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Opinion: TVET should innovate or perish

2021-11-02  Staff Reporter

Opinion: TVET should innovate or perish
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Godfrey Tabaundule

For TVET institutions in Namibia, private, public, small and big, the answer to your quality dilemma and the new mandate for education and training in the 21st century is the same: innovate.

Across the world, and mainly in developed countries and in some developing nations, the consensus is that the solution to the current economic meltdown lies in innovation.

However, few TVET institutions understand what innovation is and how to innovate. The aim of this article is to help TVET institutions to make sense of what innovation is and how to innovate.

What is innovation? Literature defines innovation in many ways. As a technical term, innovation refers to the development of new products by private companies. A typical example is when new technical software is developed and availed to customers and markets.

Typically, technical innovations have important impacts on skills demands and labour markets that TVET systems must address. Covid-19, for instance, introduced various software in the market to promote online teaching, learning and assessment strategies.

Innovation can also mean substantial changes in how TVET is practised. Any such changes are meant to make TVET more relevant to the needs of the economy, society and the environment.

Examples may include new ways of teaching, learning and assessment, the introduction of applied research, entrepreneurship and the incubation of new technology firms in the TVET system.

The aim of these and similar initiatives are mainly to provide individuals with relevant knowledge and skills. Another way of defining innovation is by classifying the concept according to its adjective meaning, namely business, social and public services innovations.

While the technical meaning of innovation resonates more with business, this article argues that innovation does not have to be technical.

This argument has in recent years coined the concept of social innovation.

Social innovators argue that society suffers from a range of problems (exclusion, poverty and violence) and the TVET system should find progressive solutions to improving peoples’ quality of life.

For example, rural and suburban communities in Namibia need TVET to develop practical tools to help them access clean water and sustainable renewable energy.

Thus, TVET requires social innovation that contributes positively to human development. Similarly, innovation in public service advocates that employees better respond to society’s needs by providing quality public services.

In the book Leading for Innovation, Drucker defines innovation as a change that creates a new dimension of performance.

The reatest challenge of TVET institutions is to bring change in individuals, society and the economy. The question, however, is how should TVET managers encourage innovation in their institutions?

The first strategy is that TVET managers should be open to new ideas, new approaches and new mindsets. Change in culture and mindset are two important fundamentals for successful innovation in any TVET institution.

Innovation requires a new vision defined by the community’s needs. Additionally, managers should constantly remind everyone in the institution that innovation is not an option; rather it is a necessity.

Un-innovative managers tend to (a) defend the past, and (b) blame everyone for all the misfortunes except themselves.

They also prefer to do things the way they have always done them; change is unacceptable.

It’s common in boardrooms to hear some managers tongue-lash recently hired young university graduates: ‘Twenty years ago, I introduced that same idea to re-focus what we are discussing now, but nothing worked. What can you tell me? When I was appointed a manager many years ago, some of you were zygotes. Please, don’t get me wrong, I am not refusing your idea or attacking you, but I don’t think you understand what’s at stake here.’

This habit of arrogance and false superiority, which perhaps persists today among some TVET managers across Namibia fails many social innovations.

The second strategy entails changing the teaching and course delivery approach the TVET system currently depends on. Originally, the main goal of TVET was to directly prepare trainees for the world of work.

Today, this goal remains prominent in many developing countries.

To meet this goal the teaching, learning and assessment approaches that were designed prepared trainees to be highly practical and work ‘more with their hands than their heads.’

However, with so many innovations in science and technology during the 21st century, the TVET system requires new areas of knowledge and trades.

In other words, the changing world of work requires that the current and future TVET system focuses on preparing knowledge workers to meet the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This means that the TVET system needs to add an intellectual component to its course offerings aligned with the ongoing digital innovations in the world of work.

Notably, TVET institutions must update their teaching, learning and assessment methods to include problem-solving, project-based learning, simulations, gamifications, audio and video tools and so on.   

The third strategy for the TVET system to innovate is to create an institutional capacity to develop innovative products and services based on community needs.

As government budgets shrink, while TVET wants to remain relevant amid changing labour market needs and emerging individual, society and economic demands, TVET institutions must reflect which products and services to commercialise.

Another idea worth pondering about is reforming the current apprenticeship, prior learning and career guidance practices, which appear to stifle skills transfer among trainees.

Lastly, TVET institutions should endeavour to establish partnerships.

There is no doubt that TVET has become a career option for many individuals countrywide.

Yet some TVET institutions complain of low enrolments. What are the benefits of digital tools and social media at our fingertips?

Why are institutions not using available communication platforms to promote the value of TVET, their mandate and achievements?

Available communications can also provide TVET institutions opportunities to establish various forms of local and international partnerships and networks.   

Innovate or perish.

Malcolm X once said, ‘The future belongs to those who prepare for it today’.

2021-11-02  Staff Reporter

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