Quality is the call of the day. Discerning consumers or clientele are not satisfied with anything less than the best. In the human resources development sector, quality upgrading is the ultimate outcome of any program, be it the primary or secondary schooling system, the tertiary education or the training package delivered by training institutions. Enhancing human capability is synonymous with quality upgrading and it explains the very existence of education and training systems. A helpless dependent child, illiterate and unproductive ab initio, undergoes a qualitative change through education and training. As he grows into a capable, self reliant and productive person, the quality of his content changes, thanks to education and training. But for education and training system, he would remain a low quality homo sapiens, not highly distinct from similar species of his kind. The whole purpose of education and training system is therefore to augment the capability of or impart higher quality in the human child.
Quality training is yet to gain currency in Bangladesh. Training is considered as routine programmes carried out by training institutes as a part of their annual obligations. Participants are evaluated internally and class-room instructors are evaluated by the trainees. There is no external evaluation of training institutions or the trainees by impartial and professionally competent external evaluators (except evaluation of BPATC for ISO-certificate). As a result, achievement of trainees is not objectively and reliably measured in the present situation. Nor is the quality or effectiveness of training measured systematically by any organisation; not even by the training institution itself. Quality consideration is thus conspicuously absent in the training arena of the country. Observations made by employers/users and the trainers about the achievement and performance of trainees in the work place are divergent, more often than not impressionistic. The perceived grading of the training institutions is a function of the size of the institution and hierarchical position of the trainees and trainers rather than the learning achievement of trainees. This militates against the very spirit of quality training.
What does quality training imply in operational term? In reality it means effective training. The person trained should deliver in the work place. He has to accomplish the assigned task to the satisfaction of his controlling authority and his clientele. In case of the self employed or self managed, he should be able to accomplish the task for himself independently. All in all, he should be able to do his job correctly and at a decent level of perfection.
How do we organise a quality training programme? It is done by combining the critical components and proceeding systematically through carefully and scientifically determined steps. The critical components for a training programme are trainees, trainers, employers and material resources like physical facilities, training aids and logistic inputs. Trainers have to design an appropriate training course having regard to the proximate objectives of the course, characteristics of the trainees and their training needs vis-à-vis objectives of the training. Duration of the training course will also be determined at this stage.
Implementation of the training programme and evaluation of performance are the next most important steps. The responsibility for successful implementation of the programme primarily resides with the trainers. They have to be academically and managerially competent to organise an effective course. They have to maintain the discipline and integrity of the course, collect capable trainers for the modules, ensure smooth supply of physical and logistical inputs and forge a synergistic partnership among employers, trainees and trainers. Lastly, they have to carry out continuous evaluation of trainees to determine if they were acquiring the skill and attitude in line with the course objectives. If any deficiency was identified, they have to take corrective actions immediately so that ultimately the course could turn out adequately trained persons who would satisfactorily deliver in the work place. Trainees must be individually monitored, their problems immediately addressed such that they do not feel helpless at any point of the training course. Training has to be rigorous and intensive; skill has to be transmitted into the trainees through lectures, reviews, exercises, tests, practical sessions including simulation exercise. Trainers have also to take initiative for practical attachment (internship) and on-the-job training. Liaison is to be maintained with the employers to inform them about the progress of the course and the expected results they will see in the work place once the training is over. They will also impress upon the employers the need to organise on-the-job training in the work place with a view to re-enforcing the newly acquired skill of the trainees.
In order to ensure that the trainees are skilled enough to accomplish the task in the real world, trainers have to carry out series of internal assessment. It starts with the pre-test where the level of preparedness or existing achievement of the trainees is revealed. The intention is to fine-tune the course content to suit the absorption capacity of the trainees. As the course progresses trainees need to be evaluated to ascertain if they could assimilate the training and were acquiring the skill steadily.
Inadequacies and problems were to be addressed promptly at this stage so that these did not create barrier for further learning. Trainees found wanting have to be alerted, remedial sessions need to organised for them. In extreme case, they have to be advised out of the course. The final evaluation of the trainees is carried out at the end of the course. A post-test is also carried out to measure the incremental achievement of the trainees through the course. The final evaluation should be of appropriate standard so that skill development of the trainees with reference to course objectives and demand in the work situation can be ascertained accurately. Only those trainees who have attained the required level of skill and attitude to carry on with their work in the actual field are to be awarded certificate. Evaluation process or standard of evaluation must not be diluted to generate happiness data.
In tandem with the evaluation of the trainees, performance of the trainers and the course as a whole has to be evaluated by the trainees and professionally competent persons. Evaluation by trainees should be on a continuous basis rather than a one-shot affair at the end of the course. This allows space to improve the course while it is progressing.
The relevance and efficacy of the training course in the actual work place can be assessed through post training utilisation (PTU). This study may be carried out at least after six months from the completion of the training course. PTU study is carried out through structured questionnaire to see how the trained person is doing in the work place. Opinions of the trained person, his supervisor, subordinate persons, peer groups and the clientele are collected to ascertain if the training had any positive impact on the performance of the trained person in the actual work situation. The course may be fine-tuned, up-graded or redesigned in the light of the study-results.
Performance of the training institution as a whole need to be evaluated by an external group on a regular basis. A number of criteria are usually worked out either by the evaluators themselves or by professional forums against which performance of the training institution is measured. Professional societies play a pivotal role in this respect. Evaluation and ranking by professional societies carry high credibility and acceptance by relevant circle including chief executives of the training institution. External evaluation sensitises the training institutions about their strength and weakness and indicates their position vis-à-vis other institutions. It can have a very positive influence to improve the performance of not only a particular training institution, but also the performance of the training sector as a whole.
Along with the external evaluation, the training institutions may be encouraged to assess their overall performance by themselves. Some people think that the most effective way of improving the quality of education or training is to spur the school or the training institutions to take responsibility for their own quality assurance by evaluating their performance and making necessary changes. The advantage of self assessment is that imparts a sense of self responsibility among the faculty and encourages them to develop insight into the process of improving their performance. To engender the system of self assessment, training institutions may be helped with performance criteria developed by professional societies or other fora.
Status of quality training in Bangladesh
Training institutions have longer work hours compared to other organisations in Bangladesh. Training activities formally start at 5 in the morning and continues up to 10 in the evening. Institutions remain open six days a week. Hardly any session is postponed or dropped.
Any loss of work because of extra ordinary circumstances beyond control is compensated through extra work by the faculty. High standards of discipline and commitment to training schedule characterise the training environment of Bangladesh. Training institutions can proudly post themselves as models in this regard.
Hard work alone does not lead to quality performance. Despite hard work and high commitment of trainers, training system in Bangladesh lacks integrated frame work, coherence and a holistic composition. There is hardly any training course which started with organised training need assessment, followed through all the prescribed steps and ended up with essential on-the-job training and PTU study. The design of the courses, including course content and duration of the courses, is based on casual empiricism. For many training institutes courses are decided by the controlling ministries or directorates; institutes are to organise the courses according to orders from above. The faculty has no say in deciding about the duration of the course or its contents.
In some cases, training academies also prefer such a soft-option because it relieves the trainers of going through the ordeal of training needs assessment, designing the course by analysing the inputs from focused discussions or field survey and integrate the outcome with post training follow-up activities. In the absence of rigorous assessment of training needs, the content of the training courses may not fully capture the demand of the work place. The trained person finds his training irrelevant or inadequate to match his assignment in the work situation.
During implementation phase the main weakness of the training sector is the lack of rigour, relevance or quest for performance. While sessions are organised at any rate, the relevance of the sessions or the performance of the (guest) instructor is not critically assessed. In some courses, sessions are included to fit an influential member of the faculty or a preferred guest speaker. Selection of external instructor is at times considered a discretionary power to distribute favour to preferred ones. Instructor's input towards effectiveness of the course is not seriously considered. The level of perfection to be attained by trainees for each module is not specifically worked out and arrangement is not made to lead the trainees to the predetermined level of perfection. In extreme cases, form becomes more important than the content and results much to the detriment of course effectiveness.
Knowledge gap of trainers poses a problem to effectiveness of training. Compensation package offered by the training institutions do not attract the top-achievers of the campus to these organisations. There is no academic discipline to groom the would be trainers professionally before they join the service. More often than not, young people join the training institutions by chance rather than by choice. Once in the profession they have to face adult trainees who often have similar degrees and rich experience. Unless young trainers receive superior training in and outside the country, they will not turn out to be professionally competent and confident persons. The knowledge gap will create a liquidity problem. Special training courses have to be arranged home and abroad for the trainers. Exposure to superior academic institutions of international repute will improve the capability and credibility of the trainers. Such exposure at least twice a year is necessary to upgrade their skill and enhance their confidence. No such arrangement exists at the present stage. As a result, trainers suffer from a knowledge gap. This tells on the quality of training.
Continuous evaluation of trainees through well developed measurement instrument is not carried out in many training institutions. The end of the course evaluation is often of relaxed nature. There is an environmental compulsion to pass all the trainees so that a happy situation is created at the end of the training. Such attitude dilutes the quality of the training and diminishes the credibility to the training institutes.
Follow up actions are not satisfactory in the training sector of Bangladesh. Awarding of certificates often brings the course to an end. Course completion reports are not regularly published. Achievements, resources and possible use of trained persons are not sharply brought to the notice of the controlling authorities of the trainees. Arrangement for internship is also few and far between. In fact, the nexus between the training institutions and the employers is very tenuous. This runs contrary to the quality of training. Actually quality training can be delivered only if three parties—the employers, trainees and trainers—are aware of and committed to it.
Measures for quality assurance in training
A one sentence answer to assure the quality of training in Bangladesh is to remove the inadequacies and weakness in the training sector as mentioned above. That is, however, a formidable task demanding concerted effort by the stakeholders. In order to organise an effective training programme, training institutions must have an appropriate structure with competent persons. Compensation package, recruitment procedure, training system and career development plan are crucial components to assemble suitable persons for the training world. Despite their endemic limitations, trainers can collect other critical factors i.e. men, material, physical facilities and lead the training course to a successful completion. Training the faculty members home and abroad is necessary if they need to develop mastery in the area of training. With a yawning knowledge gap the faculty can neither design an effective training course, nor can they implement the course successfully and evaluate the trainees in general or on a particular count.
Trainers will do well to prepare the trainees for a second best world. Ideal situations seldom prevail in the work-place. Trainees have to master the art of applying their expertise in not-too-propitious situations. Simultaneously trainers, particularly the network of the professionals, have to work with the government, the employers and the stokeholds to make the work situation congenial for the trained person. PTU study can indirectly help trainers to influence the work environment by sensitising employers and peer groups about the use and impact of training in the work-place.
Professional society of trainers can help quality assurance by working out the acceptable criteria for measuring performance of trainers and training institutions. The society may also arrange to commission external evaluation of the training institutions and rank them according to performance. This will encourage higher performance and provide scope for remedial measures where inadequacies are identified. Absence of external evaluation leads to inertia and complacence which are anathema to quality assurance.
Quality assurance calls for firm commitment of the stakeholders—the government, the trainers, the employers, the trainees and the clientele group. Trainers have to play the lead role in this regard, because they represent the profession and it is their prime responsibility to ensure that the product of their services meets the requirement of the users.
The writer is secretary to the Government and former Chairman, Public Service Commission.