It is interesting to see how different countries or groups of countries adopt different strategies to ensure good quality education, training and development (ETD). Some seem to achieve remarkable success while others just don’t seem to make it, or care. Then there are those where political agendas ruin the ETD system of the country. South Africa currently faces immense obstacles of which many of you are probably aware. In this article I will suggest a strategic approach that should help us perform better. Others might be interested in my suggestions even if only to feel good about how well ETD is conducted in their countries.
To begin with, quality assurance should rest on a strategy that is articulated to the needs and context of the country. This should start with a strategy for early childhood development and gradually progress to youth development and adult education and training. All of this should fit into, or form part strategies of what one can call a community development strategy. Development should start at an early age already and the stronger the foundation is the better will the end-result be.
Coherence is one of the most important prerequisites for an integrated national strategy for quality assurance. Quality assurance bodies and learning institutions on all levels should have the same frame of reference. The worst possible situation is where different quality assurance bodies are in competition with one another and where individuals in quality assurance bodies set their own quality criteria without consulting anybody and without there being anybody to monitor and control the process. Coherence can be achieved by developing a national quality framework which is supported by lower level strategies right down to the individual learning institutions.
A strategic approach to quality assurance is served best if top-level quality assurance bodies initiate the process by formulating policies and procedures to be supported by lower level quality assurance bodies in a chain reaction that ends at the ETD provider level. This does not mean that higher level quality assurance bodies are exclusively involved in strategy formulation, while lower level quality assurance bodies and ETD providers are exclusively involved in the implementation of strategies. There is, however, a shift in emphasis with higher level role players being more involved in strategy formulation while lower level role-players are more involved in the implementation of strategies.
ETD strategic planning should support human resources development and employment strategies on all levels. This can be achieved if ETD strategies are demand-led on national and industry levels. The quality assurance system should be aligned with the overall strategic goals of the country as well as the industry. This is achieved by determining skills needs at least in cooperation with the industry, i.e. employers if they don’t specify their skills needs, and transforming such skills needs to human resources development strategic objectives, which are integrated with the overall strategic objectives of the organisation.
Government should not dictate skills needs because it can easily lead to the manipulation of the ETD system to achieve political goals. The industry should decide what their scarce and critical skills needs are and government should have bodies, a system and a budget in place to satisfy the needs. Skills needs are the demand for ETD that the industry brings to the attention of learning institutions either directly or via quality assurance bodies. Demand-led quality assurance is a good example of a strategic system where the education and training strategy supports the strategy for the economic growth of a country. It normally aims at transforming the education and training system so that it offers the highest quality and value, and equips young people and adults for employability and personal fulfilment.
A demand-led quality assurance strategy means finding an optimum skills mix to maximise economic growth, productivity and social justice and to consider the policy implications of achieving the level of change required. Government policy and the resulting legislation can easily become an obstacle in the way of demand-led education and training. In their book entitled How South Africa Works (Pan Macmillan South Africa 215: 88) Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills wrote that organised labour and the government strategies that do not support skills development and employment can lead to small businesses doing everything in their power not to employ people, while big business invests offshore to protect themselves against uncertainties.
Implementation is the process by means of which the quality assurance strategy is put into practice. It is essential to establish and uphold key principles that underpin the implementation of the planned actions in order to ensure effectiveness in achieving the goals and objectives which have been planned. Such coherence may be achieved in many ways. Funding incentives, the provision of procedural guidelines at the local level, building the capacity of key players on quality issues through ETD, or a combination of internal quality systems at provider level with external inspections, for example, may be used.
In closing, the following are requirements for a quality assurance in ETD:
- A system of mutually-supportive quality assurance strategies at government, provincial or regional, quality assurance body and ETD provider level.
- Coherence in terms of standards and quality criteria on all levels.
- Employers that bring scarce and critical skills needs to the attention of government.
- A government that supports the provision of quality ETD rather than to misuse ETD to achieve political objectives.
- A system of monitoring and control to prevent individuals and bodies from misusing quality assurance for purposes other than quality ETD.
- Legislation that promotes and supports quality ETD.