To appear in
The Handbook on Educational Research in the Asia Pacific Region
(eds. John P Keeves and Rye Watanabe, Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002)
JANDHYALA B G TILAK
National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration
17B Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi 110016, India
E-mai: email@example.com [or] firstname.lastname@example.org
[Key Words: Costs; Curriculum; Economic Development; Financing; Human Capital – general, specific; Inequality; Private Sector; Public Expenditure; Rate of Return]
General or vocational education? This is a “tough choice” in many developing countries (Yang, 1998, p. 289). In the human capital framework, general education creates ‘general human capital’ and vocational and technical education ‘specific human capital’ (Becker, 1964). The former is portable across one’s life and from job to job, while the later one is not and hence many advocate general education, as more suitable to the flexible labour force that can change task and even the type of work; but the later one has an advantage, imbibing specific job-relevant skills, that can make the worker more readily suitable for a given job and would make him/her thus more productive. Hence both are important, and education systems in many countries therefore include both general and vocational streams of education in varying proportions.
Countries in the Asian region have placed varying emphases on general and vocational education, depending upon several historical, social, economic and political considerations. While general secondary education is somewhat of homogenous nature, there is a diverse pattern of provision of vocational and technical education and training (abbreviated hereafter simply as VET) in many countries. It includes at least two major forms: vocational and technical education in formal education systems (lower and senior secondary schools, post-senior secondary but less than college level institutions like polytechnics, and colleges at tertiary level), and training outside formal system of education (pre-employment training and on-the-job-training). The later kind also includes apprenticeship-training systems, non-formal training centres, enterprise based training, etc. Polytechnics in many countries, industrial training institutes in India, technical colleges in Sri Lanka etc., belong to the post-secondary level (below tertiary level). Vocational and technical education has been an important part of senior secondary education, but it was also introduced in the tertiary level (colleges) in India in recent years. Most countries have both exclusive vocational schools and diversified secondary schools with general academic as well as vocational courses. In several East Asian countries, the emphasis was not on formal vocational/technical secondary schools, but on training institutions and on-the-job training. In many of the countries of the region, employers are also responsible for specific skill training.
With rapid transformation of societies in social, political, economic, technological, and education spheres, there has been a change in the perspectives on the need for and nature of VET. New challenges have begun to emerge, and old ones to remerge. This article provides a brief account of the progress made by countries in the Asian region in VET, and discusses a few important emerging issues of serious concern.
2. WHY AND WHY NOT VET?
The issue of VET has been a mater of concern of many countries for a long time. In India, back in the British days of the Wood's Dispatch (1854), there was a cry for the introduction of occupational education. Several commissions and committees of the British India suggested the introduction of two streams of education — academic and technical. These arguments by the colonial rulers in India and other developing countries were viewed as measures “to stabilize traditional agricultural life and to curb educational ‘over-production’ -- the tendency of individuals from rural areas to continue in school past the capacity of labour markets to absorb them” (Grubb, 1985, pp. 527-28). During the post-independence era also arguments have been advanced in favour of VET in developing countries; leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mao and Julius Nyerere have been quoted in support of such educational reforms.
Leading social scientists have lent strong support for vocational education. For instance, Thomas Balogh (1969, p. 262) was emphatic in arguing: “As a purposive factor for rural socio-economic prosperity and progress, education must be technical, vocational and democratic.” He in fact suggested that even “elementary education must impart technical knowledge to rural youth in an eminently practical way ...” (p. 265). The case for VET received much support in the context of the global educational crisis. VET was viewed as the solution to the educational problems in the developing economies. It was believed that many educa¬tional problems could be solved by diversifying the secondary education curriculum: the unbridled demand for higher education could be controlled, the financial crisis in education would be eased by reducing pressures on higher education budgets, and unemploy¬ment among college and secondary school graduates would be reduced. All this was based on the following assumptions:
• Differentiation of occupation in the developing economies requires secondary school graduates with varied skills. Because of changes in production processes resulting from technological ad¬vances, the nature of the demand for skills, both in terms of quantity and quali¬ty, changes. Modern technology requires fewer highly qualified middle and lower level skilled personnel. Vocational education can produce exactly this kind of manpower.
• Vocational education would contribute to such progress, both by reducing unemployment, through creating employment in the fields of pre-vocational specialisation and self-employment, and by engendering a higher propensity for labour force participa¬tion at the end of secondary schooling, improving productivity, and correspond¬ingly resulting in higher graduate earnings. Vocational and technical secondary education can establish a closer relationship between school and work.
• Vocational education is also seen as an equity measure. As an antidote to urban-biased elite education, vocational education will promote equity with a rural bias and serve the needs of relatively poor people. Also as Grubb (1985, p. 527) states, vocational education has been seen as the answer to an enrolment prob¬lem: the tendency of some students (especially lower class students) to drop out of schools without occupational skills -- a problem that vocational education promises to resolve by providing a more interesting and job-relevant curriculum. More specifically, it is believed to be an effective answer to rural prob¬lems, “to alleviate unemployment; to reorient student attitudes towards rural society,” to halt urban migration; to transmit skills and attitudes useful in employment (Lillis and Hogan, 1983), and as an important measure of develop¬ment for disadvantaged youth in rural and urban areas.
• Further, vocational education is considered helpful in developing what can be termed as ‘skill-culture’ and attitude towards manual work, in contrast to pure academic culture and preference for white collar jobs; and to serve simultaneously the “hand”' and the “mind”, the practical and the abstract, the vocational and the academic.” (Grubb, 1985, p. 548).
Vocational and technical education is not necessarily favoured by all. There are strong opponents as well. In a seminal oft-quoted work, Philip Foster (1965) exploded the vocational school myth and called it “vocational school fallacy.” Foster and later Mark Blaug (1973) clearly argued that vocationalisation cannot be a remedy for educated unemploy¬ment: it cannot prepare students for specific occupations and reduce mismatches between education and the labour market; academic streams promise higher wages than vocational streams; accordingly demand for vocational education might not ex¬ist, and Say’s law that supply creates its own demand might not work. Furthermore, vocational schooling may create “a sense of second class citizenship among both teachers and taught which militates against effective learning” (Blaug, 1973, p. 22).
With the succinct, clear and powerful arguments of Foster, Blaug and others, it was hoped that the issue was buried. But it refuses to stay buried. Few countries have given up their efforts in developing elaborate systems of VET. After all, it has inherently a powerful appeal. Many countries have set ambitious targets as well. For example, China had a goal of expanding vocational education so that at least fifty per cent of the enrolments in secondary education would be in vocational education in near future; India has a similar target of reaching 25 per cent; and Bangladesh twenty per cent. As Psacharopoulos (1987, p. 203) aptly stated, “because of the inherently logical and simplistic appeal, vocationalism will be with us for years to come, and more countries will attempt (…) to tune their formal educational systems to the world of work."
Organisations such as Unesco and the World Bank have played a leading role in reviving and furthering the cause of vocational or diversified secondary educa¬tion. Unesco adopted in 1974 an important detailed recommendation concerning technical and vocational education, and argued for provision of technical and vocational educa¬tion as “an integral part of general education,” as “a means of preparing for an oc¬cupational field,” and as an instrument to reduce the mismatches between education and employment and between school and society at large. The World Bank’s sector policy paper on education (World Bank, 1974) attacked school curricula as excessively theoretical and abstract, insufficiently oriented to local conditions, and insufficiently concerned with attitudes and with manual, social and leadership skills; and accordingly the Bank also suggested increasing vocationalisation of the curricula of academic schools.
3. ACHIEVEMENTS AND FAILURES
To vocationalise or not to vocationalise? (Psacharopoulos, 1987). This is no more a dilemma. The question is how much of the education system should be vocational and how much should be general in character. To strike a balance between the two is indeed a challenge. Several developing countries, including countries in the Asian region have a long history of vocational and technical education and training; and they have vocational or diversified secondary education systems. India has had a diversified secondary education system for a long time. Even in the 19th century India, there was a reasonably good vocational and technical system (see Crane, 1965). However, after its slow demise during the colonial period, India has had to start afresh on vocationalisation since independence. It is more or less the same situation in the other developing countries of the region, many of them having had a long colonial and/or feudal rule; only after in¬dependence, and particularly since the 1950s, has increasing attention been given to vocational education. Initial efforts at vocationalisation in Sri Lanka date back to the 1930s and in Philippines to 1920s. A Vocational Education Act was passed in 1927 in Philippines stating that the “controlling purpose of vocational education is to fit pupils (persons) for useful employment” (Unesco, 1984, Philippines, p. 11). Malaysia established its first technical college in 1906. South Korea and Taiwan placed high priority on special vocational education at an early stage of industrialisation process in the respective countries. The very first educational development plan of Pakistan en¬visaged technical and commercial education as an integral part of general education, with diversification of the secondary education curriculum. The National Education Commission in Bangladesh, appointed immediately after independence, recom¬mended in 1972 the diversification of secondary education from Grade IX onwards. China had long emphasised vocational education in its school curriculum. After 1978, quite a number of government senior secondary schools were converted into vocational schools. Polytechnic institutions, vocational schools, institutes of technical education, and technical colleges figure prominently in the educational systems in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and India. Vocational and technical schools received serious attention in Japan even during the 19th century (Yamamoto, 1994). The "Taiwan miracle" owes to its system of VET (Boyd and Lee, 1995, p. 195). In several countries of the region many academic secondary schools that concentrated for a long period on preparing students for university entry, tried to become multi-purpose institutions to serve a broad spectrum of students and needs, including specific types of occupational training. In addition, various types and models of specialised secondary training in¬stitutions have been created in several countries to meet different middle level manpower needs.
All countries in the Asian region have, however, not accorded equal degree of attention to VET. As a result, they are at various levels of development of vocational education. As the Asian Development Bank (1991, pp. 53-55) categorised the several Asian countries, and described, Korea stands as “a leading example” of how governments can promote an extensive school-based VET; Singapore had developed a “comprehensive vocational training infrastructure,” forging strong linkages between education institutions and training agencies; Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka have “fairly developed” vocational and technical education systems – both in public and private schools; the agrarian economies of Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Myanmar have “patchy” systems of vocational and technical education; and India and China, the two big countries on the globe, suffer from “prejudice against manual work” and hence have “lopsided” education development structures including for VET. On the other extreme, Japan has the most developed and well-established infrastructure providing school based as well as enterprise based VET.
The nature of VET also differs between several countries. Vocational education in many countries generally refers to inculcation of vocational and technical skills relevant for specific occupations. In a few countries, vocational education is also general in curriculum. For example, vocational education in Japan and Korea is fairly general in character. General skills, broad attitudes and discipline are more valued than vocational skills per se in labour market. Accordingly schools, even vocational schools emphasise, for example, in Korea, moral education and discipline (Green, 1997, p. 50).
The current status with respect of VET in several Asian countries as it developed over the last three decades is presented in Table 1.
Enrolment in Vocational Education as a Proportion of Total Enrolments in Secondary Education in Asia (per cent)
1970-1 1980-1 Latest Year Change
1980-1–1970-1 LY –
1980-1 LY –1970-1
Bangladesh . . 1.0 0.7 . . -0.3 . .
Brunei 1.1 3.6 5.7 2.5 2.1 4.6
Cambodia 3.5 . . 1.6 . . . . -1.9
China 0.1 2.1 15.0 2.0 12.9 14.9
Cyprus 10.5 12.2 7.5 1.7 -4.7 -3.0
Hong Kong 6.1 6.6 2.9 0.5 -3.7 -3.2
India 1.0 1.2 1.1 0.3 -0.1 0.2
Indonesia 22.1 10.7 12.6 -11.4 1.9 -9.6
Iran 2.9 7.4 4.5 4.5 -2.9 1.6
Iraq 3.1 5.5 8.6 2.4 3.1 5.5
Israel 44.0 41.2 22.6 -2.8 -18.6 -21.4
Japan 18.7 14.8 14.5 -3.9 -0.3 -4.1
Jordan 3.0 5.2 25.6 2.2 20.4 22.6
Korea, South 14.3 20.6 20.4 6.3 -0.2 6.1
Kuwait 2.9 0.2 1.0 -2.7 0.8 -1.9
Lao 13.9 2.2 3.3 -11.7 1.1 -10.5
Malaysia 2.9 1.7 2.6 -1.2 0.9 -0.2
Mongolia 11.0 7.6 5.8 -3.4 -1.8 -5.2
Myanmar 0.0 1.4 0.3 1.3 -1.0 0.3
Oman . . 5.9 0.7 . . -5.2 . .
Pakistan 1.5 1.5 1.1 0.0 -0.4 -0.4
Papua New Guinea 19.4 16.2 10.1 -3.2 -6.1 -9.2
Qatar 5.1 1.2 1.7 -3.9 0.5 -3.4
Saudi Arabia 1.9 1.5 1.7 -0.4 0.2 -0.2
Singapore 8.3 7.4 3.8 -0.9 -3.6 -4.5
Syria 3.4 4.3 9.7 0.9 5.4 6.3
Thailand 22.3 15.5 18.0 -6.8 2.5 -4.2
Turkey 13.7 23.5 28.0 9.8 4.5 14.3
United Arab Emirates 10.0 1.3 1.1 -8.7 -0.2 -8.9
Vietnam . . 5.7 3.2 . . -2.5 . .
. . Not available; LY: latest year
Latest year: data available in Unesco (1999) mostly relating to mid/late 1990s.
Source: Calculated by the author, based on Unesco (1999).
In general, more than 70 per cent of the enrollments in secondary education are in general education and in some counties vocational education accounts for less than one per cent. Some countries have expanded their vocational education systems fast, and many could not. Israel, Jordan, Korea and Turkey have expanded their vocational educational systems considerably, the enrolments in vocational education forming more than 20 per cent of the enrolments in secondary education. Countries in East Asia like Thailand, Japan, China, and Indonesia have also high enrolments in vocational education. But on the other side, countries in South Asia like Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan have very tiny vocational secondary educational systems (Table 2).
Countries Classified by Level of Enrolment in Vocational Education (Latest Year)
(Enrolment in Vocational Education as % of Total Enrolment in Secondary Education)
< 2% 2-5% 5-10% 10-15% > 15%
Myanmar Malaysia Brunei Papua New Guinea Thailand
Bangladesh Hong Kong Mongolia Indonesia Korea, South
Oman Vietnam Cyprus Japan Israel
Kuwait Lao Iraq China Jordan
UAE Singapore Syria Turkey
Source: Based on Table 1.
Some countries have placed emphasis on vocational education for fairly a long period. For example, as shown in Table 3, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and Turkey had maintained the enrolments in secondary education at above ten per cent level during the last three decades. In Israel the enrolments formed more than 50 per cent in upper secondary level for a long time. On the other side, countries like Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Malaysia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have never accorded a high place to vocational education. Negative attitudes to manual work on one side, and the less diversified economic structure on the other, are the demand side factors responsible for the low level of enrolment in vocational education in South Asian countries. Only a few countries, for example, China, Iraq, Jordan and Syria, have made special efforts to expand vocational education rapidly. China stands as a special case that had made significant improvement in vocational education since 1970-71; it is also note worthy to note that it also experienced very rapid economic growth during this period.
All the countries, which progressed well in vocational education, could not maintain consistently high levels of enrolment in vocational education. For example, in Korea the enrolments in vocational education as a proportion of total enrolments in secondary education declined from 44 per cent in 1955 to twenty per cent in 1996-97; in Indonesia it declined from 22 per cent in 1970-71 to thirteen per cent in 1996-97, in Mongolia from eleven to six per cent, in Hong Kong from six to three per cent, in Lao from fourteen to three per cent, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from ten to one per cent, and so on during this period. On the whole, of the 28 countries considered in Table 1, eighteen countries have experienced decline in the relative size of vocational education over the years, and only ten countries registered improvement.
Performance of the Asian Countries in Vocational Education (1970 to 1990s)
(Based on enrolment in Vocational Education as % of Total Enrolments in Secondary Education)
Ignored vocational education throughout (Less than 3%) Maintained reasonably high levels of enrolment throughout (Above 10%)
Pakistan South Korea
Saudi Arabia Papua New Guinea
Progressed significantly* Fared badly**
China Hong Kong
Jordan United Arab Emirates
* increase by at least five percent points.
** Base/current levels are less than 3 per cent and experienced decline over the years; countries with high enrolments, but experienced decline over the years are not included here.
Source: Based on Table 1.
The data on enrolments in Tables 1 through 3 drawn from Unesco, refer to enrolments in vocational education as a proportion of total enrolments in secondary education. But in quite a few countries, vocational education is an important segment, not at secondary, but at senior/upper secondary level. It may, in fact, be non-existent at lower secondary level in many countries. The enrolments in vocational education as a proportion of enrolments in senior secondary level are indeed high in quite a few countries of the region on which data are available. Such proportions are around forty per cent in Indonesia, Thailand, Korea and Israel. Corresponding ratios, however, exceed seventy per cent in Czech Republic and Austria, sixty per cent in Belgium, Germanys, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, and fifty per cent in France, Denmark, Finland, etc (OECD, 2000, p. 146). Thus on the whole, vocational education in the Asian region is less developed than in Europe and other countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
4. WHY UNEVEN PROGRESS?
While thus some countries in Asia have been successful, though not to the extent of the European and other OECD countries, in many Asian countries the performance record of these schools at secondary level “was burdened by disappointments and by shortfalls in earlier expectations” (Coombs (1985, p. 115). Why several countries have made remarkable progress in vocational education and many others could not? This depends upon social, economic and political factors, which also mutually interact with each other.
First, the social factors. Social attitudes to vocational education are not encouraging in many Asian countries. Negative attitudes to manual work severely dampen the demand for vocational education. Further, VET is conceived as a system of education for the poor, and for the educationally backward sections that are not eligible for admission into higher education. This is viewed as one that perpetuates inequalities in the system. For example, the experiment of providing a rural curriculum in Tamil Nadu in India, familiarly known as the Rajaji experiment, and the Handessa Rural Education Scheme in the 1930s in Sri Lanka, were abandoned not only because there was no demand for such education, but also because they came to be viewed as a Brahmincal conspiracy and as “a ruse designed to keep the under-privileged away from the prestigious academic cur¬riculum” (Wijemanne, 1978). In rural areas it is mostly considered as the second-class education against the expectations of pupils and parents. Low prestige attached to vocational education and its inherent inequities are somewhat a common phenomenon in many countries including, India, Indonesia, Philippines and Sri Lanka and to some extent in Korea and Taiwan. This suspicion that vocational curricula provide “a second-class education and track some individuals -- lower class or lower caste, racial minorities and women -- away from academic education and access to jobs of the highest pay and status" (Grubb, 1985, p. 529) became quite strong over the years and some public polices of ill-treatment of vocational education in educational planning and resource allocation contributed to strengthening this belief. As a result, vocational education in countries like India did not take off on a sound footing.
Secondly, enrolments in vocational education and level of economic development are related. Demand for vocational education seemed to exist in industrially developing societies, with growth and diversification of industrial structure. As Psacharopoulos and Loxley (1985, p. 228) observed, the lower the overall level of a country’s development, the weaker is the case for introducing vocational curriculum and diversify it. But it is in these countries the need for vocational education is felt. Emphasis on diversified industrial production emphasises the need for labour force with vocational skills. Much growth in vocational education took place in countries like Korea during early industrialisation processes, when employment opportunities could increase. So vocational education becomes more popular in regions where jobs can be guaranteed. The other way can also be augured: unemployment rates may diminish, if people have vocational skills. For instance, Haq and Haq (1998, p. 96) observed, unemployment rates in the East Asian economies remained low essentially because the population possessed employable vocational and technical skills. However, the relationship between demand for vocational education and economic development may not be linear. When the economies move away from reliance on its agricultural and manufacturing sectors and in favour of service sector, the demand for VET may indeed decline. A review of the experience of the East Asian countries led Mundle (1998, p. 664) just to conclude the same: enrolments in vocational education in the region has been substantial until a threshold level of gross national product (GNP) per capita (say about $8000) was reached; thereafter the share of vocational education in senior secondary education seemed to have declined.
While the importance of VET in economic develop¬ment was recognised, and detailed plans of providing VET were preceded by manpower analyses in some of the countries, in many developing countries in South Asia few planning exercises were preceded by manpower analysis, a necessary step to understanding the nature and quantum of demand for vocational skills, their employment potential, productivi¬ty and likely earnings, besides the existing mismatches between the skills of graduates and the requirements of the labour market. As a result, many pro¬grammes were bound to fail.
Growth in VET in Asian countries is also influenced by the role of the state versus the role of the private sector. Governments have a dominant role in provision of school-based VET in most Asian economies. Even in Korea, most enterprises rely on government for trained manpower. The role of the state in provision of VET has been similar in Korea and Taiwan (Bennell and Segerstrom, 19998, p. 275). In Hong Kong too, the provision of public sector training has been strategic. In the South Asian countries, government is the main provider of VET both at school level and also outside the school system. It is only in Japan enterprise-based training is the dominant mode of training; in most other countries public education institutions have been the leaders. Though private sector does play some role in VET in the East Asian countries and also to a meagre extent in South Asian countries, the quality of private institutions in providing VET has been found to be generally poor compared to public institutions in many countries, except in Japan. Taiwan and Korea also find that it is difficult to ensure reasonable standards and quality in private institutions.
An important aspect of vocational education refers to its financing. Vocational education is by definition costlier than general education. It was estimated that in South Korea secondary technical education costs more than ten times the general secondary education, per student (Middleton and Demsky, 1989, p. 65); in China the unit costs were 50-100 per cent higher in vocational and technical schools than in general secondary schools (Dougherty, 1990); and according to the estimates referring to 1980s and earlier period, vocational education in South Asian countries was found to be 2-60 times higher than general education (Tilak, 1988c). But mechanisms of allocation of resources in education do not seem to favour vocational education in many countries. Public expenditure on vocational education has been remarkably low, compared to general secondary education.
Vocational education programmes are costly and the meagre, dwindling educational budgets in several developing countries do not allow provision of sufficient resources for vocational education. Several developing countries, more particularly countries in South Asia have invested very little on vocational education. In the mid 1990s, Bangladesh invested 8.4 per cent of the total public expenditure on education in vocational and technical education, India and Nepal 4.4 per cent and Pakistan 2.6 per cent (Haq and Haq, 1998, p. 170). The current levels of public expenditures on vocational education are not particularly high even in East Asian countries. Only 5.7 per cent of the total education (current) budget goes to vocational education in Korea, 4.5 per cent in Singapore, and about three per cent in China and Hong Kong. In Taiwan, however, it is somewhat high, 8.2 per cent in 1995 (Tilak, 2001). On the whole, these figures are very low compared to the figures in developed countries. Many OECD countries spend 11-18 per cent of the total educational expenditures on vocational education. After all, “poor and inadequate investments can¬not produce higher returns” (Tilak, 1988a).
It appears that public expenditures on VET are not particularly high in East Asian countries, but private sector expenditures on training could be high, on which unfortunately no detailed and comprehensive data at macro level are readily available. For example, training is provided by enterprise in Singapore through the operation of the Skill Development Fund established in 1979 and financed through a levy on employers amounting to two per cent of salaries of all employees earning less than S$750 per month (Haq and Haq, 1998, p. 102). It is obligatory for the companies in Korea to finance public vocational and training programmes (Lijima and Tachiki, 1994). Enterprise-based training is the most important form of VET in Japan.
Besides the scarcity of public resources, governments also face confusion on the efficacy of VET programmes, which deter them from making required investments in VET. Available evidence on rates of return to education in countries does not indicate any advantage vocational education will provide compared to general education. For example, Chung (1995, p. 177) reported 12 studies showing higher returns to vocational education than to general secondary education and ten studies otherwise; and five studies that yielded no clear results. Though there are certain well known problems with the estimates of rates of return to education, and a few other problems highlighted specifically in the context of returns to vocational education (e.g., Bennell, 1995; Bennell and Segerstrom, 1998), nevertheless, no conclusive evidence exists on the economic superiority of vocational education over general education (see also Tilak, 1988a, b).
Social Rates of Return to Vocational versus General Secondary Education
Country Year General Vocational/
1975 10.5 7.4
1979 6.8 5.5
Taiwan 1970 26.0 27.4
South Korea 1981 9.0 8.1
Thailand 1970 10.0 8.0
1990 11.4 6.7
Philippines 1960s 21.0 11.0
1978 19.0 23.6
1978 32.0 18.0
1982 23.0 19.0
1986 19.0 6.0
1986 12.0 14.0
1986 11.0 9.0
Jordan 1960s 6.7 1.6
Source: Psacharopoulos (1994); Tilak (1994, 2001); Bennell (1995, 1998)
Table 4 presents estimates of rates of return on this problem in seven Asian countries. Though they are somewhat dated, it can be noted that except in Taiwan where the difference is small, in general, vocational education does not pay as much as general secondary education. After all, costs of vocational education are extremely high, but the labor market benefits are not so high as to compensate for the huge costs. However, if productivity is measured not in earnings, but in physical terms, and not in relation to costs, some times it is found that workers with VET may be more productive than those with general academic education (e.g., Min and Tsang, 1990).
Another aspect of confusion for the governments in developing countries is changing policies of international organisations like the World Bank. World Bank supported VET in many countries in Asia for a long time. For example, in 1984-85 of the total World Bank lending for education, one-fourth was meant for VET projects. As stated earlier, World Bank and Unesco have strongly argued in favour of investing in VET and its rapid expansion for economic growth. But by the late 1980s, the Bank policies took a ∩-turn on vocational education and strongly favoured investing away from VET (World Bank, 1995). World Bank’s investment in VET came down to a meagre three per cent of the total education lending by 1996 (Bennell and Segerstrom, 1998, p. 271). The frequent ∩-turns of organisations like the World Bank in case of vocational education (and also manpower planning, rates of return to education and higher education) have caused considerable confusion among the governments of the developing countries on the wisdom of investing in VET. Countries that did not rely on World Bank assistance might not have suffered much.
5. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
From the review of Asian experience, a few important lessons can be drawn for the development of VET in developing countries.
• VET is important for economic growth. But the relationship is not linear. So each country has to decide the extent of VET that has to be developed, depending upon the level of development and demand for skills. As Foster (1965, p. 153) observed, “in the initial stages technical and vocational instruction is the cart rather than the horse in economic growth, and its development depends upon real and perceived opportunities in the economy. The provision of vocational education must be directly related to those points at which some development is already apparent and where demand for skills is beginning to be manifested.” Plans for VET should be preceded by detailed manpower analyses and forecasts. Though the importance of manpower planning and forecasting per se, has declined, few doubt the importance of detailed manpower analysis.
• Since both general and specific human capital contribute to economic growth, a balance has to be struck between size of general education and vocational education. Further, vocational education need not necessarily be purely vocational and technical. It should also include, like in Japan and Korea, general skills and attributes that are useful across a wide variety of occupations. This is particularly important in the rapidly changing economic systems.
• As specific human capital development can take place both in formal schools and also in the firm-based institutions, it may be important to examine which vocational and technical skills are to be provided in schools and which in the training institutions and enterprise-based organisations.
• As vocational education is necessarily expensive, the government should make adequate allocation of resources for vocational education. Poor investments cannot yield attractive returns.
• Vocational education should not promote inequalities within the educational system. This requires provision of good quality vocational education and training, comparable, if not superior to, general secondary education that would avoid suspicions on the part of the people on the intentions of the government in providing VET. It also requires effectively linking of vocational education with higher education, so that vocational education is not perceived as dead-end, with no opportunities to go for higher education.
• Given the experience of many countries in Asia, except Japan, the government has to take a dominant role in promoting VET. Private sector may not be able to provide good quality VET.
• Lastly, issues relating to VET are not just curriculum questions, nor are they just economic. They are intricately linked with social, cultural, historical, economic, technical, and political parameters. Hence formulation of sound and effective policies and plans of VET requires an inter-disciplinary development approach, treating VET as an integral part of overall educational planning.
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About the Author
Professor Jandhyala B G Tilak is Senior Fellow and Head of the Educational Finance Unit at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi. Doctorate from the Delhi School of Economics, Professor Tilak had taught in the University of Virginia, Indian Institute of Education and the University of Delhi. He is a Visiting Professor in Econmics at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (Prashanti Nilayam). He also lectured in the University of Rochester. An economist of education, Dr Tilak was also on the staff of the World Bank, Washington D.C. In addition to several monographs prepared for the Unesco, the IIEP, the World Bank, the UNDP, etc., Dr Tilak's publications include Education for Development in Asia (Sage, 1994), Economics of Inequality in Education (Sage, 1987), Educational Planning at Grassroots (Ashish, 1991), Educational Finances in South Asia (UNCRD, 1988), Education and Regional Development, edited (Yatan, 1986), India's Socio-Economic Database, jointly edited (Tulika, 2001) and several research papers published in professional journals of high repute in the areas of economics, development studies and education. He was the recipient of the prestigious Swami Pranavananda Saraswati National Award of the UGC in Education (1999) for his outstanding scholarly research, instituted by the University Grants Commission, New Delhi. Professor Tilak, a contributor to the International Encyclopedia of Education (Pergamon, 1994), and Encyclopedia of American Educational Research (1992), is also the Editor of the Journal of Educational Planning and Administration, and is associated (as a member of the editorial board) with Journal of Quantitative Economics, Higher Education Policy (Pergamon), International Journal of Educational Policy Research and Practice (Florida, USA), Compare: Journal of Comparative Education (England), Manpower Journal (India), Perspectives in Indian Education (Vadodara), Asian and African Journal of Economics and Econometrics (Pondicherry) etc. Prof Tilak also served as a Consultant for the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, UNESCO, UNDP, Swiss Development Corporation and several other organisations. He traveled extensively. He is also a member of several official committees on education of the Government of India.
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