Despite tremendous economic growth in Asia-Pacific over the past decade, millions of the region’s young find themselves unemployed or underemployed, lacking the skills they need to find meaningful jobs to contribute to more sustainable societies. Education ministers from throughout Asia-Pacific have gathered for a high-level policy discussion on how technical and vocational education and training (TVET) can change that by closing the gap between education and the world of work.
The Asia-Pacific Conference on Education and Training, “Making Skills Development Work for the Future”, opened today in Kuala Lumpur with around 1,000 in attendance. Ministers overseeing education and training in the region joined representatives from multilateral organizations, the private sector, unions, youth organisations, and researchers.
In his opening remarks, UNESCO Bangkok Director Gwang-Jo Kim noted how despite the region’s dynamic growth, young people are the ones “bearing the brunt” of inequality among and within countries in Asia-Pacific, with 220 million of them unemployed as well as out of school or other formal training, and 300 million underemployed (earning little or stuck in jobs that do not make full use of their abilities).
“How do we ensure that 300 million youth can maximise their skill sets to develop our respective economies in a sustainable manner? How can we encourage equality in skill acquisition, so that both men and women can have equal opportunities to excel in their fields?” Dr Kim asked. “It is imperative that we work together to create strong TVET systems that will propel our economic growth in a sustainable and equitable manner.
“The overarching aim of this conference is to leverage the tremendous potential of TVET policies and practices to better link the skills acquired by learners with those needed in the labour markets,” he said.
Malaysian Minister of Education Dato’ Seri DiRaja Mahdzir bin Khalid noted at the opening that: “TVET is seen as a less attractive pathway compared to university education; therefore, students, particularly high-performing ones, do not apply for TVET courses,” he said. Malaysia is taking steps to address this perception, the minister said, and this conference offers other countries in Asia-Pacific the opportunity to do the same.
“Countries need to prioritise TVET and place it among the mainstream education to ensure youths are equipped with skills which will make them more employable for current and future job markets.”
Among the key areas of focus during the conference will be how Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be better incorporated in TVET, a critical concern in Asia-Pacific, a region that is home to 44% of the world’s internet users, with internet penetration from mobile devices expected to grow by 10% over the next three years.
TVET’s potential in promoting sustainable economic growth will be another key focus of the meeting, with ministers and experts determining on how this form of education can best be used to equip learners with the knowledge they need in this increasingly important sector.
A photo exhibition featuring the top 30 shortlisted entries in UNESCO Bangkok’s “Put a New Face on TVET” contest was also launched on the first day of the conference, with first prize winner Romado Fermin Javillonar from the Philippines presenting his photo.
On the second day of the conference, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Qian Tang and Malaysian Minister of Higher Education Dato’ Seri Idris bin Jusoh will deliver keynote addresses.
The conference is expected to conclude on Wednesday with the signing of the “Kuala Lumpur Declaration” which will outline concrete, action-oriented recommendations to develop and strengthen TVET in Asia-Pacific. The Kuala Lumpur meeting is a follow up to the 2012 International Congress on TVET in Shanghai, China, as well as this year’s World Education Forum in Incheon, Republic of Korea.