By Robert Palmer, NORRAG.
Interest in technical and vocational skills has ridden high on the waves of political rhetoric over the last couple of years, and this interest was initially not matched in the post-2015 development planning process. Technical and vocational skills development (TVSD) now has several lights on the post-2015 Christmas tree (or several lights in the post-2015 forest), but will they stay lit in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, and if so, so what?
The ‘life skills’ target is dead… (?)
It is no secret that technical and vocational skills never found a real home in the Education for All (EFA) Goals; but were instead lumped under the vague ‘life skills’ EFA Goal 3. We also know full well that the EFA ‘skills’ goal never got any traction: no one could even agree on what ‘life-skills’ meant, let alone how it should be measured or tracked.
In fact, there is still some concern that we might see a re-run of a post-2015 life skills target, especially since the term re-appeared in the July 2013 Report of the UN Secretary General, and the Muscat Agreement talks about ‘skills… for life’; it remains to be seen if it will be retained in the post-2015 synthesis report of the Secretary General, expected early December 2014. [Update: The post-2015 synthesis report of the Secretary General, The Road to Dignity by 2030, was released on 4th December 2014; and refers directly to ‘life skills’ (p.22)].
If it must return, it is hoped that: a) the term ‘life-skills’ or ‘skills for life’ is clearly defined and delineated; and, b) that there is a separate target for technical and vocational skills, and the latter is not conflated into the former.
… Long live a technical and vocational skills target?
In 2014, it is positive that there appears to be momentum to include a ‘skills for work’ target under a post-2015 education goal. Indeed the Report of the Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly on SDGs included a specific target on technical and vocational skills: target 4.4: ‘by 2030, increase by x% the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship’. Furthermore, vocational training was mentioned in a further three proposed OWG education targets in relation to equity of access, gender disparity and the need for more scholarships for developing countries. This is all positive stuff, right?
Several things are still missing: key among these are clarity of concept and clarity of measurement. Neither of these issues appears to have taken much of a step forward in the last two years, which is a concern – and also illustrates the globally fragmented thinking on TVSD.
We are still not clear on the meaning. Major organisations still do not have their story straight on what ‘skills’ they are talking about (see NORRAG NEWS 48). If we continue down this path, we will have another catch-all skills goal.
We are still not clear on what we are measuring – and this will seriously affect choice of target. Experience suggests that we do not set targets without indicators. But does this mean a clear cut rule: no indicator, no target? If so, TVSD is in serious trouble.
The experience of goal and targeting setting from Jomtien and Dakar does indeed tells us to set targets and indicators together. What appears to be still happening with the skills for work target is that the target wording is being debated and discussed without a sufficiently linked debate on what can be measured and tracked; and in what ways measurement of technical and vocational skills therefore needs to be improved. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) report appears to have gone the other route; don’t even mention technical and vocational skills as a target due to difficulties in measurement. This is unhelpful. For example, the SDSN proposed indicators do not refer to technical and vocational skills in the targets, and those indicators it did mention related to the school-skill-work link were problematic for many. The latest report of the SDSN, on Indicators and a Monitoring Framework for Sustainable Development Goals, retains some of these critiqued indicators and still does not refer to technical and vocational skills. A more helpful approach would be to recognize technical and vocational skills as a priority issue for many governments, and to improve the way it is measured.
What comes first: target or indicator?
We noted above that experience tells us to set targets and indicators together. But where an important issue exists, but data is currently inadequate, the absence of a target for this issue will surely continue to encourage an absence of data. After TVSD’s neglect through the EFA and MDG era, the reference made in many proposed post-2015 education targets to technical and vocational skills has been welcomed, even though there is recognition that we are far from securing adequate TVSD data.
Have the TVSD community been invited to the post-2015 party?
Some have, but the party planners may likely have had a difficult task in identifying who should be invited.
The immense difficulty in crafting wording around a skills goal is not disputed, and it is right to critique the different propositions made for it. But the TVSD community needs to step up and ‘take the bull by the horns’. We need to see a stronger connection between the technical and vocational skills community who are already working on improving TVSD indicators, and the technocrats who are drafting post-2015 targets. Indeed, it is clear from the November 2014 draft report of the Post-2015 Education Indicators Technical Advisory Group of the EFA Steering Committee that these drafters are struggling to propose indicators for technical and vocational skills.
Any new post-2015 skills target that refers to TVSD must be devised with one eye on meaning and the other on measurement. And for this to happen the TVSD community needs to gate-crash the post-2015 party.
In the next blog in this series, we examine the issue of measurement and education post-2015.
Robert Palmer is an independent education and skills consultant. He also supports the Editor of NORRAG News and runs NORRAG NEWSBite. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tweets @SkillsImpact
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