We need a national TVET authority: Here’s why
17 September 2022
The potential of TAFE-delivered vocational education and training has been relegated to mark it as a pathway for students who do not have the academic ability to progress in regular schooling. It hurts to write this, but it is the truth
PORT MORESBY - The education sector in Papua New Guinea has gone through various structural reforms in an attempt to ensure that principles and directives enshrined in the Constitution are realised.
Education as a development pillar is also highlighted as a key sector in PNG’s Development Strategic Plan 2010–2030, in the Medium Term Development Plan 2011-2015, in the Medium Term Development Plan III and in Vision 2050.
The education sector continues to receive a significant portion of the national budget, which has signalled the government’s position that education is a priority.
There have been many changes in policy direction and there is still, and will be always, room for improvement.
Every successive government has been given the opportunity to be responsive, and put an end, to the constantly growing trend of out-of-school youth.
The out-of-school population makes up the majority of youth, however it is obvious that despite progress in general education, TVET (TAFE-delivered vocational education and training) has been ignored or given minimal attention.
Even after 47 years, TVET has not been given the attention it deserves.
From Day 1, TVET was doomed to be the poor cousin of general education.
TVET was not promoted in its own right, but seemed to be an afterthought and never given the priority it deserved in policy development and financing.
This mentality filtered into the way education was delivered right up to the present day.
Its full potential has been relegated to mark it an alternative pathway for students who do not have the academic ability to progress in regular schooling.
It hurts me to write this, but it is the truth.
The education system shows no mercy or empathy to these TVET students who are in reality adept skilled.
But this doesn’t mean students who end up in TVET are less intelligent than those who move on to tertiary institutions.
It just means that everybody cannot be a teacher, doctor, accountant or lawyer. That is a simple and straightforward fact.
It is a conscious way of balancing vocations and giving everyone a place in the greater scheme of life.
If you are a bureaucrat sitting down to make policy and finance decisions, I hope this point settles in your sub-conscious.
TVET in Papua New Guinea has a lot of ground to cover in terms of administration and organisation, legislative frameworks and financing.
To make matters more cumbersome, the existing TVET system has fragmented. This may not have been intentional but a result of uncontrolled evolution.
The mechanics of TVET are complex and have become ingrained as institutional legacies.
Without insightful policy dialogue, it has been difficult to embrace TVET as an interlocutor of socio-economic development, thus suppressing its real potential.
There are two reasons for this.
First, TVET is struggling to get out of this institutional quagmire.
There are three main government agencies that make up the TVET system: the Departments of Education (DoE), Higher Education, Science, Research and Technology (DHERST) and the Labour and Industrial Relations (DLIR).
Bureaucratically, TVET falls within the jurisdiction of DoE with governance shared between the national and sub-national governments.
Post-secondary school, TVET is the responsibility of DHERST while DLIR regulates the labour market and interacts with industry.
Although there have been attempts to bring these different players on to common ground, the result has not been encouraging.
Several issues restrict the labour force to develop and fully benefit from the economic diversification and expansion of PNG over the past decade.
The relationships are problematic because the three departments are governed by separate legislation and TVET is one of their mandates. No legislation exists to harmonise TVET with these separate entities under a single overarching framework.
Secondly, government agencies have been blinded to the reality that TVET can alleviate many of PNG's social problems and hinder progress.
TVET targets the majority of PNG’s student population and logically it should attract equal funding, attention, policy enhancement and effective management.
However that is not the case because the mentality that TVET is for drop outs is entrenched in the minds of the very people who should make it more attractive.
A TVET graduate who receives a trade certificate can go to Saudi Arabia for six months and earn enough money to build a high covenant house and a decent car.
The graduate would also have enough in the bank to keep the family together while looking for the next opportunity.
If that TVET education is not attractive, then I don’t know what is.
If TVET is a legitimate alternative pathway, it is hard to understand why we still struggle to provide it with vision and purpose.
Hence, I propose TVET get its own authority; we could badge it as the National TVET Authority, freeing it from the confused mechanisms the three state entities identified and promoting greater communication and collaboration, providing secure financing and appropriately designed policy.
Yesterday PNG celebrated 47 years of independence. But I did not.
This was because I cannot celebrate how TVET is treated by inequitable funding, policy confusion and ineffective management
And the disgrace of politicians continuing to drag TVET into oblivion left me with little space to celebrate 47 years of being our own country.
PNG has become a country that celebrates mediocrity.
Come on PNG, are we that dull? I hope I’ve given you something to think about the day after our independence celebrations.
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