AIMING FOR AS

Jordan is facing a rough road ahead toward pragmatism in the education system; however, the nation's educational decision-makers are determined that vocational training is the right way to go.

Vocational education in Jordan is offered by several providers including the Ministries of Education and Higher Education, the Board of Education, and the Vocational Training Corporation. However, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programs in the country remain overshadowed by conventional academic programs despite the joint efforts of the aforementioned ministries along with the Ministry of Labor to raise awareness regarding the advantages of vocational training. At the same time, Jordan, as an aspiring manufacturing powerhouse and a regional provider of knowledge-based services such as IT and healthcare, can greatly benefit from the outputs of TVET programs. The Kingdom's need for a workforce with high-quality technical training has been emphasized by no less a figure than King Abdullah II, who called for reforms in the vocational and technical education system in 2016.

Although reform has been underway ever since, in many cases it has been slowed down by cultural obstacles. Most middle-class Jordanian families want their children to pursue traditional academic education after acing their much-dreaded Al-Tawjihi exams and regard vocational schools as a shortcut for those who simply cannot handle real academic work. As such, it is hardly surprising that 70-80% of those leaving the school system have set their eyes on pursuing university education, while the percentage of those opting for TVET programs has been hovering around 17%.

Meanwhile, youth unemployment has been a challenge for Jordan's economy in recent years, and TVET may turn out to be just the right antidote to the problem. Empirical evidence and the experience of post-industrial nations has shown that those who pursue vocational and technical courses are less likely to end up unemployed than those graduating with university degrees in theoretical areas. A UNESCO-UNEVOC report published in 2013 pointed out that TVET plays an undeniable role in tackling youth unemployment, and “TVET's orientation toward the world of work and the acquisition of employability skills means that it is well placed to address issues such as skills mismatch that have impeded smooth school-to-work transitions for many young people.”

In all fairness, those resisting the TVET movement may have their own reasons. In Jordan, as in many other Arab nations, a university degree is a badge of honor, which not only open doors in the job market, but also gives one a superior social status. In both the public and private sectors, there is a bias against those who join an organization with TVET or on-the-job training (OJT) certificates. More often than not, holders of such certificates cannot expect to advance in their career paths quite in pace with their university educated comrades. There also seems to be a glass ceiling keeping the holders of TVET certificates away from directorial and managerial positions.

Citizens' interest in academic education is so compelling that, at times, technical schools, community colleges, and applied universities have reinterpreted their missions to masquerade as a conventional university. This is but one problem among many. An EU-funded project set out to investigate the governance of TVET programs in Jordan in 2014 and concluded that the ministries and other stakeholders in vocational education were facing several challenges: lack of complete coordination in the delivery of vocational training, limited connection between the TVET programs and the job market, and the absence of a counselling system to decide which students' abilities are best suited for vocational education.

This last point is worth considering. Although no student should be pushed to choose a career, those leaving the school system can benefit from in-depth counselling to help them find their true calling. This counseling system, however, should not become a juncture where low-performing and outstanding students go their separate ways. Being practical-minded has absolutely nothing to do with laziness or lack of intelligence. To expand the coverage of vocational training, Samir Murad, Jordan's Labor Minister and the chairman of Vocational Training Cooperation, launched the nation's e-learning and training program in October 2018, with the aim of making TVET programs available to all citizens, at all times, and in all locations.