There are calls for fundamental changes to be made to the funding and regulation of Vocational and Educational Training (VET) in Australia. In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, the Federal Education Minister said he wants to boost the status of VET so ‘students don’t feel they have to go to university to have a good career.’
It reflects the need to radically rethink VET in a knowledge age and the importance of sectors working together to ensure a consistent approach and coherent framework for providing students with optimal opportunities.
It’s interesting that the new Education Minister calls VET the ‘forgotten’ education sector. The established view is that VET is somehow less rigorous than an academic pathway to learning. VET is a balance between the demands of work and study as well as integrating theory with practice. Students learn the work by doing the work. VET actually provides for a level of personalised and independent learning not always evident in traditional subjects.
We have seen VET as the alternative to an academic pathway and while there are multiple pathways to learning (made more evident by technology), there is still one external credential (Higher School Certificate (HSC) in NSW). This has been the gateway into university and for many, the path to a more rewarding and successful working life.
The view that university is the only option can’t be sustained in a knowledge age. It is something the new Federal Minister wants to challenge. It needs to be challenged at policy level as well as at university and school sector level.
The vocational choices of students should be influenced by passion not process. The challenge for schools is how we can, as Yong Zhao says entirely personalise not nationally or globally standardise education. We need to level the playing field by allowing students the opportunity to draw from diverse areas of knowledge and skills. It means allowing students to map their own curriculum based on individual interests and passions.
South Korea has effectively de-skilled a generation because of a cultural drive for students to be university educated. While graduates compete for limited jobs, there is a growing gap for trades that have to be filled by overseas workers.
The knowledge age has created an even greater need for a level playing field in education.
Edward de Bono describes the current model of schooling like a pyramid where the bottom 80% are taught so that the top 20% can go onto university. His view is that traditional subjects and universities may have very little to do with real life. Interestingly, he asks why there are no exams in schools in ‘practical thinking’ and ‘value creation’?
de Bono argues that every student be taught what he calls ‘life skills’ such as critical thinking etc. The more academically inclined students take additional subjects that prepare them for university while the more practical and entrepreneurial minded students take additional subjects preparing them for work.
de Bono says this would be ‘the equivalent to teaching everyone to walk and then giving special coaching to those who showed an ability to run. This is different from the current system of coaching everyone to run and then neglecting those who are not good at running.’
Not every student wants to be a runner nor should they be. The biggest hurdle for schools and learners is the way
in which assessment is currently mandated and reported. Meaning, we are still preparing all students to run the marathon by sitting the HSC.
As Professor Patrick Griffin from the University of Melbourne said recently, we will never get away from comparative measures (how good is my child compared to their class, state etc) but the focus has to be on where students are going (year after year) not on where they have been.
The most effective forms of assessments are those that support learning and inform teaching not control learning and narrow the curriculum. Until we get on with the task of re-thinking assessment based on personalising the learning, we continue to neglect those who don’t want to be runners.