Striking a balance between measurability and effectiveness
International cooperation in VET is intended to help countries develop efficient and labour market oriented VET systems. The dual VET system successfully implemented in Switzerland has repeatedly served as a blueprint for this. However, many countries find it difficult to put this model into practice. What is needed, in particular, is the right mindset.
By Emanuel Wüthrich
Vocational education and training and small and medium-sized enterprises make the Swiss economy robust and adaptable. This brings tangible benefits to us in Switzerland. Other governments are also aware of this and are taking steps to leverage the power of vocational education and training for skill formation in their countries. The dual VET system has proven to be an effective model because it allows young people to acquire skills that are needed on the labour market. A fundamental prerequisite for this, however, is that the training plans for dual VET programmes must be developed in cooperation with professional organisations, as is the case in Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
Successful VET depends on well-known success factors such as the relevance and readability of training plans, respectful interaction with learners, education system permeability and the combination of theory and practice. As experience shows, however: the devil is in the details. Are training plans prepared in consultation with workers or with experts in the given occupation? Is there an effective combination of theory and practice in VET programmes or is it just for show? Are learners expected to complete assignments on their own? Is the working and learning atmosphere motivating? Are attitudes purposefully developed, discussed and assessed? And in a broader context: is there social recognition of the importance of vocational education and training? Are dealings between the public and private sector fundamentally trust-based? Do stakeholders share the same goals? Is there a culture of compromise?
Back in Cuba, feeling highly motivated
Given the wide range of success factors and fundamental difficulties inherent to change processes, particularly in an intercultural context, the question of the effectiveness of international VET projects arises. In a nutshell: everything we do leads to something. In many cases, just the simple interaction with another culture is inspiring in itself and leads to changes in our inner representations and concepts.
SFUVET and the Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH) extended an invitation for a Cuban delegation to come to Switzerland to take part in a study week as part of a project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The members of this delegation were deeply impressed by how vocational education and training is organised and how it functions in Switzerland. They were equally struck by the pedagogical approach taken by the workplace trainers that they observed in Switzerland. A lot happened in a week. Changes on the inside precede those on the outside. The representatives are now back in Cuba and feel highly motivated to improve their own VET system.
The key to change
International cooperation projects in VET are generally measured in terms of observable and measurable impact mechanisms and assessed on the basis of a set of previously defined indicators. However, this is not always the right approach, particularly in relation to projects that are intended to bring about behavioural change. As holistic beings, as Pestalozzi put it, we are constantly learning on the levels of head (knowledge), heart (attitudes) and hand (abilities/skills). Our feelings and deeper motives (heart level) move us. If changes take place here, sooner or later they will also show up on the surface.
Motivation and emotions are therefore the key to change. And yet, projects are not adequately focused on this, which raises the question of how sustainable they are.
Personal responsibility leads to sustainability
Sustainability is the result of functional and adaptive systems. These constitutive factors of any evolution must be constantly reviewed. Functional systems come into being primarily in places where people work together with knowledge, intellect, heart and soul, prudence and personal responsibility.
International cooperation projects in VET are mostly intended to transfer knowledge, know-how, tools and methods. However, the people responsible for VET locally would actually be able to develop these areas themselves if they were given a corresponding sense of empowerment and ownership. In addition to often limited resources, achieving the right mindset is a challenge. Taking personal responsibility, working together, showing courage and commitment, being innovative and realistic while nevertheless building and shaping something is a mindset that is difficult to develop in certain political and social systems. This mindset is also called entrepreneurship. In Switzerland, it is precisely this mindset that leads to an innovative, adaptable and resilient VET system, a robust economy and an inclusive society. Among other things, it is also this mindset that Switzerland seeks to encourage through international cooperation in VET.
Every mindset can be changed through greater awareness, if people take an honest look at themselves and the world around them, strive to bring about improvements and achieve something that works. This mindset enables international cooperation in VET to be both more efficient and sustainable.
- Emanuel Wüthrich, MSc, Senior Advisor and Senior Lecturer, International Relations, SFUVET