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TVET SI: Towards Sustainable Vocational Education and Training: Thinking beyond the formal

McGrath, Simon; Russon, Jo-Anna

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Simon McGrath


Mainstream vocational education and training has been complicit in unsustainable practices due to its longstanding relationship with productivism, extractivism and colonialism. However, it is beginning to address the need to balance its dominant focus on skills for employability with a growing awareness of the imperative to promote environmental sustainability, in terms of skills for sustainable production. There is also a sense that vocational institutions must also be sustainable in the wider sense of viability, durability, etc. Whilst these positive steps are welcome, careful analysis is needed regarding how far recent initiatives are limited both by institutional capacities and wider disenabling environments, and how far they are meaningful steps towards sustainable VET for just transitions. Moreover, the current debate is also limited in its overwhelming focus on formal spaces of learning and work. Yet, most vocational learning and work sits outside this formal realm. We contribute to this debate by exploring four case studies of complex skills ecosystems with varying levels of (in)formality taken from both rural and urban settings in Uganda and South Africa. We consider how each ecosystem's dynamics generates complex mixes of sustainability and employability concerns. We suggest that, in cases like the more formalised ones presented here there is a possibility to look at the development of centres of skills formation excellence grounded in sector and place but that this also requires thinking about bigger challenges of just transitions. More radically, by highlighting the contexts of less formalised skills ecosystems in two other cases, we point towards new ways of thinking about supporting such ecosystems' work on sustainable livelihoods in ways that enhance their durability. Although context always matters, we suggest that our arguments are pertinent not just to the countries or the region but have international salience.


McGrath, S., & Russon, J. (2023). TVET SI: Towards Sustainable Vocational Education and Training: Thinking beyond the formal. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education, 39,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 15, 2022
Online Publication Date May 23, 2023
Publication Date May 23, 2023
Deposit Date Feb 2, 2023
Publicly Available Date Feb 3, 2023
Journal Southern African Journal of Environmental Education
Electronic ISSN 2411–5959
Publisher Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 39
Keywords Vocational education and training, Africa, green skills, sustainable development, skills for sustainability
Public URL
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