Building knowledge of post-schooling in the African context: Journal for Vocational and Continuing Education launched by IPSS
“Policy mismatch and skills mismatch are two sides of the same bad coin – and you can’t win. We need to match our policies to local conditions in Africa.”
This was the warning sounded by Dr George Afeti, the chair of the African Union Commission TVET Expert Group, at the Institute for Post-Schools Studies’ (IPSS) launch of the Journal for Vocational and Continuing Education and Training (JOVCET) in Cape Town on 28 and 29 November 2017.
The skills development landscape in many African countries is characterized by “borrowed, non-contextualized” policies that are not in alignment with the local socio-economic climates. As a result, the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) systems are not responding adequately to the key issues of rapid industrialization, poverty reduction and youth unemployment.
“Africa is a land of contrasts, of great diversity of cultures. One set of policy reforms cannot fit all countries.”
Dr Afeti said that learning from other countries’ experiences would be a more constructive approach than simply borrowing their policies.
“TVET reforms should be embedded in a country’s unique socio-economic fabric. We must always look at the destination - the employment market which the young person is entering - before designing policy ... then come back with that knowledge to design appropriate policies,” he said. “Remember, Germany is not Liberia!”
In an address entitled Revitalization of TVET in Africa – from Policy to Practice, Dr Afeti, who is also Vice-Chair of the Consultative Advisory Group of the World Bank’s Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET), cited some alarming statistics on conditions for the youth in Africa.
“Current figures of youth unemployment are a scar on Africa’s conscience and an indictment on political leadership,” he said.
For instance, 20 percent of Africa’s youth are currently unemployed or in precarious jobs. According to the World Bank, 11 million young people enter the labour market annually in Africa. In Tanzania, for example, 800 000 people enter the labour market annually, but the public sector can only absorb 40 000 of them. In Ghana, 48 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years were jobless in 2014.
“The youth are frustrated,” he noted. “They have the skills but they cannot get jobs - and the consequences are devastating. There is a great deal of frustration, desperation and a loss of self-esteem - and those young people become candidates for crime, religious and political manipulation.”
Governments have acknowledged that the TVET system can contribute solutions - but this is not happening as rapidly as needed.
Dr Afeti said the TVET landscape in Africa is characterized by low enrolment rates, low quality, unequal access and inadequate funding, as well as low industry investment and involvement in the provision of training. There is also a shortage of TVET professionals in poor and post-conflict countries. Lastly, the landscape is characterized by a skills mismatch.
A paradigm shift is needed in TVET to ensure conditions for policy effectiveness are in place to align training policy with national macroeconomic realities, and to improve the relevance, skills quality and employability of students.
“Policy makers don’t understand the complexities of TVET. It’s a complex animal and it’s not just about providing skills to people, but getting the environment right.”
The well-attended conference in Cape Town marked the launch of the new Journal by the Institute for Post School Studies (IPSS) at the University of the Western Cape, following an intensive period of research, discussion and reflection around the need for an accredited academic publication.
Professor Joy Papier, Director of the IPSS, said the launch of the journal is a great step for research in vocational and adult continuing education.
“This is the first South African journal for vocational and adult education studies and recognizes the need to build the knowledge base in these fields on our continent. The journal intends to represent the voice of the global South and address the dearth of research in these domains,” she said.
“Traditionally much of the knowledge in these fields has emanated from more developed vocational systems. We need to start building a local knowledge base and consider the context within which we implement policy, to study its implementation, and other factors.”
The Future of Post-School Studies and Youth Unemployment
A number of other renowned scholars from the TVET sector worldwide addressed attendees of the launch.
Professor Simon McGrath, the UNESCO Chair in the Political Economy of Education at the University of Nottingham and Extraordinary Professor at UWC, made a strong case for the launch of the journal, saying there are currently very few articles on Africa in relevant international journals - and even fewer by Africans.
“Excluding South Africa, the picture is far worse. Key TVET journals lack accreditation status, and there are growing numbers of papers in predatory journals.”
Professor McGrath added that the existing literature largely reflects old debates.
“It is too often empirically small or theoretically weak, and there is too much replaying of external theoretical and policy debates,” he said.
Professor Anne Marie Bathmaker, Professor of Vocational and Higher Education at the University of Birmingham, UK, said a key issue worldwide is the notion of the “disappearance of work altogether”, which will obviously pose a serious challenge for TVET.
“More and more people are talking about the end of work. What will we do to help people who might never be in employment?” she asked.
Professor Peliwe Lolwana, the former director of the Centre for Researching Education and Labour (REAL) at the University of the Witwatersrand, said the ever-growing informal sector, both in SA and globally, cannot be ignored.
“The informal sector is a widespread phenomenon globally. In Gauteng it is 25 percent; in Buenos Aires, Argentina, it is 45 percent; in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam it is 54 percent, and in Lima, Peru it is 59 percent. Informality in India is 83.6 percent.
“We need to rethink skills development to include the informal sector,” she said.
UWC Rector and Vice Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, said the launch of the journal - the first of its kind on the continent - is cause for celebration.
“This journal really demonstrates UWC’s commitment to post-school education, and provides a legitimate vehicle for researchers to share their research output.”
Prof Pretorius also congratulated Prof Papier on being appointed as the first SARCHi Chair for TVET studies at UWC, and said the award of the Chair was testimony to the valuable work being doing by Prof Papier and her colleagues in the IPSS.