SADC TVET Symposium 2023 very active: meeting on 8-9 May. News article by: Eduarda Castel-Branco

SADC TVET Symposium discussed 4 critical themes: TVET policy and governance; Skills for Jobs and TVET responsiveness to labour market needs; Articulation and the role of NQFs, RPL, and micro-credentials; Skills for digital and just transitions.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) with technical and financial support of European Training Foundation (ETF) organised a Symposium on Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) with the SADC Member States on 8-9 May 2023, in Johannesburg. UNESCO and ILO also provided technical support to the Symposium, participating with experts in the debates and facilitating some of the breakout sessions.

For wider outreach, the Symposium was conducted in hybrid modality and was attended by representatives of 14 SADC Member States.

The decision to conduct the TVET Symposium was made at the annual Joint Meeting of ESTI Ministers of SADC (14-17 June 2022, in Malawi).

This TVET Symposium is part of the Implementation Plan of the project ACQF-II (2023-2026) and was the first activity conducted by the project.

Concept notes, presentations, and photos are available for you on the Symposium webpage. Other resources on ACQF website related to the themes of the Symposium, which you can access, view and download:

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The goal of the Symposium was to promote TVET as an integral part of efforts to enhance skills and employability and ultimately sustainable and inclusive development in a context of accelerated transformation.

The challenges identified by the SADC TVET Situational Analysis Study, which was presented at the Joint Meeting of ESTI Ministers, triggered the recommendation by SADC Member States to conduct this TVET Symposium. The study findings foregrounded deliberations among key stakeholders, industry players and international cooperating partners to understand the factors impeding effective TVET implementation and the accompanying measures to strengthen TVET systems in the region.

The Agenda of the Symposium included an important plenary session dedicated to opening statements by the international partners, and a panel debate with participation of the Minister of Labour of Malawi and representatives of Zambia SESA PSC, UNESCO, and the African Development Bank. Moreover, two Member States (Namibia and Mozambique) shared information on the key priorities, measures, and way forward of the respective TVET systems and policies.

The dialogue sessions reflected on four major themes, listed below. The breakout groups actively discussed the themes and sub-themes, in a participative dialogue, enabling critical reflection, sharing of good practices and debating the challenges and recommendations.

  • Theme 1: TVET Policies and Governance in SADC Member States
    • Transfer of policy knowledge
    • Policy Framework and strategy formulation
    • Policy implementation, M&E and review process
    • Research and TVET
  • Theme 2: Skills for Jobs – TVET Responsiveness to the Labour Market
    • Skills anticipation
    • Dual systems through apprenticeship
    • Sector councils and labour market responsiveness
    • Using data analytics for skills intelligence
    • Linkages for youth employment
    • National Strategy to improve labour market responsiveness
  • Theme 3: Articulation
    • National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs)
    • Articulation pathways
    • Recognition of Prior Learning
    • Micro-credentials for education, skilling, lifelong learning and employment
  • Theme 4: Skills for Digital and Just Transitions
    • Greening of TVET: competency standards, curricula, programmes, processes
    • VET for the circular economy
    • Private sector engagement
    • Digital transformation of TVET and skills development systems
    • Training of Trainers in digital skills
    • Using augmented reality / virtual reality for TVET
    • STEM approach in TVET 
    • Digital skills and competencies for TVET

This news article focuses on the debate on the Theme 3 (Articulation), which is more closely related to the role and principles of National Qualifications Frameworks, the core area of work of ACQF.

Articulation: key concepts, arrangements, and issues

Articulation is the process of forming possibilities of connection between qualifications and/or part-qualifications to allow for vertical, lateral, and diagonal movement of learners through the formal education and training system. Countries develop and implement articulation arrangements in accordance with their institutional context, and the used approaches and their effectiveness vary. The three main types of articulation arrangements - systemic, specific, and individual – need to work together to deliver actual benefits to learners and society.

Articulation does not happen automatically and to be effective, it requires the combination of several instruments, e.g., Recognition of Prior Learning, credit accumulation and transfer, and the new types of skills development and recognition such as micro-credentials.

National Qualifications Frameworks (NQF) are a key element of education and training ecosystems, and in principle they support and enable articulation. In the SADC 11 countries have developed and are implementing NQF which share some commonalities, such as their comprehensive scope (all levels and types of qualifications), inclusiveness of all modalities of learning (formal, informal, and non-formal), and supporting recognition of prior learning. Articulation is explicitly mentioned among the main goals of many NQFs in the region (e.g.: Angola, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Seychelles, Zambia, and South Africa).

The effectiveness of articulated pathways and progression depends not only on the principles and requirements defined in the NQF, but most importantly on the degree of mutual trust and integration between the different sub-sectors of education and training; on access and admission rules to higher education; on the access to (quality-assured) recognition of prior learning for learners with different learning backgrounds and experiences to enable their vertical, horizontal and lateral progression.

Micro-credentials can play a role in articulation for lifelong learning and progression. The emergence and rapid growth of learning opportunities and shorter courses enabling reskilling and upskilling, supported by digital and remote learning modalities, created a new and very diverse space of credentials, badges, and recognition of learning which are posing new challenges to many NQFs, and fuelling debates and reflection not only in SADC, but around the world. Discussion on phenomenon of “micro-credentials” has been fostered at global, regional and national levels especially since 2019, resulting in agreed definitions of what “macro-credentials” are (and are not), and a set of minimum principles and standard features which governments and stakeholders need to consider in policies and practices on micro-credentials, so that these are trusted, portable, recognised, but not over-regulated. The EU has adopted a legal framework for a European common approach to micro-credentials; and Australia approved a National Micro-Credentials Framework with a dedicated online Market Place.  Micro-credentials refer to assessed learning over a limited time and/or in a specific area, may form part of or add to formal qualifications, are quality assured, and ‘stackable’ over time, adding to individual learning careers. The contexts in which micro-credentials are expected to play a role are: upskilling and reskilling, employability, lifelong learning, more flexible and learner-centre education, access to and completion of education and training, student international mobility and social inclusion. In the SADC the debate and policies on micro-credentials are at early stage both at national and regional levels, but the number and diversity of micro-credentials is growing.

Recognition of prior learning (RPL) implies the formal validation and certification of learning outcomes acquired in all learning contexts (formal, non-formal and informal). RPL is learner-centred, and individuals may combine RPL with training modules to complete a full qualification. In SADC many countries have initiated steps to establishing a RPL mechanism, but some are facing challenges for effective implementation. SADC has developed RPL guidelines to assist take up and implementation of RPL in all countries.

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Issues and challenges

Although most Member States have functioning National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs), and policies supporting RPL, there are articulation challenges from TVET to higher education. There is a need for policy coherence and sustainable articulation arrangements and pathways where different sub-sectors of education and training work together, not in separated silos, and the value of all learning acquired in different contexts can be recognised for the benefit of lifelong learners, employability, and society.

Participants identified the following as the main barriers to articulation in their NQFs: in many instances, qualifications design does not include the necessary elements supporting and enabling articulation; limited trust among training providers, scarce understanding of the NQF and the learning outcomes approach, contradictions in the nomenclature of qualifications after the adoption of the NQF, limited information on the existing qualifications in the public domain. Low image of TVET in general, which can contribute to negative perceptions among higher education institutions regarding TVET graduates.

At least eight Member States have approved RPL policies and implementation tools and guidance, and delivered is available for applicants seeking skills recognition for a range of occupations. Implementation of RPL is not equally effective across the region, due to resource constraints, scarcity of technical capacities to disseminate information and enhance demand, and the co-existence of different concepts of RPL combined with diverging types and mechanisms of RPL within countries. In several countries RPL applies only to certain levels / sub-sectors, and only in few cases is RPL applied to higher education qualifications.

Micro-credentials for education, skilling, lifelong learning and employment are game-changers among learning typologies. It is gaining rapid acceptance because it enables rapid, cost-effective, and flexible solutions for re-skilling and up-skilling. It aligns with lifelong learning and gainful employment.

It became clear at the seminar that there is a need for officials and stakeholders of the TVET sector to learn more about micro-credentialing, acquire a better understanding of how it works, and determine how it can fit into learning systems. Micro-credentialing also offers the possibility of regional collaborative learning solutions. It was stressed that Member States should participate in UNESCO, SADC and the African Continental Qualifications Framework debates and developments on micro-credentials and their place in education and training eco-systems for articulation and lifelong learning.

Alongside NQF implementation, efforts should be enhanced towards better integration and dialogue between the sub-sectors (general education, TVET and higher education), clarifying the concrete barriers to implementation of the different mechanisms in the articulation “toolkit” and improving the role of NQF institution(s) in enabling and analysing the status of articulation. A change of mindset, which in many instances discriminates against TVET learning outcomes, is indispensable. National institutions should establish and provide technical and other support for the inclusion of articulation elements in qualifications design and implementation. This effort to make articulation a reality for end users should also involve better and easily accessible guidance on career development and learning pathways for all types of learners. The use of digital tools such as open and comprehensive registers of qualifications should consider the needed information on articulation and pathways for end-users.

Last but not least, it is important to enhance monitoring, data collection and analysis on the implementation of RPL and articulation in general in the region, to support review of existing policies and mechanisms and adoption of better arrangements, expand implementation and enhance impact of articulation and flexible pathways.