The Digital Revolution, COVID and CoVEs (Centres of Vocational Excellence): Challenges and Opportunities
In the context of the ETF’s monthly campaign on the digital theme, this Wednesday’s LearningConnects Facebook Live was devoted to Centres of Vocational Excellence or CoVEs and how the pandemic has further accelerated their digital transformation, which was proceeding at a considerable clip before COVID struck. The ETF’s Daria Santucci skilfully moderated a lively discussion with a panel of three guest speakers from what she affectionately called, a ‘community of learners from the EU, neighbouring countries and all over the world’. Each had first-hand experience working in or with CoVEs and they all had an opportunity to share their views and experiences with hundreds of engaged viewers following the Facebook Live from around the globe.
The three experts invited to speak were: Professor Najib Hamouti, Head of the Career Centre at Esith, a Centre of Vocational Excellence in Casablanca, Morocco; Giovanni Crisona, the Founder and Leader of Skillman.eu, a transnational platform supported by the European Commission and dedicated to CoVEs and emerging skills in advanced manufacturing (the platform has 542 members in 83 countries); and Jose Manuel Galvin Arribas, Team Leader of the ETF’s Network for Excellence, or ENE, a network of 144 CoVEs in 8 EU countries, 15 ETF partner countries and 6 African countries launched in December 2020. Throughout the exchange, Santucci brought to the panel’s attention pertinent and at times provocative questions from those watching the Facebook live.
This Facebook Live was the public-facing event that preceded the multi-stakeholder online conference based on the ETF’s recently published international study, Centres of Vocational Excellence: an engine for vocational education and training development. The conference took place on 11-12 March 2021 and brought together actors involved in ENE, including representatives from CoVEs in the network, ETF partner countries, EU member states, practitioners and experts. The objective of the conference was to take stock of work carried out in 2020 and look ahead to 2021. The event was open only to members, but a full report outlining the main takeaways will soon be available on the ETF’s website. For more information, please refer to the agenda, located here.
What are CoVEs and why are they excellent?
CoVEs are highly engaged Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers. Digitally fit and flexible, CoVEs are capable of adapting their training provisions and curricula quickly to match the shifting skills needs of a changing labour market disrupted by digitalisation and the green transition. CoVEs are excellent because they are ambitious, inclusive, collaborative, and autonomous VET providers that have strong partnerships with all relevant stakeholders. According to Najib Hamouti, their inclusivity goes against traditional excellence, which is generally associated with exclusivity. However, in CoVEs, Hamouti says, ‘everyone can become excellent’.
Collaboration is another characteristic of CoVEs. Indeed, peer learning not only forms the basis of European VET culture, but in other geographical regions as well. Moreover, excellence in VET cannot be achieved without strong partnerships in both public and private sectors. Input from policy makers and industry shape curricula in CoVEs. Giovanni Crisona insists that VET centres must interact with policy makers because they are the ones who decide how to allocate resources.
CoVEs are ambitious and, as such, naturally form skills ecosystems at the local level to support their work. These ecosystems involve all stakeholders including, universities, research centres, businesses, chambers of commerce, social partners, employers, regional authorities, and municipalities. When deciding on new curricula, Crisona believes that all actors in the ecosystem must be at the table ‘because these curricula will represent the society of tomorrow’
The ability to act autonomously is another characteristic that makes CoVEs excellent because it enhances their capacity to manoeuvre and respond to fluctuating priorities. Finally, CoVEs are excellent because they invest in both students’ and teachers’ skills development; they aim to provide optimal learning environments for everyone.
CoVEs during and after COVID
The end of the pandemic may be in sight, but the challenges faced by VET providers, including CoVEs continues. Since VET by nature is practical and hands on, the shift to distance learning has not been simple. Providing quality training remotely requires technology that takes time and resources to implement. Digital solutions have been deployed, but as Crisona points out, ‘more are needed in education at all levels’. Additional training for students and teachers has also been necessary for obvious reasons. They need to know how to interact with the technology for it to be effective.
The mental health of both practitioners and learners has been adversely impacted by the pandemic and the move to remote learning; this also needs to be acknowledged and addressed because as Hamouti points out, ‘distance learning is here to stay.
While the devastation and upheaval COVID-19 has wreaked on the world is undeniable, it has also afforded us the opportunity to look to the future. During the panel discussion, it was very clear that VET practitioners are imagining and preparing for the classroom of the future. Smart classrooms will have smart boards that can be used by smart teachers from smart industries directly imparting employable skills to students. This virtual mini-classroom will be equipped with cameras that follow teachers as they move allowing students to have a rich remote learning experience similar to and perhaps better than the traditional classroom. Advances in robotics will make remote hands-on training possible. Facilitating the transition from real to virtual will require VET providers to make strategic investments in infrastructure.
CoVEs and leadership in regional development and beyond
For Giovanni Crisona, there is no doubt, VET providers, including and perhaps especially CoVEs, must impose their leadership and provoke innovation. With their direct ties to industry they are, after all, best placed to drive research on skills for the future, which can only be detected locally, on the ground at the micro-level and not at the macro-level by market analysis or job offers.
While this discussion continued in a closed forum at the conference, the digital sharing exercise, as Santucci called it, has no borders and continues online where the Facebook Live can be viewed on replay, Participants in the chat hailed from Hong Kong, Brazil and India. The purpose of the exercise is to include diverse voices from all over the planet. There may only be 144 CoVEs in ENE at the moment, but there is room for more. Excellence is within reach for other VET providers and through ENE, the ETF is listening.
Watch the full Live here: