The OECD paper takes a look at the effects COVID has had internationally on education.

It has a section on vocational education, and that’s what we will focus on later in this summary.

What the paper covers

The paper (31 pages), which is authored by Andreas Schleicher, has very much a schools-based focus (for example the measures used to continue school learning during lockdown, when and how to re-open schools and class size as a critical parameter in that reopening process).

Of more relevance to us ‘VETies’, it has a section on teachers’ preparedness to support digital learning. What this section reported was that, internationally, 60% of teachers received professional development in ICT and 18% reported that they had a higher need for development in this area. Interestingly the paper reports that “teachers are also not relying heavily on distance learning for their own development” with 36 % reporting that they participated in online courses or seminars, but twice as many said they participated in courses in person. It found that the “professional development programmes that have the most impact are those based on strong subject and curriculum content which involve collaborative approaches to instruction, as well as the incorporation of active learning.” However, teachers “are more likely to participate in courses or seminars than more collaborative forms of professional development.” And that, like here in Australia, may be a ‘time and money’ thing.

On a positive note, the move to digital or technology enabled remote learning can be an empowering process and can change the nature of the whole learning approach and experience. As the paper notes:

“… technology does not just change methods of teaching and learning, it can also elevate the role of teachers from imparting received knowledge towards working as co-creators of knowledge, as coaches, as mentors and as evaluators.”

A focus on vocational education

The penultimate section of 4 pages is devoted to VET, or more correctly VET in schools, before its Conclusions section. That’s what we will take a harder look at now.

The paper reports that “42% of upper secondary students are enrolled in vocational education and training (VET) [and] of those, 1 in 3 are enrolled in combined school and work-based programs.” In addition, it found that 25-90% of the VET curriculum in these programs is organised in the workplace, but social distancing and the lockdown of facilities has made this difficult or impossible.

As my own research work here in Australia has also found, the availability of remote learning has offered some educational continuity when it comes to academic learning, and the knowledge-based components of VET. However, it’s true that “vocational education programs suffer a double disadvantage as social distancing requirements and the closure of enterprises have made practical and work-based learning that are so crucial for the success of vocational education difficult or impossible.”

Making things work better

The report suggests a range of approaches to improve things (which were apprenticeship focused but that I have made more general to suit the Australian situation). These include, amongst a range of other suggestions: making increasing the use of online and virtual platforms more appropriate to VET to ensure continuity of learning; leveraging links between work- and school-based VET to provide alternative school-based VET in cases where upper secondary VET students are unable to undertake work-based components; offering flexible skills assessment and awarding of qualifications in sectors such as healthcare where a more direct route to a qualification may need to be established quickly in response to the COVID-19 crisis; and finally better informing, engaging and communicating with learners, providers and other partners about the new approaches to delivery and assessment.

And in conclusion

Andreas suggests that “real change often takes place in deep crises,” and that the “capacity to react effectively and efficiently in the future will hinge on governments’ foresight, readiness and preparedness. Through their role in developing the competencies and skills needed for tomorrow’s society, education systems will need to be at the heart of this planning.”

And we also need resilience, he concludes.