Learning to Adapt in a Global Pandemic of COVID-19: Insights to Support Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Southern Africa

  • Emmanuel Ojo University of the Witwatersrand
  • Presha Ramsarup University of the Witwatersrand
  • Nicola Jenkin University of the Witwatersrand


The COVID-19 pandemic impacted all education sectors significantly during the full global lockdown between March and June 2020, including the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. During this period, the authors jointly led nine researchers who were postgraduate students in six Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries (Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe). Due to the restrictions during the lockdown, these nine researchers conducted a literature review and thirty interviews in local communities in these six SADC countries. This included both VET colleges as well as individuals in informal, small-scale and entrepreneurial activities. The authors refer to the qualitative data gathered by the interviews with these interviewees as ‘stories of adaptation’. In this paper we used these ‘stories of adaptation’ to explore the links between learning to adapt and expertise, and to consider how together these constructs offer insights into how VET can be strengthened to better support local communities.

Two research questions were asked: (1) how do the notions of adaptive capacity and expertise as conceptual constructs help to understand vocational learning in a global pandemic? and (2) what insights can be drawn from the ‘stories of adaptation’ to strengthen the role of VET in local communities? Through a thematic analysis of the ‘stories of adaptation’, three key findings emerged: (1) capacity to adapt is a multi-level and multi-pronged construct; (2) use of digital platforms as well as local networks were key enabling mechanisms for adaptation; and, (3) learning and expertise are embedded in the capacity to adapt. Thus, we argue that building a responsive VET system for the SADC region is achievable by strengthening the nexus between learning, expertise and adaptive capacity.

Keywords: adaptive capacity; expertise; global pandemic; vocational education


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2411-5959
print ISSN: 1810-0333