Archive for career and technical education

Trying to keep the baby in the bathwater having thrown out the bath!

A friend was cleaning out the cupboard the other day and came across a little publication from the Department of Education in Auckland dated 1967.  It was a school by school listing of the courses that they offered.  Apparently in those old days it was considered to be in the interests of parents and their children to have this information impartial and undiluted by the “marketing madness” that would get its grip on such a publication now.

It highlighted several things.

By and large secondary school back then offered far more choice to students than they do now (albeit that this is changing in some schools).  A reason for this was that students could chose from Year 11 to focus their schooling and they could even match this with a selection of options that got them onto the pathway.

Now, before people take to twitter to point out to me that this was in the BAD old days when students were STREAMED!  Well, let’s use the more neutral term “tracked”, no, let’s get right up to date and call them pathways, for that is what they were.  Students could see a pathway to skills, to employment (for there were jobs for all), to a family sustaining wage and if the schooling system was to do its work it should have been able to do so in the 10 years students spend up to the age of 15 (then) or 16 years.

We then faced the death of choice as the system became more and more devoted to the notion of the comprehensive high school.  This was a bizarre way of coping with difference by having all students do the same programme.  Another Department of Education publication puts it like this:

“The secondary schools, no longer selective, must now cater for students of widely differing skills, abilities and interests. The range is little narrower than in the adolescent population as a whole.  Much remains to be done before it can be said that the schools have completely adjusted their curricula and methods to the facts of this situation.”

This extract is from the Thomas Report, the work of the Committee established by the Minister of Education in 1942.  The style changes but not the basic issues.  The Thomas Report went on to reshape School Certificate that, in tune with the time internationally, was believed would be the school leaving qualification for most.

What strikes me is that the approved list of optional subjects for School Certificate included such subjects as:

Animal Husbandry

Applied Mechanics

Bookkeeping

Commercial Practice

Dairying

Engineering shop work

Field Husbandry

Heat engines

Horticulture

Shorthand Typewriting

Technical Drawing

Technical Electricity

Woodwork

In short there was then, and it persisted into the late sixties and early seventies, a wide selection of what can be described as “vocational education and training.” 

The committee actually noted that it was “not exalting ‘general’ education at the expense of ‘vocational’ education and that it is now recognized that the antithesis is largely a false one.” 63 years ago they saw it but still the split between “academic” and “vocational” persists.

Percy Nunn got it right when he said….

To train someone in the tradition of these ancient occupations is to ensure … that they will throw themselves into their work with spirit, and with a zeal for mastery that teachers usually look for in the elect….a student’s whole intellectual vitality may be heightened, their sense of spiritual values quickened. In short, the vocational training may become in the strictest sense liberal.

He goes on to say….

To ignore this truth, to overlook the desire of the healthy adolescent to get to grips with reality, would be fatal. Indeed, the ‘general’ education of many students would have much greater significance to them if it was brought into a closer relationship with their strictly “vocational” studies.

The liberalisation of the school curriculum through multiple pathways, trades academies, options for vocational education and training at age 16 years and suchlike activity has a long history. The tragedy has been that it has taken close to seventy years for us to substantiate it.

Working with business is good business for education

Back in the 1960’s when a student was clearly heading towards the wall there was usually one solution – find them a job!

The principal would be a member of the Rotary Club and that would be a port of call. Or the school would have built up a series of relationships. Usually the troubled (and troubling) young person was placed in an environment where they would be under the watchful eye of an experienced employee. A sort of “sit-over-there-next-to-Agnes-and-she-will-show-you-the-ropes” solution. But it worked.

Then it seemed as if in the late 1970s through to the end of the last century, education and employers went their own way.

When new relationships emerged in the 2000s something had changed and I have only just realized what it was. The relationships between employers and education were no longer about the students but were about the institutions. Marquee relationships were set up with businesses lending their names to buildings or developments.  Educators got to know employers again but it was about the institution and a more social set than about the business.

It is now time for a radical shake up in this. What we know is that in a multiple pathways environment, and these are emerging slowly, in which transitions are blurred, the relationship between employers and education needs to return to a shared responsibility for certain elements of the students journey. No, it is not about money, it is about placing the human resource that business has next to the human resource of education.

In the 1990s I was lucky enough to lead Aorere College at a time when a fledgling Auckland International Airport Ltd was seeking to explore its community relationships. Aorere College was seen as a good starting point. And so there developed over a period of time a portfolio of initiatives that included activities such as:

  •  a mentoring programme, “Airbridge”, which matched promising Year 10 students with AIAL executive staff for the last four years of the students’ schooling;
  • opportunities for the school choirs, among the very best in New Zealand at that time, to share in important events at the airport;
  • the “Commercial Department” ran the Business Centre in the international terminal 356 days a year with a mix of student and employed centre staff – great and real work experience;
  • the “Home Economics Dept” ran the cafeteria that served several hundred lunches to airport staff out of a commercial kitchen with an employed chef leading the work;
  • the special needs units had for a time responsibility for some of the gardens at the airport;
  • the AIAL had a representative on the Board of Trustees and I attended senior staff briefings at the Airport.

None of this involved truckloads of money changing hands. It was simply an excellent company and an excellent school going about their respective business but finding ways of working together with the students at the centre of each of the equations that drove the relationship.  And this was just one of the relationships the school had that was of this nature. The Manukau City Council was another major partner.

The MCC operated the schools grounds, long and well used by the community but always a little out of control (!), as part of their parks network. It was an arrangement that suited both parties, the school had a much more controlled use of the fields while the Council had an additional park on which to place users in an area which at that time was short of such spaces. Aorere was one of the first four technology secondary schools and this was a further area of cooperation for students and council staff to work together doing real work – students helping with the drawing up of development plans, the geography department surveying a rural water course for the council.

When Aorere College had an employers breakfast it would have over a hundred “partners” attend.

Now some of this was also happening elsewhere spurred along in some measure by an early initiative from the Secondary Principals of New Zealand (SPANZ) when it ran several conferences on Schools and Business. This received the usual push-back from some quarters.

But that was then and we now need to design the new relationships bearing in mind the core principles that drove the work back then.

  • it is about the students and not the institution
  • it is about the curriculum and learning;
  • it is about students experiencing real work not standing, scared, next to the till watching others do the work.

Whatever the level, secondary or tertiary, the relationships are not about money but are based on something much more valuable, long-lasting and precious, the wealth of human knowledge, willingness and social responsibility that is out there waiting for education to offer a hand of friendship.

 

And the winner is…. !

Nashville TN

“ I want to tell you that you are greatly under-rated!” he said to a resounding round of cheering and clapping. You can’t go wrong when you say that you say to a group of educators.

So began US Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez, in addressing the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Awards Dinner in Nashville TN last night.  A crowd of 1,000 educators gathered to acknowledge the sector leaders in quality in a range of categories. Interestingly, also included were an ACTE Business Leader of the Year, an ACTE Business of the Year, and an ACTE Champion of the Year Awards. It was great to see that the awards acknowledged that partnerships and support outside of the sector were critical to the successes.

The Secretary of Labor apologised for the way in which governments (both state and federal) had turned away from career and technical education in the false belief that the American Dream could only be achieved if every child was headed towards college (university). Now, he argued, the effort put into career and technical education was central to economic prosperity and he underlined the critical importance of a skilled workforce.

As usually happens in such speeches, he dwelt on the amazing record of the Obama administration in creating jobs and used this to segue into the theme that despite this, too many young people lacked the skills to fill the positions. There was a need, he challenged the audience, for educators to “re-invent yourselves”. This would require a “dramatic re-design of how people are prepared with the skills to succeed in the future.”

He outlined his view that there would be three clear factors in this: it would be demand-driven, there would have to be multiple pathways and any success must be scalable. I gave a one-person silent cheer to this. I like demand driven, I adore multiple pathways and I am totally puzzled at the push-back in New Zealand on pathways that have been shown to succeed in achieving just such a set of goals.

He then spoke of what seems to be a uniquely American view that it is really the middle classes that are the victims. He described the middle classes as facing an “existential crisis.” No it could be that “existential” has an American meaning just as “momentarily” has. But I really do not know what he means. The portraying of the middle class as the victim in the changes of the last forty years and in the performance of the education systems is too cute for words. But then he provided the clue. The ‘multiple pathways’ he wanted were to be “multiple pathways to the middle classes”.

The citation for his award as ACTE Champion of the Year for Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor of Austin, Texas, spoke of ”industry / education partnerships” and the importance of high school students having “hands-on experience” and “experiential learning” that would lead to career exploration and an improvement in “employability skills”. A particular project with which he was associated was one in which students after “two years of coursework are offered paid internships during their senior (i.e. final) year.” He has placed high value on the students’ developing employability skills and noted the value of work experiences in achieving these. He had led the City of Austin in working with the Austin Independent School District in achieving this.

New Zealand should find ways of acknowledging excellence in such partnerships. This had been an excellent evening and to achieve this in such a vast country should encourage us to think that we could do this easily in such a small country as ours. I have a plan in mind!