Since ancient times, people have taught others important skills -- our ability to do so is the reason for our species’ remarkable success. In today’s society, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is an important element of the education system offering both academic qualifications and skills development in a wide variety of employable areas. Therefore, it is a key component to improve the employability and productivity of Nepal’s future workforce. Unfortunately, in Nepal, TVET is highly fragmented.
The Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) was established in Nepal in 1989 with the aim of developing a skilled workforce through practical courses. Major functions of the CTEVT include curriculum development, certification, skills testing and development of instructors’ capacity. While expanding the TVET opportunities in the country, regional balance has been maintained with specialised courses.
To meet the demand for places, the CTVET worked intensively to open and run new institutions. In this regard, several institutions from the private sector got affiliation from the CTEVT. However, the system was not able to consistently enforce standards in the newly affiliated institutions. CTEVT’s regulatory functions were weakened as multiple actors entered the TVET sector, bringing conflicting interests from stakeholders.
Meanwhile, the sectoral ministries gradually expanded skill development programmes outside the expertise of the CTEVT system. Technical stream has also been opened to grade 9-12. This has increased access to TVET, but it has resulted in further fragmentation of the sector. As a result of the growing participation of public and private sectors, access to TVET programmes gradually improved and reached the local and community levels. But the questions of quality, relevancy, and integration with the job market, systemic thinking and effective governance have also grown. Bringing all actors together is a big challenge because each organisation wants to expand its scope and territory. There is not a strong consensus among those who work in the system, nor other interest groups and stakeholders.
Some suggest that the issues associated with TVET will be solved with the forthcoming TVET Sector Act. However, the proposed Act may not be a panacea for solving the systemic problems of a fragmented sector. In order to run organisations smoothly and effectively, there needs to be a clear roadmap with passionate and dedicated leadership. The staffs are the backbone of any system and their mind-set matters significantly. Many of the sector’s structural problems can be solved through the existing legal and procedural system, but working styles need to change. Solving workforce issues are critical to resolving other problems.
However, we do need an Act that aligns with the federal governance system. Restructuring of the system, re-engineering of the existing budget and programme, integration with other sub-systems, engaging and regulating the private sector providers and ensuring their accountability are major themes of the new Act. Because it is considered that the current legal provisions are inadequate to address such aspects. During the development of the TVET sector strategic plan (2023-2032), coordinated by the ministry, stakeholders raised several issues and problems, including: many vacancies in the course quotas; inadequate linking with the market demanded for workers; and lack of coherence among the implemented programmes.
Only 51 per cent places on TVET courses are fulfilled, and many students drop out before the completion of the course. There needs to be further analysed to understand the reasons for low enrolment and high drop outs. If existing institutions and programmes are unable to attract and retain students, further expansion will not help. There should be strengthened partnership between the labour market, government and TVET providers at all levels of the system so that courses prepare students to be industry-ready in high-demand employment sectors.
There are several possibilities to address the issues and challenges in the TVET system. First, governance and regulation must be improved so that the system operates effectively and efficiently. For this, strong commitment at the management level is required. Their commitment matters in the implementation of the legal provisions, annual programmes and monitoring. We can do this within the existing legal system and institutional arrangements.
Second, every institution must review their working styles, procedures and the quality of the services they are delivering. They must set new targets and undertake new strategies for improvement. Once there is strong commitment from higher authorities, other personnel should also be on board. Leadership requires wining the trust of staff and working together. The focus should be given in actions, not in vague and abstract thinking. Gradual and continuous improvements provide small success stories which trigger employees' motivation for better changes. Third, every TVET institution must collaborate with the market, community and industry. This collaboration will make the courses relevant, by aligning courses with skill and knowledge needs, and that enrolment is linked with market demand for workers. In addition, there should be consultation with students to align the courses to their other commitments to reduce the high rates of drop out.
Finally, acquiring skills depends upon the quality of the teaching and learning. In TVET, classroom-based instruction alone is not sufficient, and every instructor must engage students in practical works. Their practice must be linked with the respective industry standards and market requirements. For this, adequate resources, monitoring and support are necessary.
The future economic and developmental growth of the nation depends on a modern and capable workforce. Despite the efforts over many years, the current TEVT system does not deliver the necessary quality, nor quantity, of skilled graduates. Right now, at the launch of a new TVET sector plan, legal clarification and decentralisation in line with federalism, there is an opportunity for change. The key actors need to collaborate and reintegrate the fragmented parts of the sector. If we miss this window of opportunity, then we will condemn the new generation to inadequate training and deny them meaningful employment opportunities.
(The author is a joint secretary at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.)