Educate | Empower | Equip

I think that these three words can act as pillars that are useful to categorise current and future actions, policies, and interventions. Putting this into practice, I used these three pillars to group the ten recommendations of the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) recent advice to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).  The result looks as follows: 

It stands out that recommendation 5 (Promote digital literacy) is the only one of the ten that falls clearly within the educate pillar. This makes it essential to get right, especially as it needs to contribute to the other two pillars. To understand this better, let us first look at the recommendation in a little more detail:

Provide support for improved digital literacy, by stepping up collaboration with knowledge institutions on teaching and research…Strengthen the multidisciplinary knowledge and research capacity of African knowledge institutions so that they are able to guide developments in IT in Africa and strengthen ownership… The Netherlands could build on its experience with the tech talent pool by expanding efforts in fragile states.”

Easier said than done

The AIV recommendation places an emphasis that the MFA should step-up the collaboration with knowledge institutes and focuses on digital literacy. However, working only with these knowledge institutions places quite a heavy burden on them. Why? Well, to have meaningful collaboration with many institutions requires hefty financial and infrastructural investments, a magnitude of skills and expertise, commitment, and coordination. The good news is however that whilst it is obviously difficult, it is also not impossible to make progress. Navigating along with the many challenges in implementing TEVT capacity development, my colleagues and I are often confronted with the question, “How can we best align TVET to meet the pressing needs of the labour market?” For example: 

In Myanmar, MDF worked directly on this topic focussing on strengthening of agricultural vocational education. The challenge was that the curriculum being taught was not modernised to regional and labour market specifics. We carried out a small, but effective labour market survey that highlighted the gaps. The employers needed people with not only digital literacy and ICT skills (the focus of the recommendation) but also with English, marketing, sales, and other competencies, which TVETs were not teaching (they only did technical stuff). So MDF developed new modules to include this as well. 


MDF’s added value to strengthening TVET institutions 

Since 2004, MDF has been involved in projects that aim to strengthen vocational and higher education in many countries, including Bangladesh, Benin, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali, Myanmar, Palestine, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan and Vietnam. TVET capacity development is a complex institutional environment, requires innovation in learning, asks for entrepreneurial thinking and needs complementary partnerships to lead to meaningful change. Given the global Covid-19 pandemic, there is a lot of extra attention given to the digitalization (e-learning) of TVET. Challenges range from how to best blend the learning (online and offline teaching) if that is possible, to redesigning interventions and strategies to still reach the target groups in alternative ways. To continue moving forward, MDF helps TVETs decide on best (blended) approaches and alternative strategies, what can be done in e-learning and how, and what isn't.

As another example, take a look at our circular economy consortium project in Kenya where MDF focuses on educating companies and young men and women on e-waste management, sustainable working conditions, and circular economy principles via a learning centre. The Covid-19 pandemic means that business as usual could not proceed: schools & training centres closed, normal size group learning is not permitted and online learning on such technical competencies is not a viable option given the available resources. MDF worked with the consortium partners to create an alternative strategy to still deliver training where needed, but in a much more distributed manner to allow for smaller groups to still learn in a safe way.

In all the projects we work in, MDF contributes towards meaningful TVET in the following four ways:

1. Translating concrete challenges: there are many needs in the labour market and the different stakeholders have different interests. We translate the needs and challenges into concrete challenges into responsive and problem-solving projects.

2. Local context sensitivity: MDF is a global network organisation with local offices in multiple countries across Africa and Asia. With our national experts, we can consider language, culture, local values, and norms as well in project implementation, training and facilitation and monitoring & evaluation.

3. Boosting cross-learning and Partnership: Beyond our own network of national experts, we work to build effective partnerships that boost cross-learning between organizations. For example, we boost the linkages between Dutch universities and TVETs across the globe. 

4. Effective administration: We understand the NUFFIC rules (now OKP) and procedures and have in place internal processes to handle project administration and finance in an effective and transparent way. 

The Main Take-home

The AIV report recommendation 5 states that the government should support knowledge institutions on teaching and research to improve digital literacy. As the Dutch government takes this advice, it should remain sensitive to the fact TVET capacity development is a complex institutional environment, requires innovation in learning (mostly from outside the institution) and asks for entrepreneurial thinking to meet the needs of the youth. Furthermore, whilst digital literacy is a crucial component of courses and curricula, it alone is not enough to really make an educational impact to boost employment. Other competencies such as language, marketing, sales, entrepreneurship, leadership, and more are equally important to formulate a complete package of the necessary skills for youth to flourish in the labour market.

Knowledge institutions on their own cannot address this complexity, especially if they aim to deliver an inclusive and complete package of skills and competencies to the youth in a sustainable and COVID-19 resilient manner. For this, effective multi-stakeholder partnerships are needed. 


By James Sablerolles, Business Developer & Enterprising Consultant, MDF Training & Consultancy. Views expressed here are my own.