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February 17, 2019

Research, policy, implementation


February 17, 2019

There is a need to strengthen the research, policymaking, and implementation linkage. To begin with, good research is scant. Even in instances of availability of empirical research, it is not likely to be translated into policymaking. For some good initiatives, when research is actually made part of policy, limited evidence is available on whether it was implemented and to what extent outcomes were achieved and challenges faced.

We present the case of Technical Education and Vocational Training (TVET) in Pakistan as far as research, policy and their implementation is concerned.

The UNDP (2017) in its National Human Development Report has interesting insights regarding TVET. For every 100 students who enrol in primary education (grades 1-5), only 43 percent of them reach grade 6. This trend of dropouts continues for secondary education as well. Of 43 students out of 100 who make it to secondary grade, only 30 percent get to grade 10. Many of them either join the casual labour force or are unemployed. There is also a need to focus on dropouts and those who want to re-enter education, and to mainstream TVET in our educational system.

Other literature on TVET in Pakistan (Agrawal 2015; Ansari and Wu 2013) provides some background for this article. Various governments in the past have taken initiatives to promote TVET. One such intervention was the Prime Minister’s Initiative (2006-2013) with an aim to train one million workers. The plan was to increase TVET enrolment four-fold to reach one million in 2010 from its 2005 base. However, no evaluation of this initiative is available in the public domain, so we do not know about the degree of its success in meeting the prescribed targets.

The new political government that had assumed power in 2008 launched its own National Skills Strategy (2009-2013). Some of the objectives of the strategy were to promote “skills for employability” by introducing competency-based training, building linkages with industry, increasing the role of the private sector, improving access and employability, focusing on women-related skills and reaching out to informal economy workers. Again, evaluations of this strategy are not available in the public domain, so we do not know how far it has been successful in meeting its objectives.

The more recent Punjab Skills Development Sector Plan 2018 is; it was developed by the government of Punjab in 2015. It is based on sound empirical social science research and is a holistic plan that gave itself the target of training two million workers from 2015 to 2018. It focused on the supply side of TVET and emphasised aligning the supply with the demand by facilitating low-cost access to trainings for men and women, and by optimising returns to these trainings. The purpose was to integrate the trainings to the job market loop and meaningfully increase returns to TVET.

The Punjab Plan highlighted addressing both the market for skills training as well as the market for skilled labour. It also addressed the fragmented programmatic and institutional framework at the provincial level and the need for a unified authority and focal skills agency. It aimed to work through performance-based financing, rigorous third-party evaluation and competitive tendering.

The plan also sought to engage the private sector in the supply market of skills training. It also emphasised the need to link provision of skills training with the high employability priority sectors and growth clusters.

The plan also sought to utilise complementarities between asset transfer programmes, family planning interventions and skills training as they make such involvement more relevant and responsive to local needs. The plan also pushed to utilise the entire public-sector capacity of administrative departments such as agriculture, livestock and dairy development, health, higher education, and mines and minerals departments.

The Punjab Plan was indeed an integrated and holistic intervention based on empirical research. It had to meet its targets by 2018. We are in the beginning of 2019 now. We do not have access to publically available evaluation to gauge the extent of its success. The overall two million workers’ training target was distributed to TEVTA, PSDF, PVTC and other provincial departments.

The Punjab Skills Development Fund (PSDF) was given the target to train 250,000 young people in priority sectors, and it states to have achieved its share of target. We do not know if other provincial departments also achieved their targets. In addition to the numbers, we are also not aware of whether the Punjab Plan was able to address supply market shortages, lowering of costs to access for men and women, and providing effective training to employability linkages.

The new National Education Policy Framework 2018 by the PTI government repeats some of the lessons learnt over previous planning and policy cycles to address shortage of supply of skills trainings, lack of competency-based trainings, weak linkages with the job market and industry, developing pathways between general educations and TVET, effective regulation framework, strengthening the institutional framework, and identifying priority areas for skills trainings, amongst others.

It is worthwhile to question if Framework 2018 is going to achieve its objectives. We need to know the degree of success of similar initiatives in the past – at least from 2006 onwards. If no evaluations of past interventions are available in the public domain, the first task of the PTI education ministry should be to find out the degree of success of the past plans and publicise the lessons learnt. If not, it is going to meet the same challenges as such initiatives did in the past and we may not even find out to what extent it has been able to implement the new framework.

There is need to strengthen research, policy and implementation linkages by publishing rigorous evaluations of the past efforts and learning from it.

The writer is an Islamabad-based social scientist.

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