In my last column, I reported that Jamaica was engaged in the reform of its education system and, in particular, conferring a new value on TVET (Technical Vocational and Educational Training) in the system.
I noted that the Reform Commission has proposed 12 recommendations, and I reproduced four of them without discussion. In the present column, I intend to say a little bit more on each of them and on more if space permits.
As background, it is perhaps useful to know that Jamaica has had TVET in a few of its schools set up for the purpose–formal TVET, you might say–and in training centres supported and set up by skills-needy businesses and enterprising freelancing TVET educators to cater to the hordes of students who graduated from secondary school without either academic or practical certification–In a system of informal TVET.
Like Trinidad (and Tobago), Jamaica has had thousands of students leaving school without any certification whatsoever of any knowledge or skills, only that Jamaica’s figures are notably greater than ours.
Because of the huge personal wastage of youth potential and the equally huge social and economic costs to the island, especially as a result of crime and underdevelopment, the Jamaicans want to fix things and fix them purposefully. Hence the Reform Commission and its 12 recommendations.
(By the way, the Commission is headed by the Jamaica-born and-reared eminent Harvard sociologist Prof Orlando Patterson, author of the acclaimed ‘My mother who fathered me’.)
The first recommendation—the most important, I think–is: ‘TVET should be fully integrated into the secondary school curriculum with the option to always move into more academic subjects, or integrate both.’
In another part of the Commission’s Report, it is fused with Recommendation #2 to read: ‘TVET should be fully integrated into the secondary school curriculum and rebranded in a well-coordinated and aggressive marketing strategy to effectively promote TVET programs as a viable career path for national development.’
In the fusion of #1&2, they have kept the notion of integration but added the notion of rebranding with an effective marketing strategy. The narrative that follows the statement of recommendation focuses on the need to promote TVET to the school leavers in simple, appealing language and on popular media.
The third recommendation is: ‘Highly competent, qualified, motivated, flexible and creative teachers are the backbone of the TVET system…’ If successful change is to occur in vocational education, (highly-trained and educated) instructors must be at the heart of the reforms.
The instructors ‘should not only have technical skills but must also understand their new role as a facilitator of learning, as opposed to an instructor.’ The Report goes on to suggest that graduates from TVET programs and skilled practitioners from the world of work should be able to undergo occupational assessments as a precondition to entering teachers’ TVET training. The fourth recommendation is: ‘Reposition TVET to facilitate and strengthen capacities for entrepreneurial development…’
The narrative under the recommendation observes that ‘[t]he role of entrepreneurship education is mainly to build an entrepreneurial culture among young people who in turn would improve their career choice towards entrepreneurship.’ The target of formal TVET should be to get the students/trainees to create their own jobs rather than seeking jobs in the formal sector. I must note, however, that it will take nore than entrepreneurship education to create an entrepreneurship culture.
The other recommendations focus on the following:
Increasing the human and financial resources for distance learning in TVET.
Strengthening the framework for measuring performance in TVET institutions.
Implementing formal initiatives for agricultural vocational training, especially in rural areas.
Including individuals with disabilities in formal vocational education programmes.
Establishing a National Skills Council.
Facilitating the collaboration of TVET institutions with business and industry.
Seeking out and attempting to provide formal certification to informally trained practitioners who demonstrate full mastery of their skill.
Understanding and vigorously promoting TVET as a lifelong learning process.
Both the new Government in Tobago and the national Government need to develop policy with respect to what we should do for the many students who leave school without certification in anything and who face grim prospects in the marketplace for jobs and entrepreneurship.
We’ve had conversations on the value of integration, but they have not travelled very far, and in a world rife with economic uncertainty and fluid standards, youth-friendly politics has to be used to put our uncertified and unskilled school-leavers on the path to self-development. The conversations must be resumed for the salvation of these ‘non-academics’. But I must note that their salvation is also the salvation of the society at large.