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The Integration of Technical and Vocational Education

Desta, Asayehgn, Ph.D.
Sarlo Distinguished Professor of Sustainable International Economic Development
Dominican University of California
March 02, 2012


With the emancipation of the Rio Conference of 1992 and the Johannesburg Conference of 2002, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has been regarded as the key component of implementing sustainable development.  In particular, the Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) for entrepreneurs has been identified as a vehicle for the implementation of education for sustainable development.  To assess the effective integration of ESD in TVET, four of the six case studies undertaken by UNESCO in 2009 in Eastern and Southern Africa  (i.e., Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, and Mauritius) were reviewed by the author to solicit information as to whether the objectives of ESD have been achieved by the TVET programs. Given that sustainable development is the emerging challenge of the 21st century, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its Second International Congress held in April, 1999 in Seoul, Republic of South Korea, asserted that Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programs need to  play a pivotal role in developing a new generation of individuals who will face the challenge of achieving sustainable socio-economic development throughout the globe (UNESCO, 1999).

The purpose of this paper is to review 4 of the 6 TVET case studies that were commissioned to the writers connected with UNEVOC Network as part of capacity building and contributing to knowledge building and sharing in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, and Zambia. Despite the fact that ESD and sustainable development have become household words, the studies reveal that the concept of sustainable development is only vaguely understood. It is very difficult to translate the concept into sustainable educational development. Given the vagueness of educational sustainable development, the researchers were not able develop indicators for assessing its implementation nor to measure the impacts and outcomes of actions taken. It must be concluded that the respondents have little or no understanding of the concept of ESD. 


In 2002, at the Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, a special United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) under the leadership of UNESCO was established to run from 2005 to 2014.In other words, at the 2002 World Summit, the participants of the summit unanimously agreed that education for sustainability (EDS) be integrated and be made part and parcel of all levels of the TVET programs under the leadership of UNESCO(United Nations, 2002). However, when UNESCO assessed the extent to which the recommendations from the Seoul Congress of 1999 were being implemented by UNESCO member states in reference to the application of TVET for sustainable development, to the dismay of the members, it was found that not much progress had been achieved (Dubois, R. and Balgobin, K. (2010). In Africa in particular, the TVET programs were considered a career path for the less academically advantaged. Some African governments keep dropouts or “lockouts,” students who are unable to move up the educational ladder, not because of poor grades but because of lack of places at the higher level. In addition, the findings established that many African governments don’t have the financial means to finance TVET at a level that can support quality training. For instance, while Ghana spends only about 1 percent of its educational budget on TVET, Ethiopia spends only about 0.5 percent of its education and training budget on TVET (African union, 2007).

To overcome the dismal findings about the TVET programs in Africa, the Bonn Declaration on “Learning for Work, Citizenship and Sustainability”of 2004 quickened the pace and further stressed that  education needs to be “… considered the key that can alleviate poverty, promote peace, conserve the environment, improve the quality of life for all and help achieve sustainable development” (UNESCO-UNEVOC, 2004). Therefore, the Bonn Declaration of 2004 said specifically that there should be a reorientation of TVET and suggested that TVET initiatives should be tailored to alleviate poverty but also be made to playa pivotal role in human-centered, sustainable development (UNESCO, 2004).

After years of benign neglect, fresh awareness arose in Africa when policy makers in many African countries became convinced that if reformed TVET could play a major role in the training of a skilled and entrepreneurial workforce that could enable Africa to create wealth and emerge from decadence and poverty (African Union, January 2007). As discussed by Hernes, “far from disappearing from the African educational scene, as some observers were predicting, technical and vocational education is undergoing change and modernization in an effort to better meet the needs of the labour market without sacrificing its social function” (Gudmund Hernes, cited by the African Union, p. 27, 2007).

With this new spirit and energy, the African Union Commission spearheaded the development of a new strategy for the revitalization of the TVET programs in Africa. Using the school-based TVET programs, for example, Cameroon has endeavored to facilitate the integration of TVET with the job market. Lesotho and Rwanda have focused on linking TVET to business. The TVET programs in Malawi are tailoring their TVET programs to emphasize the need to create self-employment based on a foundationof sound general education and also are raising the productivity capacity of the learners in collaboration with industry and prospective employers (African Union, January 2007).

Pursuing the mushrooming of the TVET programs in Africa, six case studies from Southern and Eastern Africa were undertaken to determine the effectiveness of the integration of TVET programs with ESD. From the six case studies the following  four case studies were reviewed: 1) A survey of experience and practice in current use for integrating education for sustainable development with TVET in Botswana by Mathews Lebogang Phiri; 2) A study of a current model for integrating education for sustainable development in centers of excellence with TVET in Kenya by John Simiyu; 3) A case study on initiatives in the current use of integrating education for sustainable development with TVET in Malawi by Modesto S. Gomani; and 4) A case study of practices for integrating education for sustainable development with TVET for the tourism industry in Mauritius by Roland Dubois and Koontee Balgobin.

The purpose of this paper is to review these 4 of the 6 TVET case studies that were commissioned to the writers connected with UNEVOC Network as part of capacity building and contributing to knowledge building and sharing in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, and Zambia. Therefore, the study investigates to determine if the TVET schools in Africa are positioned to train future entrepreneurs to resolve environmentally sustainable development issues.The first section of the paper examines the meaning of sustainable development. The second portion of the study assesses the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of the TVET programs in delivering the ESD objectives. The final portion of the study addresses possible policy implications. Briefly, thecardinal questions that were used to review the case studies include:

  • What does sustainable development entail?
  • Do the TVET case studies meet the sustainable development requirements?
  • Are the TVET programs in Africa in line with the ESD requirements?
  • What lessons can Ethiopia learn from some of the TVET programs in Africa?

Sustainable Development

In Africa, we are very good at drawing up strategies and plans

But when it comes to implementation, there is always a difficulty.”

(A common African saying cited by African Union, 2007, p. 41).

It needs to be stated at the out set that development theories generally originate with the subject. The subject, being the creator of the industrialized world theorizes that by emulating their colonial masters, the non-industrialized countries could raise their standards of living to match their idols (See for example, Richards, 2006). Bearing in mind how development theories are established, it needs to be understood that the concept of sustainable development arose from the concern that zealous pursuit of high incomes and economic growth could cause excessive burden and exploitation of natural resources (Rao, 2009). Thus, linking the concept of sustainability with development has served to strengthen rather than weaken the basic suppositions of economic progress. It has given strength to those whose preference is ‘sustainable economic growth.’ For this reason, the concept of sustainable development is more pronounced in western industrialized countries than in developing countries because they retain the principle of development, and developed countries are “seen to offer hope for a better share of the world’s wealth” (Smyth, 1995 p. 12).

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