The food processing industry in all Central Asian countries is in demand for a highly skilled labour force. However, educational systems are currently not able to fully satisfy this demand. Accordingly new demand-driven curricula following the Bologna standards were developed. Parallel, a curriculum for specialized food technicians was developed for colleges. The USPECH programme supports the implementation of the aforementioned programmes through “project-based training” for specialists, with the aim to improve the practical aspects of professional education in Central Asia.
The article depicts the effectiveness of practice-oriented projects, which were introduced in such a format for the first time in the region. The planning and carrying out of such projects is explained on the basis of examples of the USPECH programme. Reference to relevant literature with a special focus on “Internet links” and “open access” publications is provided to ensure accessibility for the educationalists and the interested public.
The article shall deliver an overview of project-based learning as part of modern VET training. It should serve as an easy guide for educationalists interested in the approach and its transferability to related areas.
KeywordsProject-based training Curricula implementation Transferability Professional education
2.1 Professional Education in Central Asia: A Short Introduction
In Central Asia one can find three levels of professional education: the higher education at universities, the primary and secondary vocational education and training (VET) at colleges and informal ad hoc trainings in small and especially microbusinesses. Even two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are still some distinctive features of its educational system in place, despite sometimes ambitious attempts for reforms in Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. One of the main attributes in this context is a VET system that takes place foremost in state-run educational institutions, such as vocational colleges and universities, and to a much smaller degree in private companies. Another attribute inherited from the Soviet system is the focus on rather theoretical teaching and learning methods at those institutions, with only a limited portion of practical training and consequently, a limited application of the acquired theoretical knowledge into practice.1
While, in the Soviet Union, internships and practical trainings in state-owned companies were a crucial aspect for every student and apprentice, however, private companies are nowadays not systematically and sufficiently involved in VET. Internships in such companies, if provided at all, too often do not include the interns in the actual production processes. Thus, the quality of practical trainings too often depends on the financial and technical provisions of individual educational institutions. Until today, a great share of Central Asian VET teachers as well as university teaching staff had gained their professional and teaching skills during the Soviet era. As a result, ex-cathedra teaching is usually the preferred method of passing on knowledge to students. In return, modern teaching methods, taking into account the latest didactical and pedagogical findings and approaches, are not the widely used standard yet. That is unfortunate since, in contrast to other developing regions of the world, the knowledge of Central Asian college teachers and university teaching staff, especially in rather technological subjects of study, is usually quite advanced. In fact, inadequate practical training in VET colleges and university studies is a perennial issue and a formidable obstacle for the promotion of direct foreign investment due to the lack of sufficiently trained professionals for the industry (Stehling 2015).
2.2 National Strategies to Modernize VET in Central Asia
Just as other Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are trying to address the aforementioned issues, in order to modernize their systems of education. These countries are working to improve professional education with the aim of aligning themselves closer to international standards.
Kazakhstan is regarding the German dual system as a role model for reforming its VET system with the aim of linking its VET system stronger to the needs of the industry.2 It must be noted, however, that by doing so, the government prefers a “top-down” approach, in contrast to the dual system in Germany, due to the current lack of a truly developed cooperative system between the state and civil society actors such as unions and independent chambers of commerce and trade. The “State Program of Education Development in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2011–2020” (Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan 2010) contains a variety of reform measures for all levels of education, including VET and higher education. The country is applying the “European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System” (ECTS) and has adopted its own “National Qualifications Framework” (NQF) for higher education, while planning to implement a NQF for VET until 2020. Strengthening practical aspects in VET and higher education is a prominent and positive feature of Kazakhstan’s strategy to improve its professional education.
Kyrgyzstan is currently implementing its “National Sustainable Development Strategy for the Kyrgyz Republic” (Donors 2016), which also aims at improving the educational system. The main issues and forward-thinking possible solutions in VET and higher education are described in more detail in the “Education Development Strategy of the Kyrgyz Republic for 2012–2020” (Global Partnership for Education 2014). Primary and secondary VET as well as professional education in higher education are showing disparity between the knowledge and skills of graduates on the one hand, with the needs of the industry on the other hand. Teaching staff who require further training and lack of governmental funds need to be addressed in order to improve the Kyrgyz education system. To tackle these problems, an institutionalized involvement of the private sector at all levels of professional education is intended but currently only driven forward by single educational institutions and entrepreneurs.
Since 2012, Tajikistan passed several laws which aim at reforming all aspects of its educational system, as a part of the “National Strategy of Education Development till 2020” (Global Partnership for Education 2012). A special focus in the strategy identifies the demands and needs of the labour markets and on restructuring the professional education. Since 2015, the country has been implementing a teacher training and education programme with the aim of centralizing the previous system in order to improve the quality. In comparison with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan is not ambitiously aiming at private sector involvement into its professional educational system. The main problem of the country in this context is the vast size of the informal sector of its economy. In 2014 the World Bank estimated in its report “The Skills Road” a percentage of 60% of Tajik employees working in the informal economy (Ajwad et al. 2014).
All three Central Asian countries are supported in their efforts by several international donors and organizations such as for instance UNESCO-UNEVOC, the European Union’s (EU) agency European Training Foundation (ETF) and GIZ. The latter is using the short-term training tool of project-based learning and formats for cross-border cooperation in order to supplement these long-term education development strategies.
2.3 Strategy for the International Cooperation in the Area of VET
Last but not the least, the process of ongoing internationalization and globalization has caused new challenges in the area of vocational education. “The national systems of vocational education are facing the challenge of international competition on one side and the necessity of international cooperation on the other side” (Dybowski and Walter 2001). One indicator for the competitiveness of national VET systems is evaluated by their quality of and their ability for innovation.
Many countries are interested in Germany’s experiences and know-how of vocational training (see the dual system). According to the publication of the “Deutscher Bundestag”, the financial and economic crisis of 2008/2009 has raised the interest in the dual system and elements of it, as it has proved its ability to contribute to the qualification of qualified employees by connecting theoretical learning in school with practical learning at the work place (Deutscher Bundestag 2013).
Thus, education and training focusing on the labour market’s needs as well as integrating the private sector into the education process will improve the employability of the young generation. Countries with a rather theoretical vocational education model that takes place only at educational institutions increasingly feel the pressure to reform and to improve their system. Employers criticize the lack of practical skills and the lack of a skilled labour force. Accordingly, many young people in Central Asia have little access to the labour market and may lack a positive perspective regarding their individual future and participation in society. Conversely, an investment into a skilled labour force fulfilling the needs of potential employers will be an important factor for the economic growth in those countries.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are among other countries in Central Asia that are taking great efforts to strengthen their economic growth by reforming their VET systems in order to further develop human capital. Furthermore, they are paying a lot of attention to the development of small and medium enterprises in order to promote economic growth.3
Improvement of the employability of young adults by strengthening practical elements of in-house training
To support governments and social partners who want to integrate dual structures into their educational systems through transfer of know-how
To satisfy the need of skilled work force and technology transfer
To support the possibilities for further and ongoing training services
To support the introduction of an inclusive, integrated approach of VET in those countries where vocational education can be the driving force for growth and employment and thus contribute to the stabilization of fragile contexts
The “Deutsche Bundestag” states in its strategy paper that it is not intended to transfer the German VET system one by one but rather to adopt elements where feasible and necessary. Besides transferring elements of integrated and cooperative VET elements, much attention is paid to the adaptation process that takes into account the national preconditions and needs. Sustainability in the ongoing and, to an ever growing extent, independent development of the VET systems in the aforementioned countries is of high importance.
The German Government has published instruments and forms of international cooperation in the field of VET (id. 2013). Those mentioned below are implemented and are core activities of the present GIZ regional VET programme in Central Asia.
2.3.1 Quality Standards
Common developed curricula
New learning and teaching material and formats
Development of in-company training standards
Qualification of teaching staff in colleges and universities
Further qualification of trainers in companies
2.3.2 Marketing and Communication
Increasing the acceptance and image of vocational education through internal and external communication
Dialogue for educational policy on a regional political level
Publication of findings, experiences and best practices
2.3.3 Support of Regional Academic Mobility
Development of an academic network
Exchange of experiences and best practices through exchange programmes for students and lectures
Based on the aforementioned conditions in the three Central Asian countries, one of the targets of the GIZ programme “Professional Education and Training in Central Asia” is to improve the quality of teachers’ and lecturers’ training in the field of vocational education in the area of food technology.
The governance of educational systems is a prominent topic of recent surveys (Dietrich et al. 2011). The question raised is on how to steer educational systems effectively without being focused on former, hierarchical and authoritarian structures or to become apparent on social dissimilarities. The focus of public attention is also the role of transnational agencies such as UNESCO, EU or GIZ, in the frame of globalization. Local multi-stakeholder networks are seen as an effective steering tool for educational processes especially in the area of VET.
In order to reach this goal, the demand of the food processing industry in all Central Asian countries for skilled labour force was taken into account, and new international accredited curricula fulfilling the Bologna Standards were developed in cooperation with universities, colleges and the private sector. Thus, the shortcoming of a highly qualified labour force shall be tackled by improving study programmes as well as the further and ongoing training of teachers in colleges and lectures in universities.
The implementation of the newly developed curricula is an essential part of the ongoing GIZ programme interventions that will occur from 2016 to 2019. Due to the experiences of the former programmes, a strong network, combining training institutions such as colleges and universities on an international level is necessary to successfully complete the task at hand.
Additionally the programme focuses on the regionalization of the vocational education and on the development of further and ongoing training programmes. This aspect allows academic mobility and the mutual recognition of qualifications. In addition universities can specialize in a certain area of food technology such as milk and meat in Kyrgyzstan, fruit and vegetable in Tajikistan and bakery and brewery technology in Kazakhstan.
A project-based learning approach was developed and implemented in order to improve the quality of training for teaching and practical training staff. Twenty-two national teachers and lecturers applied with their own project in order to take part in the 18-month USPECH project and to build a network for scientific exchange and publication in Central Asia. The programme is supported internationally by the Universities of Dresden, Kassel and Berlin.
According to the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) – Germany, “there is an increasing demand of the dual system ‘Made in Germany’, worldwide. The German government has reacted on the aforementioned demand in 2013 by developing their strategy concerning the cooperation in the area of VET (Berufsbildungszusammenarbeit BBZ ‘out of one hand’)” (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung 2016).
The close cooperation between the state and the economy
Learning in the work process
The social acceptance of standards
The qualification of VET personnel4
- The institutionalized scientific research and consultancy
Effective training for TVET quality teaching and learning is necessary, but it also can be a great professional pleasure for participants as well as for trainers and organizers if we succeed to meet participants’ needs and interests (sometimes ‘tacit’ ones) – and to apply methods which generate space for creativity and innovation. (Sharipova and Wesseler 2018)
Since there is strong evidence that the core challenge of TVET capacity building – globally – is not so much a lack of knowledge but rather a lack of competence and practice, the proposal focuses on an innovative system of opportunities for learning from experience and practical exercise. (eid. 2017)
Participants will know how to further develop existing networks and to strengthen their collective learning through cross-country cooperations. This dimension has not only a professional impact but also a ‘political’ one, by promoting mutual understanding and collaboration between the partner institutions and their countries. (Härtel et al. 2015)
Starting from 2008, seven modules for the ongoing and further training of VET teachers were developed by experts from the University of Dresden. Those modules were integrated into the programmes of the respective institutions, responsible for ongoing and further teacher training in each of the partner countries. Several workshops were conducted with international experts giving trainings on various topics in pedagogies and didactics to teachers in the field of food technology.
While that was a rather centralistic approach as pointed out by Sharipova and Wesseler (2018), a more participative approach was implemented especially in the GIZ programme “Professional Education and Training in Central Asia” from 2013 to 2016. The development of the Bachelor of Science for Food Technology (BSc), the Master of Science for Food Technology (MSc), the Master of Education for Food Technology (MEd) and the Curriculum for Food Technician (College Level) was realized in cooperation with all national partners such as universities and colleges and with a strong involvement of the private sector. All aforementioned study programmes follow the Bologna criteria and are international accredited or like the M.Ed. in the accreditation process.
Thus the GIZ programme was orientating on the strategy of the German government as well as fulfilling the quality criteria of the German VET system as mentioned above. In order to strengthen the ownership and to create space for an innovative learning approach, the USPECH project was implemented as described by Sharipova and Wesseler (2018).
Innovation, development of competences and communication (internal and external)
Visibility of activities and scientific motivation
Coordination, regular meetings and secretary’s office
The pure provision of learning options rather leads to incomprehensible creation of knowledge. In order to be able to plan such learning processes, steering is necessary through combining individual and collective bases of knowledge. (eid. 2015, pp. 306–307)
In order to improve living conditions and create perspectives for the young generation in Central Asia, study and training programmes have to be implemented that meet the needs of the regional labour market and fulfil the demand of a highly skilled working force. In a positive manner, the private sector has increasingly begun to take responsibility by cooperating in the development of modern training programmes. The participation in examinations is as important as providing internships with a well-organized share of practical training.
Many positive aspects have already been implemented such as the development and implementation of curricula and training programmes. For further widespread societal and systemic change, teaching and training staff must further be introduced to specific laboratory didactics, pedagogies and modern teaching methods. Project-based learning is one approach among others allowing to fully use the potential of students with the aim of raising motivation and developing independent learning as well as analytical and problem solving and critical thinking skills and teamwork. All of the skills aforementioned are widely regarded as key qualifications for modern labour markets.
In order to make training programmes for teaching and training staff more effective, networking is essential. Exchange of knowledge, experiences and best practice methods are a key for the sustainability and ongoing development on the international level. According to Professor Köhler et al., surveys have shown that learning and transfer processes within a network are happening, but rather by pure chance.
Meetings, workshops, publications and others shall be organized to plan and support those processes. Further surveys shall focus on evaluation of the development of effective tools and procedures in order to steer such learning processes in scientific networks.
For a comprehensive overview of the VET system and VET teacher qualification systems (in German language) in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, see Tsimoshchanka (2013).
Short information on the German dual system and further information: Federal Ministry of Education and Research (2015).
Translated by the authors.
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