Education, Equity and Learning Post-2015, Kenneth King, NORRAG and University of Edinburgh

The greatest education inequalities today

The first of these topical debates relating to education post-2015 was our views about the greatest education inequalities today, and how a new development framework should address these.

There are so many very different dimensions of educational inequality. But let me start the other way round with some powerful evidence about a key factor in educational equality. Some societies particularly in East Asia, believe that ALL children can make it, provided that they work hard This belief translates into successful public education systems. These are good examples of the cultures of self-help rather than of aid dependency that the Minister talked of. Arguably, however, this very fervent and widespread desire for successful educational achievement has also spawned a vast shadow education systems offering private coaching after school and even at weekends. They illustrate a massive culture of educational achievement and competition (see Mark Bray’s blog on NORRAG NEWSBite). But they can exacerbate inequalities in education.

By contrast, in many other societies, those with money, including those running the education system, put their own children into high-cost private pre-schools and private primary schools in order to benefit later on from good quality, low-cost public secondary schools or from public universities. This happens in many developing countries, both low- and middle-income. The Minister stressed that this did not happen in Norway. It does happen in the UK where it was argued in an article in The Times of the same day as the seminar that ‘nearly 80% of the people who effectively run Britain attended fee-charging or selective schools’ (The Times, 20th November 2012, p. 4. Hyperlink is pay per few unfortunately).

One result of this elite preference for private education can be a neglect of the public primary school system. This in turn has led to another phenomenon  which has been spreading very fast in poorer urban areas, and that is the low-cost English medium private school. These too are evidence of a desire by the poor for better education than is now available in the public sector. But the poorest of the poor cannot afford even low-fee schools. Given that nine out of ten primary school children in developing countries attend public sector schools, the key policy priority should surely be to improve their quality and accessibility rather than to channel government funds, or aid moneys, into private schooling, even if it is low-cost and attended by some of the poorer members of society. But when the political elite is personally involved with private education, who will police the policy-makers?

There are three other education inequalities to note from the GMR of 2012: first, there are still 61 million children of primary school age who are not in school. Most of these are in 29 countries, half of these in sub-Saharan Africa. Important to note that these are not all poor countries. But there will be no magic bullets for those still out of school – these are the most marginalized, over 40% of them in conflict or post-conflict countries. Many are disabled. These last millions will be the hardest and costliest to enroll.

The second inequality is that 775 million adults are still illiterate. These too will be very difficult to reduce in number for it is not just a question of one-off literacy campaigns. The reality is that many of the 775 million have actually been in school, but they have either not retained their literacy (think of our schoolboy French or school Latin), because there has been no literacy environment surrounding the school to reinforce it.

The third global inequality is that there are some 250 million children who are failing to be able to read and write by grade four.  These three figures produce the iconic number of over a billion people young and old who have not gained or retained foundation skills.  So, the challenge for 2015 is this billion and not just the 61 million who are out of primary school.

What action can be taken on education inequities? Countries need disaggregated data on educational inequities. They then need political commitment to adopt equity goals that deliberately target the differences between the richer and poorer sections of the population, rural and urban, male and female, majority and minority language speakers etc. See Save the Children’s  Born Equal (2012) for suggestions. But external analysis of these issues could be much resented as interference in internal affairs. Note that this is not a low-income country issue, but many millions of our one billion with no functional literacy are in middle-income countries.

Learning and education outcomes: a hot topic in the post-2015 debate?

The second question was that learning and education outcomes have become a hot topic in the post-2015 debate. How can we approach this challenge and how develop new global targets for education?

The UNESCO EFA GMR 2013 will be on Teaching and Learning

Recently, there has been a growing concern that despite increasing access to primary schools, children are not learning enough – including some of the billion we just referred to. Much (though not all) of the discovery about lack of learning in the developing countries has been led by Northern scholars and aid agencies. Dramatic accounts of there being very minimum achievements in language, maths and science are appearing very regularly. [See the Minister’s blog mentioning that 94% of children in Mali at Grade 2 could not read a single word.] These widespread external accounts of little learning may be highly unpopular and politically sensitive in many countries. But we need to remember that in many countries these key competencies are being assessed by children in a language other than their mother tongue, and by teachers not using their mother tongue.

What about measuring quality? We need a goal that is easily understood like Swedish youngsters, several hundred years ago, having to be able to show they could read and understand Luther’s Catechism before they could be confirmed or allowed to marry. A very simple but compelling learning target!

It is probably no accident that the MDGs of 12 years ago didn’t include quality, and just mentioned Universal Primary Education. The Global Monitoring Report (GMR) has been looking at the 6 EFA Dakar goals for a full ten years but in the GMR of 2012 they are still using proxy indicators for quality: survival rate to grade 5, and pupil/teacher ratios.

What simple Learning Goals for post-2015 are currently being promoted?  One is that all pupils should be able to read with comprehension at grade three. It sounds simple but what impact would this single goal have on all the other primary school subjects? Second, what about a zero target for illiteracy? It is high time to be concerned with this huge population. But how could that be done in a way that is truly sustainable – so that literacy is not only acquired but utilized? A third approach, promoted by the GMR of 2012, is that there should be a global target of universal lower secondary education of acceptable quality. All of these three options sound simple but they each involve very careful assessments if they are to justify the very large costs.

The critical challenge remains whether any post-2015 learning goals are going to be universal, for both North and South, how they are to owned by the South, and how they are to relate to existing national systems of testing and assessment.

Post-MDG and Post-EFA Convergence?

A third question relates to whether we see the processes of both post-MDG and the post-EFA goals coming together in the post-2015 debate.

I would suggest, firstly, that one very powerful reason for emphasizing the crisis in learning is that there is a view that the Education MDGs of UPE and gender parity have almost been met. Hence there may be no need for a post-2015 Education goal. However, if Education did not appear in any post-2015 development agenda, it could be very dangerous for the funding of education in development agencies, and in the international and national NGOs. It would also be a very grave outcome for UNESCO, and for the future of the six EFA goals.

Even though it may seem that there are far too many meetings and discussions about post-2015, it can be partly explained by the possible impact of any new MDGs on future aid funding. Post-2015 is almost becoming a global competition amongst sectors. This is why it may be quite important for the Thematic Consultation on Education to be launched, because as of today (27th November 2012), the only two themes not yet launched out of the total of eleven are Education and Energy.

So, on the one hand, it may seem urgent that the international education community become more focused, as there are currently far too many different options and proposals on the table.

On the other hand, there are still almost three years to go before the deadline of 2015. The High Level Panel on Post-2015 has only just had its first substantive meeting. And by far the most important issue of any is that the very great majority of those debating post-2015 are based in the North. Many of these are actively consulting the South. But the key issue if we are to achieve what the Minister terms global participation and global ownership of any new goals is to stand back a little, and listen carefully to what the South is actually saying and also what they are not saying about these post-2015 futures.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:

Re-posted from NORRAG  NEWSBite

 Also see The Role of Education and Skills in Any Post-2015 Development Agenda, by Kenneth King and Robert Palmer


Skills development – Lessons from the Canadian Community Colleges. Paul Brennan, ACCC

As policy makers we almost always approach issues top down and not often from the learner’s or employer’s viewpoint in the many communities that we are ultimately trying to improve. Years later we wonder why things have not changed dramatically in the communities.  It is important to ensure taking the learner, employer and community perspective to elucidate what policy issues should be focused upon.

What students or learners want above all these days is to be able to find or create quality employment. Without a job, talking about citizenship is quite abstract. This means that institutions  must be closely linked to the employers and their communities, who know better what the job opportunities will be and what specific skills will be required going forward. Decentralizing authority to institutions is a key policy decision as that is the only way to allow rapid responsiveness to change.

As the knowledge economy replaces the agricultural and industrial ones, and the high value-added service one replaces basic manufacturing, the institution will also have to pay close attention to equipping its learners with the specific technical skills required by ever more demanding employers, along with essential employability skills (‘soft skills’) related to their profession, as well as opportunities for work placements to allow learners to obtain the experience which most employers are asking for these days.

To keep up with the constant imperative for innovation coming from global competition, institutions need to equip their learners with attitudes that encourage them to constantly,innovate and entrepreneurial skills to set up small businesses that can grow out of the informal economy into the formal one, or that lead to the creation of new businesses that take on the world of new global opportunities. In a world that requires constant upgrading of skills to remain competitive, and mobility when jobs move elsewhere, institutions and systems need to provide their learners with easy pathways to continuous learning and certifications that are recognized in other countries.

And as the positive economic development in a highly skilled global context is also creating a sub-class of people who cannot even get onto the first step of the escalator of skills acquisition, institutions need to be providing those marginalized populations with very practical, job-focused basic learning, allowing them to get onto the escalator.

The decentralized Canadian system, and particularly its highly responsive college and institute system, has allowed and indeed forced institutions to constantly adapt in order to better serve their employers, communities and especially students and adult learners,. What are the indicators of success?

  • Canada has the highest proportion of its population accessing post-secondary education, half of those are now doing so via a college or institute, and parents no longer consider colleges as a second-class option;
  • The 130 public colleges and institutes of Canada have an overall average of 91% of its graduates who obtain employment within six months of graduation, and a 95% rate of satisfaction of their employers with the quality of their new hires;
  • Institutions are measured by independently verified  and publicly available  indicators of performance, such as obtaining employment, and are funded accordingly;
  • Colleges and institutes have had the authority to rapidly develop new types of offerings and modes of learning that match the pace of change, including:

–       Pre-technology programs to allow secondary school drop-outs to catch up and acquire the basic skills needed to start a program, in dignity and with plenty of support services;

–       Two and three year diplomas for technicians and technologists or mid-level managers,

–       Four-year Bachelor degrees with mandatory supervised work internships amounting to one year of time,

–       Post-graduate certificates and diplomas for university graduates who cannot find employment and adults wanting shorter-term specialized upgrading, and

–       Applied research and technology transfer services for industry, and particularly small and medium sized businesses and start-ups.

  • Over 1,000 learning centres were set up across our vast country, to bring learning to the learners in remote communities, instead of waiting for the learner to perhaps travel to us;
  • Blended learning solutions were offered to reach out to more learners, including e-learning options, mobile workshops for practical training, and web-based strategies for the connected learner of today;
  • Green campuses were created across the country saving energy, training professionals for the new energies of tomorrow and acting as demonstration sites and centres of expertise on the green economy in their communities.

What about quality control and qualification frameworks?  Provincial ministries of education have very rigorous traditional quality control process frameworks, but are moving to control quality more by results, via employability and employer satisfaction rates, Decentralization does not mean losing all control, but rather that control shifts to measuring outcomes and allowing institutions the autonomy to adapt rapidly so that they can meet the changes in the market.

Is such a system a useful reference point for Asia?  Apparently as ACCC and Canadian colleges have been selected to help design and set up new or reformed TVET skills systems in Vietnam and Cambodia, to help open up institutions to poorly educated citizens in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and to help develop leaders, not only managers, but leaders of more responsive, community-driven and accessible systems by China.

A recently published forty-year History of ACCC in International Development: From Education to Employment, will be available shortly to see how some Canadian ideas were adapted and adopted in Asia, as well as countries like Brazil, Chile, Morocco, Jordan and South Africa, to name a few.

Is there a different skills development model in Asia? Cristina martinez-Fernandez and Kyungsoo Choi, OECD LEED Programme

The OECD has recently launched the OECD Skills Strategy with a clear message of the need to continue investing in education and addressing the demand, supply and utilization of skills. The strategy reinforces the message that skills and educational development for inclusive and sustainable growth are becoming significant drivers in OECD countries. Are Asian countries lagging behind on the challenge? In a just released report on Skills Development Pathways in Asia: Employment and Skills Strategies in Southeast Asia Initiative (ESSSA),  the OECD LEED program argues that Asian countries are working towards developing integrated pathways of skills and employment and that these pathways can be different form OECD countries. The report is an initial insight into the skills challenges ahead for Asian economies but also of the originality of the approaches and the pathways they are choosing.

The report focuses on current efforts in 15 countries in the Asian region: Australia, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. Together, these countries represent one of the most dynamic regions in the world, with steady growth, even during the recent financial crisis.

The strategic and policy pathways Asian countries are developing do not duplicate the approaches we can observe in other OECD countries. The Skills development pathways in Asia have a significant focus on developing skills infrastructure in an integrated way with physical infrastructure, taking greater advantage of the synergies of capital investment and industry growth for large infrastructure projects. Asian countries are utilising different strategic approaches to skills development:  Strengthening TVET systems, fostering knowledge intensity through workplace training, developing local skills ecosystems and integrating skills and technologies for green growth.

Emerging policy themes in this approach

The skills development programmes and policies analysed in the report indicate four levels of policy concern for a more integrated approach to skills development:

More investment in skills infrastructure and governance…

Asian countries face common challenges of building up skills infrastructure for creating a training market with quality suppliers, reducing skills mismatches, improving links between training and industry needs, upgrading outdated training systems and increasing industry participation.

Agriculture is still a significant part of many Asian economies. Five countries have large agricultural sectors, which account for over 50% of employment: Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Viet Nam.Services sector is overtaking manufacturing. Services employment shares have grown significantly in China, Mongolia, Thailand and Viet Nam during the last decade.

…while addressing the composition of skills and jobs,

The higher skilled occupations such as professionals, technicians, associate professionals and clerks are significantly advanced in the developed countries of Australia, Hong Kong, China, New Zealand and Singapore while Cambodia, Pakistan and Viet Nam are struggling to supply these types of skills.

Indonesia and Pakistan have a high percentage of labourers with either less than one year or only pre-primary education.  While Australia, Japan, Korea and New Zealand have the highest percentage of labour force with a tertiary education, indicating a highly skilled workforce,  in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nepal and Viet Nam, colleges and universities do not produce sufficient numbers of graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

…promoting more knowledge intensity in the workplace

To move to higher value‑added production and towards a sustained growth path, increasing the level of workplace training and the quality of training is becoming a key issue.  There  is an urgent need to address knowledge intensity and skilling professional in firms that are embedded in global value chains and technological innovation networks.

SMEs need to be equipped with knowledge of sophisticated financing, and this should be built in in different ways for firm training. There are alternative ways for skills development and knowledge-intensive service activities already well utilised in OECD countries (OECD, forthcoming) but how they relate to developing countries has still not been investigated.

…and integrating skills strategies at the local level

Asian countries are developing skills plans as national statements and frameworks. In most cases there is little specification of how the plans will be implemented at the local level where they need to reach the workforce, firms and organisations. Some countries are now realising the advantages of developing local skills ecosystems and therefore integrating the local implementation into policies and programmes.

Skills development for transition to a green growth economy presents a useful example. At the  national level, it is about setting the right prices and guiding the direction of investment (OECD, 2009), but on the local level it is about training and job placement in a changing environment (Martinez-Fernandez et al., 2010). The cases of Korea and Thailand show the importance of national strategic policy related to sustainable development and climate change.  Demand for new “green” skills and supply need to be balanced and strategically timed. Skills are wasted if they are supplied before industry is ready to use them, a situation which could lead to skill migration from the region.

For the local training dimension, collaboration and flexibility are critical. Facilitating skills and training ecosystems at the local level provides an invisible skills infrastructure that largely reaches stakeholders in connected activities to build capacities in human capital.

From skills for employment to learning for employability. Michelle Engmann, Senior Program Associate, Results for Development Institute

The premise is relatively simple: 75 million youth in the world are unemployed, and while macroeconomic factors take some of the blame for insufficient job creation, many youth remain incapable of taking advantage of existing job vacancies due to a lack of desired skills.

This global skills mismatch might be at least in part solved by discovering what skills employers want, and transforming curricula and educational systems to ensure that students are acquiring these desirable skills. R4D’s Innovative Secondary Education for Skills Enhancement (ISESE) project attempts to address this issue.

As it turns out, the solution may not be as straightforward as matching curricula to employer demands.

As part of the ISESE project, R4D gathered with education and skills development specialists drawn from global multilateral development banks, international foundations and IGOs, business and technology leaders, policymakers, and academia to review the project’s initial findings. While they debated many ideas, all agreed on at least one thing: a sustainable solution to youth unemployment must take into account a rapidly transforming global economy that is surely posing new demands today, but just as surely will be posing a whole new set of demands tomorrow.

Jeffrey Avina, leader of Microsoft’s corporate social responsibility programs in the Middle East and Africa, noted that most of the jobs that youth will be going for in 10 or 20 years don’t even exist yet. In order to address unemployment, we must arm youth with a set of skills that is adaptable as their employment opportunities continue to transform in response to the global economy.

While the ISESE research premise may have in part been challenged in Bellagio, some key takeaways from the review meeting have suggested that the demands of today and demands of the future can be met if we slightly alter our perception of “skills for employment” to consider the kinds of skills we mean when we talk about equipping youth with the means for success.

  • Employment and employability: related, but not the same. If a young man completes a training course on car mechanics, he may be able to get a job in a repair shop, effectively creating employment. However, if that repair shop goes out of business, and there are no other opportunities for him in the same field in his area, that skill is not transferrable to another job. Given that we expect economies to continue to shift and transform in unexpected ways, preparing students for specific jobs feels less dependable than ever as a way to increase youth employment. More effective would be an education and training system that provides students with transferrable or entrepreneurial skills to sustainable youth employability.
  • Non-cognitive skills are as important as cognitive and technical skills – if not more. While the basic 3R’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic – are undeniably critical, so are ’soft’ or ’life’ skills such as leadership, communication, teamwork, flexibility, problem solving, and time management. In fact, one ISESE background study indicates that in the informal economy across both Africa and Asia regions, non-cognitive skills may be more highly valued than cognitive or technical/vocational skills. Considering that in some countries in the developing world the informal economy can account for up to 50 percent of national GDP and up to two-thirds of working adults are informally self-employed, we cannot ignore that the informal sector values these non-cognitive skills over all others is critical.
  • Learning how to learn is a critical outcome of education. Above and beyond any specific skill, employers across formal and informal sectors in Africa and Asia alike are looking to hire employees with the ability to learn. The ability to learn is not a skill that can be dictated by a teacher and repeated by a student in an exam book. Rather, the ability to learn is honed through the learning process itself, which begs the question of how to enhance pedagogy in a way that shapes a student’s ability to receive, process, and apply new information, and also his or her awareness of this process and how to activate it in new and different contexts.

These takeaways illuminate an important aspect of the skills question that may have been overlooked in the quest for a quick and easy answer to the challenge of youth unemployment: while education for employment should be demand-driven, “demand” is not a fixed variable. Mamadou Ndoye, former Minister of Basic Education in Senegal, noted at the ISESE review meeting that responding to demand means considering a dynamic kind of demand, one that includes demands not only of employers, but of the individuals, families, and communities implicated in the equation, as well as the local and national plans for development, and an ever-changing global economy.

In order to keep up with these varied demands, our concept of skills for employment must be transformed. While the 3 R’s and indeed technical/vocational skills remain important, it is the non-cognitive skills that enable workers to learn and adapt these basic skills to different contexts.

The challenge becomes figuring out how to teach these non-cognitive skills. While these types of skills are difficult to teach in the traditional sense of the word, and even more difficult to quantify and assess, they are learned through the process of learning – indicating that this process is as important as the subject matter itself.

This idea has huge implications for the central question of the ISESE project: how can we improve education to increase youth employment in the developing world? Indeed, the solution may not be introducing a set of desirable employment skills into existing curricula, but perhaps transforming the learning system itself. It involves both rethinking pedagogy with an eye to developing a student’s capacity for critical thinking and learning, and as Ndoye notes, rethinking our idea of the learning process to include lifelong learning, self-learning, and learning how to adapt to the global environment.

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.

Rio+20 and Education and Training, Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB

Going by reports in the press, the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development did not quite set on fire new commitments for sustainable development. The outcome document from the Summit lacks the punch for extraordinary next steps. However, two Es, Economics and Education in the context of sustainability, captured the imagination.  The Guardian reported that “beyond Rio, green economics can give us hope”.  UNEP argued that green economics would bring the environment within the “visible spectrum” of economic activity. It is believed that the participation of 1,500 corporate leaders compared with only a handful in 1992 signals that there is plenty of green business to be done.

Education for sustainability was actively discussed. The conference outcome document calls for the development of sustainability curricula and training programs for careers in fields related to sustainability.   It advocates support to higher education institutions to carry out research and innovation for sustainable development. Entrepreneurship and technical and vocational training to bridge skills gaps to meet sustainable development objectives are also stressed.

 250 higher education institutions joined together to issue a declaration  at Rio in support of sustainable development, by agreeing to take actions to teach sustainable development concepts across all disciplines, encourage research on sustainable development issues to improve scientific understanding and transfer of technologies and undertake greening of campuses by reducing environmental footprint and promoting sustainable practices.

A number of side events at Rio led to discussions on education and training for sustainability. The UN report ‘Shaping the Education of Tomorrow: 2012’ reviewed gains made during the ongoing UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development  (2005-2015) and called for unifying different aspects of sustainability such climate change, disaster risk reduction and biodiversity in education. The International Business Leaders Forum released the report ‘Partnerships for Education: Building the foundations of a green, prosperous and equitable global economy’.  A number of UN organizations participated in the side-event “UN Multi-stakeholder Strategies for Scaling-up and Mainstreaming Learning for Sustainable Development”.  UNITAR drew attention to the role of training in the side event ‘National Learning and Skills Strategies to Advance a Green Transition Organizing partners’. The UN CC:Learn seeks to advance global knowledge sharing and national capacity development to strengthen climate change. The recent creation of the Inter-agency Working Group on Greening Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Skills Development advocates international partnerships for green skills and capacity development.

These are promising trends in a hitherto neglected area. Article 6 of UNFCCC had been somewhat limited in only advocating awareness building. A more active and long-term role for education to advance climate change implementation but also to find new and innovative solutions for greening economies is very timely.

Leading educational institutions are already on this track. Stanford University now has 500 courses that include a component of sustainability embedded across the curriculum for various disciplines – medicine, mathematics, economics, engineering, law and life sciences. The University’s Sustainability 3.0 strategy aims to reduce the environmental impact of students and campus buildings.  Columbia University has a Master of Science in Sustainability Management and an extensive array of sustainability management courses. Columbia and IBM have partnered to launch a green tech skills initiative to provide next generation entrepreneurs access to skills needed to accelerate sustainability projects and to be competitive when they enter the workforce.  Hong Kong University proposes to start a Master of Arts on Education for Sustainability. TERI University of India as a specialized institution focuses on courses in climate science and policy, natural resource management, environment studies, renewable energy engineering and management, sustainable development practices etc. The Petroleum University of Gujarat has established a school of solar energy.  Much more work is at hand to increase the global availability of qualified and skilled professionals.

India and China: Pre Occupations with Skills Development. Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB

I recently attended two events related to skills development – the first one linked to the Asia Competitiveness Forum 2012 in New Delhi and the second, UNESCO World TVET Congress  in Shanghai.

India and the People’s Republic of China attract popular attention, and comparisons are common. As two giant economies with high rates of growth and potential for increasing influence in world markets, they offer much scope for discussions on policies and strategies.

The priorities for skills and training in the two countries have many similarities: both acknowledge that it is talent and high skill levels that will determine competitiveness in the times ahead, particularly talent for innovation. Both have an interest to move up the value chain to compete in higher value added manufacturing and services. Skills development is expected to be a key driver to facilitate their transformation from a low-end manufacturing to more sophisticated, service-oriented and innovative economies. Corporations in PRC aspire to move from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’. India announced 2010-2020 as the ‘decade of innovation’ that includes setting up innovation centres of excellence in different frontier areas.

Skills development is high on the agenda in national plan priorities for both countries – India has the target of creating a pool of 500 million skilled works by 2022. In PRC, the National Medium and Long Term Talent Development Plan for 2010-2020 puts emphasis on vocational training and employment promotion.  New and innovative public policy instruments are being directed towards TVET. In PRC, the development of vocational training parks such as the Tianjin Vocational Training Park is an example of a dedicated large scale facility to promote vocational training connected with the needs of enterprises. Allocating a third of the Shanghai urban tax to education, particularly TVET, helps to increase financing for the sector. The Government of India is setting up a credit guarantee fund to encourage students among weaker sections to go for higher technical and professional education. In 2011, 3.95 million TVET students received government aid in PRC. The World TVET Congress advocated a transformational role for TVET.

It was clear from the presentations that both India and PRC need TVET not only for higher order manufacturing and innovation (which is a high priority for avoiding the ‘middle income trap’), but also for social equity. The overwhelming share of informal labor markets in India poses a challenge to skills development. About 11 m small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country contribute to an estimated 7% of GDP, 40% of manufacturing output and 60% of exports. The Government of India is actively promoting the concept of clusters to support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME). In PRC, skills development for accelerating development in rural and impoverished areas has been a key priority through programs such as the Sunshine Program for rural labor transfer training. Both countries are actively encouraging the contribution from industry and the private sector. In India, the unique private-public partnership model of the National Skills Development Corporation follows a results-oriented approach to skill development and has the target of skills development of 150 million people by 2022 and assuring employment for 70% of those. PRC’s policies to encourage industry-school partnerships with students spending about a third of their training period in enterprises strengthens much needed employability.  Inequality is a critical issue that both countries need to grapple with – the gini coefficient has worsened in both counties.

Thus the three dimensional lens (economic, equity and transformative) attributed to TVET by the forthcoming world TVET report seems quite appropriate.

RIGHTS TO SKILLS, Manish Sabharwal. Chairman, Teamlease Services

Rights are not reducing poverty. Time to place skills and employment at the heart of policy It’s been raining “Rights” in Indian policy for the last few years; education, work, food, service, healthcare, and much else. This “diet coke” approach to poverty reduction – the sweetness without the calories – was always dangerous because of unknown side effects. Commenting in 1790 on the consequences of the French revolution, Edmund Burke said “They have found their punishment in their success; laws overturned, tribunals subverted, industry without vigor, commerce expiring, the revenue unpaid, yet the people impoverished and a state not relieved”. Not very differently, early results of this “policy revolution by fatwa” – MNREGS, Right to Education, Right to Food, Right to Service, etc –suggests that it has led to 15 interest rate hikes in 12 months, is destroying government finances, fuelling inflation, and encouraging civil society to subvert democracy. It also reminds us that policy entrepreneurship, like all entrepreneurship, is not exempt from the rule that big ideas without execution and resources are ineffective. Outlays don’t lead to outcomes because poetry is useless without plumbing. But there is an alternative for reducing poverty to this impatient state driven idealism; Skills and Jobs. Poverty reduction comes from an individual’s ability to access opportunities. Unfortunately unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment; 58% of India’s youth suffer from some skill deprivation. India’s skill crisis is a child of a fragmented regulatory regime (state vs. centre, 19 ministries vs. 2 human capital ministries), the dead-end view of vocational training (the lack of vertical mobility between certificates, diplomas and degrees), a broken apprenticeship regime (we only have 2.5 lac apprentices relative to 6 and 10 million in Germany and Japan), a weak job framework (the national occupation codes don’t create a shared thought world for employers and educators), no linking of financing to outcomes (we pay for training not jobs), no separation of financing from delivery (creating competition to government delivery by using government money for private delivery) and dysfunctional employment exchanges (1200 of them gave 3 lac jobs to the 4 crore people registered last year). The policy agenda around skills is not impossible or unknown. Employment Exchanges need to become public private partnership career centers that offer counseling, assessment, training, apprenticeships and job matching. The Apprenticeship Act of 1961 must be amended to view an apprenticeship as a classroom rather than a job and shift the regulatory thought world from push (employers under the threat of jail) to pull (make them volunteers). The National Vocational Educational Qualification Framework must be agreed by the states and the Ministries of Labour and HRD as the unifying open architecture tool for recognition of prior learning and vertical mobility between school leavers, certificates, diplomas and degrees. Delivery systems are in the hands of states and every state must create a skill mission or vocational training corporation tasked with building capacity and quality. States should also create asset banks to make existing government real estate available for skill delivery. All schools must teach English because English is like Windows; an operating system that creates geographic mobility and improves employment outcomes by 300%. Schools and Colleges must selectively embed vocational subjects – particularly soft skills – into their curriculum. The regulatory cholesterol around national distance education (mail order, e-learning and satellite) must be reviewed to offer flexible options for workers already in the workforce and the geographically disadvantaged. We must create a national network of community colleges offering two year associate degrees; these colleges, rooted in the local ecosystem, will serve the informal sector (92% of employment) This missing mezzanine layer – their two years programs are not normal degrees on a diet but vocational training on steroids – would bridge the gap between vocational education and training but make the system more inclusive. Finally, we must created skill vouchers that will allow financially disadvantaged students to get trained wherever they want at government expense. Such vouchers would shift the system to funding students rather institutions should be funded by money carved out of the MNREGS budget. Unlike the skill agenda, the job creation agenda is more complex and controversial. But few disagree about the shame in four employment statistics being exactly where they were in 1991; 92% informal employment, 12% manufacturing employment, 50% self-employment and 58% agricultural employment. Economists do not understand how job are created or why they cluster where they do. But the broad contours of fertile soil for job creation are obvious; a flexible labour market, skilled employees, robust infrastructure, and predictable legislation. A flexible labour market is important; most economists agree that our labour law regime is poisonous. India’s labour laws – our employment contracts are marriage without divorce – have created a labour aristocracy (only 8% of our labour force works in the organized sector) that perpetuates labour laws which cripple India’s ability to compete with China in organized manufacturing. The labour law issue is closely related to the skill issue because expanding formal employment is the key to third-party financing of skill development and expanding manufacturing employment is key to getting people off farms (58% of our people produce 18% of our GDP). It’s late but not too late to change the tragic reality that the two most important decisions a child in India makes is choosing their parents and pin code wisely. Mughal Emperor Jahangir told his gardener in Kashmir that if a tree takes 100 years to mature, that’s all the more reason to plant it as soon as possible. In other words, the best time to start changing our skill system and reforming labour laws was twenty years ago. The second best time is now. India’s new tryst with destiny – putting poverty in the museum it belongs – doesn’t need more “Rights” but more jobs and more skills. And creating jobs and skills doesn’t need new ideas but courage. Not more strategy but more execution. Any takers?

Boosting productivity by harnessing skills, Robin Shreeve, CEO, Skills Australia

 Individuals, enterprises and governments all intuitively recognise the links between completing a training program and getting a job. Large numbers of research reports have charted the impact of qualification completions on workforce participation. As a result individuals, enterprises and governments are all prepared, to varying degrees, to invest money, time and effort in both vocational education and training and higher education.

Skills Australia believes, however, that skills development is only part of the equation.  How skills are utilised in the workplace is critical to maximising the investment of all the participants . At a national level, Skills Australia has recommended that both the Australian Government and individual enterprises use increased amounts of public and private funding to leverage workforce development initiatives at industry and enterprise levels, with a special focus on small business.

In  our National Workforce Development Plan, published as Australian Workforce Futures, we outlined how our modelling indicated that the Australian economy  will need by 2015 over 2 million more people with qualifications at Certificate 3 and above if employers are going to have  the skills they need to keep  a booming economy going. It should be stressed however that we are not saying there will be over 2 million more jobs in 2015. Part of the demand will be for upgrading the qualifications of those already working as well as reflecting that labour force entrants tend to have higher levels of qualifications than those who are retiring.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 30 per cent of Australian tertiary education graduates have qualifications exceeding the occupation skill classification.   Additionally, while it was a small sample size, the Head of the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University, Professor Kostas Mavromaras estimates that approximately 41 per cent of employees believed themselves to be over skilled.

Qualification mismatch, the discrepancy between the qualifications held by workers and those required by their job, has become a growing concern among policy makers. It is also a concern for employers as the effect of qualification mismatch on wages and job satisfaction may have implications for the mobility behaviour of workers.  Skills Australia encourages organisations to ensure that workers are well-matched to available jobs as this is essential to promoting growth and to make the most of investments in their labour pool.  This is not an argument about an over supply of skills. Rather it is about better organisational and job design at the enterprise level.  A modern economy requires more and higher levels of skills. Those skills are being developed but they also need to be used efficiently and effectively.

There is much scope for improvement by employers and employees working together with assistance from training providers and governments, to re-examine how individual workplaces can be organised to make better use of skills. According to Society for Knowledge Economics: “The fact that people at work are not given the opportunity to contribute to their full potential may well be the biggest ‘skills and productivity crisis’ we face today.”

Enterprises seeking to harness and develop their workers’ abilities should address how work is organised and how skills are aligned to the needs of the business.  Effective practices include conducting skills audits and redesigning or rotating jobs as needed.  I would also like to stress the importance of strong leadership and employee support from management. By enabling measured risk-taking and providing opportunities for staff to have a say in business process, managers can encourage creativity and innovation in their employees. An organisational culture that promotes the development of leadership and people management skills leads to an environment in which skills and talents are fully recognised and used.

Implementing change requires time and effort, but when an employee feels their skills are being utilised and their talent nurtured, our research has found that it pays dividends in business efficiency, productivity and innovation.

Skills Australia’s Better use of skills, better outcomes: Australian case studies showcases organisations in industries as diverse as health, finance, resources and manufacturing who have implemented tailor-made initiatives to benefit both the business and employees themselves. Australia’s continued prosperity relies on businesses like these.  One example is Murrumbidgee Health redesigning and expanding the role of therapy aides into allied health assistants. By better utilising the assistants’ skills to take over the routine administrative tasks and implement care plans, which previously only the professionals were permitted to do, the professionals were able to see more patients. It has resulted in positive outcomes such as significantly reducing waiting times from two months to two weeks.

Australian organisations like these are showing us that effective adoption of such practices can provide benefits both to employers, such as a lift in profitability, innovation, and staff retention and to employees, including gaining skills, a higher level of engagement and job satisfaction.

Skills Development – a pressing development challenge. Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB

Skills development is currently occupying center stage in development discourse– to sustain growth, increase employment, reduce inequalities, strengthen human capital and advance knowledge based economies.  Unprecedented interest is directed to policies and strategies that governments and business must adopt for skills development. UNESCO is scheduled to release two major reports on skills this year: the Global Monitoring Report on Skills and the World TVET report.  The OECD’s emerging Skills Strategy talks about skills as the global currency for the 21st century. The ADB’s Education by 2020: A Sector Operations Plan emphasizes strengthening quality, inclusiveness and relevant skills at levels of education. The World Bank’s recently launched Education Strategy for 2020 states that it is knowledge and skills of people, not years spent in a classroom, that contribute more to economic growth.  The skills-employment nexus has become an overriding priority. The G20 Declaration of November 2011 put employment at the heart of policy action to restore growth and set up a task force to tackle youth unemployment. The special chapter on employment in the ADB’s Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2011 discusses the transition to higher quality employment as a key link to economic growth and poverty reduction in developing Asia. The Asian Development Outlook 2012 discusses rising inequality in Asia despite high growth rates. Employment intensity of growth in Asia is lower than global average and has declined in recent years.  Inequality of opportunity, particularly education and skills, contributes to growing income inequality.

The writing is on the wall that a major revamp is needed in skills development and training. More of the same will not do in terms of policies and strategies. New thinking is required to handle a complex set of inter-related issues.

Education and training systems are not in step with the needs of the market as witnessed by the paradox of increasing demand for skills co-existing with skills shortages and skills mismatches. Assuring adequate employment is a pressing challenge as students of emerging from technical and vocational education and training are not finding jobs. On the one hand, there is a need for developing countries to increase the skill base of their work force to serve high technology industries and for moving up the value chain. On the other hand, with burgeoning tertiary education systems, problems of graduate unemployment are increasingly surfacing even in developing Asia, which bode ill for countries with youthful populations. The Arab Spring is seen as a possible precursor to more unrest if the youth unemployment issue is not tackled. In countries that are facing an aging population, skills will be the crucial determinant of people’s ability to stay in the labor market for a longer time. Fast growing sectors in Asia, are not necessarily offering growing employment opportunities as well. Employers are looking for not just technical skills but an array of soft skills that encompass problem solving and behavioral skills. The private sector is playing a dominant role in anticipating and contributing to skills development, calling for appropriate regulatory regimes and incentive structures for skills development. The large prevalence of informal markets poses unique challenges to skills training systems that support workers in small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs. There is a need to mesh together and bring congruence between policies for economic growth and industrial development, education and skills development and labor market and social protection. All easily said than done!

This space will provide an informal platform for individuals and professionals to discuss and deliberate upon pressing challenges and possible solutions. Exchange of experiences and practices can lead to enriching the dialogue between developed and developing countries and peer exchanges within developing nations. We look forward to an active debate on key themes and issues of interest to the community of practitioners in the skills and training sector!