Are Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges undervalued or are we misunderstanding their role and purpose? Reflecting on the low number of funding applications received from TVET colleges for the 2020 academic year, National Student Financial Aid Scheme administrator Dr Randall Carolisen stated: “This shows that, as a country, we have not yet positioned TVET education and the associated criticality of skills developments as an imperative choice for our national development ideals.” There are many reasons for this, but in this article I will focus on three.
Policy incoherence remains the biggest structural issue facing the post-schooling education and training system. In many of its policy and strategy documents, the department of higher education and training identified a number of systemic blockages, including the lack of synergy between the various post-school subsystems and a lack of clarity in relation to the role expected of the skills-development system. Articulation between TVETs and the labour market, and between the colleges with universities and Sector Education and Training Authorities (Setas) is not very clear.
Articulation can be understood at two levels. Firstly, in terms of qualifications, for example, how a certain qualification in one institution can lead to access and attainment of another; secondly, in terms of “pathways” that are available to students when they exit post-school institutions.
As a researcher in the TVET sector, I’ve come across final-year students who’ve never heard of Setas, despite Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande’s proclamation that Setas must have direct relationships with TVETs to facilitate pathways to the labour market. The purpose and role of TVETs in relation to other post-schooling education and training institutions is not clear to youth or their parents. Some of the students I’ve interviewed indicated that they didn’t know much about TVETs before enrolling and, in some instances, thought they were for less “intellectual” people.
As a start, the department needs to address the issue of “role clarity” and synergy within the system. The lack of clear articulation results in roles being duplicated, causing inefficiencies and exacerbating the already low confidence ascribed to TVETs by society.
The issue of curriculum offerings at post-school institutions is also important. The department’s own documents indicate that curriculum differentiation and reform is a major challenge facing the post-schooling education and training system. In terms of offerings, there are two “ministerial approved” programmes, the National Certificate: Vocational (NCV) and the National Accredited Training and Education Diploma (Nated), which offer business and engineering courses up to NQF level 4 (grade 12) and NQF level 6 (diploma), respectively.
Despite the aim of phasing out Nated through the introduction of NCV in 2007, 13 years later, Nated continues to be offered in TVET colleges. And despite concerns about the relevance of the Nated curriculum, the majority of students in TVETs are enrolled in this programme.
Additionally, it appears that, despite concerns, curriculum reform at TVETs has been put on the backburner while other issues, such as increasing access to and funding of TVETs are prioritised. Although we should continue to resource the system through funding students and infrastructure, for example, by building new campuses as announced in the State of the Nation address, we should, at the same time, ensure that students are offered occupationally relevant courses in line with industry needs.
The Centres of Specialisation, a project aimed at making TVET colleges respond to local industry demands by specialising in particular trades, are, therefore, a welcome initiative by the department.
When the TVET college improvement programme was initiated by the department in 2011, the nature and extent of the stress the system faced was laid bare. There was weak governance and management; financial mismanagement; and poor human-resource systems, student-support services and student performance. Success rates were very poor for the first cohort of NCV graduates, who enrolled in 2007.
This has improved drastically, thanks in part to the focus on TVETs since the department of higher education and training was created in 2009. However, many councils remain weak, the capacity of management and lecturers remains a concern and partnerships with industry remain weak and even non-existent at some colleges.
Social partners, such as industry, implementing agents and researchers, need to be brought in to help improve the capacity of the TVET system. A national programme involving all major stakeholders is required to solve these challenges.
There are many problems, all requiring urgent attention. However, if the department were to systematically address these three, we would go a long way towards giving society reasons to value TVETs and perceive them as institutions of choice.
Khaya Tyatya is an education practitioner and a PhD candidate in the education faculty of the University of Johannesburg