Digital skills are driving competitiveness in today’s economy and countries below the digital divide must struggle to bring their populations to a level where they can catch up… and then, keep up.
Education today is no longer driven by the public sector as this has fallen off the way with its turtle-like response to changes that are faster than the system’s response rate.
So, today, many people enrol not in public schools or formal educational institutions as we have known them but rather take courses online on platforms we have not even dreamt of before. Private providers have also cropped up to offer the most responsive courses to advantage the students of technical and vocations education courses.
Public systems with no obligation to respond to the market can now be at the very bottom of the quality heap regardless of the billions spent.
The Shift to Digital Education
The shift toward digital education is building steam and it is already massive. Even students enrolled in lock-step public schools compliment their school work with online information. Newer teachers even suggest it. When given a choice by a College to take a course in class or online, many students opt for online.
Digital education is responding to the variability of their clients and making education more affordable, interesting and responsive to the particular needs and learning styles of students.
Digital education is often personalized to what the person needs at a particular moment in time, can be learned wherever they are and offer new skills that are needed by today’s industry and can be JIT timed with job requirements.
There are often no prerequisites so even those much younger but with strong interest are able to learn more advanced skills and knowledge that schools don’t teach at their level.
Competition with Other Learning Platforms
But it is not just that. With the world becoming more digital, kids who are born into a digital world take for granted knowledge and skills that many of us running education systems have yet to learn. Pity though that schools are becoming irrelevant to their learning.
They are learning digital skills to live in this world and to enjoy what these new technologies offer and it offers so much. They can get all the history information they want and in the platforms they want.
Even if a student has a disability in one form of learning, there are other platforms and styles where information are offered. Any kid who wants to learn a new language can do that online much more effectively.
The learning can be in a cartoon format and spoken by a native speaker of that language not by a teacher who has not even been to that country.
What About Credentials?
But what about credentials? They are now offered by many online schools. Besides, credentials are becoming irrelevant as recruiters want to find out if you really can do the work you’re applying for.
One employer was telling me the other day that they no longer bother much with looking at where you got your degree. They are more interested in your ability to do the work they require.
This is true of new technologies where new skills are required. Often, these companies recruit people with multidisciplinary learning and those who have done simple engineering work even as kids.
Recruiters go to see the results of many science competitions and we are aware that many of these projects are done by young people in their garages or homes which are better equipped and where they have access to tutors other than teachers in schools.
I have to say that there are teachers who are able to encourage students to do projects which are challenging because they themselves know. But sadly, these teachers are often recruited by international companies or by the private sector in their area, lured with higher salaries.
Most of the time, kids who want to learn the most advanced skills and knowledge don’t go to school for that. In fact, some of them leave school to hang out in shops where things are experimented or they do it themselves in their basement or garage getting all the information they need online. Most of this information is for free and is available to them anytime and anywhere.
Schools no longer provide the knowledge or skills for good paying jobs. Often, graduates can’t find jobs even if many jobs go unfilled because the skills are not there. Remember the old days when you learned how to fix cars by hanging around a garage after school or working on a beat up wreck with older kids? Hands on teachers. Talk informs.
Implications of Digitization to TVET
What are the implications of digitization to TVET? If there is any system that will truly benefit from the digital economy, it is TVET. Students who go to TVET do not see degrees as more important than the skills they need to get jobs. Unless they have digital skills they will only get jobs as nannies, security guards or drivers of these highly paid digital geeks.
Meanwhile, many TVET institutions are empty. With resources being poured into them, they have the equipment they need. In fact, many times, this equipment is not used because the teachers are university graduates with no idea how to actually use the hardware. Learning is hands on. Imagine trying to learn to play the piano by talking about music!
These public institutions can seldom recruit students even if their courses are free and they even offer accommodation and yet, in the same city, computer schools are full and students are prepared to pay for the courses they enrol in. Students are smart and know where the jobs are and what training is available.
Can government planners not see this? Can funders not see this? Why are resources still put in areas where no students are interested? The Market is not there.
Ok, in some cases, the employers are unaware of what is offered in some TVET institutions but usually employers prefer to train new entrants themselves but they need to have the basic digital skills which are not taught today in many TVET institutions.
Towards TVET Digital Education: 9 Steps
But certainly a shift is imperative if the resources aren’t to go to waste. Where does TVET start?
Here are some steps:
1. Allocate resources to new technologies where employers identify needs
2. Apply new technologies to improve institutional administration and instruction by moving courses online as an example, so interested individuals can take them while at work or at home.
3. Hire a teacher from the private sector. This will mean flexible scheduling to suit the teachers hours. Regular teachers can be placed in these classes to learn the new sets of skills.
4. Give institutions the freedom to act to offer short term courses and take some of the revenue from these to support electrical and supplies costs. Hire professionals who can teach the courses. This was how many of the Colleges in Canada started to move towards the digital economy. When these courses were offered by private sector professionals, teachers attend the courses because of the awareness that this is the way in the future. These teachers eventually became experts in these areas and took over the teaching. In fact, many of them also became consultants to the private sector thereby providing much needed skills for the economy.
5. In teacher promotion, give points to digital knowledge and skills as incentives for teachers in the system now to enhance their knowledge and skills.
6. Send promising teachers already with basic digital skills to more advanced courses and when completed, include in points for promotion
7. Partner with private sector providers of digital learning. Often, these private sector companies need space or tutors and they want schools to adapt their technologies. They may also want the Colleges to give the degrees or the Ministry to recognize degrees
8. Arrange apprenticeships in private sector for qualified students. Pay industries to train to their entry skills standard and award credit for this learning.
9. Partner with private sector trainers who offer digital learning platforms. Some of them require physical space for training that the public sector can provide. Arrangements with these private sector providers can bring up the level of skills of both faculty and students. Faculty will get training from these providers.
Sometimes, government and parents are unaware of what is happening when the country is not as competitive because it does not give skills to the young who could be employed by growing companies. Companies often complain of the lack of skills in the countries in new markets and they give up, bringing back the jobs to the home country or just abandoning the new market.
The best point of intervention as far as we can determine is the teacher. There are computers in many institutions but many of the teachers are not able to provide the knowledge and skills as they are often just learning the pedagogy of 2000 while the students want technology of 2020.
In many of TVET institutions, the teachers have no incentive to learn the new technologies. A few who do, often learn new skills so they could move on to higher paying jobs in the private sector. So, what intervention can be done? Relevant skills in the computer application sector must get points for promotion. If they are assigned the same points given to courses towards a Masters Degree, teachers will start doing something.
I am sure in your own specific environment, you can think of other incentives to move TVET towards the new economy. TVET must be linked to employment in the new digital economy or it will be abandoned as a useless investment by governments and students alike.
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