“Diverse forms of learning”
The book on the outcomes of Maputo has recently been published. What progress does it mark?
The education ministers and experts agreed on a broader concept of basic education, one that goes significantly beyond primary schooling. Its focus is the skill base needed for life, employment and further learning. A basic education in line with that broader definition consists of nine to ten years of learning, so it extends beyond primary school. This is a new perspective, bringing not only secondary schooling into the frame but also acknowledging the importance of the transition to working life. Progress has also been made in ensuring that more importance in future will be attached to what a person has learned rather than where and how that was done.
Whose responsibility is it to ensure that young people receive that kind of basic education?
It is a responsibility of the state – which does not mean that the state needs to provide the education itself. But it does need to make sure that young people receive proper educational opportunities.
Are education systems in Africa geared to the needs of working life?
The education systems inherited from the colonial powers were designed for the formal sector and public administration. In developing countries, however, many people work in the informal sector, so vocational qualifications in trades or retail marketing, for example, are often acquired in informal settings. The awareness is growing of how little formal schooling contributes to making a living in the informal sector. As a consequence, curricula are being modified to provide graduates with better skills for self-employment or starting a business. However, there is certainly still a need for greater recognition of the qualifications acquired through non-formal and informal learning.
In Germany, we are proud of our “dual system” of vocational training which ensures that the gulf between what youngsters learn at school and what employers need does not become too large. Apprentices receive training in companies, and state-run vocational schools provide theoretical backup and general knowledge. Does that model have a bearing on Africa?
South of the Sahara, the informal sector dominates economic life almost everywhere. State-run vocational schools hardly exist, and there is no way that nation-wide provision could be financed. It is expensive and takes a great deal of time to transfer elements of our dual system to a country with different traditions as attempts at reform like the Mubarak/Kohl initiative in Egypt have shown.
Are there other forms of public-private partnerships?
A number of West African countries have rediscovered traditional apprenticeships. They recognise the relevance of vocational learning in the informal sector and are prepared to invest in improvements. There even is an interest in defining formal certificates for qualifications that would make it easier for graduates to find new employers and clients and might help to gradually formalise the informal sector. There is also interest in public-private partnerships with formally accredited companies and NGOs, and not only in order to spread the weight of vocational education and training over more shoulders. Even more important is the intention of harnessing the expertise of the private sector. Such approaches, however, are quite challenging for education ministries. They can no longer simply define curricula and administer schools; they need to negotiate contracts with private-sector partners about course contents, exams and certificates.
Education ministers presumably also find themselves treading on the toes of labour and economics ministers.
In some countries, more than ten ministries are involved in vocational training: education, labour, economics, agriculture, health, tourism, defence, public administration – and the list goes on. That makes coherent policy-making difficult, no doubt. But vocational education is always a cross-cutting issue; that is no different in rich countries. It is even reflected in the UN special organisations. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) focuses on vocational training in companies, UNESCO places greater emphasis on vocational education in schools. At the United Nations, coordination has improved thanks to the establishment of the International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (UNEVOC) at UNESCO. Many developing countries have set up agencies or advisory bodies to coordinate actors and programmes. And Uganda has taken an even more radical line by transferring all responsibility to the Ministry for Education and Sport, which no longer just administers educational establishments but has the task of managing a complex system with a host of providers.
What was your own role in the preparation of the ADEA document?
The process took several years. After the African education ministers decided to make post-primary education the theme of the Biennale in Maputo, I was assigned a coordinating role for vocational education. The first step was to take stock of experiences and innovations in Africa and other parts of the world. Selecting and advising authors for the case studies came next. Their work was the basis of discussion at the Biennale. After the event, a small editing team reviewed the conference results and the case studies and compiled them, so the book could be published recently in English and French.
What do you hope the publication will achieve?
One thing is certain: perceptions of education are changing. In the past, politicians associated the word with schools and educational establishments that report directly to a minister. Instead, there is now a growing awareness of the complexity of the educational landscape: private schools, Islamic madrasas, community-based learning centres, educational establishments run by non-governmental organisations, workplace learning, distance learning, computer-based learning, mass media, personal learning – all of these diverse learning locations and forms of learning matter. The education ministries need to address overarching aspects, such as access, transparency, compatibility of various educational curricula or certification of learning outcomes.
What did you find pleasantly surprising?
I was impressed by the willingness of the ministers to document their good and bad experiences and to address them openly. That was real South-South cooperation. On a personal level, I was also delighted to find myself accepted as a moderator and mediator without prejudice, despite being a non-African.
Where do you now see the greatest need for action?
I think the biggest problem is that there is still very little reliable information about the kind of qualifications African labour markets need. Developing reliable information systems in the context of the informal sector is a huge challenge.