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Vocational Education in Georgia

Published: February 25, 2013 | 10:58 am
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by Kakha Baindurashvili
I decided to start this post with two charts from two different fictional states, one from economically failed state of ‘Gruzia’, it shows chronic unemployment over the years:

International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, 2013

And another one is from wealthy state of ‘Georgia’ only mildly hit by 2008 crises with an average 6% growth over the years:

International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, Ministry of Finance of Georgia, 2013

Now, reality is that these two graphs are both from one non-fiction country – Georgia (one which is on the Black Sea). Here my primary goal is not to go into deep analyze of the causes of unemployment but try to show the importance of VET – Vocational Education and Training; before we turn to Vocational Training, I will try to give you brief picture of recent economic history of Georgia.

Over the years unemployment remains an endemic in Georgia. After the Soviet’s collapse Georgia’s politics and economy went through every imaginable policy. Before 90s country was a flagship in communist union of Soviets. Beginning of independence was marked by external wars as well as civil. It is hard to guess an economic policy within those years. Possibly it was close to post-communist anarchism with some Wild West signs. These trends were strengthened later once little civil order was restored. Since that country obtained more or less coherent economic policy. True, it was heavily mixed on the ground but at least the fiscal and monetary policies were put under some policy framework.  With this relative stability Georgia has achieved remarkable economic expansion by 1998 and was floating before the Government started disintegrating altogether, full scale corruption became deeply engraved informal system running the country.

By 2003 the Government has realized it was losing political battle and tried to enforce somewhat new policies, borrowed from the World Bank but it lacked capacity to act as well as it was too late.

From 2004 new Government started implementing mostly home-made economic policy with an interesting set of libertarian tools, together with building up strong, corruption free government institutions. Response was immediate, by 2007 country had double digit economic growth and rushing delegations from abroad to learn ‘Georgian know-how’.

Problems started already in 2007 but 2008 was a sudden halt, a painful halt brought by the war with Russia worsened by the world economic crisis. Because of political difficulties Government response was limited to only fiscal stimulation. Fiscal and monetary policies were stabilized within limited period; however the Government started prompt increase its hidden presence into real economy. Even before the strengthening of government institutions was accompanied by attempts to dominate over businesses in order to ‘purify’ and lift up their performance too; but now together with political pressure it has started shifting to Statism. Strangely enough it was still accompanied with minor adjustments on the social side despite heavy political pressure and ‘inevitable’ has been realized late 2012 with sweeping victory of coalition of all imaginable political groups, from lefts to rights.

As it is obvious Georgia had no lack of experiments and reforms over the past 20 years but as it is also a fact – unemployment, high unemployment or even systemic unemployment is still there. Now, there are numerous articles what was done, or what should have been done, however I will try to keep an attention on one pillar which is essential for employment and Georgia’s example clearly supports this idea.

If one checks country’s largest job webpage – jobs.ge, he/she discovers simple fact, most of the folk looking for a job come from the universities with diplomas in either law or economics, sometimes diplomats, while there is a high demand for low or professionally educated people. It shows a clear mismatch between the market demand and supply. Is that so hard for youth to see it and adjust accordingly? Of course no, they do understand as well as their families but is there a system in place which can accommodate their needs?

In the Soviets Vocational Education was relatively ‘well-functioning’ institution. As many other things they simply took German model, mutated it and put in place. Despite heavy modification dual system still has been working. After the basic education soviet teenagers were choosing between high and vocational education with significant amount to be attracted by VET centers due to the blooming industrial sector after Stalinist industrialization.

As in typical dual system students were allocated at the enterprises for the practical skills and at professional centers for theoretical education.

Outcome was somewhat rational division between high and VET educated citizens, with necessary skills and ready positions. Almost paradise. Whole soviet system started disintegrating slowly already before the West noticed it (or noticed but didn’t say anything), during core soviet rule, but was not obvious until 80s, as we all know it ended up with full-scale collapse but interesting things started happening with Georgian vocational education system just after that. Surprisingly enough, VET system remained the same, actually only partially, government was left with ruined professional centers but now without enterprises and practices since this part became private and no one took care to adjust the system in order to integrate VET into commercial enterprises. Situation was only worsening over the years. After several attempts to ‘reform’ the education even theoretical part of VET became isolated from educational chain.

Since the government pretended to be the ‘Ace’ especially after 2008, it has decided to crush over the VET in order to make it workable. With the millions of investment and beautification it was ordered to work, without real attempts to bring it to the private sector since they were not assumed to be capable to carry such important mission. And surprisingly to the government nothing happened. VET disobeyed and remained as it was out from general education system; and disconnected from business.

Now it is a history but very important to realize and try to learn on our own mistakes. Good thing is new government does show an interest and assumes VET as an important system and crucial for our economy and employment.

It does not really matter a model whether American or Finnish or S. Korean. It is clear it needs to be adjusted to Georgia because VET itself is not selfstanding independent institution. Rather it plays a connectivity role in between the theories and practice, students and entrepreneurs, schools and companies.

Despite the differences between the models still there are three major groups. One we already experienced during the communist time. Hard to confess but it was working, however it only works within red environment, hence it’s not relevant. Second is ‘no’ VET at all, we have this system already for the past 20 plus years, again we saw this system does not work either. And one we haven’t tried so far is VET as in integral part of general education and business.

There are a few pillars those are entirely missing from current system. Firstly there is no transition from the secondary schools to the VET, normally the pupil are given 8 (varies across countries) years of general education and after they are allowed to go to the VET; at the same time state takes care to provide necessary information to the students as well as to their families, so called ‘orientation’. It is not one-off action, it is a whole system which collects employment data, analyses it, makes suggestions, forecast, tries to target families with different instruments and all work is done of course together with the private sector. That particular pillar is not in place right now.

Second is the VET functioning process itself, in most of the countries the theoretical knowledge is given within the VET institutions while practices is done at the enterprises, of course those are eligible to some requirements. There are mixed VETs as well theory+practice, for instance hairdressers are taught within the VET institutions altogether. But even they should go some practical courses on the ground. Most of the professions require harmonized co-teaching at the VET centers in parallel with the enterprises. Simply VETs cannot pretend to be all sort of enterprises, once they do they can only simulate. Here again the system has to be in place which would bring the VETs and enterprises together.

Third pillar is the curriculum, and again it is very important to take into account consideration of the businessmen. They have to decide what the etalon of that particular professional is; technology is changing; business is changing; curriculum for the carpenter which was making him a good professional 30 years ago cannot serve nowadays. Thus, again state needs to cooperate with the private sector once making the professional standards and curriculum.

Fourth is the exam and diploma. It is clear that VET centers examine the students and give appropriate diplomas but how come they know the level of their readiness for a real job. That’s why in most of the countries examination is done by business itself. After all it is their own responsibility whom they recognize to be a professional. Of course the VETs are included they provide the certificates but the final examination bodies are within the private sector.

Fifth is again related to diplomas. Not only in Georgia but elsewhere it is possible for someone to take an informal education, it is very common within the certain professions. At the same time to create the fair competition and enable these people to better participate in the jobs market; to improve their mobility still they would need some kind of certification, some acknowledgment. At least it is needed for themselves to take their profession more serious. Thus effective system must be in place, when the examination committees within the private sector are given the authority to recognize their skills and certify them or assign some additional training to improve their professionalism.

Sixth is a smooth transition from VET to the high education. Right now this option is closed for VET students and there are no successful examples in the world when the closed VET system performs effectively. Simply they should be given equal chances similar to Bachelor students to continue their study at Master level. Of course they have to pass exam but they have to be left with a right of bypassing 4 years in order to get the Master, again if they have enough hour/credits. At least the right of continuing high education is necessary within their professions.

In a nutshell, state should allow business to integrate itself within the VET system and vice versa. It cannot happen in a day or two. We have a long way to get to desirable point; it is not only the state who should reform but business as well. Simply the private sector itself is not ready and hardly will be within the short-term but still once we recognize the importance of the Vocational Education, the reforms have to be taken in order to make it work.




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