Global lockdown puts skills development to the test. COVID-19 webinar #8

The global lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has not only had an immediate impact on the world economy, but on learning opportunities for youth with the closure of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions.

“The world and the TVET community and systems are facing a double crisis: a sanitary crisis and an economic crisis, “said Bohrene Chakroun, Director of the Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning in UNESCO’s Education Sector, at the opening of the eighth COVID-19 education response webinar on 7 May. “These crises are affecting other aspects of living. We need to look at how skills development and TVET will be affected in a short-, mid- and long-term perspective.”

TVET systems heavily affected by the lockdown

TVET institutions have been particularly affected by the lockdown. General education subjects and theoretical learning can be delivered remotely, but practical training that depends on equipment available only in training centres is more challenging. Like   schools, formal and non-formal TVET providers have had to close their locations and shift to distance learning, for which many were unprepared.

In addition, the digital gap remains a challenge: 50% of the world population has no access to computer and internet and students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds who tend to be overrepresented in TVET programmes are least likely to have access.

Workers participating in skills development programmes – such as apprentices, interns and adults in continuous development training – have been affected by these disruptions, with the loss of several weeks or months of learning and training likely to affect the outcomes, futures and motivation of TVET students.

Peter Kuroshi, CEO of the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON), said that the pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of public investment and personal development opportunities in the current education infrastructure. He called for putting in place ICT systems and reviewing curricula to enhance entrepreneurship, while also better connecting with the banking industry for business development and investment.

Making TVET systems more resilient

While the COVID-19 pandemic highlights some already existing structural weaknesses of TVET systems including financing, it also brings an opportunity to rethink their readiness to face similar crises in the future with more agility.

In Brazil, the National Service of Industrial Apprenticeship (SENAI) has mobilized the industry to increase the manufacturing of protective equipment, masks and alcohol gel in at least 35 companies, said its manager, Filipe M. Cassapo, affirming that TVT is key for the future.

Soo Hyang Choi, Director of the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, emphasized the need for agility. “The pandemic stage will pass and some services and manufacturing industries will be changed,“ she said. “Implications of the COVID-19 crisis on TVET communities include the need to making responsive adjustments and building preparedness, resilience and opportunities.”

To mitigate the immediate actions and reduce the impact of COVID-19, it is important to find alternative pathways, including reinforcing online and digital solutions.

Distance learning as a solution

A mix of high-, low- and no-tech solutions should be taken into account as continuous learning solutions. Whether on-line or off-line, distance training requires adequate ICT infrastructure, adapted curricula and trainer training – an experience which most trainers and students do not have.

Chirag Goel, a young WorldSkills Champion from India emphasizes the importance of establishing the possibility for remote learning and the need to support youth to adapt to the new normal in TVET. “Transition into remote learning is not easy for TVET learners, but it will provide motivation and even hope to young people. Young people are worried, yet optimistic in their belief of a bright future.”

Mervi Jansson, CEO for Omnia Education Partnerships and member of Finland’s Global Learning Crisis Task Force Group, also said that there should be more interest in finding solutions for remote and online learning to make TVET systems more resilient.

In Finland, TVET students have enjoyed flexibility during lockdown as distance learning is not new to the education system. As a result, continuous assessment of apprenticeships in the tourism and hotel industry has been possible, and because there are no final exams, graduations have not been delayed even though schools have been closed since 16 March. Only competency-based exams have been rescheduled to after the pandemic.

Lesley Richardson, manager of the Department of Education in Tasmania (Australia) reported a similar situation. Students are still connected and have the opportunity to continue their learning in different forms with minor disruption. A pathway has been established between education and employment to support future transition from school to work.

Marie Bancal, Partnership and International Cooperation Manager for the PIX Digital Skills, presented the French digital skills platform, an online service that allows students, teachers and job seekers to evaluate their job skills through various challenges in digital environments.

During the lockdown, the platform provided the opportunity for continuous learning. To address the COVID-19 crisis, specific programs targeting digital skills as well as new items were added to address distance learning.

Some of the keywords for solutions to TVET challenges during lockdown are agility, Open Educational Resources (OER) and distance learning. Investing in the training of trainers to use digital solutions is important if distance learning is to become a core part of teaching today and in the future.