Azerbaijan: distance learning for vocational students
Interview: Firdovsi Mutallimov
Firdovsi Mutallimov is a vocational education and training consultant and specialist in sector skills and national occupational standards. Firdovsi is from Azerbaijan and is now working in the Oman. We put a number of questions to Firdovsi, as part of our #learningconnects campaign, about his experience in distance learning to give some insight and support to all those learning at a distance, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic.
How important is it to develop better online resources for students in VET now, particularly with so many people self-isolating due to the pandemic?
The United Nations says right now that one billion students are staying at home due to the pandemic; we do not have precise statistics on how vocational education and training (VET) students are included in this number.
To be positive, education has always found a way to train students in any kind of situation. We can see that in secondary and Higher Education distance learning is already in place, but in VET it seems to be very challenging.
There are a lot of platforms that are available in the market, but most are focused on theoretical knowledge. That is a challenge for VET, where practical training is a key component.
What can be done to incorporate practical skills training in distance learning for VET students?
There are basically two solutions to distance learning generally - synchronised and unsynchronised system. To be effective we need to use a combination of both systems. Unsynchronised - or stand alone lessons - are, to be honest, ineffective. Training providers are now trying to ensure there is a balance of both types and are using different platforms, such as WhatsApp and YouTube to support synchronised training.
Assessing distance learning is particularly difficult in VET - you cannot track a student's performance, particularly in terms of practical lessons.
Zoom is a platform that is now being increasingly used for distance learning because it allow multiple users to access it and interface with the teacher at the same time. But still, checking practical skills seems impossible at the moment.
Online learning for Technical VET (TVET) is more about supporting theory training and maintaining community - keeping students involved, giving them responsibility for their own learning.
What is needed to maintain practical training for VET students via distance learning?
There are already some videos where students can watch some practical experience, a small tool or equipment that is easy to observe; this is still not hands-on experience, but it does allow something to sink in.
The future of practical training in distance learning lies in using augmented or virtual reality (VR). It sounds costly, but I have some 25 sources that have thousands of 3D virtual reality courses available. Of course, there are challenges in the curricula and language of presentations. And to fully engage a student needs a headset. We need a system that enables students to engage and the training provider to observe and engage with students with a focus on soft skills including communication.
Azerbaijan launched a televised online resource for students on March 30. What are its key points and how does this represent good practice?
Parents play an important role in education in Azerbaijan. Many are committed to working with teachers to monitor the online learning of their children. The online courses - which have launched on the Culture TV channel and other platforms - include 26 lessons across eight VET specialisations including electrical engineer, construction, mechanics, automobile and ICT.
The videos are 7-15 minutes long and they try to divide teaching between theory and practice, showing how things work or how they look. This is difficult, because no one is sure that students are watching the videos - this comes down to parents to ensure that students work on the videos or upload the lessons to the particular platforms they use.
Assessment is also a challenge, and relies on teachers getting in touch with students one by one via WhatsApp or other platforms to arrive at some kind of understanding. Zoom is popular right now, because all the students can be brought together with the teacher in one real-time session.
Relevant authorities in Azerbaijan have decided that this year they will not assess those parts of courses that have been impossible to teach online since schools and VET have been closed since the 2nd of March.
The online courses are a quick fix and probably not sustainable in the current form. We don’t know how long this pandemic situation will last, but for now this is the only practicable solution.
How was Azerbaijan in a position to swiftly launch such an online educational response to the pandemic?
There has long been a strong focus on reforming VET in Azerbaijan - starting in 2003 and significantly boosted in 2016 when Road Maps for VET and ICT were launched. The new education law of 2009 foresaw distance learning as a key part of formal and informal learning. Under the Road Map five targets were launched to help achieve this. Recognition of prior learning is also quite advanced. There is a National Qualifications Framework, adopted in 2018, and an Employment Strategy for 2019-2030 has been approved. All these measures provide a legal basis for quickly launching these online tools.
Firdovsi Mutallimov is a member of the ETF Open Space community. Join the community to continue the discussion and share your thoughts and experience.