In today's world, vocational education should be valued

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 November, 2014, 5:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 November, 2014, 5:35pm

Education authorities have renewed their interest in vocational education and consulted various bodies on how best to pursue it. One effective way, they say, is to seek more practicum and internship opportunities for students in higher diploma programmes. Another concerns applied learning, which has taken off under the Diploma of Secondary Education ambit.

More than 300 schools are offering 30-plus subjects in that area. More can be done to extend its scope and appeal among schools and students.

At community level, the work on the Qualifications Framework (QF) has also taken root and seems to be gaining recognition from employers. In this new context, how vocational education should be reviewed and taken forward is an issue worth pondering.

Traditionally, in the Chinese psyche, there was a long-lasting tension between academic and vocational education and, by extension, between white-collar and blue-collar work.

Today in the information age, the distinction is very much blurred, as many of the blue-collar jobs also require modern knowledge and the use of information technology.

But many parents, especially those in higher economic brackets, still regard vocational education as second-rate, even if their children's aptitudes might be better suited to it.

The first step to ensure that vocational education is considered a worthy pursuit is to convince the public that modern society needs many different skills to function and prosper, and that there are various educational routes that can help students develop their full potential.

People need to believe that full exploitation of every citizen's talents is a worthwhile goal.

Studies have found that in developed economies, because of automation, there has been an increasing demand for mid-level technicians, which refutes the traditional belief that vocational education is a dead-end pursuit.

Parents, teachers and students need to see examples of people who have succeeded with vocational education to make it easier for students intending to pursue this track.

To make the path even more attractive, authorities should seek more university places for high-achieving, higher diploma graduates so that they can work towards the goal of becoming engineers or technologists.

The promotion of vocational education needs to go beyond schools and into the whole community. The effort should be well-informed, well-trained and persistent.

The QF should not only be well publicised through the mass media, but also be explained to school careers teachers as they are the ones who help students make life plans and professional choices. Teaching and learning kits, how-to manuals and apps - buttressed by successful examples - should be made available to schools.

Vocational education should be concerned with not only teaching different kinds and levels of technical knowledge and skills, but also nurturing the right attributes and ethics necessary for modern-age workers.

The so-called "generic skills" - such as critical and independent thinking and problem-solving - along with teamwork and proper values matter as much as technical skills and knowledge. Character building is important, too.

Renowned Harvard-based educator Howard Gardner, in a "wits and grit" lecture in Hong Kong earlier this month, said that educators should not only value multiple intelligences (wits) in students and help them fully develop their potential but also nurture the students' ability to do well and persevere in whatever good work they do (good grit).

This readily applies to vocational education. Our community needs more people who can demonstrate brilliance and excellence in different fields and also perseverance in their work.

Robin Cheung is a retired school principal