The concept of quality remains a subject of much discussion in the TVET sector. Many stakeholders outside the public sector complain that TVET graduates do not meet the quality standards desired in the labour market.
Government functionaries, on the other hand, are adamant that the TVET landscape in Namibia has immensely changed in the last three decades. To rebuff government remarks, most stakeholders cite the high level of unemployment among graduates as a strong indicator of the TVET sector’s underperformance. The government’s response has nevertheless been firm and clear—it is not the government’s responsibility to provide every TVET graduate with a job.
The main problem with these two arguments is that the government and its stakeholders are talking in tongues resulting from either a brazen disregard for each other’s viewpoint or a mere conceptual confusion. Whatever the cause of the misunderstanding is, the government and its stakeholders need a proper debate about what constitutes quality in the TVET sector. Moreover, how should the discussion regarding quality vocational education and training in the country be framed?
In my opinion, I suggest that the first step to understand the concept of quality is that the antagonists should at the onset ask the question ‘Who sets the quality agenda?’ Is it teachers, the minister or trainees? Is it the department of vocational education and training? Or is it managers of the various vocational training centres? Asking these intelligent questions can help government and its stakeholders determine how, and who defines the concept of quality and whether it is something that can be imposed on training centres by external forces.
But not only that, these questions can help the TVET custodians to understand the role of external and internal approaches about how to assure the quality of the current and future training initiatives.
Another logical reason for asking these questions is to help the education and training fraternity to understand and appreciate what quality performance indicators government and other stakeholders should be responsible for.
The question of who sets the quality agenda is a tricky one. However, with Namibia’s soaring unemployment numbers, it is important that government and its stakeholders shift their definition of quality to trainees and learning. No one disagrees with the assertion that government invests millions of dollars annually to train young Namibians in various skill-related occupations.
It is not therefore complex to argue that if money is paid for training, every TVET institution should focus on trainees’ educational needs. This means that the TVET sector should re-conceptualise and re-align the term quality with trainees’ views.
The trainees’ perspective of quality supports four critical interrelated conclusions. First, trainees are the main reason TVET institutions exist. Second, the quality of every training action is judged by its learning outcome. Third, it is the quality of learning that mainly determines an institution’s reputation.
TVET institutions with a poor learning culture, likely produce poor learning outcomes leading to a bad reputation. Lastly, any TVET institution that focuses on learning has the likelihood of producing employable and highly competent graduates. In the final analysis, therefore, one is inclined to imagine that if TVET institutions exist to serve trainees, efforts should then be made to re-define quality on trainees’ terms.