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Government training initiatives: a TrainingZONE member talks back!


TrainingZONE member Malcolm Harper writes:

I was interested in your editorial about Government initiatives and the lack of take up of NVQ's etc. I'm old enough to remember when NVQ's were first marketed as a way of simplifying the national qualification system! Talk about being sold an old banger. I also recall the strident calls to liberate learning from academia and make it more vocationally related. Academic organisations, like giant amoeba, have gently managed to absorb much of this philosophy and integrate it into their courses without in any way being liberated from the true path of academia. Should this be a problem?

I hear in all of these perennial debates echoes of the arguments in society through the ages about what constitutes an educated person and how best this might be achieved. Traditionally a cultured nobleman would be versed in the arts and the sciences and often the arts of war. More recently curriculum debates have focused upon how broadly children should be educated and when they should be allowed to specialise. Not so long ago specialisation was embedded in the social system - you followed in the footsteps of your father or got an apprenticeship.

I see in the more recent debates, certainly in UK plc, an almost desperate desire to keep level with competitors (at one time the Germans and Japanese) in terms of perceived levels of skills. More worryingly is the perceived need to prove value for money by programming people into courses with definite outcomes. You could allege that the whole of the TEC/NVQ system was infected with this as a result of Government targets and standard setting. This in turn could be a symptom of lack of trust in educators to deliver what society needs and lack of faith in individuals to be able to mature into citizens capable of contributing in this rapidly changing information age.

In all of this we may be forgetting two things.

Firstly human nature. Humans are naturally inquisitive and often like to pursue a wide range of interests, therefore very structured and narrow vocational qualifications may not always suit. Unless of course they've been brainwashed into knowing their place in society and seeking to become a fully functioning economic entity as soon as feasible. This is from the consumers point of view. From the providers point of view it is clear that organisations that have developed a vested interest in delivering things in a certain way will fight to preserve their values and identity. From an employers point of view, who cares as long as the people can slot in reasonably quickly and deliver what is required. Perhaps the perceived credibility of the individual and their qualifications are the key issue here. Would you rather have someone with an NVQ 2 in customer service or a PhD In basket weaving - tough decision!

Secondly, reality. The reality is that Government driven initiatives have a purpose and may even have an effect but their effect will be geared to the extent that the initiatives accord with the factors above. Allowing NVQ's to be agreed for a bizarre range of specialisms and written in a mechanistic and atomistic manner, probably undermines the value of the more useful and relevant ones. Trying to suggest that academic qualifications are less relevant these days is trying to suggest that humans should limit their horizons, interests and consequently their flexibility. What is needed is a mixed economy wherein the value of different approaches is recognised and when change is needed it is approached in a way that recognises existing power bases, both helpful and unhelpful, and seeks to enable them to evolve rather than become entrenched and subversive.

We're interested in stimulating some discussion around this issue. If you've an opinion to voice, use the comments facility below.


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