Vocational institutions are innovating and changing as a result of Covid-19

“Education and skills systems are increasingly looking towards international experiences to inspire and inform national reforms”

While remote learning has offered some educational continuity when it comes to academic learning, vocational education and training has been particularly affected by the pandemic.

Compared to general programmes, technical and vocational programmes suffer a double disadvantage, as social distancing and the closure of enterprises have made practical and work-based learning, that are so crucial for the success of vocational education, difficult or impossible.

Yet, the Technical and Vocation Education and Training sector plays a central role in ensuring the alignment between education and work and the successful transition of learners into the labour market, that are so important for the economic recovery of any country and prosperity more generally, writes Dr Rossi Vogler, Senior Consultant at the British Council.

As it brought some sectors to a complete shutdown, at the same time Covid-19 has accelerated the transformation and digitalisation of the economy.

New industries such as AI healthcare emerged, creating enormous potential for innovation, creativity and progress. For the TVET sector it presented an opportunity to innovate and increase its attractiveness from experiential virtual training to remote placements with employers. Education and skills systems are increasingly looking towards international experiences to inspire and inform national reforms.

While a lot of the measures introduced by the vocational institutions worldwide were an immediate response to the pandemic and are already well documented, it is interesting to note how the vocational institutions are adapting and what measures they are undertaking which will be sustained post-Covid-19, as well as what changes need to be introduced for the long term.

The social, economic and educational recovery from the pandemic can be enhanced by knowledge transfer and innovation exchange. With this in mind, the British Council brought together 15 TVET institutions from five countries of the British Council’s I-WORK Programme (Improving Work Opportunities-Relaying Knowledge) to explore innovation, evolution and change stemming from the pandemic.

TVET practitioners and leaders from Ghana, India, Malaysia, South Africa and the UK reflected on five questions:

  • How are institutional policy and structures likely to change to reflect the changing situation? Is this different for private institutions?
  • What changes are proposed to the curriculum/occupational areas to reflect the rapidly changing demand and how are they identifying this demand?
  • How will learners get the practical and work-based experience they need and what changes to work-based learning and apprenticeships are needed?
  • What changes are needed to the skills and type of staff in the teaching institution?
  • How can new delivery models and ways of working promote more inclusive practice?

We found that having dealt with the initial crisis-management implications of the pandemic, institutions were beginning to innovate and to evolve their thinking for the medium to long term. The national policy context may have been different in each country, but across the board innovation was a dominant driving theme for all the institutions, and the move to digital learning and teaching had brought benefits, opportunities and challenges that might not otherwise have been realised.

“Across the board, innovation was a dominant driving theme for all the institutions”

TVET institutions showed resilience, creativity and entrepreneurship during the pandemic. They developed new assessment, quality assurance and teaching methods, some of which can no doubt be translated into long-term practice.

Staff and students benefited too by upskilling on digital tools and becoming more independent and resourceful in their approach to learning and work experience.

For some institutions, these developments were new, creating curriculum opportunities and closer alignment with employers. For others, it was a case of reutilising what was already there and accelerating existing educational principles. The efficiency, sustainability and legacy of the changes brought about by Covid-19 suggest that a complete return to pre-pandemic TVET policy and practice is unlikely.

So, what can be learnt for the different experiences of our five study countries?

The research, authored by the Association of Colleges, and launched at Going Global today, shows that 92% of the surveyed organisations had changed their institutional policies since the onset of Covid-19 and 91% will change their continuing professional development over the next five years. The research makes recommendations that in order to respond quickly to labour market change policy maker should consider the decentralisation of TVET curriculum to create greater decision-making power at institutional level. On the other hand, institutions need an agile organisational culture that can embrace change and encourage innovation.

About the author: Dr Rossi Vogler is Senior Consultant at the British Council.