Despite the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the education sector, the pandemic highlighted that even while facing increased adversity, students showed an overwhelming drive to continue learning and developing. Educators in schools, colleges and universities rose to the challenge of mitigating damage by adapting to alternative methods of teaching, learning methodologies, and where possible, rapidly introducing technology into their practice. Wealthier economies inevitably fared better than those with limited access to resources, however in many cases, a real sense of ingenuity and a dedication to creative problem-solving has flourished. The pandemic has reinforced the value of skills and given the importance of continued learning a much higher profile around the world. At the end of this acute phase of crisis, it was vital to take this opportunity to observe and learn from other countries’ successes and failures.
However, pandemics are not the only crises which have the potential to derail the education sector; skills training and teaching must also adapt to the global climate crisis and the implications of Net Zero economies to humanity. As a region particularly vulnerable to climate change, Southeast Asia is balancing a rapidly growing young workforce with mitigating the effects of climate insecurity. Expanding workforces create greater demand for skilled labour, and a need for training opportunities towards employment. Vietnam is a particular example of this trend, with a rapidly growing working age population.
As a nation which pledged at COP 26 to reach Net zZero by 2050, and which aims to be a modern, industrialised, and middle-income country by 2030, Vietnam was therefore a pertinent host for the conference. Vietnam has been successful in linking education into its national development goals with a variety of campaigns targeting different areas. The ‘Skilling up Vietnam’ campaign required a focus on developing green and digital skills, while the TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) strategy was implemented to meet the diverse labour markets, focussing on the quality of skills in each state. While striving to build smart cities with smart labour, Vietnam noted that governments and employers within ASEAN faced common challenges including:
- Improving the quality of the workforce for the future
- Responding to an increasingly complicated job market
- Ensuring opportunities for all in new job markets
- Speeding up transformation
Alongside tackling these challenges, Vietnam discovered that skills training must also overcome several key issues including an image problem, chronic underfunding, a lack of skilled trainers and training positions. All these issues combined have led to a lack of parity of esteem with higher education. There are also issues surrounding quality, assessment, and systemic flexibility.
Increasingly, the evidence suggests that the education sector would benefit from a move away from the idea that students learn once in life, instead advocating a requirement towards lifelong learning. Learning skills are becoming increasingly important in basic education, along with skills associated with communication and teaching values. As technology and virtualisation become ever more present in our society, particularly encompassing robots and AI, employers will need high quality human resource capital to manage and mitigate their effects.
Indeed, employers continue to be key stakeholders within skills training, particularly when it comes to investing in skills and lifelong learning. Good partnerships with governments and education providers can help effectively identify which type of skills to support, particularly in relation to economies in transition. To this end, the green economy is providing an excellent example, where the sector is developing technology at an impressively rapid rate. Employers stressed the importance of embedding learning into school curriculums, but governments can develop solutions to connect education providers and employers, to ensure continued lifelong training and workforce skilling. This conference was an important opportunity for knowledge sharing and discussion about actionable objectives to inspire workforces with the importance of lifelong learning.