A quick look at Cambodian technical vocational education and training

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Status of Cambodian Technical Vocational Education and Training

To find the proper place of the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions within the Cambodian postsecondary system, “we might as well look at a pyramid upside down,” a Cambodian higher education scholar told me during a recent interview. When we think about it, we can quickly agree with this succinct observation; that TVET is right there at the bottom of the structure.

Unlike other developing countries, where vocational and technical schools become a serious player in national development, and often occupy a central place within their higher education systems (e.g. see Task Force, 2000), such schools are not a priority in Cambodia. They remain undeveloped and underrecognized, continuing to face various issues despite the government acknowledging that such education can contribute to narrowing the gap between youth and the labour market.

How can TVET help Cambodia?

A well-planned and well supported vocational and technical system can help Cambodia in two important ways. It can shift the demand of young Cambodians away from university education and toward skills-based training. With a good system in place, it also enables Cambodia to effectively respond to expanding needs of a skilled workforce as those institutions can shape the skill sets of workers and provide students with skills, knowledge, and abilities to enter the workforce quickly after graduating from secondary school. In short, a quality TVET system can help improve access and provide skills and, in turn, it will be economical for the country in terms of satisfying social needs.

A negative perception of TVET

I have a concern to point out here. We are aware that most Cambodians would not like to have a vocational-technical education/degree. We often place a much higher value on university degrees and regard vocational-technical education as inferior. A Cambodian intellectual even pointed out that vocational and technical training was “for workers and not professionals” (See Heng, 2011). I believe this perception about vocational-technical training and education is just plain counterproductive.

What to do?

To ensure a long-term viability of a vocational-technical system to best serve Cambodia, we all need to work hard to encourage people to change such poor perception about the TVET program. True, some progress has been made. The recent launch of the National Technical Vocational Education and Training Policy (2017-2025 ) to promote TVET is a good start. Cambodia stands to benefit considerably from an effective implementation of this policy. But moving forward, more concerted effort and resources must be mobilised to tackle the strategies that are already outlined in the National TVET Policy.

Dealing with the negative perception of the TVET has been done successfully in many countries in the region. Close to home, Singapore is a good example. Singaporeans have especially done an excellent job in building a positive image of and cultivating support and recognition for vocational training. A few useful aspects involve putting in place a comprehensive program to reach out to students, teachers, parents, and the community. In the meantime, we can conduct promotional talks in secondary schools and invite potential clients (students, parents, etc.) to campuses and open houses.

The media can also play an essential role in this area. Television and radio are popular and widely accessible in Cambodia. They should be used to help create interest and promote the importance of technical skills among the young. “Top of the Trade” television competitions and “Apprenticeship of the Year” awards that have been successfully implemented in Singapore, for example, could be some of the things we may need to consider adopting.

References:

Heng, S. (2011). Consolidating gains, preparing for change: Cambodia’s labour force and diversification. Cambodia Outlook Brief, 4. Phnom Penh: CDRI.

Task Force on Higher Education and Society. (2000). Higher education in developing societies: Peril and promise. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

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