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Sustainable development

Vocational education gaining in significance

by Harry Stolte
The United Nations General Assembly declared the years from 2005 to 2014 to be the international Decade of “Education for Sustainable Development”. The goal for these ten years is to integrate the model of ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development into education worldwide in order to open up new opportunities to people. The interim findings will be presented at an international conference in Bonn from 31 March to 2 April. [ By Harry Stolte ]

The focus is not so much on imparting knowledge – for example on issues such as climate change and protection, consumer behaviour, coping with limited resources or matters relating to social justice and global responsibility for the next generation. Rather, the intention is that target groups of vocational education will be put in a position to assess the impact of their own activities and to identify problems which detract from the sustainability of development.

Based on the OECD “competence grid”, emphasis is therefore on developing the following skills:
- building open-minded knowledge and gaining new perspectives in the process,
- thinking and acting in a forward-looking manner,
- gaining interdisciplinary insights and acting accordingly,
- planning and acting in cooperation with others,
- participating in decision-making processes,
- motivating oneself and others,
- reflecting on one’s own and others’ models,
- acting independently,
- developing empathy and solidarity for disadvantaged groups and
- becoming active.

The UN entrusted UNESCO with implementing the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development in various areas. This includes on the one hand reporting on the initiatives by member states, commerce and industry, associations, educational institutions and civil society organisations. On the other hand, their role is to develop their own programmes and activities within their mandate – as regards setting standards, technical assistance, knowledge management and exchange, capacity building and demonstration projects.

The International UNESCO-UNEVOC Centre in Bonn is responsible for ensuring that vocational education and training systems and institutions, their staff and the companies with whom they cooperate are aware of the significance of vocational training for sustainable development. In order to increase this awareness, UNESCO- UNEVOC has held a series of international and regional workshops and conferences at which InWEnt was either a partner or co-organiser.

These kinds of events are a good forum for InWEnt to present itself as an international capacity building organisation, to communicate its approach and to point out its suitability and application along with the issues and requirements of sustainable development. They can also make use of the opportunity to draw attention to approaches and results from practice in conjunction with project representatives from partner countries.

PPP in vocational training

InWEnt takes the needs of commerce and industry and the labour market into consideration – and also engages the corporate sector in public-private partnerships (PPP). In December 2008, together with UNESCO-UNEVOC and the Colombo Plan Staff College (CPSC), InWEnt was involved in the organisation and running of an international symposium in Manila, which centred on the role and potential of PPP in vocational training.

Demand for vocational training and its standing in international development cooperation has risen considerably in recent years. This has become apparent not only at the international workshops and conferences but also, especially, at a round table held in conjunction with UNESCO- UNEVOC and CPSC in Bonn in August 2008. (“International Roundtable on the Changing World of Work: The Return of TVET to the International Development Agenda”.)

Experts from all continents and representatives of international development organisations reported unanimously of an increasing demand for international vocational training cooperation. There are various reasons for this. In general, the role vocational education and training plays in achieving a whole range of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is not to be underestimated.

After having already seen several breakthroughs in the area of primary education, further questions were raised: How can we get people with good primary and secondary education to become interested in business and the labour market? How can employability be taught and how can people be integrated into the labour market in order to help them get an income and thus alleviate poverty?

Globalisation is also having more and more influence on labour markets and the world of work. Vocational training has to react accordingly in respect to the employees professional development.

Exchange of innovative practices

Education is an essential prerequisite for the promotion of sustainable development. This was already established at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Now, within the framework of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, the realisation that vocational training plays a key role is catching on.

In its programme work, InWEnt is making a concerted effort to promote sustainability in various areas:
- working with relevant occupational areas, in sectors and on topics such as water, wastewater and energy,
- systematic curriculum-development training, and
- working on a concept for a Global TVET Academy for Sustainable Development,
- working on a concept for a UNESCOUNEVOC “Vocational Training for Sustainable Development” Centre in cooperation with the Otto von Guericke University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation in Magdeburg.

As part of the international conference on the occasion of the midterm review of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development from 31 March to 2 April 2009 in Bonn, InWEnt and UNESCO-UNEVOC are offering an international workshop which will be open to conference participants only. The main focus will be the exchange of innovative practices in vocational training and the engagement of the business community.

This will highlight the important role vocational training plays in promoting sustainable development. Another aim is to point out the opportunities and responsibilities the member states – represented by commerce and industry, associations, educational institutions and civilsociety organisations – have in order to orientate vocational education towards sustainable development. This begins by documenting the outcomes of the top best practices for information exchange and by raising awareness of the UNEVOC network and its centres as resources for vocational training. Plans can be made for further improvements in vocational training within the next five years of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.