Unfortunately, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) suffers from negative and inaccurate misperceptions across the globe. Palestinian TVET expert Narmeen Fayyaleh shares some insights into combating the stereotypes that are barriers to both women and men in the West Bank and Gaza.
For both men and women, TVET educational programs are viewed as inferior to other training and learning opportunities. It is not considered higher education, nor perceived as a useful type of education that gives students good work opportunities or social prestige. Often, it is perceived as only valuable and a last resort for young men from lower-income backgrounds, or who did poorly in or dropped out of school. Consequently, some parents are unwilling to enroll their children in the training centers.
This is especially true for girls and young women because courses such as sewing and cosmetics (which women have traditionally been restricted to) don’t pay as well as the TVET professions men are being prepared to enter. In fact, there’s a large gender gap—both quantitatively (numbers of enrollments) and qualitatively (the nature of the specialties available to men and women). According to vocational training data issued by the Ministry of Labor for 2014/2015, only 31 percent of enrollees were female. Another study, conducted by the Ministry of Education in 2011, examined the reality of vocational training and found that women were restricted to courses such as sewing and cosmetics while courses for men included electronics, electricity, mechanics, and carpentry.
However, while women (and men) are often confined to traditional occupations recognized by society and the prevailing cultural norms, some are interested in breaking with traditional stereotypes. In the 2011 study, it was noted that some women were eager to join “male” professions such as mechanics and some men were also interested in “female” professions such as cosmetics. While it is true the perpetuation of traditional professional roles in society contributes to low female enrollment in TVET training courses, there are other social, political, and economic contributing factors, too.
So, what can be done to combat these misconceptions, socio-cultural factors, and gender norms? How can we influence the prevailing societal perception of vocational training in general, and change the stereotype of women’s opportunities in vocational training in particular? Based on the work being done through IYF’s EquipYouth program in Palestine, a big part of the solution involves increased awareness. Below are five recommendations.
- Launch awareness campaigns. This will help counter stereotypes around TVET and raise awareness about the high unemployment rates among university graduates. Campaigns should also emphasize the important role vocational training plays to meet the great need for skilled craftspeople in the Palestinian labor market. Various tracer studies have highlighted the high participation and employment rates of TVET graduates compared to their peers who had not participated in TVET: amongst Palestinian youth, 89 percent participation in the labor force compared to 32.7 percent; 77 percent of TVET graduates being employed compared to only 59 percent of non-TVET graduates. Moreover, TVET graduates are also more likely than other graduates to work in the private sector or become employers or self-employed.
- Use media and marketing materials to reach a wider audience. For example, by targeting parents, communities, decision makers, and the private sector, they will be informed and able to change perceptions about vocational training. Together, these stakeholders can better address the related gender stereotypes by promoting the importance of giving women opportunities to enter non-traditional disciplines. Only with support from all parts of society will we have a well-equipped multidisciplinary vocational training sector that attracts young men and women alike.
- Increase awareness amongst students—especially young women—in schools. Vocational education and training should be an attractive sector for both males and females, and not viewed negatively. Schools should include accurate, timely information on vocational education as part of the curriculum to guide students’ thinking towards this type of education at early stages. Moreover, students should be encouraged to pursue a TVET education when they have an interest or aptitude.
- Emphasize the central role played by policy and decision makers to change stereotypes. In Palestine, there is an urgent need to strengthen cooperation between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor to systematically introduce career guidance in schools to help all young people, but especially young women, to determine their career paths earlier in life, while simultaneously raising awareness among students about the real needs of the labor market and the reality of high unemployment rates. Decision makers can do a lot to help change perceptions.
- Engage local and international vocational training stakeholders. Working in concert with other stakeholders, TVET centers have a crucial role to play in strengthening the vocational training sector—both in terms of infrastructure and programs. Training curricula should be developed and enhanced to simulate and respond to modern technological developments and industry needs, while trainers must be equipped with the skills to be able to fully transfer knowledge to students. In addition, new training programs and approaches should include more than technical training. For example, integrating life skills and career guidance in training programs can help young women (and men) to identify their careers paths from the beginning of the training, so they can gain the required skills to compete well in the labor market.
Our ultimate aspiration is to provide equally available vocational training specialties for both men and women, so that one day everyone—regardless of gender—will be trained using the latest technologies in professions such as automotive mechanics, electricity, and electrical appliance maintenance.
This will require serious reflection about the expansion of vocational education and training courses to women, so they are no longer under-represented in traditional male jobs.
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Narmeen Fayyaleh is Program Manager for the EquipYouth Palestine program, a multi-year, multi-partner program which works through the TVET sector to provide employment, career guidance, and entrepreneurship training to disadvantaged young women and men in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.