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TVET sector resilience in the face of disruptive global challenges

23 September 2022

As part of its Building TVET Resilience for a Just and Sustainable Transition project, UNESCO-UNEVOC is providing TVET stakeholders with targeted capacity-building support and technical assistance.

UNESCO-UNEVOC held two experts’ meetings on 19 August – focusing on resilience in the face of economic and employment trends and changing technology – and on 24 August on resilience to climate change, natural disasters, conflicts and pandemics. Experts looked at overcoming disruptions, developing agile responses and creating more flexible systems.

Friedrich Huebler, Head of UNESCO-UNEVOC, said “resilience in TVET is critically important for individuals, institutions and economies overall.”

The COVID-19 pandemic “wiped out several years of progress in the fields of education and poverty reduction. Millions of learners whose education was interrupted are at risk of never returning to school,” he told the experts’ meetings.

But the pandemic is not the only disruptor. “One quarter of the global population are now living in conflict-affected countries and an estimated 100 million people have been forcibly displaced. Even countries without armed conflict are affected by mass migration and disruptions of global supply chains,” Huebler noted.

Climate change has led to an increase in natural disasters and threatens Earth's ecosystems and access to basic resources such as food and water.

Need to adapt learning systems

Jeanette Burmester, Head of Project, Sector Project TVET, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, said these key challenges “require learning systems worldwide to adapt.”

“Gathering different perspectives on resilience and TVET from practitioners and experts, looking at policy approaches and implementation mechanisms, is an important step towards understanding the current demands of change,” Burmester added.

While many experts were able to identify the characteristics of resilience, they noted there is no common definition.

Huebler mentioned “one possible definition of resilience is the capacity to persist, adapt and transform in the face of change” and added that it is a prerequisite for sustainable development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals or even going beyond them.

Other experts pointed to changing economic and employment trends and technology-led disruption.

They emphasized the need to improve individual resilience, institutional resilience and also systemic and technological resilience at the same time.

        Emerging technologies Manish Joshi, Project Officer at UNESCO-UNEVOC, said the way learning was disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, “made it clear that we have to keep pace with emerging technologies and changing modes of learning,” not only by introducing new technologies, but by “enabling those who use them, most importantly teachers and trainers, to ensure that they are on board and up to date with digital pedagogies” to ensure continuity of learning. Technology can also help against other types of disruption by “making systems more accessible, better quality and more resilient,” said Victoria Levin, Senior Economist at the World Bank and Co- lead of its Skills Global Solutions Group. Technology-led solutions can deliver a “radically different learning experience for TVET students,” she said. They can also facilitate changes in the management of learning systems and make them more efficient. Levin emphasized the need for more evaluation of the effect on learning of technology-led solutions.

       Economic and employment changes Economic changes, in part brought about by technological disruption, also require resilience to enable TVET learners to cope with changes, often occurring throughout a lifetime of work. This includes preparing them for technologies not yet invented and to face future shocks. Tim Miller, Managing Director of Certif ID in Germany, highlighted the importance of strong foundational skills “so that skill sets can enable you to transition between industries in different sectors, quickly and with minimal or limited training, to enable you to stay relevant in an ever-changing employment landscape.” Other experts indicated the need for more flexible learning, including micro-credentials, to enable people to make quick transitions when faced with changes to their working environment.

       Climate change and the green transition Romaine Boitard, Human Capital Development Expert at the European Training Foundation, said extreme weather events linked to climate change will require both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ resilience. Hard resilience mainly relates to infrastructure and requires training institutions to be “resilient in the form of constructions that can resist storms, floods, and also drought.” Institutions should also consider energy and water-use “to reduce dependence on the outside.” Soft resilience refers to the green transition and the need for upskilling. But Boitard also emphasized positive thinking and not being discouraged by failure, learning to learn from failures. “This is not something that is taught systematically, and it would be very important in the future where obstacles will just get bigger and climate change events become more regular.”

       Conflict and migration Christine Hoffman, Team Lead for Skills for Social Inclusion at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, outlined the need to build on existing skills with ‘short-cycle training’ for skills in demand, linking skills development with infrastructure and reconstruction work and flexible delivery to address access barriers for women. TVET programmes also need to tackle lack of opportunities, grievances and sense of justice, to improve perception of fairness and equality, “which is very important for resilient economies and societies and skill systems as well,” she said. Rory Robertshaw, Head of Education at UNICEF, Turkey, pointed to the importance of system resilience in countries receiving large numbers of refugees, as Turkey has from Syria. Such systems need to produce employment-ready young people with wide-ranging skills that are portable. He said these should include social and emotional learning and stressed the need to bring these together in both formal and informal learning systems.

Building resilience in TVET

        Individual learning resilience Boitard stressed the need for individual resilience. This should include problem-solving skills including “not being discouraged by problems that arise systematically and continuously”, something which is not always covered in TVET courses, he said. Shyamal Majumdar, Former Head of UNESCO-UNEVOC and current Advisor to GREAT and VIB in India, talked about the need to develop an individual’s mental resilience alongside learning resilience, which he described as self-managed learning and learning to learn, noting that previously TVET institutions did not focus on mental resilience, mental health and student health in general.

       Institutional resilience Institutions’ learning systems and curricula need to be able to withstand change. “The use of digital technologies helped to mitigate learning losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also highlighted still-existing inequalities in access to digital infrastructure”, Burmester said. These gaps needed to be bridged to be better prepared for crises, and to improve the resilience of learning systems. Recognizing that capacity building is key to institutional resilience, UNESCO-UNEVOC’s project aims to enhance the digital skills and competencies of teachers. The project also supports trainers to devise blended learning strategies and create plans that integrate digital technologies in their institutions.

       System resilience Robert Palmer, International Education and Skills Development Expert, suggested that a more resilient TVET system is “a mix of the learning environment, individual learners, the firms, the governmental institutions and laws.” He pointed to the need to understand the characteristics of resilient TVET that can be replicated or adapted in other countries. Countries also need to understand the most significant issues “from the different baskets of disruptors” and how they relate to each other in order to devise system-wide solutions and “common approaches which can help the TVET sector deal with several disruptors at the same time.” In all, the range of perspectives, examples of cases and resilience-building practices, and the research feedback provided during the experts’ meetings, will feed into the work of UNESCO-UNEVOC and inform the project on areas for capacity building and further guidance.

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