Professionalizing Youth Work in Small States through Education Transfer: Issues, Challenges, and Possibilities


 Presenter (s) Kirk Perris, Commonwealth of Learning; Som Naidu, University of the South Pacific; Mairette Newman, Commonwealth of Learning; Gary Pluim, Lakehead University Orillia

This presentation will focus on research on and experiences with processes of education transfer of credentialed youth work programs. Such processes have been developed to encourage the professionalization of the the field of youth work in small states. The professionalization of the field of youth work has emerged as a national priority in many countries around the world. Its primary objective is to support youth in achieving their potential as productive and engaged citizens, facilitated through an enabling social structure and interaction with qualified youth work professionals. Attention to youth development, including achieving proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and relevant skills for employment is a priority concern of the United Nations, noted through Sustainable Development Goal #4: “To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The professionalization of the field of youth work portends to benefit individual youth through programs and interventions that positively enhance competencies such as productivity, emotional maturity, autonomy, employability and self-esteem (Damon, 2004; Davidson, 2017; Gestsdottir et al., 2017; Kluve et al., 2019; Larson, 2000; Wyn & White, 1997). Youth work has societal benefits as well, as quality youth services and institutions can lessen demands on existing service provisions from other sectors (i.e., health care, social work), enable greater equity, make other public services more efficient, and encourage national development (Banks, 1999; Commonwealth Secretariat, 2017). However, the construction of a professional field of youth work is multidimensional, and can involve national policy, training and certification of professional youth workers, capacity for remuneration, systems for monitoring and evaluation, and professional development (Schild et al., 2017).
In many of the fifty “small” states of the world, the professionalization of a youth work field is less “advanced” than in larger and/or, higher-income states, and brings different challenges. According to a recent survey, only 34% of these small states had taken significant steps to professionalize their youth work sector (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2017). Many small states are located in the Global South, in regions where youth populations are proportionately higher than in large and/or higher income states, and have comparatively fewer human resources, smaller economic bases, and limited access to the benefits of globalization. Addressing youth issues in small states is a primary concern within the Commonwealth, particularly since thirty-one of its fifty-three member states are classified as “small”. The Commonwealth highlights as one of its organizational priorities to “advocate for small and vulnerable states, helping to strengthen their resilience and inclusion in the global order” (Canada and the Commonwealth, 2018). This has provided the foundation for the formulation of the Commonwealth Higher Education Consortium for Youth Work (herein referred to as the Consortium), comprised of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), the Commonwealth Secretariat and the University of the West Indies (UWI). While a nation’s professional field might be nurtured in numerous ways, the Consortium has targeted its efforts to develop and support a credentialed youth work training program in its small states. The Consortium’s approach is to organize regional workshops in which selected leaders in youth work from various countries attend to deliberate and construct competencies for and contextualization of courses that will culminate in a youth work credentialed program (i.e., degree, diploma or certificate).

The approach of transferring educational policies and curriculum between countries is an age-old process that carries many advantages. Education transfer can be a quick means to address pressing societal issues, an efficient method to attain education goals, and a useful process to amass new knowledge about curriculum and pedagogy. Transferring promising educational practices between countries has benefits relating to educational outcomes, international cooperation, trade, and forging stronger bonds between nations. Advancements in online and distance learning have further enabled efficiencies, accessibly, opportunities, and other benefits of educational transfer (Crossley, 2019; Steiner-Khamsi, 2012). However, critical education scholars point out the risks of inadequate attention to local contexts leading to negative or ineffective outcomes. Historically, the selective picking and choosing from a palate of educational options has assumed that curricular components will seamlessly come together in the construction of a national system (Phillips, 1989). Other literature has described educational transfer as a complex process that can be interpreted along a spectrum of an imposed mandate from external bodies (i.e., northern nations or multilateral organizations) to purposeful borrowing from wanting nations in need of sound technical advice or quality curricular materials (Perry & Tor, 2008; Silova, 2012).

Receptivity to educational transfer may depend on issues such as local capacity, resources, motivation, and cultural relevancy, insofar as the degree to which aspects such as culture, history, language, political-economic climate, geography and environment that are deeply entrenched across societies make real learning compatible (Chisholm & Steiner-Khamsi, 2009). These contextual concerns can be far-reaching, involving explicit aspects such as the language of the curriculum or the local policies and laws, or implicit dimensions such as the hidden values and worldviews embedded within youth work curriculum. Post-colonial scholars point out the direct link between the imperial rule of the British Empire and both the overt and invisible ways that colonial relationships have endured through education transfer. History has proven that the whitewashing of these elements has been gravely detrimental to societies around the world. In a post-colonial context, the lessons learned remain relevant and the current study serves to scrutinize the uptake and interventions of education curriculum policy transfer (Johnson, 2006).

This panel will present a backdrop of the Consortium’s educational transfer process of youth work curriculum from several vantage points. One paper will present a historical backdrop of COL’s approach to distance education and open learning across the South Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean. A second paper will draw on data from a recent youth work workshop in Fiji to highlight the role of open education resources in education transfer. A third paper will present a methodology for an upcoming research project that will examine a case study workshop in the Bahamas to better understand the challenges, conditions and possibilities for education transfer of youth work curriculum.

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