The DeHavilland Blog

Friday, April 28, 2006

Today's vocational education

Interesting article this week from the Associated Press on the modern face of vocational education (“Vocational education: ‘It’s not your grandfather’s trade school,” 4/23/06).

According to the article, one can now find a wide array of classes within the vocational education department that provide practical career knowledge involving current technologies, practices, and skills, resulting in students ready for immediate employment or better prepared to take advantage of postsecondary education opportunities. These are exactly the kind of high school graduates we say we need for today’s modern workforce.

From the article:

That high-tech list [of programs] is long: students building solar panels and wind turbines to produce electricity used in classrooms; races with classroom-built robots; computer networking certifications – even the carpentry students are using plastic foam to build a better insulated press box for a minor league baseball team.

“It’s not your grandfather’s trade school,” said Upper Cape Principal Kevin Farr.

In Mesa, Ariz., the East Valley Institute of Technology launched a golf course management class with about 50 students spending part of their day learning about different types of grass, growing vegetation in a desert climate, and designing new greens, fairways, and water hazards.

The Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center in Pennsylvania has 30 teenagers wading into the world of DNA. In a biotechnology lab, the students match mock criminal suspects with crime scene evidence, grow cell tissue cultures and plan to begin working with stem cells.

“People still think of it as a vocational education instead of career education,” said Rosalind Servinsky, who teachers Johnstown’s biotechnology class. “We are trying to change that thinking. These are no longer the slow kids that can’t go to college.”

There is so much that’s right about programs like these. Engaging, real-world content; access to current technology; opportunities to work as a team towards a common goal; projects with real-world applications and potentially immediate real-world outcomes; and an opportunity to actively explore possible careers or industries rather than just speculating about them while being ushered through a general-interest college prep schedule.

In many cases, these are the 21st century jobs that can’t be outsourced. You can’t outsource golf course management, carpentry, or auto work, for example, and these programs are preparing students with the 21st century knowledge and skills increasingly required in such fields.

I don’t understand why the Department of Education is trying to zero out the $1.3 billion earmarked for such programs, but I am glad to see that congress refused to let that happen last year. Let’s hope they continue to fight for that funding: it may not make up the majority of a voc-ed budget, but it does make a difference.

And let’s also hope that people start to realize the tremendous value of such programs. I’ve said it before: not every student wants to go to college, and to force every student onto a college track is both unfair and counterproductive.

Regardless of whether a student plans on attending college, I would love to see an explosion in vocational education – it’s an exciting step towards filling schools with engaging, real-world content that can offer tremendous opportunities for building 21st century skills and producing immediate usable outcomes for the school and its community.


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