Monthly Archives: August 2012

Secondary Schools – the neglected middle in skills development. Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB

Vocationalization of secondary education is much more expensive than general education and there is no widespread evidence that vocationalization has contributed to better outcomes at the secondary level. Yet, governments and policy makers are investing in it as an important means to improve relevance of education and increase economic benefits from education. Out of 41 Asia Pacific countries included in UNESCO statistics, 22 provide vocational programs at the upper-secondary level and 16 at the post-secondary, non-tertiary level.

Improving the skill level of the work force to ensure more jobs is a driving force.  Skills development for a globalized and knowledge economy has become a pressing concern. However, inadequately resourced and poorly performing secondary school systems in developing countries are not geared to effectively take the load of vocationalization. Countries are struggling with establishing the appropriate balance of general, vocational and technical skills at secondary level.  The increasing priority given to vocational education and training by most countries in the region is exerting its pressure on secondary schools to provide the foundation for post secondary TVET but also to complement skills development for employability.

The Results for Development Institute (R4D) with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, is implementing an interesting research project on Innovative Secondary Education for Skills Enhancement (ISESE). The study aims to identify skills that secondary school students in developing countries need to position themselves better for employment opportunities and covers sub-Saharan Africa (with country case studies on Ghana, Kenya, Benin and Burkina Faso), South Asia (with country case studies on India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and South East Asia (with country case studies on Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand).  It aims to locate innovative models and develop a strategy to scale up the most effective models.

The R4D project on secondary education and skills is exploring skills for employability from three perspectives: what employers (in both the formal and informal sectors) are looking for in prospective employees; how skills are currently defined and taught in secondary school curricula; and what models currently exist for delivering  skills at the secondary level.

Anecdotal evidence appears to point that while cognitive, non-cognitive and technical skills are taught at secondary education, there is insufficient integration of the three. While cognitive and technical skills are covered well in the curriculum, there is not much of a link with the world of work. Non-cognitive skills are largely lacking, or at least not explicitly covered and constitute a major gap as far as employers are concerned.

In terms of work in this area, some key issues worth considering in improving secondary school systems:

(1)  Secondary education is both an important foundational stage of education for further education or training and a potential exit level for employment. In both instances, there is need to ensure a good base of foundational skills in both general academic and vocational streams – how can all graduating secondary school graduates attain such foundational skills irrespective of the stream they follow? Is there a universal way to define such foundational skills?

(2)  Incorporation of generic, transversal skills into the curriculum and pedagogy is an important need that will strengthen general education as well; what are the issues with regard to investing in teacher training and appropriate teaching learning materials, recognizing that such skills are constantly evolving?

(3)  Collaboration with employers and industry is a valuable avenue to strengthen skills required to succeed in the labor market; employer-led collaboration with secondary schools, establishing entrepreneurship schemes can be valuable even in general education systems;  what could be good incentives to enable such partnerships?

(4)  Assessment and examination reforms that accompany such new trends in pedagogy and soft skill development in secondary schools are crucial to ensure legitimacy as well as their recognition at the work place, yet high stake exit examinations continue to dominate. How can assessment systems be improved for foundational, technical and soft skills at secondary stage?

(5)  ICT can play a substantial role in the sector, not just in terms of distance learning but also through blended on-line courses, employability portals and social networking platforms that seek to address the concerns and aspirations of youth. What are the investments required to enables these?

(6)  Secondary schools need to better facilitate  school-to-work transitions but also equally back-to-school programs for re-training and up skilling that will increasingly become important as the employment market moves away from ‘job for life’. What are the shifts required in the management of secondary schools?

(7)  Given that better employment outcomes are also strongly linked to aspirations of youth, a number of ‘intermediate’ and ‘ancillary’ services and activities need to be in place, such as student counseling, career guidance and placement services.  Who are best placed to provide such services?

Secondary education is often a neglected ‘middle’ in the education system – not attracting as much as attention and priority as basic education (it is considered beyond the right to education stage) or TVET and skills development (which is prioritized for improving employment), but  it is a critical middle that should get its due attention.