Taking a bet on TVET in education?

Joanna Dolińska discusses the meaning of TVET for the socioeconomic development of Myanmar.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), sometimes perceived as an ugly duckling of the educational sector, has gained momentum in Myanmar after 2015. TVET’s contribution to youth employment, sustainable development and e-learning is unquestionable, as was the question posed by UNESCO in 2015: how to transform the TVET sector to maximize its potential?

But, first things first: why an ugly duckling? In comparison to general or academic education, TVET may be sometimes treated as a “second-best option” and a “step back on the career path”, as was reported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2014. The decision to pursue a particular type of education often might be dictated by the general perception of it, as communicated in the media, by family expectations, as well as by the economic and social conditions prevailing in a given country. Another issue is the question of who might take advantage of opportunities offered by TVET, for example: Would a woman in a particular society be seen as able to perform technical work? Will individuals from well-off families be able to perform physical work without raising a few eyebrows amongst their neighbours? However, there seems to be another side of the coin. Professions related to mathematics, IT, natural sciences and technology might be perceived in developing economies such as Myanmar, in a different, more positive way than in industrialized countries. In developing countries, they are synonymous with technological and social progress, whereas in industrialized countries, they might be thought to be linked with technological and ecological hazards.

Why is TVET so important? According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the economic advancement of countries with similar conditions to Myanmar depends on the availability of individuals entering the work market who possess cognitive and soft skills on the one hand, as well as technical and vocational-specific skills on the other hand. Moreover, in countries where the completion rate of primary education is very high, the policy reforms and investments that aim to support the completion of quality secondary education and TVET are essential in supporting balanced growth, economic modernization, return on investments in physical capital, and the promotion of inclusive growth. In fact, the ADB warned in 2016 that there was a weak flow of workers into the Myanmar economy because of low completion rates, and the quality and relevance of TVET. These conditions could seriously harm Myanmar’s future, where the result would be an unskilled workforce on the one hand, and natural resource exploitation on the other hand—not to mention a generation of young people with rather pessimistic professional perspectives. The unemployment rate of Myanmar’s working population between 18-27 years is rather low (5.5%), with only half of them pursuing formal sector employment. The real problems are low-paid and low-productivity jobs. The analysis supported by the ADB as part of the Comprehensive Education Sector Review suggests that TVET is a seminal “choke point” for the flow of skills into the workforce, inclusive growth and socio-economic development.

Myanmar’s policy-makers are well aware of the fact that socio-economic progress requires higher spending on education. Public education expenditure rose from 6.5% during FY 2009-2011 to 13.2% in FY 2016. Moreover, Myanmar is committed to implementing the UNESCO-TVET strategy 2016-2021: It was one of the 57 countries to participate in the UNESCO-UNEVOC 2015 conference devoted to this topic. A roadmap that aims to reform the education sector in Myanmar (including TVET) from 2016 to 2021 is called the National Education Strategic Plan 2016-2011 (NESP) and, at the time of writing the NESP, there were altogether 372 technical and vocational education and training centres in Myanmar. The dramatic need to reshape the TVET sector is reflected in the priority agenda of Myanmar’s policy-makers. Within the Myanmar government, the Department of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (within the Ministry of Education) is one of the 7 main departments that have implemented 52 NESP Programme Components, out of a total of 99 in 2016-2017.

What should change in the TVET sector in Myanmar? According to the NESP, more learners should be able to enter TVET in Myanmar and graduate from quality-assured and labour-market responsive TVET Programmes, under a more effective TVET management system. It should also be a solution for out-of-school youth who would like to continue their education. TVET education needs to be as accessible for rural youth as for the urban population. In addition, TVET should offer opportunities to young people to shift to higher education.

A review of the first year of NESP implementation called Annual Performance Review Report FY 2016-2017 includes up-to-date information about the achievements of the Department of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (DTVET) in terms of changes introduced. The Review shows that the Mandalay Region has been the most successful in preventing the drop-outs of trainees from GTHs, where more than 450 trainees received their GTH certificates in the period 2016-2017. The smallest number of students with GTH certificates in-hand could be found in Kayin State and Tanintharyi Region (where the totals are below 50). When it comes to the Government Technical Colleges/Institutes, in the years 2016-2017, the most determined trainees were to be found in the Magway Region, where over 350 trainees received their GTC/GTI diplomas. Lastly, the smallest number of GTC/GTI diplomas was obtained in this time-frame in the Sagaing Region. GTC/GTI diplomas are granted after two years of training. Even though they do not offer an engineer’s title to the graduates, obtaining them is one possible way towards becoming an engineer in the future. Of course, these numbers depend not only on the determination of the students/quality of teaching, but also on the size of the population of these administrative units, the labour market, the economic situation of the inhabitants, and other factors. The strategy to keep trainees in their TVET institutions and prevent drop-outs is reflected by the fact that the Ministry of Education granted stipends to 4000 more students in the period 2016-2017 than in the year before. It can be noticed that, in all states and regions, apart from the Yangon Region, the Building Technology sector attracted the highest number of trainees. Only in the Yangon Region was the field of Electronics Technology chosen most often by trainees.

It is noticeable that between 2009 and 2017, the number of persons interested in long-term training at GTHs and GTIs has dramatically increased by over 100%, from 8077 to as many as 17652. The same tendency can be noticed in the case of short-term trainings. In just two years, between 2014 and 2016, the number of participants in short-term trainings organized by the GTHs and GTIs has increased over 14 times, from 411 in 2014 to 5906 in 2016.

When it comes to teachers, the Review shows that between the years 2011-2016, most teachers (459) were trained in 2015, in comparison to 2012, when only 46 were trained. In 2016-2017, most teachers were hired in the Mandalay Region (182), whereas least in the Rakhine State (22). When it comes to the appointment of teachers in the Government Technical Colleges/Institutes in 2016-2017, most of them were hired in the Magway Region (336) whereas Yangon Region hired the least (32). 5528 trainees were accepted and trained at the Government Technical High Schools (GTH) in the period from 2016 to 2017. In the same time, 6546 were accepted and trained at the Government Technical Colleges/Institutes (GTC/GTI), according to the Ministry of Education Annual Performance Review Report FY 2016-2017. It can be concluded from the above data that the development of the TVET sector is the most positive in the Mandalay and Magway Regions, whereas the Sagaing Region, Rakhine State, Kayin State and the Tanintharyi Region still struggle to train more teachers and to prevent drop-outs of trainees.

“TVET without [the] private sector is like mohinga without fish” agreed U Ko Ko Lwin, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Industry and Mr. Konrad De Bortoli, former Head of GIZ TVET Project in Myanmar. The engagement of foreign development cooperation institutions in the development of Myanmar TVET only reaffirms that this sector is perceived as a vehicle that will bring Myanmar socioeconomic development— or, at least, that TVET is one of the wheels of such a vehicle, as the number of TVET graduates entering the labour market is still small in comparison to the overall workforce number.

In which fields do foreign development cooperation institutions support MoE in reshaping TVET? The Promotion of Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Gesellschaft (GIZ) GmbH focuses, among others, on improving the general TVET regulatory framework, enhancing institutional capacities for skills development, assessment and certification, as well as strengthening the capacity of TVET teachers and institutions. The total financial commitment of GIZ towards the project Strengthening the TVET System in Myanmar (TVET II) is EUR 8 million. Following the summary of the TVET conference that took place in Yangon in March 2018, the United Kingdom is ready to offer its expertise in developing policies and a regulatory framework for the TVET sector in Myanmar and the UK Department for International Trade has already been focusing on numerous sectors important for the Myanmar economy: financial services, infrastructure, energy and education. Another example of foreign cooperation is the project called Equipping Youth for Employment Project (EYE) implemented by the Asian Development Bank. It aims at enhancing the relevance and quality of secondary education and TVET in Myanmar. In order to achieve these goals, the ADB offered a $98.49 million loan to the Myanmar government, with the project expected to be implemented by the end of 2022. Also Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Myanmar Office  started the implementation of the “Project for Quality Improvement in TVET Program” in March 2018. Its first major project in this field will be the establishment of a TVET institute at the location of the former Aung San GTHS.

Myanmar’s policy-makers realize the importance of TVET for the socio-economic development of their country. It is reflected not only in the NESP, but also in the first results of the implementation of this plan. Notable, too, is the cooperation with foreign economic cooperation partners. Today, the most important topics in the development of Myanmar’s TVET are inclusive and gender equal education, wide access to TVET including rural population, private sector involvement, teacher training, curriculum reform, skills standards and certification development, modernization of equipment and school facilities, as well as digitalization of modern TVET. The old Myanmar proverb says: “Revere the elders, respect the peers, be kind to the young.” Taking seriously the future of young Myanmar people and creating space for them to gain a real profession and satisfying work conditions, also through the development of TVET, is one of the best examples of showing “kindness to the young.”

Photo credit: GIZ-TVET Myanmar

Author: Joanna Dolińska

Hello! I am a PhD student from the University of Warsaw where I carry out research on the Altaic languages. My research interests also include linguistic variety in Myanmar, the development of language profesisonals in Myanmar, as well as the development of education in Myanmar. I love learning foreign languages from distant language families and currently I speak Polish, German, English, Mongolian and French. I am about to start learning Myanmar language too! Please connect with me if you are interested in having a chat about Myanmar and Mongolian languages and education, I am always thrilled to meet new people interested in Inner Asia and Southeast Asia!