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Insight issue #30 26 June 2008

International Insight: Sustainability - What should VET's role be?

By instilling appropriate values in its students as well as providing them with technical skills, and leading by example, VET has a role to play in working towards a sustainable future.

This is according to contributors to Work, learning and sustainability: Opportunities and challenges (Fien et al. 2008), a new UNESCO–UNEVOC report.

This report continues the vein of work reflected by the Bonn Declaration on ‘Learning for work, citizenship and sustainability’ (UNESCO 2007). The declaration argued that:

Since education is considered the key to effective development strategies, technical and vocational education and training must be the master key that can alleviate poverty, promote peace, conserve the environment, improve the quality of life for all and help achieve sustainable development.

There is no doubt about the importance and currency of a sustainable future. Environmental issues—in particular, global warming and its likely impact on weather patterns and regional economies—make the news on a daily basis.

However, in the concluding chapter to the UNESCO–UNEVOC report, NCVER Managing Director, Tom Karmel, sounds a note of a caution. He argues that it is one thing to provide the technical skills which will be required as work practices change to address the many ecological challenges to be faced, but another to think that VET should be the driving force behind sustainability.

A re-orientation from a focus on work skills for the labour market to one that emphasises citizenship and values education would be a challenge to VET as we know it, and one that sits uncomfortably with the dominant idea that VET is about skills for work.

References and further reading

Fein, J, Maclean, R & Park, Man-Gon 2008, Work, learning and sustainability: Opportunities and challenges, UNESCO–UNEVOC International Centre, Springer Press, Dordecht.

OECD 2008, Sustainable Development Portal, viewed April 2008,,3373,en_2649_37425_1_1_1_1_37425,00.html

UNESCO 2008, ‘Education: Learning for work, citizenship and sustainable development’, Education Portal, viewed April 2008,

UNESCO–ILO 2002, ‘Recommendation on Technical and Vocational Education and Training in the 21st Century’, UNESCO, Paris.

UNESCO–UNEVOC 2005, ‘Orienting VET for sustainable development: A discussion paper’, UNESCO–UNEVOC International Centre, Bonn.