Approaches to vocational education
Many non-formal education programmes for (former) working children include practical or vocational skills training components in the curriculum. Vocational training is often very popular among families which are prone to resort to child labour. Short-term vocational training is often combined with or delivered after functional literacy training and can provide immediate economic alternatives.
However, there are issues to resolve in the definition and approaches to vocational education. First, a distinction must be made between more formal vocational training, which is usually longer term and systematically linked to apprenticeship programmes, and less formal training. Most formal vocational programmes require close adult supervision and the available slots for students are limited.
There are also non-formal vocational training programmes linked to both formal and non-formal education programmes which are often short term and deal with specific skills and topics that are not necessarily marketable or highly productive. Non-formal education programmes can teach children skills that will provide immediate economic alternatives as well as psycho-social support. But these should not be viewed as a complete substitute for formal education, rather as transition programmes to facilitate the child's re-entry into the formal school system. In situations where there are no local institutions or schools offering such vocational education programmes, it may be necessary to provide scholarships.
Experience has shown that practical skills training in the form of "learning by doing", experiments and arts and crafts are an integral part of basic education. When (pre-) vocational training is included in non-formal education programmes, care should be taken to ensure that children and youth acquire basic skills which lay a foundation for training in specific trades or occupations. Vocational training should be geared to the provision of marketable skills that can be adapted to the changing needs in the job market. The gender bias in education is even more pronounced in the field of vocational training and specific attention needs to be given to facilitate girls' access. In most countries, better linkages need to be created between education and vocational training, and between non-formal and formal vocational training.
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