Brief History of the Evolution of Technical and Vocational Skills in National and International Agendas
Over the last 40 years, the importance attached to technical and vocational skills in national and
international development agendas has varied. During the 1960s and 1970s, TVSD became popular with many African countries as a way to ease the problem of unemployment among school leavers. However, in the 1980s, budgetary pressures resulted in many countries reducing the share of government budgets for public education, including formal TVET. Rate of return studies, which showed that returns to general education were higher than to vocational education, also undermined much external support for vocational education and training. TVSD has been gaining momentum since the mid 2000s. This upsurge in interest was greatly influenced by evidence of TVSD’s key, transformative role in East Asia and its continuing importance in the OECD countries.
During the 1990s, the international policy debate on education was mainly focused on basic education.
Although skills training, apprenticeships, and formal TVET programmes were seen as components of the
expanded vision of basic education at the World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA) in Jomtien in 1990, they have not featured substantially as a core element of the global agenda of education since that time. Given the important delays faced by the continent, and of sub-Saharan Africa in particular, in terms of primary enrolment rates, many donor agencies focused on the Jomtien challenge of delivering universal access to, and completion of, primary education as their priority, which has led to a shift of resources both within national budgets and donor support towards expanding primary education, too often without regard for quality, at the expense of secondary and tertiary education, including TVSD. This tendency was reinforced by the International Development Targets in 1996, with one target being universal primary education (UPE). This target was in turn incorporated in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG2) in 2000.
The expansion of primary education during the 1990s has put enormous pressures on the still small secondary school and formal TVET systems of many African countries by increasing the supply of candidates. In the mid 2000s, recognising that universal primary education entails the need for coherent pathways to further education and to skills for employment and self-employment, an international consensus was reached on the need for a holistic, integrated, inter-sectoral approach to education, including TVSD. This new vision has driven several TVSD system reforms which are currently taking place in Africa and led to a reappraisal of donors’ support strategies. The principles of a holistic approach to technical skills developments were accepted by the Commission for Africa, the Millennium Project, incorporated in new World Bank policies on secondary, higher and general education, and on skill development, and reflected in the World Development Report 2007 on Youth. TVSD has been mainstreamed into the agendas of both the ILO and UNESCO.
The ILO is primarily concerned with technical and vocational education and training in relation to employment creation and welfare of workers. UNESCO is primarily concerned with technical and vocational education as part of the education of human beings equipped to live in a society dependent upon technological development. In its Plan of Action for the Second Decade of Education (2006–2015), the AU recognises the importance of TVET as a means of empowering individuals to take control of their lives and recommends therefore the integration of vocational training into the general education system. However, the integration of TVSD strategies into comprehensive employment policies remains a challenge in most African countries.