Learning that creates value for work


Yongyuth Chalamwong, Wanwisa Suebnusorn

Several recent studies have indicated that demand for labour under globalisation favours the employment of workers with secondary education-type skills – such as proficiency in reading and writing, capacity to reason, problem-solving skills and the ability to learn throughout life.

As a result, the current role of secondary education comprises both providing students with the tools to succeed at post-secondary levels and equipping them with sufficient employability skills. Unfortunately, the secondary education system in many countries has failed to prepare students for this.

In general, secondary education has been merely viewed as a path to a university.

Although faced with different degrees of concern over equitable access to high quality secondary education, the labour markets of both Thailand and Cambodia are now encountering skill shortages and gaps. Employers in Cambodia report they cannot meet the demand for specific vocational skills such as IT, sewing, plumbing, carpentry, and blacksmithing as well as foreign language skills. They also expect positive work attitudes from unskilled workers while requiring problem-solving skills from specialised workers and analytical skill from professional workers.

These requirements are similar in Thailand too where analytical skills, management, technical and teamwork skills are as much required by employers as computer and foreign language skills. However, it is a shame to note that employers usually require a higher level of these skills than Thai workers can offer. This appears to be largely caused by education that calls for a supply-driven, not demand-driven base. In other words, cooperation between employers and educational providers is essential.

There is an array of innovative models for enhancing skills in these two countries. In Cambodia, unimpressive enrolment in secondary education suggests a stronger role is needed for non-formal training for employability. Non-formal programmes emphasising entrepreneur support and combining workplace and classroom training together prove to be cost-effective and can have a positive impact on the labour market. NGOs and private providers tend to be more demand-driven. Most of these NGOs receive funds from foreign donors and are likely to provide better quality training with better facilities, teaching methods, and materials. In addition, large NGOs usually have a strong cooperation with the private sector for curriculum development, student work experience, and staff training.

In Cambodia, NGOs are considered one of the few training providers who seriously teach “soft skills”. NGOs such as Pour Un Sourire d’Enfant and Mith Samlanh have incorporated the teaching of soft skills and internship in their curricula to provide fairly high success rates in terms of employment after graduation despite the disadvantaged backgrounds of students. Nevertheless, the cost of training by NGOs is relatively high, posting a tremendous challenge for scaling up this sound model to the secondary education system nationwide.

In Thailand, the role of NGOs is not as obvious as in Cambodia. Innovative models are usually initiated by the Royal Thai Government including the monarch, and the industrial sector. Key government initiated models are the agricultural education for life programme, vocational education in general secondary schools programme, and the distance learning programme. An industrial involvement programme is divided into two approaches with two case studies, the adopted programme and industrial-lead programme.

As suggested by Siripan Choomnoom,the industrial involvement model is the best way to provide skills for employment. However, government initiative models are still important for employment in the rural areas, especially in agriculture. Key success in the industrial involvement programmes is seen as the active relationship between schools and enterprises, mutual benefit partners, opportunities for teachers in training in the workplace, flexible and less bureaucratic system of schools, attractive practical experience, active administrative teams, and continuous improvement of the programme.

All in all, experience from both Thailand and Cambodia points to the effectiveness of secondary education programmes designed to change from teacher-centred pedagogy to learner-centred pedagogy. Workplace learning and competency-based curriculum are considered as effective methods to equip students with the essential skills and knowledge relevant to the demands of the labour market. In addition, promising models usually involve various stakeholders to cooperatively provide hands-on educational experience to learners. These key success factors are underpinned by the National Education Act of Thailand which is the master plan for the comprehensive education reform of the country since 1999. Unfortunately, its achievements are still far from tangible.

Note: This article is drawn from research of the project entitled “Innovative Secondary Education for Skills Enhancement (ISESE)” which Thailand Development Research Institute and its partners in Cambodia and Vietnam have recently worked on with the Results for Development Institute (R4D). More information about the project can be found at: http://resultsfordevelopment.org/knowledge-center/innovative-secondary-education-skills-enhancement-isese-phase-i-research

First published: The Nation Website on November 12, 2012