Eastern Europe and Central Asia: the Need for Practical Skills-based Learning

Photo: Luigi Guarino via Flickr
Photo: Luigi Guarino via Flickr

The World Bank has released a new report – Skills Not Just Diplomas, which presents a critical evaluation on the state of education in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the former Soviet Union. The report lends support for some of the goals of our applied social research network here at Sociology at Work – specifically its focus on increasing practical training in schools and universities. This includes addressing the skills that employers expect of workers which go beyond academic knowledge.

The study finds that the quality of teaching has fallen in most universities across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Data show that the educational outcomes of students in this region have increasingly declined in comparison to other nations belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This is partly due to poor management processes and resource allocation which are hindering the improvement of learning facilities. Another factor is that most courses do not focus on the practical skills that employers are after, such as work ethics, team work and problem-solving. The authors argue that vocational and technical training needs to be made more attractive to students and that adult learning should also become a focus of social policies. The report further suggests that high schools should make parents, school councils and local communities more aware and involved in the progress of their local schools.

I take issue with the report’s recommendation that schools should compete for performance-based finances to help improve their facilities. This approach would exacerbate the problems faced by schools in poorer socio-economic areas. These schools would already be disadvantaged within the current system. Progress should be focused on targeting schools that experience the greatest financial hardship. The report’s suggested model would put these schools under further pressure. Economic rationalist notions of ‘competition’ do not help to improve equitable access to education.

Despite my gripe with the short-sighted economic rationale for educational financing, this report is still worth reading. Practical training should be a central focus across disciplines and it should be
supported by all educational institutions. Students, parents and
communities deserve a common understanding of how education can be
usefully applied within the labour market as well as to transform
societies for the better.

Check out the link to the report below and make up your own mind about whether or not performance-based finance can help improve the education system. Please share your thoughts with us via our Community page or on our Facebook page.

Read the full report in PDF form here.