Digital skills are driving competitiveness in today’s economy. 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 faster changes than the system’s response rate.
Today, many people enrol not in public schools or formal educational institutions as we have known them but instead 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 technical and vocational 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 complement 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 responds to their clients’ variability and makes education more affordable, engaging, and responsive to students’ particular needs and learning styles.
Digital education customizes the experience to what the person needs at a particular moment in time. The person can learn wherever they are and take new skills they need to get on today’s industry, and these offerings can be JIT timed with job requirements.
There are often no prerequisites, so even those much younger but with strong interest can 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 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 historical information they want, and in the platforms they want.
Even if a student has a disability in one form of learning, other platforms and styles can take care of that. Any kid who wants to learn a new language can do that online much more effectively.
The learning can be in a cartoon format, 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? Many online schools now offer them. Besides, certifications are becoming irrelevant as recruiters want to find out if you really can do the work you’re applying for.
One employer told 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 phenomenon is real of new technologies where new skills are required. These companies often 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 that are better equipped and have access to tutors other than teachers in schools.
I have to say that teachers can encourage students to do projects that are challenging because they 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. Some of them leave school to hang out in shops where things are experimented on or do it themselves in their basement or garage to get 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 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 genuinely benefit from the digital economy, it is TVET. Students who go to TVET do not see degrees as more important than their skills 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 poured into them, they have the equipment they need. This equipment is often not used because the teachers are university graduates with no idea of using 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 even offer accommodation and yet, in the same city, computer schools are full. Students willingly pay for the courses they enroll 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 TVET institutions offer. Still, employers usually prefer to train new entrants themselves, but they need to have the necessary digital skills that 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 home.
3. Hire a teacher from the private sector. This move will mean flexible scheduling to suit the teachers’ hours. Regular teachers can be placed in these classes to learn new sets of skills.
4. Give institutions the freedom 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 classes. This practice was how many of the Colleges in Canada started to move towards the digital economy. When private sector professionals offered these courses, teachers attend the classes 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. Many of them also became consultants to the private sector, thereby providing much-needed skills for the economy.
5. In teacher promotion, give digital knowledge and skills as incentives for teachers to enhance their experience and skills.
6. Send promising teachers already with essential digital skills to more advanced courses and when completed, include in points for promotion
7. Partner with private sector providers of digital learning. These private sector companies often need space or tutors, and they want schools to adapt their technologies. They may also like the Colleges to give the degrees or the Ministry to recognize degrees
8. Arrange apprenticeships in the 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 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 cannot provide knowledge and skills. They are often just learning the pedagogy of 2000 while the students want the technology of 2020.
In many TVET institutions, the teachers have no incentive to learn new technologies. A few who do often learn new skills to move on to higher-paying jobs in the private sector. So, what intervention can you do? 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.
In your specific environment, you can think of other incentives to move TVET towards the new economy. TVET must link to employment in the new digital economy or become a useless investment by governments and students alike.