02 SES 08 B, Looking Back in VET History to Shape the Future
The Covid19 pandemic has brought about rapid change to how we live, communicate, travel, work and indeed how we learn. With restrictions to communication and movement, to physical access to families, friends, school, higher education and workplaces, our lives as we know them seemed to stop. ‘Locked down’ in our homes; technology access permitting, we quickly increased our virtual engagement with the outside world. ‘Zoom’ became our path to social interaction, shopping, learning and work. The shape of these have shifted. In this ‘living with Covid’ period, governments have scrambled to contain the virus, closing borders, closing businesses, closing schools and education institutions, enforcing quarantine, testing millions and struggling to provide health services.
Efforts are now being made to pick up the pieces, to resume to what is referred to as ‘covid normal.’ This includes opening up the previously closed businesses and institutions, encouraging workers back into cities and on to public transport. Hot spots of virus infections disrupt regularly causing cycles of being open or closed.
The impact on learning and work has been all encompassing. Teachers struggled to quickly improve their IT skills to facilitate learning online and developing strategies to support those with limited or no internet access. In vocational education and training, internships and work placements were on hold. Meetings, whether social, education or work, led to feeling ‘zoomed’ out. Those fortunate enough to still be employed and able to work from home report working longer hours.
Breaches in traveller quarantine highlighted the vulnerability to this process to a precariat workforce, people working in short term jobs, with low level qualifications, in a number of workplaces. Aged care facilities in particular with carers working in a number of facilities were particularly vulnerable. It is not extreme to note that basic level qualifications for poorly paid workers, struggling to survive, unable to take time off for a covid test, unable to take sick leave, contributed to endangering everyone’s health.
This situation provides for a pause, to reflect on what we can do to improve how we go on. In this paper, national policies for vocational education and training are considered. Drawing on policy documentation, reports, and related literature, a critique is made of the trends in vocational education and training (Knight, White and Granfield, 2020, Toner, 2018). Thus the aim of the research and this paper, is to conduct an interrogation or Australia's vocational education and training during the Covid19 Pandemic.
Learning is key to our individual and societal existence, providing access to survival, work, social interaction, intellectual development and advancement (Jarvis, 2014). We learn all the time, formally, informally, in all spaces and places, ages and stages and our experiences of learning and work are framed and governed by policies which embrace our everyday lives (Cairns and Malloch, 2011).
In the latter decades of the 20th century, international bodies, such as UNESCO, through the reports by Faure, (1972, and Delors, (1996) encouraged nations to develop lifelong learning, proffering a blueprint for an expansive, holistic agenda for learning, which would incorporate social, cultural and economic goals. This contrasts with many national policy trends for learning and work that emphasise skill development for knowledge societies and employment (Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2020, Australian Government Productivity Commission, 2020).
These differing approaches to learning and work related learning, and their attendant conceptualisations, philosophies and values inform national policy development that can frame opportunities for learning.
How we conceptualise and conduct vocational education and training is integral to future developments in learning and work.
The methodology for this paper is qualitative, a single case study (Grey, 2014) of the vocational education and training policies in one country, Australia. These are positioned with reference to international policies and reports, particularly from UNESCO other key international organisations, and national policy documentation. These are considered through a review, and analysis of recent government policy objectives, reviews of their impacts by key stakeholders, such as the government itself (National Press Club, 2020, Australian Government Productivity Commission, 2020), business and education sectors, and views of the fifth estate, the press, for emergent themes. As a participant observer in the field, the work has an ethnographical basis whilst framing a critical inquiry questioning and challenging the values inherent in the national policy agenda. (Gray, 2014).
The policy changes have resulted in, it is argued, shifts from more expansive agenda encouraging vocational, community and lifelong education and training to more restrictive economically focused policies. The national agenda is reviewed critically, questionning the values and assumptions inherent in the policies. Drawing upon the work of Preston (2017), Ruddock (2019) and Taylor, (2017) the argument is made that in this post globalisation era of the 4th industrial revolution (Schwab, 2016) and the COVID19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to conceptualise policies for learning and work that move beyond an economic agenda to one of expansive learning policies and opportunities. The conclusions reached in this paper are that there has been a trend to repeat the known policies in vocational education and training, that opportunities to think 'outside the box' with innovation and imagination are not considered. There has been a continuation of policies which diminish opportunities for learning and work, a constraining of social and economic opportunities, with inequities still evident. There has been a reinforcement of male dominated fields of employment and for under 35s; older workers and women have been left out. Private training organisations continue to be privileged over public institutions. International students who make a major economic contribution to education, have been largely ignored. Alternative policies and programs, drawn from the research, are proposed. The policy context remains looking back rather than forward.
Australian Government, viewed 22 October 2020 https://www.employment.gov.au/delivering-skills-today-and-tomorrow Australian Government Productivity Commission (2020) National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development, Productivity Commission Interim Report Overview, Commonwealth of Australia Cairns, L., and Malloch, M., (2011) Theories of Work, Place and Learning: New Directions in M. Malloch., L. Cairns., K. Evans., and B.N. O’Connor., (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Workplace Learning, SAGE Publications Ltd London, pp.3-16 Delors, J., (1996) Learning: The Treasure Within Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, UNESCO Publishing, Paris France Faure, E., (1972) Learning to be: the world of education today and tomorrow, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); UNESCO International Commission on the Development of Education, UNESCO, Paris, France http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0000/000018/001801e.pdf Grey, D.E., (2014) Doing Research in the Real World, SAGE Publications Ltd, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi and Singapore Jarvis, P., (2014) From adult education to lifelong learning and beyond, Comparative Education, 50:1, 45-57 Knight, G., White, I., Granfield, P., (2020) Understanding the Australian vocational education and training workforce, National Centre for Vocational Education and Research, Adelaide, SA Macmillan, J., (2020) Australia’s vocational education system faces further criticism as Government looks to overhaul sector, viewed 10 June 2020, ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-05/productivity-commission-savages-vet-system/12322164 Preston, J., (2017) Competence Based Education and Training (CBET) and the End of Human Learning The Existential Threat of Competency, Palgrave Macmillan, Switzerland Richardson, S., and Tan, Y., (2007) Forecasting future demands What we can and cannot know, NCVER, Adelaide SA Ruddock, C., 2019, Will Australia support a shift to lifelong learning? Open Forum, https://www.openforum.com.au/will-australia-support-a-shift-to-lifelong-learning/ Schröder, T., (2019) A regional approach for the development of TVET systems in the light of of the 4th industrial revolution: the regional association of vocational and technical education in Asia, International Journal of Training Research, Vol 17, Issue 1, Schwab, K., (2016) The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond, World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/ Taylor, M., Marsh, G., Nicol, D., and Broadbent, P., (2017) Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/good-work-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices The National Press Club of Australia, (1.10.2020) The Honorable Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia Pre Budget Address, Canberra https://www.npc.org.au/speaker/2020/729-the-hon-scott-morrison-mp Toner, P., (2018) How Economics Explains Failure of the Publicly Funded Privately Delivered Training Market, The University of Melbourne, https://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/2845779/Phillip-Toner-finaldocx. United Nations, 2020, Policy Brief: Education during Covid-19 and beyond, United Nations Sustainable Development Group https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/08/sg_policy_brief_covid-19_and_education_august_2020.pdf
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