Inside International CTE: Looking to Germany as a Model for Workforce Training

May 23rd, 2017

Letitia Zwickert, a high school teacher at Naperville Central High School and a K-12 Education Advisor to the University of Illinois’ International Outreach Council, explores the German-style dual education system. This post part of our ongoing partnership with Asia Society’s Global Learning Blog.

By guest blogger Letitia Zwickert

As we near the end of another academic year, we see many of our high school students leaving to take on the world of higher education. In 2016, 69.7 percent of students were enrolled in college. However, this leaves 30 percent of students not involved in a degreed program—where are they headed? Has our education system served them to the best of its ability? And of those students enrolled in a degree program, 40 percent will end up dropping out of college. We need to ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to create opportunities for success for all of our students.

Some of our high school students find themselves with course options that do not serve their needs or interests, leaving them without realistic paths to finding a career. Most of our school districts continue to cater to the traditional college-bound student. And yet, a four-year college degree is not necessarily the right path for all students. Students who are socio-economically disadvantaged, or who face other struggles, have more hurdles to overcome and must work harder than others to achieve the same results. In the end, these students face a greater challenge to finding successful employment.

Add to this a crisis in our labor pool. The skills gap in the U.S. will leave more than two million jobs vacant in skilled manufacturing and information technology over the next decade. STEM entered the education discussion some years ago, pushing schools to offer new courses, moving students to double up on math and science classes, and leading to numerous education workshops, conferences, and seminars across the country. These adjustments and discussions have not fixed the significant skills gap and have made little progress toward increasing equity.

The German Dual Education System

In the last half decade, Germany has entered the conversation regarding the U.S. education system. Germany ranks 5th as an American trading partner. They have invested heavily in the United States, with approximately 3,700 German-owned businesses in our country, and have deep incentives to create good conditions for economic growth.

German companies have taken note of the skills gap and training challenges they are facing in the United States. According to German American Trade Quarterly, in 2015, 65 percent of German-American companies reported difficulties finding employees with the skill set they needed, up from 49 percent just the year before, putting investment in education and training at the top of “the reform agenda of German companies.” Consequently, the German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) brought in a not-so-secret, but very powerful weapon to support businesses: “dual education.”

Germany’s dual system of vocational education and training (VET) dates back to the middle ages. The system partners technical schools and businesses, allowing students to combine training in advanced areas of manufacturing or technology while getting on-the-job work experience at a company. Studies are paid and jobs are salaried. An Atlantic article, Jobs For Americans: A Lesson From Germany, shares, “Germany’s educational system incorporates courses that give students a general sense of various careers, but much of its success springs from the generous support that the country’s corporations give to on-site apprenticeship programs—part of a system in which companies are required to support training programs through their local chambers of commerce. As a result, apprenticeship programs are integral to employers.”

The perception of dual education in Germany also contributes to its success there. In Germany, vocational training doesn’t come with the stigma it does in the United States. In fact, 50 percent of college-bound German students who decide not to go to university end up choosing a vocational training path instead. Dual education offers a viable way to achieve any student’s goals, allowing for the freedom to earn money while learning and gaining experience.

American Vocational Education Traditions

Back in the U.S., there is historical precedent for vocational training. The apprenticeships that once helped establish young workers in the early years of our country declined as the industrial revolution led to factory jobs that no longer required long hours of training. Around this time, Horace Mann began his push for universal education and the opening of large numbers of public schools. With the decline in the availability of youth and the rise in the need for specialized workers, eventually the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 was passed, which promoted vocational education in public schools and formed the Federal Board for Vocational Education.

But by the 1950s, tracking was in vogue and vocational training began to be seen as a remedial track, according to Nicholas Wyman. Tracking students soon lost popularity when equity issues arose, and a new push to prepare all students for college began. But, vocational training continued to be perceived as a “lower” option outside of mainstream education. Amy Scott, a Senior Education correspondent at Marketplace wrote, “For a long time…skilled trades have been seen as somehow less valuable than white-collar jobs. What used to be known as vocational training in high school had a reputation as a dead-end track for struggling kids, or for failing to prepare students for in-demand jobs.”

Read the full article on Education Week

Exploring Work-Based Learning across the Globe…and throughout Baltimore

August 4th, 2016

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Strengthening Work-based Learning in Education and Transition to Careers Workshop in Baltimore, Maryland.  This workshop was co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Adult and Technical Education (OCTAE) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Advance CTE, along with other federal agencies, non-profit organizations and philanthropies served on the event’s steering committee.IMG_3585

Over the course of two days, the workshop featured a series of sessions exploring work-based learning (WBL) and apprenticeship systems in a range of countries – from Germany and Switzerland to the U.K. and Denmark – as well as the impact of such programs and policies on the key stakeholders, notably students and employers. Established research on the major components of a WBL systems, such as WestEd’s well-regarded WBL continuum, was shared, along with brand new international analyses on the intersection of apprenticeship participation and youth engagement, basic skills and equity.

The workshop also highlighted local “trailblazing” programs and a session on the state role in supporting WBL, which I had the opportunity to participate along with leaders from the National Governors Association, The Siemens Foundation, Colorado and Tennessee.

image1Probably the most fun part of the event was the afternoon dedicated to visiting WBL in action at programs throughout Baltimore. I had the chance to visit Plumbers & Steamfitters Local No. 486 and FreshStart-Living Classrooms, two very different programs supporting individuals through rigorous technical instruction and on-the-job training.

This workshop is part of OECD’s research and technical assistance project, entitled “Work-based Learning in Vocational Education and Training,” which is being implemented and funded jointly by Australia, Canada, the European Commission, Germany, Norway, Scotland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. We’ll be sure to share the research as it is released!

Kate Blosveren Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director

Inside International CTE: India

June 9th, 2016

Today, guest blogger, Heather Ridge, an agriculture and science teacher at Boulder Universal school in Boulder, Colorado will provide insight into the Vocational Education system in India. She has just returned from a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant in India where she spent six months examining workforce readiness. Here is what she observed. This post is part of our ongoing series exploring vocational education around the world with Asia Society’s Global Education blog on Education Week.

By guest blogger Heather Ridge

If you’re looking for an electrical engineer, India is a great place to find one, but good luck getting the phone number of someone qualified to wire the house. The push towards higher education over the last decade has doubled the number of students enrolling in higher education but, much like in the US, the skills they are graduating with have many who follow workforce development concerned. Current policy makers are turning to new programming in vocational education as a way to meet this challenge.

India will soon have the largest and youngest workforce in the world.
With more than 40% of the country’s 1.2 billion people under the age of 20, the level of skills and talents these youth might bring with them will have profound impacts on both social and economic factors within the country and around the world. In a recent report, only 2% of the Indian workforce was considered formally skilled and less than 7% of students under 15 were involved in any form of vocational training. Industry sectors projected to face the largest gaps are skilled trades for construction and infrastructure as well as banking and finance, which are seen as essential to economic growth and development.

These kinds of numbers demand attention from the government to address the growing skills gap between what knowledge and abilities students leave the classroom with and what the workforce demands. With 17 different ministries in India currently engaged in some sort of skill development scheme, the push towards revamping the role that vocational education can play in secondary schools has led to the newly revised policy of Vocationalisation of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education and the launch of the new National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF). As a career and technical education teacher (CTE), I spent the first few months of 2016 traveling around India to see how this new policy was being implemented at the classroom level.

Creating a Career and Technical Framework
The National Skills Qualification Framework was launched in 2013 and is a framework that organizes competency-based learning into levels that allow learners to gain certification through both formal and informal skill development. As part of this new framework, both universities and secondary schools are gaining access to resources that allow them expand vocational courses and degree programs. As a high school teacher, I was most interested in seeing how new vocational programs were being created for students in class 9-12 around the country.

With centralized curriculum being taught in the country’s estimated 1.3 million different schools, the first step the government took in creating new vocational course options was to develop learning standards. The creation of new Sector Skills Councils (SSC), which are industry-led groups focused around particular job clusters like manufacturing, agriculture, and trades, has worked to create new National Occupation Standards. Along with industry-specific competencies, each of the job qualification packets that the SSC’s put together include soft skills, such as communication, designed to prepare students for the professional environment. From here, the National Occupation Standards go to the PSS Central Institute for Vocational Education, where they are turned into curriculum and materials for teacher training.

At the implementation level, government-run schools are selected by the state and two vocational programs based on the National Skill Development Corporation’s skill gap analysis. This public-private partnership looks at industry needs and workforce data to map out where skills gaps exist.

Due to the growing technology demand, each school offers an IT/Computer Science program, in addition to options ranging from automotive, agriculture, security, and healthcare as the second program option. From the 40 schools originally piloted, there are now over 2,000 schools around the country offering these four-year programs to boys and girls in class 9-12. That number is expected to double within the next year as more states become involved in the program.

Connecting Industry with Classrooms
The vocational classrooms I visited while in India were cramped, crowded, and under-resourced, but filled with enthusiasm. Students were clearly very excited about a style of hands-on learning that combined both theory and practice and diverged from the traditional rote memorization and recitation that is commonly associated with government schools. Evidence for the growing demand for these types of course can be seen in the enrollment. At all of the schools I visited, applications for the programs far exceeded number of seats available, which are capped at 25 per program per class.

When questioned, it was clear the part of class students liked best was the practical experience that not only involved their own labs, but visits to industry. As part of the newly revised scheme, all programs have a prescribed number of visiting guest lecturers, who are remunerated for their time, as well as field visits to different industry partners each year. While labor laws forbid students actually working as interns at a business, they have multiple opportunities to visit sites with their class and explore careers and skills within that industry.

Through the newly established National Skills Qualification Framework, students within the programs earn standardized level certification that they can take with them to higher education or the workforce.

Read the full article here. 

Inside International CTE: Work Based Learning in Toronto

April 7th, 2016

In an interview with Beth Butcher, Executive Superintendent, Teaching and Learning, and Bernadette Shaw, Central Coordinating Principal, Teaching and Learning of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), we explore the Canadian Technological Education system. This post part of our ongoing partnership with Asia Society’s Global Learning Blog on Education Week. This post was written by Heather Singmaster, Asia Society. 

What does technological education look like in Toronto/Ontario?
Technological education in grades 9-12 is guided by Ontario’s Ministry of Education curriculum documents, Technological west_t_weld017 copyEducation, 2009.  Programs are offered in communications technology, computer technology, construction technology, green industries, hairstyling and aesthetics, health care, hospitality and tourism, manufacturing technology, technological design, and transportation technology. Course work focuses on broad-based technologies (grades 9 & 10) and areas of emphasis (grades 11 & 12). When technological education programs are packaged with cooperative education, students have the opportunity to transfer learning from the classroom to the workplace by further developing and refining skills. This enables students to gain hands-on experience in the subject area and explore careers in a specific industry sector. Technological education programs lead to all exit destinations including the workplace, college, university, and apprenticeship. Students in cooperative education, who are working in skilled trades, may register as apprentices through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), a joint partnership between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

What percentage of the student population participates in technological education?
Technological education is offered in eighty-six secondary schools in the TDSB. We are the largest provider of this form of experiential learning in the country. Any student transitioning from grade 8 to grade 9 may select the broad-based introductory course, Exploring Technologies (TIJ). At the secondary level, there are over two thousand sections/classes running during the regular school year and approximately twenty-seven thousand students participate in any of the broad-based programs and/or areas of emphasis courses.

Which sectors/fields of study are most popular with students?
The Ontario curriculum is aligned with current economic industry sectors. While there is substantial interest in all technological education programs, participation rates are frequently dependent on specialized school facilities. Transportation technology, hospitality and tourism, and hairstyling and aesthetics are popular among students, as demonstrated in the TDSB course enrolment data. More and more, the integration of technological education with other areas of study is emerging as a trend. Whether it’s communications technology supporting transportation diagnostics or the application of mathematics in construction classes, technological education is most effective when supported through a cross-curricular, contextualized framework. The academic versus vocational demarcation is beginning to blur and this is paramount for students who aspire to take on a career in skilled trades and technologies.

How is technological education funded in Toronto?
Like all Ontario curriculum, schools deliver technological education by way of the Ministry of Education’s funding model. Students participating in Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program are additionally funded through the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU). MTCU also supports students through funding to complete their Level 1 Apprenticeship training, through a Training Delivery Agent in an approved sector of the skilled trades.

Read the full post on Education Week’s Global Learning blog.

Photo courtesy of the Toronto District School Board. 

Inside International CTE: China

February 18th, 2016

Vivien Stewart, Senior Advisor for Education, Asia Society, shares what China’s education system is doing to raise the quality of its workforce. This post part of our ongoing partnership with Asia Society’s Global Learning Blog on EdWeek. 

The Shanghai Construction School
Last fall members of Asia Society’s Global Cities Education Network (GCEN), including representatives from Denver, Hangzhou, Hiroshima, Houston, Lexington, Melbourne, Seattle, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, and Toronto met in Shanghai. Their focus: how to implement 21st century competencies in their schools. One of the site visits was to a school run by the Shanghai Construction Group. The 16th largest construction company in the world, the Shanghai Construction Group has built some of China’s most spectacular skyscrapers, in collaboration with the world’s most famous architects, and increasingly works outside of China as well. It recruits more than 1,500 employees a year, about half from university and half from its own upper secondary vocational school and college. Students who attend the vocational school and college are drawn from those who did not do well enough in school to pursue an academic route to university. Most are from poor backgrounds, including rural students who board at the school. The curriculum includes math, Chinese, English, construction engineering, computer-aided design, and mechanics. In the third year, students do practical work in the company, rotating through several departments and receiving a stipend. The company employs about one third of the graduates of the school and college and many other companies come to the school to recruit its highly regarded graduates.

GCEN members were impressed that students work on the most up-to-date equipment, for tunnel construction for example, and use leading edge construction simulations. Teachers in the school include construction managers from the company as well as regular teachers with backgrounds in academic engineering, who work in the construction company in the summer to keep their knowledge up to date. The school’s curriculum is constantly adjusted to follow new developments in the construction industry, including those from the company’s own research center on innovation in construction. Shanghai Construction Group is a strong believer in lifelong education and graduates of the secondary vocational school can rise through the ranks and may eventually be sent by the company to get a BA or MBA, often at institutions abroad.

China’s economic and skills transition
All in all, the Shanghai Construction School is an impressive model of vocational education – imparting modern skills in high demand and providing social mobility to its graduates. But not all vocational and technical education in China is like this. “Made in China” has become a ubiquitous label as China has become the manufacturing workshop of the world, powering three decades of astounding economic growth. But the label is often synonymous with low quality and China’s surging economic growth has come at huge costs in terms of environmental degradation and inequality. The global recession of 2008-2009 caused massive unemployment in China and created a sense of urgency about the need to shift from an economy based heavily on low-cost, low-skill manufacturing for export to an economy based on higher quality goods and services. To achieve this transition, China needs to massively ramp up its skill levels. Critical shortages of skilled workers, qualified technicians, and service providers exist in many industries including electronics and information technology, steel and equipment manufacturing, automobile repair, and hotels/tourism. Where are these skilled workers to come from?

Innovations in China’s VET system
China’s vocational and technical education system has been plagued with problems, many of them similar to those here. It is widely viewed as a weak link in the education system and has low status in the public mind. As in the U.S., many of China’s VET schools have had a narrow curriculum, relatively weak connections to industry, and lower funding than academic education. Teachers typically lack industry background and there are few pathways between vocational education and academic education. In China, there is a huge mismatch between employer expectations and the skills of graduates of both the academic and technical education systems—especially with regard to their inability to apply their knowledge.

Read the full article here. 

Inside International CTE: South Korea

January 26th, 2016

This is part of our ongoing series examining international education systems in partnership with Asia Society’s Global Learning blog on EdWeek 

Last week Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker proposed an increase of $83.5 million for career and technical education (CTE or VET—vocational education and training—as it is called in most other countries around the world) in his state. In Oregon where I live, Governor Kate Brown authorized $35 million last year to improve CTE programs. These are just two examples of how policymakers, at the urging of business and industry, are turning to CTE to fill the skills gap and improve our economy.

South Korea once had a strong vocational education system—so powerful it rebuilt its shattered economy. But today that is no longer the case. As we work to improve our CTE system in the United States, it behooves us to look at why VET lost favor in South Korea and examine the innovative solutions that are being implemented to improve education, training, and career options there.

From High Demand to Low Demand
After the Korean War, the economy of the newly divided Korean peninsula was devastated. However, you would never know it when you look at South Korea today. Gleaming skyscrapers dominate the Seoul skyline, internationally famous songs invoke the high life, and high-tech industry proliferates throughout the country.

It was no easy path to get this far in such a short period of time. It took comprehensive reforms that were anchored in education, and more specifically, vocational education and training.

In the 1970s and 1980s, vocational education in South Korea was more than socially acceptable, it was the primary way to succeed in obtaining a steady job with a decent income. Forty-five percent of students were enrolled in VET programs* compared to 11.4 percent in universities. With the shift to a more knowledge-based rather than industrial economy (known as the “tiger years”), the university degree grew in prominence to employers and, therefore, parents.

Current Situation
Today, the perception of VET has quickly fallen, and in 2013, only 18 percent of students were enrolled in VET programs.* Part of this is due to the prestige of university—affluent families can afford the tutoring that is now required for students to pass the entrance exam and be able to attend college. Students from families who cannot afford these tutors simply have fewer options in higher education.

Read the full article on Education Week’s Global Learning blog. 

 

Katie Fitzgerald, Communications Associate 

Inside International CTE: CTE From an International Employer Perspective

September 15th, 2015

Our previous international blog posts have largely focused on international Career Technical Education (CTE)/Vocational education systems and how they operate. Today, we will look at CTE through the lens of an international employer in an interview with Aaron Coulson, New Talent Manager at National Grid in the UK. This is part of our ongoing blog series with Asia Society’s Global Learning Blog on Education Week. 

Can you describe a little bit about your company and your need for global talent?

National Grid is an international electricity and gas company based in the UK and northeastern U.S. As owners and operators of the high-voltage electricity transmission network in England and Wales and the high pressure gas transmission system in Britain, we are committed to safeguarding our global environment for future generations and providing all our customers with the highest standards of service through investment in our networks and through our talented, diverse workforce.

In my role working with Our Academy, our largest training center in the UK, I am responsible for all of National Grid’s entry-level talent development programs, an integral component of the company’s ‘grow your strategy,’ that helps develop the skills and knowledge of new employees in the company. The following best outlines our focus areas:

  • Providing the resources and support they need to develop and build on the wealth of experience and talent that already exists across the organization.
  • Attracting and retaining high-quality employees.
  • Developing new talent through apprenticeships, our graduate training program and engineer training program.
  • Supporting the development of our employees in order to ensure the future success of our organization.

Our Academy has garnered much recognition for our approach to developing new talent and our training programs receive a high number of applicants per year.

Read more about National Grid’s role in the UK CTE system including their work developing new employer-led apprenticeship standards and advice for organizations who want to engage in the field on Education Week’s Global Learning blog.

Katie Fitzgerald, Communications Associate 

Inside International CTE: Papua New Guinea

June 29th, 2015

Heather Singmaster visited Papua New Guinea and discusses the educational system’s challenges and some ways the government is implementing innovative solutions. This is part of our ongoing series examining international education systems in partnership with Asia Society’s Global Learning blog on EdWeek.

Before heading to Papua New Guinea to speak at the APEC High Level Policy Dialogueon Human Resource Development in the capital Port Moresby last month, my American peers asked me many things: Will you see natives with faces painted like skulls? Did you know they have the world’s largest species of rat?  Isn’t it one of the poorest countries in the world?

APEC.jpeg

What I found is a country that, yes, is very poor and facing what may seem to be overwhelming challenges. But, despite these, Papua New Guinea is taking positive steps to address them, including a budget that is focused on the pillars of health, education, infrastructure development, and increased funding direct to the provinces.

And while the vision of dancing natives is what the country is known for, it should also be known for the fact that it is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with more than 800 languages spoken within its borders. It is also one of the most rural countries in world, separating people by vast mountains and water—there are over 600 outlying islands. As someone said to me, “it’s like 800 countries in one.” This is an asset that the government has recognized. Despite facing the huge challenge of providing education for all students, they are prioritizing an education infused with global competence.

For many education systems, there is a common perception that a basic education must be offered first, before they can even begin thinking about integrating 21st century skills. Yet, making a quality 21st century education a pillar of an expanding system provides opportunities to leapfrog those that are still focused on outdated models (such as a narrow focus on academic knowledge and rote memorization) which result in limited dividends for their students and future workforce.

A Complex Set of Challenges
Now, I am by no means an expert on Papua New Guinea (PNG) after my short visit, but I did do some background research and had the chance to talk with people representing all walks of life: bus drivers, government officials, a lawyer who handles domestic abuse cases (a rampant issue in the country), a recently graduated university student, an expat business owner, and people who had moved from the provinces to the city looking for a job and a better way to live.

One recurring theme of these conversations is that jobs and government services—including education and health care—are in short supply and in some rural areas, extremely limited. Many people live in extreme poverty and the word corruption came up on more than one occasion. Yet Papua New Guinea is also a land rich in natural resources; development is improving the economy and leading to some infrastructure development, such as new roads around the capital.

However, there has not been much investment in human resources, a challenge the government is looking to address through new education initiatives including an expansion of vocational education and training (VET—which I will cover in my next post).

Educating for Global Competence
With development comes an increased interest in putting Papua New Guinea onto the world stage. In addition to the APEC dialogue on human resource development, which functioned as a practice run for 2018 when Papua New Guinea will be hosting numerous annual APEC meetings and the APEC ministerial convening, PNG is hosting the Pan Pacific Games this summer. In an era of globalization, the government is promoting some progressive ideas including global education and frameworks for responsible, sustainable development.

Nowhere is there a better argument for teaching global competency than Papua New Guinea due to the diversity within its borders and its aspirations to emerge on the world stage. Global competency has been recognized by the government and was clearly reflected in the priorities of the previous National Curriculum: culture and community, language, mathematics, personal development, and science. It stated, in part:

“The curriculum will prepare students who are more flexible for a changing world…. (its) principles are based on significant cultural, social, and educational values and beliefs such as: (i) bilingual education: education in vernaculars and English; (ii) citizenship: roles, rights, and responsibilities in society; (iii) law and order: good governance; and (iv) lifelong learning: applied learning. The National Curriculum is inclusive and designed to meet the needs of all students irrespective of their abilities, gender, geographic locations, cultural and language backgrounds, or their socio-economic backgrounds.”

School in Papua New Guinea is not compulsory, but it is free. According to an interview with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, published in the local paper, Post-Courier, while I was there, one of his proudest achievements is abolishing the school fees that were such a burden on his family when he was growing up. One effect of eliminating these fees is that more children, especially girls, are now able to go to school.

But it has also led to a huge shortage of teachers, lack of school buildings, and shortages of curricular resources. To his credit, the Prime Minister has acknowledged that the policy was not going as planned because the government was not delivering public services effectively and on time.

There were also issues with implementing the curriculum due to the difficulty of switching to an outcome-based approach with limited teacher training and resources (challenges also faced by Australia in trying to implement a similar pedagogy). However, the current curriculum maintains an emphasis on global education—for example elementary education has three focus areas: language, culture and community, and cultural mathematics.

As Papua New Guinea demonstrates, global competence is relevant to developing and developed countries alike. In recognition of this, the global education community has recently come together around a single set of goals that aim to accelerate progress in delivering quality education for all of the world’s children and youth. Organizations such as A World at School, the Global Business Coalition for Education, and Business Backs Education are supporting universal access to a quality education that provides 21st century skills for employability and global citizenship.

Learn more about how to be involved in the #UpForSchools campaign.

Come back on Wednesday to learn about the vocational education system in Papua New Guinea.

Inside International CTE: Netherlands Part II

June 4th, 2015

This interview with Martin van Os an educational advisor, explores the CTE/VET system in the Netherlands. Van Os began his career as a physics teacher, became a school principal, coordinated the national in-service courses for science and technology, was the senior organizational advisor for the National Center for Urban School Improvement, worked for government on secondary vocational education and was founding director of the Vakcollege support company. This interview was conducted by Katie Fitzgerald of NASDCTEc in part of our ongoing series examining international education systems in partnership with Asia Society’s Global Learning blog on EdWeek.

What are some the steps the Netherlands has or is taking to strengthen CTE?

The urgency of the situation has become clearer and better supported in the last ten years. The economic crisis reminded us that only innovation and creativity would maintain our wealth as a nation, and that we need a high number of excellent, technically educated employers and employees. In response to this sense of urgency, successful Dutch companies and public figures have become involved and are providing inspiration and innovation to the field.

A numbers of actions are being taken to help young people to fulfill their talents with the possibilities the Dutch economy has to offer. Among them are very powerful bottom-up initiatives started by schools and often supported with the help of local companies. Others are powered by government and applied in schools, such as the implementation of career education and guidance and curriculum updates.

Building a chain: Developing career education and guidance

Despite the success with the high quality of individual schools, we are still struggling to provide all students with a successful transition from secondary to tertiary education. About 80 percent of students are successful in their chosen area of study after they finish secondary education. The remaining 20 percent drop out or don’t pursue post-secondary education.

The Dutch government hopes to increase the success of students in their first career choice, both for pedagogical and financial reasons. Currently, secondary schools are monitored and rated based on exams. This reliance on results has led to students taking subjects in which they are comfortable and confident for the test, rather than the subject that will help them in their chosen field of study. Furthermore, exams can easily miss some essential skills, like discipline, motivation and collaboration.

In addition, when students are preparing for post-secondary level of education, there are an abundance of choices without much guidance, so students often turn to their parents for advice – but they are also unclear about CTE fields of study. To address these challenges, the government has made career guidance a requirement of secondary education, and schools are experimenting with how to accomplish this new task. This includes teacher trainings on career guidance to help them understand what skills their students need, and site visits to organizations and colleges.

What are some of the Netherlands’ successful initiatives in Career Technical Education?

A broader curriculum

In 2002, an initiative was launched with schools to develop a broader technical curriculum. In partnership with 10 schools, we developed concepts and practices to make the curriculum attractive to students with various career and educational desires, including students interested in pure technical fields, those who want to apply technical solutions in human services and those who prefer to go into the business sector. Participating schools had to agree to deliver this curriculum successfully with a small number of students to start.

The schools were provided the opportunity to experiment and pilot the curriculum, and after a year of preparation and two years of practice, we followed the first group of students moving into tertiary, or postsecondary, education. We found that these students did as well or better than the traditional groups of students.

With these results, we developed a global curriculum and instruction for student exams. With the support of our stakeholders, the Government accepted the results and put it into legislation. The 10 original schools formed a platform, helping other schools implement this approach and guiding further development.

Currently, over 100 schools have adopted this curriculum and are fully supported by legislation with the support of the platform and stakeholders.

In 2007, a group of entrepreneurs had several observations. First, that a group of students were interested in high-quality and attractive CTE, but the number of schools providing that kind of education were closing or forced to decrease the number of their departments. Second, the perception of CTE was very poor.

After getting support from schools and businesses, I was asked to lead an initiative, Vakcollege, which focused on career knowledge early on for students, and would aim to change the perception surrounding CTE.

We developed three promises for stakeholders. For the students we aimed to develop, “attractive education towards an occupation, diploma and job;” for the companies involved, “a new generation of technicians and craftsmen;” and for the schools our goal is that, “together we make a difference.”

We started a company, and in 2008 partnered with 13 schools, each with its own assemblage of business partners. We pushed boundaries of what legislation allowed but found out that –to our own surprise- the Dutch system allows schools to change their vision and mission towards more CTE as long as they stay within the boundaries of the various streams.

The initiative has been widely accepted. This summer the company will be replaced by a foundation with 50 schools as members dedicated to furthering the development of Vakcollege.

Technasium

Another successful program we have is Technasium, which began as an elective choice for students offered in the school gymnasium. In this free space, schools offered a new subject they called Research & Development for the more scientific and technical interested students.

This idea was crucial because it offered CTE to students in higher streams, something that these students were not typically exposed to. The most academically gifted pupils were given a chance to explore their talents and interests in CTE fields.

Furthermore, the goal of this initiative was not to develop a standard curriculum, but to work on interesting and innovative questions posed by local companies and businesses in eight-week projects, and present the student solutions to professionals from the companies. Instead of a typical test, student assessment is on their research, solution, creativity, presentation and collaboration.

A foundation has been created that helps schools develop a Technasium program and works closely with the government to set the standards on which schools can join and are allowed to offer exams in Research & Development.

Though these initiatives may have different outcomes, they share the same ambition of developing education, meeting the needs of the students involved, contributing to lasting careers, and helping to provide a pipeline of students with the skills industry needs.

Katie Fitzgerald, Communications Associate 

Inside International CTE: Netherlands

June 2nd, 2015

This interview with Martin van Os an educational advisor, explores the CTE/VET system in the Netherlands. Van Os began his career as a physics teacher, became a school principal, coordinated the national in-service courses for science and technology, was the senior organizational advisor for the National Center for Urban School Improvement, worked for government on secondary vocational education and was founding director of the Vakcollege support company. This interview was conducted by Katie Fitzgerald of NASDCTEc in part of our ongoing series examining international education systems in partnership with Asia Society’s Global Learning blog on EdWeek. Check out part two on Thursday! NeterlandsMap

 PART 1: Exploring Career Technical Education (CTE) in the Netherlands 

What does CTE/VET look like in the Netherlands?

For some background context, the Netherlands has one of the densest populations, our economy is rated eighth in the world, and our PISA scores are in the top ten, with national goals to move ourselves into the top five.  According to UNICEF, our children are the happiest in the world.

Recently, consensus was reached on the nine “Top Sectors,” or the categories in which we excel and want to maintain our excellence.  Among them are: water-management, food technology, energy, creative industry, high tech, and life and health. To continue to excel in these areas, Netherlands will need 30,000 people with the proper educational skills each year to account for job replacement and industry growth.

Currently, the educational system is categorized by “streams” where students are tagged as low, intermediate, or high performing. The big challenge is that not enough students choose a technical area of study in post-secondary education. Research shows that the perception among students is that technical courses are difficult and a career in a technical field is dull.

After primary education, a student can participate in secondary education within seven different streams, although many secondary schools combine them. Still, this many options for pupils at the age of 12 is a unique feature of our system.

Regardless of a student’s categorization as belonging to a certain stream, our system is focused on providing pupils with the education that meets their needs, which has resulted in a very low dropout rate. Despite the low dropout rate, we have little upwards mobility in the school system in a time where we need everyone to reach their highest potential. In addition, secondary CTE is typically taken by students with lower academic achievement, while the academic track is taken by students who perform at a higher level. This has resulted in a very negative perception, and has made promoting CTE difficult.

Another cause of this negative perception is the improvement in primary education and the ambition and pressure from parents, resulting in fewer students enrolling in the CTE streams and more in the academic paths. Also, academic pathways include little focus on Career Technical Education. While the traditional pathways through secondary schools for vocational education are decreasing in participation, we had hoped CTE in the academic route would develop. As this has not happened, it has left us with a skills gap and a sense of urgency.

Please describe the current landscape of Career Technical Education/VET in the Netherlands.

Overall, there has been a decline in CTE participation and in particular, a strong drop in the traditional courses for technicians and craftsmanship.  However, there is some growing interest in newer courses, which combine technical education with entrepreneurship skills.

The two trends combined means CTE enrollment in the upper grades has stayed somewhat consistent over time. A little over a third of third-year secondary students engage in CTE, out of about 200,000 students in total.

Another opportunity is that more of our students are eligible for technical or science programs in higher education, particularly in the higher streams, even if they are not choosing CTE programs at this time. In fact the economic crisis was a big boost for students actually choosing technical and scientific careers. This is all to say there is potential for more students to choose CTE at the secondary and postsecondary levels.

Every system has its challenges – what are yours? What are some solutions you are looking to implement?

Our first challenge is changing the perception of CTE  in the country. We need to spread CTE throughout all schools for all students of all abilities.  We need to eliminate the stigma that only low ability students should participate in CTE in our school culture, and instead make CTE available to all students on all levels, especially in the intermediate streams where there is a vast potential of talents and young people who wish for more attractive curricula and CTE.

In addition to making CTE available for all students, we need to convince students and parents that there are attractive careers in CTE fields. Though increasing the number of CTE students is admirable, we need to convince students to go into CTE careers.

Along with changing the perception of CTE, we need to nourish successful initiatives by schools and support them through legislation, intelligent governance and smarter systems of funding.

There also needs to be clearer links between education systems. The three steps in a student’s education are primary, secondary and tertiary education, which all have their own systems and rewards.  Essential skills for students to be successful in the next step of education are not sufficiently included in the reward system.

Katie Fitzgerald, Communications Associate 

 

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