Lucubrate Magazine, Issue 41, October 5th, 2018
Like the human capital approach, the sustainable development approach has evolved. The notion of sustainable development dates back some twenty years to the Brundtland Commission, which used it to connote an approach to development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ A key driver for the concept of sustainable development is to develop a human-centered response to globalization that is based on principles of environmental, economic and social sustainability. “Sustainable development is more of a ‘moral precept than a scientific concept.”
It is a: Culturally-directed search for a dynamic balance in the relationships between social, economic and natural systems — a balance that seeks to promote equity between the present and the future, and equity between countries, races, social classes, and genders. The interdependence of people and the environment requires that no single development or environmental objective shall be pursued to the detriment of others. The environment cannot be protected in a way that leaves half of humanity in poverty. Likewise, there can be no long-term development on a depleted planet.
Competencies in economic literacy, sustainable consumption and managing small enterprises are emphasized concerning the financial aspects while using resources wisely and minimizing waste and pollution are considered central to ensuring environmental sustainability. Both a consumer and a producer of resources, and as the focus of training for resource-intensive industries, such as agriculture, mining, forestry, construction, manufacturing, and tourism.
However, it is acknowledged that efforts to define precisely what sustainable development is must reflect the varying conditions in different parts of the world and their impact on national and cultural priorities and values. For example, for an individual living in rural poverty in the developing world, ‘sustainable development’, if it is to make any sense, must mean increased consumption and a higher living standard. By contrast, to an individual in a wealthy country, with a closet full of clothes, a pantry full of food and a garage full of cars, ‘sustainable development’ could mean more modest and carefully considered consumption.
Lifelong Learning and Sustainable Economies
The concept of sustainable development has been linked over the years with a variety of issues and concerns with implications for IVET. For example, since the Seoul conference sustainable development has been linked with the concept of lifelong learning, which is perceived as a means to promote sustainable economies and livelihoods in the context of the advent of the information age and knowledge economy. Further, in the context of concern about growing youth unemployment, the growth of the informal sector and the failure of basic education to impact even basic skills, there have been calls for TVET to be included in a conception of knowledge for all. More recently, the sustainable development approach has been linked to issues of human security. For example, basic adult literacy for women is seen as a way of promoting children’s health and well-being and reducing mortality rates. Imparting life skills through basic education is a means for preventing HIV and AIDS and for peacebuilding in post-conflict societies.
It is clear that the sustainable development approach links to key priorities and concerns for UNESCO. It is presented as a human-centered alternative to the narrow instrumentalism of human capital approaches. It provides a valuable normative lens through which to perceive TVET’s contribution to development. It has also proved enduring and flexible in its ability to frame debates about TVET in relation to a range of emerging issues and concerns.
The Concept of Sustainable Development is Rather Vague
Nonetheless, it is possible to criticize aspects of the approach. To begin with, the concept of sustainable development is rather vague. It appears to be all things to all people and is therefore difficult to pin down and to quantify. Linked to this, despite the concern with understanding sustainability in relation to the interests of different individuals and groups living in different contexts, the process underlying how this might be achieved is not specified. As a consequence, there is a danger that policy can appear top-down and prescriptive rather than inclusive and context-sensitive.
Further, there are tensions between the idea of TVET for sustainability, and creating the broader macroeconomic conditions of growth. There appears little in the debate about TVET and sustainable development that addresses this tension. Finally, although there has been increased concern with issues of gender, this seems at the margins rather than integral to the way that the sustainable development approach has been developed thus far. The implications of other forms of disadvantage, based for example on social class, rurality, ethnicity, language, religion, and disability, are also not given the focus that they deserve.
Lucubrate Magazine, Issue 41, October 5th, 2018
From the report “Revisiting global trends in TVET: Reflections on theory and practices,” Leon Tikly, UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (2013).
The Picture on the top: Chinnapong