two communities seek the same development objectives as encapsulated by the G20 Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth. But, in order to monitor progress towards skills targets, we need key indicators to be collected through ‘tracer’ studies, labour force surveys, and skills audits. These types of policy instruments would enable UNESCO and World Bank member states to be better placed to perform evidence-based curriculum reform and performance-based monitoring and evaluation, with the subsequent effect of higher job-placement rates for TVET graduates and eventually pro-poor growth.