Reinventing the Government Technical College
In many countries, government technical colleges and training institutions are restructuring to meet the demands of the new economy evolving faster than the rockets its building . The requirement is much more than simply adding an IT section or a new programme in automated manufacturing.
In fact, the whole environment in which these institutions have worked is changing and curriculum is just one component of these changes. Imagine the requirements when a college was first built. Well, even though the buildings are in place, it’s just like starting all over again.
Originally, many of these tech institutions were established to serve the needs of government and state-owned industry for semi-skilled workers. In the 1970s, many developing countries were buying world class communications systems building power generation behemoths that had no links at all to traditional agricultural technology.
In many cases, they became havens for students that could not gain entrance to local universities but had no interest in technology. They were backwaters that really did not fit into Ministries of Education, which were run by Academics with little idea of the world outside of graduate schools and government offices.
These shifts in public policy are leading to upheavals in every aspect of Technical College operations, from student services to marketing to curriculum to financing. Linking Colleges to the market for training and forcing them to become responsive institutions is a total change in direction.
The transition in response to shifts in public policy is one of the most complex evolutions that institutions can make. Needless to say, a clear strategy is required by government and the institutions if the redirection is not to end in demoralized and marginalized Colleges.
Leadership is everything. Where promotion is based on age and service, the odds of finding the kind of innovative and energetic institutional leaders now required are very long indeed. Without very solid leadership at the Institution level, the technical Colleges remain bogged down in a skills supply system that is totally unresponsive to the needs of Industry and Business. They simply become burdens.
With little or no money to manage the shifts in skills needs and a priority in the provision of basic education for exploding populations, not technical education, governments are often unclear on how to design the transition.
Even more a mystery is how to fund the new institutions once the changes have been made. In fact, some International Financial Institution strategists have recommended that Government simply get out of the TVET business as it is beyond government funding and competence. Turn it over to private trainers or the Industrial sectors and stick with the school sector where there is more tolerance for the average.
As the rate of change in skills demands becomes ballistic, the focus shifts to the skills in the present workforce as there is no time to wait for the slow trickle of new graduates from the Colleges. How will archaic systems respond to a sudden demand by politicians for a “competitive workforce"?
There is always more than one pathway to reach a goal. There are models based on in-industry training or private institution education that work well and deserve attention. A visit to Chile will show an effective system that sidesteps Government completely. India quietly depends on private trainer to set workable tuitions and training students to meet the standards required by the factories in the schools catchment area. Student tuition and generous donors carry much of the freight.
Beyond this of course is the idea that systems developed in one country can easily fit in countries with dramatically different predominant cultures. How many of us have watched the attempts to transfer models from highly disciplined, technologically oriented countries to economies with totally different histories and challenges! Let’s be realistic.
The world is a buffet of working models designed to be effective in the environments that grew them. We are learning to take the bits and pieces that might fit into our own environment and use those as influences on the transition, but to test out every idea to make sure it makes sense in the new environment.
Systems are never static. Today, many TVET institutions are generally seen as evolving from a supply driven, academic activity to a demand driven and responsive, competency based system. The following grid displays some of the characteristics that are seen as positive.
Most systems are on a journey moving towards the desired characteristics. Most have learned that before they buy into answers designed for other cultures and economies, to test out very carefully what industry wants and needs in the home country and avoid the PhD misadventures of Consultants.
A comparison of the current characteristics of TVET and the desired characteristics based on input from TESDA, ADB, RRP, and stakeholders
As is so often the truth, make sure you understand what can work for you before you listen to the answers provided by consultants with great experience in their own culture and economy, but not a clue about yours.