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The advent of Information Communication & Technology (ICT) has had a great impact on education and the economy. With emerging and new technology in the industry, training institutions such as the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT), University of the West Indies (UWI), Metal Industries Company Limited (MIC), National Energy Skills Centre (NESC), Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme (YTEPP) and Trinidad & Tobago Hospitality & Training Institute (TTHTI) in collaboration with the Government of Trinidad & Tobago must advise on and adopt new policies, design new infrastructure to accommodate ICT, train and develop staff, design new curriculum and invest in new technologies, in order to create a workforce for the 21st century that will give the country a competitive advantage in the global market and create a knowledge based economy.
This paper will address the important role of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in Technical Vocational Education & Training in Trinidad & Tobago. ICTs are one of the key factors tools in the delivery of TVET. Globally however, for a person to effectively gain employment a person must have competencies in ICTs. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) promotes that ICTs also simplify and accelerate information and knowledge sharing about TVET, so that best practices and lessons learned can easily be disseminated. Additionally, ICTs facilitate the administration of education and training, the provision of learning content, and communication between learners and between teachers and learners.
In 1999, at the Second International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education in Seoul and at the 30th session of the General Conference of UNESCO in Paris, it was agreed to adopt the phrase "Technical and Vocational Education and Training" (TVET) to describe the combined process of education and training and recognize the common objective of employment as their immediate goal. Developed and developing countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Germany have used Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) as a means of gaining the competencies and specific occupational skills to meet the demands of the "new" global economy.
TVET is concerned with the acquisition of knowledge and skills for the world of work. International literature compiled by UNESCO has identified various terms to describe elements of the field that are now envisaged as comprising TVET. Governments have set policies that will ensure their workforce becomes more flexible and responsive to the needs of local labour market, while competing in the global environment. In terms of training however, 'Technical/Vocational Training' is defined as a programme aimed at applying the necessary knowledge and skills for specific occupations.
UNEVOC as a policy implementation arm of the United Nations have now placed renewed strategic importance on TVET especially for lesser developed countries. UNEVOC has indicated that TVET embodies:
"those aspects of the educational process involving, in addition to general education, the study of technologies and related sciences, and the acquisition of practical skills, attitudes, understanding and knowledge relating to occupations in all sectors of economic and social life.
For the purpose of the paper ICT will be defined as the set of activities that facilitate by electronic means the processing, transmission, and display of information. The major difference between IT and ICT is the emphasis given in the case of ICT to the communication aspect the collaboration and connectivity that the technologies facilitate.
Trinidad and Tobago has a long history in Technical, Vocational Education and Training
(TVET). Its roots can be traced to 1906 when the Board of Industrial Training was first established to provide the technical training needed to generate a cadre of skilled craftsmen for
the country (Supersad, 2000). Since then, numerous changes and transformations have occurred
within the sector. The upturn in our economy over the past decade or so has led to the government investing in varied projects and policies. To maintain its viability in the global market Trinidad and Tobago needs to improve its competitiveness and diversify in other sectors. To circumvent falling competitiveness a highly skilled and adaptable workforce is required. Certainly a skilled workforce stands out as an indispensable requirement for enhancing growth. To achieve this coherent education and training system has to be established.
Our government has invested heavily in the education sector. As part of its plan to sustainable development, the Government of Trinidad & Tobago aims to develop a knowledge based economy. The government, more specifically the Ministry of Tertiary Education & Skills Training (TEST) is in the process of developing a National ICT Plan for the period 2012 to 2016. This will address ICT at both the macro and micro level. This will enable us to prepare the learner for the 21st century who essentially will have a higher percentage of its education conducted outside the classroom utilizing distance education and e-learning platforms. As such our local training providers must be cognizant of these developments and capitalize on the changes in policy.
The TVET training sector in Trinidad & Tobago is undergoing significant challenges. The consumers that it serves, including companies and the learners themselves, are becoming increasingly demanding. Not only do they expect the sector to offer higher quality and a broader range of programs, they want education and training to be delivered in a timely manner to match the demands of industry. Hence providers in the training industry now have to ensure that their training programmes are in sync with industry and their trainees are well equipped to transition into the industry. ICT assists in bridging this world of work gap. The individuals must be prepared to enter into the various industries with the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities.
The Framework for 21st Century learning presents a general view of teaching and learning that prepares students to master the skills and abilities required of them in the 21st century. A key element of this is Information, Media and Technology skills. Since we live in an era infused with technology, workers must have a wide range of functional and critical thinking skills related to technology. This will enable those entering the workforce to possess ready skills in ICT. Hence our approach in TVET training must be two fold. The educators in the systems must also possess the skills in ICT and integrate them into their teaching methods and strategies.
In conjunction with the increasing expectations of the market have been developments in the area of technology. In some cases in Trinidad & Tobago, ICT has been able to help the sector manage some of its most confronting challenges, such as enabling better remote learning experiences and developing more content that can be modified inexpensively. The rise of technology has also compounded some of the challenges faced by the sector. The rise of ICT has made planning and management of physical assets more complicated. How large should the buildings be? How should they be designed? What emerging ICT infrastructure and uses need to be anticipated in their construction? When it comes to equipment, the rapid computerization of previously mechanical tools has reduced the lifespan but increased the expense of critical learning tools. Similarly, the range of networking, hardware and software technologies need to be refreshed regularly creating additional costs for providers.
The growth and development of ICT has also played a role in fuelling learners' desire for greater flexibility. As an example, improvements in mobile devices have created expectations from learners that their courseware and so their instructors will be available outside traditional teaching hours. Hence we see the administration of blended learning. The blended learning approach combines traditional classroom methods with the use of ICT to form a cohesive instructional approach. According to Kemmer (2011), online learning has the potential to widen participation by offering flexibility, but it requires students to learn independently, for which they need to take responsibility for their learning. Learner responsibility is crucial in higher education and lifelong learning
Technology can be used for instance in the delivery mechanism where the focus in on producing course content for delivery through ICT. Traditional approaches are the use of computer assisted instruction (CAI), computer based instruction (CBI) and online instruction. One local provider, the Metal Industries Company has recently invested in a welding simulator to assist in delivering components of their training programme. This will essentially allow instructors and trainees to master their skills in welding at a lower cost to the institution. Internet and other web based technologies can also be utilised. The major advantage of this type of training is that it allows the student to study at their own pace and where they chose. This virtual learning environment has the capacity to stimulate learners and enhance their learning experience. Mercer (2000) as cited by Loveless (2003), stresses that one of the important functions of education is to enable people to become more effective as 'collective thinkers' and elaborated on the ways in which ICT can be used to develop collective thinking, through both computer oriented communication and computer mediated communication. On the other hand, there has to be avenues to retrain the current cadre of instructors at the institution. By investing in the instructors as well the institution can boosts it competitiveness in the training industry.
Training sector stakeholders vary considerably in their views on the extent of the impact technology will have on the sector. Much of the current focus is on the difficulties that providers face in managing technological changes, and stakeholders have clearly indicated that the real benefits and full effects of technology are yet to be felt. Greater acceptance of online content as a mainstream training practice is likely to change the role and nature of physical buildings a decade from now. Industry's growing expectation that learning will be conducted on their terms, and often on their site, is likely to change the way that providers think about investments in training equipment and free up resources for other priorities.
Clearly the advantage of ICTs is that they expedite, facilitate and simplify the management and delivery of various kinds of information and data including that of education. ICTs have enormously increased possibilities for networking, communication and the rapid exchange of information and materials. The application of ICTs offers multiple learning pathways and widespread access to TVET in Trinidad & Tobago, breaking down barriers to learning and teaching connected to distance and location, so vocational educators can easily have opportunities to update and upgrade their knowledge and skills. Notably, interfaces between TVET and ICTs have become a feature of the education and training enterprises in developed countries. For instance at the University of the West Indies in its Master in TVET programme, there is use of an E-Learning platform where students and the lecturer can converse in real time.
Singapore recognizes that long-term economic development is dependent on a critical mass of educated and skilled labour force. Education receives a large portion of the country's expenditure. Admission into tertiary education institutions is highly competitive in order to avoid drop out, waste of scarce resources or lowering the degree standard. The size, quality and course offerings are based on labour market needs, rather than a supply driven higher education system. The government understands that high quality education costs money, and student subsidies are essential to improve equality of opportunity as well as attract talent to higher education (The World Bank). Additionally, in a study done by Dr. Hoang Ngoc Vinh in 2010, he concluded that there is wider use of the application of ICT in TVET education and training. As such it has supported improvements in the quality and delivery of training. In Bangladesh in a study conducted using the Polytechnic institutions in the country, it was found that the respondents for teachers alluded to the fact that ICT contributed in augmenting their performance and also improving the quality of education.
Singapore is a successful case study integrating ICT and training. The government of Singapore saw an ability-driven education approach requiring a responsive education structure, the creation of a student-centered learning environment, the inculcation of values and nurturing of thinking skills and creativity through the formal and informal curricula, and the building of a quality teaching service. Teaching and assessment methods were reviewed and modified to nurture thinking skills and creativity, and to encourage knowledge generation and application.
Parallel to this is the impact the technology is having on the training sector. The Technical Vocational & Training sector is probably the most dynamic of all educational sectors in Trinidad & Tobago. The sector is substantially less regulated than the higher education and secondary school sectors. Lower regulation has enabled greater competition from private sector providers, which in turn has provided learners with a high degree of choice. In addition, there is a need in this sector to be more flexible in responding to changes in demand from industry in particular.
One of the difficulties for policy makers and administrators is understanding the interrelationship between and role of the range of technologies that now pervade the education sector. While people often refer to the impact of technology in a general sense, there are clear distinctions in the functions they serve, and the impacts they have. As an example, advances in networking technology have enabled greater connectivity and the ability to transfer vast tracts of rich information. Developments in device technology and hardware have created the processing speeds and mobility that enable rich data to be captured. Software developments have created the
capacity to manage that data, and enable people to access and exploit it effectively.
A fundamental difference between the training sector and higher education is the training sector's industry focus. The continued shift towards a genuine industry-led sector contributes to a better matching of trainees with business's requirements. The training sector's focus has contributed to the high expectations of industry. This plays out in a number of ways, many of which have implications for dynamic considerations around learning quality and delivery flexibility. To circumvent the mismatch between skills and training, the government of Trinidad & Tobago relies on the National Training Agency to ensure that all vocational training is industry led and develop, implement and maintain a National Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Plan that will create a workforce that is competent, certified, innovative, enterprising and entrepreneurial.
The sector's student base is another avenue of concern with the changing needs of the sector. There is now greater demand for more sophisticated training in the sector. Students are demanding higher levels of qualification in all areas of training, for instance graduate certificates and diplomas. This may also pose a challenge since the technical and vocational area currently demands a more technology intensive training. This demand has put a strain on the system. The integration of ICT into programmes can accelerate the delivery of pertinent training programmes.
In addition to shifts in industry and student demand, there is acknowledgement across the sector that competition from the regional area is imminent. To some, this is a natural consequence of achieving developed country status and part of a drive to improve overall training sector competitiveness. The advent of the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME) will also undeniably have an effect in that the Caribbean becomes one big pool of workers. To sustain the demand for knowledge and skilled workers, government at this time needs to ensure that whatever education initiatives are implemented work alongside the specific sector demands. To ensure this is achieved investments by way of ICT must be implemented in training institutions.
From the literature it was gleaned that generally, full integration of ICT in education is still very rare. Highly interactive multimedia or hypermedia is not yet widely used. Online activities involving an intranet or the Internet are used for information and communication purposes rather than tools for interactive education. Although new, mixed modes of learning are emerging: face-to-face and online learning activities, video-conferencing, lectures, videos, multimedia and telecommunication tools support the various learning processes, sometimes in a hybrid manner and sometimes in a more integrated manner. More avenues need to be explored by providers to ensure they effectively exploit the benefits of using ICT in TVET training. With regard to pedagogy, according to Leach and Moon (1999) as cited in Ellis & Loveless (2001), the use of ICT by teachers provide a catalyst for stimulating new teaching strategies and changing the norms in a traditional classroom setting.
In conclusion, the competitiveness of a firm, an industry, and a nation is related to the mix of primary, secondary, and tertiary education and how that interacts with the level of development and the state of technology. As highlighted in the paper investments in ICT can significantly impact on the value of what is delivered to the end consumer.
Students, as decision-makers on the acquisition of their education, demand what is directly applicable to the labour market. Hence the reason why training institutions need to ensure they remain competitive in light of the changing needs and demands of the market. Institutions need to be cognizant of this fact for their longevity depends on it.
The advent of the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME) must also be considered since this will significantly affect the current labour market. To sustain the demand for knowledge and skilled workers, government at this time needs to ensure that whatever education initiatives and investments that is instituted work alongside the specific sector demands.
Training sector stakeholders vary considerably in their views on the extent of the impact technology will have on the sector. However, investments in ICT are clearly seen as the move into this dynamic training industry. The benefits will eventually outweigh the cost both in relation to the institution and the nation. As a result the benefits will significantly impact on their competitiveness and by extension contribution to the development of the nation's human resource development. The consumers (trainees) will be better trained to enter the labour market and their tutors will be better equipped to help them do so.