EducationNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 12

Technical and vocational education—a neglected sector

In Pakistan’s education sector, technical and vocation training are missing. In South Asia, Pakistan is the worst performer in terms of technical and vocational education and training, which is an urgent national need for its burgeoning young population.

The global economy is becoming more intertwined and not everyone needs a university degree to succeed in life. Many western countries attach great importance to technical vocational education and training, which provides an opportunity to school leavers to acquire professional knowledge and skills for employment. Technical and vocational education and training courses provide education, training and skills required by the job market or to equip people with technical knowledge, who can employ themselves after school.

Needless to say, the courses make a massive difference in developing a nation’s ability to maintain quality and providing employment opportunities to the youth. In Australia, over 34pc employers view technical and vocational education and training as an essential job requirement.

Due to a lack of linkages between educational courses and industrial needs, Pakistani employers feel that colleges and universities do not provide them with workers with necessary skills in demand. The courses can be designed in partnership with the industry to meet its needs but no coordinated action has been taken so far in this direction.

In China and most developed countries, educational institutions focus on producing qualified people with the skills to innovate and contribute to the growth of the national economy. This is achieved by interacting closely with the industry, ensuring that enough of the workforce is diverted towards the particular needs of various industries. Developed economies, such as Norway, Finland and Switzerland, have transformed their economies by focusing on technical and vocational education and training. The countries lead the world in terms of technological advancement and workforce development. Schools in the UK educate children about careers and also about various vocational qualifications. Many students opt for a quick career start, rather than wait for another three years in a university.

Pakistan can learn a lesson from the leading economies, both in the East and the West. Technical and vocational education and training courses yield numerous benefits. Having a specialised workforce ready to take up jobs, with professional abilities matching international standards, is just one. Many studies show that employers prefer to hire people, who already have the required skills rather than train an unskilled person. Technical and vocational education and training can also be used to retrain the workforce for a new profession. The skills can be developed over a shorter period of time than conventional degree programmes.

A developing country, like Pakistan, can immensely benefit by reorienting its education system towards technical and vocational streams. We do not need big colleges and universities to achieve the objective. Small-scale institutions can provide quality training in the form of a diploma at a much less cost than a university. Existing facilities in both urban and rural schools can be utilised or upgraded for a wide range of vocational courses.

According to a recent survey, there are only 3,798 TVET institutes in Pakistan. They have a limited absorption capacity and can accommodate only half a million trainees, whereas the annual increase in youth unemployment is estimated at 1.5 million. No wonder, the problem of unemployment among our youth is worsening. There is a dearth of government funding for vocational institutes. Women’s participation in technical training institutes is also very limited. Another major issue is the shortage of good trainers.

To boost the technical education sector in Pakistan, the first requirement is that the government should increase funds for TVET institutes and skill development and training schemes. It should also enact new legislation to enable large, medium and small industries to engage in the development of technical education. The industry has played a pivotal role in strengthening its relationship with TVET institutes. The participation of women in technical education should also be encouraged as they constitute 52 percent of the population.

Experts recommend that to enhance the scope of higher education for TVET graduates, at least one technical education university should be established in each province. For technical diplomas, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan should also introduce degree equivalence, so that TVET graduates can get easier access to job opportunities in government and private organisations.

An important development is that TVET graduates can get jobs in industries that are being established as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC companies should enlist TVET graduates for training, internships and jobs.

To this end, there is an urgent need to revise and upgrade the TVET curricula to keep up with rapid technological advancements and meet the emerging requirements of the labour market. As a starting point, the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission should design and initiate a new school vocational training programme to impart practical skills training at the high-school level.

The objective should be to revamp the entire vocational training system in order to fight the rising threat of unemployment and poverty.