Engaging ‘Green TVET’ in the SST Course with EEASA President, Dr Presha Ramsarup

By Heila Lotz-Sisitka

The SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063 proposes that southern African countries upscale industrialization activities. It states “The Strategy should aim to improve human wellbeing and economic growth over the long-term, while minimising the exposure of current and future generations to significant environmental risks and ecological scarcities and externalities”. This relates to regional and global concerns about climate change, water scarcity, energy sufficiency, pollution management, and the need to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Combining industrialisation with the SDGs requires adoption of a low carbon / green economy paradigm. This has implications for skills development systems, including TVET education.

In 2018, UNESCO’s Regional Office for Southern Africa, established the Southern Africa Regional Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Teacher Training and Greening TVET Forum in Malawi.  The UNESCO-UNEVOC’s flagship initiative on Greening TVET was introduced and discussed in this forum. The intention of this programme was to develop and support a framework for improving the quality and labour market relevance of TVET teacher education in Malawi and the whole SADC region.  An interesting publication was released in 2019 from this initiative by UNESCO, which carries a chapter on ‘making TEVET equitable, inclusive, and sustainable’.

The 2019 UNESCO publication states that “The extent to which TEVET institutions give weight to the importance of developing a culture of inclusiveness in learning, gender-equality and sustainability in their institutional agenda and targets, is a possible determinant of how valuable their graduates become to a transformative community and society”.  And, it recommends further that “Collective action can be mobilized by establishing a strategy for addressing environmental issues in an institution. Factors preventing or slowing change can be addressed together with a common goal, an enhanced motivation and collective action to demonstrate good practices, paving the way for developing a new culture.”

This work is being continued in the 2021 UNESCO / Rhodes University Sustainability Starts with Teachers (SST) Programme, which includes TVET teacher educators.  TVET educators are being encouraged to develop strategies for dealing with sustainability challenges in their institutions, through working on common goals with others to strengthen ESD and the greening of TVET.

In a recent Alumni Feature webinar in the SST course, Dr Presha Ramsarup, Director of the University of Witwatersrand Centre for Researching Education and Labour, and President of the Environmental Education Association of southern Africa (EEASA), offered further interesting guidance to TVET educators in taking up this challenge.

Dr Ramsarup clarified that while there was a need to focus on production, TVET should move beyond a productivist only lens, and give attention to issues of sustainable livelihoods and the common good (e.g. water resources and climate change).  She noted that “TVET in the global South has generally been disconnected from the environment”, with the result that TVET “uncritically mirrors the dominant logic of mainstream industry”, which has a history of environmental damage (e.g. water pollution, advancing extractivism, and contributing to climate change).

Ramsarup urged educators involved in TVET to develop a more in-depth understanding of the importance of including environment and sustainability principles in VET.  “There are different discourses that can be considered in this work”, she said.  Educators can focus on “reformist discourses, incrementalist discourses, OR they can choose to focus on transformative discourses” with the latter “calling for a more radical review of society’s economic and broader developmental objectives.”

Drawing on a review of TVET responses to environmental and sustainability concerns, Dr Ramsarup listed four options that she had identified TVET educators using for ‘greening TVET’:

  • Institutional greening responses that include elements like campus, curriculum, community, research, culture (e.g. green campus programmes).
  • Integration of training packages into colleges curricula, focusing on the inclusion of focused ‘green’ training programmes (e.g. once off specific ‘green’ module/s lectures).
  • Short course cultures that develop around an ‘employable skill’ (e.g. installing, repairing and maintain solar geysers but leaving the majority of the curriculum unchanged)
  • Integration of generic ‘green’ skills into traditional programmes (e.g. examining a sector like hospitality and integrating core sustainability skills).

“While these are important developments in the urgent need for more sustainable and green TVET systems, they are ultimately inadequate for the systemic challenges that are being presented by the SDGs and the sustainability challenges of the SADC Region”, said Ramsarup.

Dr Ramsarup’s  argument, relevant to the 2021 SST participants who are starting out with Change Projects in ESD and TVET, is that “we should consider moving beyond ‘adaptive’ or ‘bolt on’ approaches to sustainability in VET”.  Rather we should tackle the challenge of working more systemically in transforming TVET, which means “whole institution and system approaches are needed that include ALL of the above options”. Ultimately the mission and values of TVET institutions will need to change to align with objectives for a more sustainable future for all.

Ramsarup’s approach accords with the 2019 UNESCO report which proposes developing new whole institution cultures of practice and programmes around sustainability in VET institutions.  To date some SST participants in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, and South Africa have been developing interesting TVET education Change Projects that are leading the way, offering further real life examples of transforming TVET towards sustainability.

September 2015