Culture: A Challenge to TVET

In TVET today, there is the constant challenge that very little research has been done on the relationship between skills development and culture.

How do we go about developing  systems that fit into the country’s culture, values, traditions and social interaction as well as its particular level of development? 

TVET Students in Cambodia.

Timing is everything. In the past, development banks and donors have funded a range of interventions that mimicked the “best practice” of the countries of origin of the consultants that were hired. But many have not taken off… or the take off was so cumbersome and protracted that it was clear the plane was not well designed… or fit for purpose. Why?  

What do people think about TVET? Is it better to have an unemployed lawyer as a son than an employed construction supervisor? Is it better to have an daughter earning almost nothing as a teacher or working for international wages in a factory as a electronics technician? 

Industry is not the agent of change setting the future scenarios as we often think it is. Industry if they are successful, exploits very well what people at a particular moment prefer, what they want to associate themselves with, what they value and consider important in their lives. Industry pays millions to have this kind of researches. 

As industry responds to what people value, they effect changes as lives change because of new products and technologies they introduced to respond to what people aspire to. Industry identifies what people value and aspire to and sell that dream to them.

​This is what TVET needs to do to appeal not only to those who cannot make it to the regular education system or in other words the failures in the education system or those who can’t make it there.

It needs to appeal to those who value TVET as a primary option to fulfill their dreams regardless of measures such as academic grades and entrance examinations scores.

Cultures change as well and we can help cultures to grow towards greater development. But this demand a more in-depth analysis of the complex relationships the planners and implementers in the country have to deal with, the relationships between TVET institutions and industry, the realities of industry in the country at the particular moment of intervention.

There are some issues that at present because of TVET bias to skills and its application, not much research is done by academics in this area to look into models and systems that take on each country’s unique culture and tradition, including values, work habits, relationships of the various sectors in society and other forms of social traditions and interactions that are still very much adhered to by the majority of the population.

While we argue that these people need to move on to the 21st century, the development have to take on the current reality these people are in. Often, the tendency is just to superimpose whatever systems had been successful in developed economies without thinking through whether these systems and models will work within a culture that is totally different.

As most of the planning is often done by consultants who developed these systems successfully in their own countries, they just presume that similar models will work in these developing countries. It is often presumed that these countries need to go through the same path towards industrialization just as many successful models in TVET right now have done. 

As many of these plans are done by teams of experts put together to develop a workable plan within 5 or 7 months, often they settle for what is workable and base their plans on practically what they have learned from their own experiences.

With the absence of data and any analysis on the realities in the ground, the product becomes the focus. As the team of experts come together only for the first time, often the energy towards developing the project is spent more on just managing the team interaction and relationships as they focus on areas for interventions. 

Some of the consultants, at times, have not really bothered to listen to the locals. They consider the officials corrupt and ineffective so they think these officials have nothing much to say.

Fearing for their own safety and dealing with their own uneasiness in going around a new place, many do not go out and seek data and information nor visit institutions and communities. Because of the language difference, there is not much thinking and sharing of ideas. Bouncing ideas with the local officials, local experts and stakeholders is often nil. 

As such, the issue continues of highly advance TVET from developed countries imposed on developing economies. So, often, the remains are evident in facilities and equipment not used nor maintained after the consultants leave as many of the institutions do not even have the money to maintain such. They have no personnel who can effectively use the equipment. Sometimes, some of the boxes of equipment are just left unopened. 

The difficulty of an array of cultural contexts even within the country also presents quite a challenge to planners. More research needs to be done in this area. 

“If I could have chosen not to tackle the IBM culture head-on, I probably wouldn’t have. My bias coming in was toward strategy, analysis and measurement. In comparison, changing the attitude and behaviors of hundreds of thousands of people is very, very hard. Yet I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—IT IS THE GAME.”

Lou Gerstner,* former CEO, IBM

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