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Vocational Education and Training

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THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN VOCATIONAL ASPECTS TO SCHOOLING IN AUSTRALIA. HOWEVER, IN RECENT TIMES THERE HAS BEEN AN INCREASED EMPHASIS ON THIS ASPECT OF SCHOOLING WITHIN BOTH THE GENERAL CURRICULUM AND THOSE AREAS THAT HAVE A PARTICULAR VOCATIONAL FLAVOUR.

IN WHAT WAYS DOES THIS EMPHASIS PROVIDE A BROADER OR NARROWER CONCEPTION OF EDUCTION FOR SCHOOL STUDENTS?

YOUR RESPONSE NEEDS TO REFER TO: (I) THE AIMS OF THE Ð''NEW VOCATIONALISM' AND HOW IT IS CURRENTLY BEING MANIFESTED IN SECONDARY SCHOOLING; (II) HOW EQUALITY OF OUTCOMES FOR ALL SENIOR STUDENTS CAN BE MANAGED AT AT TIME OF HIGH STUDENT RETENTION IN THE POST-COMPULSORY YEARS AND (III) A CRITIQUE OF THE CURRENT VET IN SCHOOLS POLICY.

Aims and Origins of New Vocationalism

What is vocational education? That depends on the period in history and whom you ask. There is probably no greater bone of contention or confusion among educators. Vocational education or educating students to fulfil their vocation or calling in life is such a broad definition. Traditionally it has been seen as an education for those not taking up tertiary studies, for those who instead undertake hands on training before entering the world of work. If this then is the definition, entry to some of the most highly regarded professions, is through vocational education. Take for example the doctor, teacher or the architect. In each of these cases the undergraduate student must undertake some form of on the job training and examination in order to receive their registration. This then changes the focus of vocational education. No longer can we look from the traditional view that it is for tradespeople, or blue-collar workers. We must then take a more encompassing view that it is necessary element of education for all students, to give them the grounding to deal with the challenges of the work force, regardless of the esteem the work they will ultimately do is held in.

Vocational Education is certainly not a new phenomenon. It has existed in some form or another in Australia schools since formal education began (Skilbeck et al, 1994). Vocational education has always been at the whim of the financial and political climate. In a boom, there is a surge in popularity in order to meet the skills shortages, in an economic crisis it is seen as the best "way out" (Keating, 1998). Since the industrial revolution there have been calls from industry for education to better reflect and mirror those skills which are required in the world of work (Davies, 1996 in Pollard et al, 1988). The education system has always had a vocational component, it may have been disguised by a variety of titles, but it has always existed (Skilbeck et al, 1994). "New vocationalism" was born of 3 major factors: changes in political focus and government policy, lack of confidence in the educational system and an increasing retention rate of students in years 11 and 12 due to the rising youth unemployment (Pollard et al, 1988). Industry has also increasingly demanded better-equipped job seekers. It has for many decades criticised the educational institutions apparent disregard for the needs of a well skilled, motivated and disciplined work force (Davies, 1986). This s to say that the sorts of basic levels of communication, problem solving and conflict resolution skills needed to "fit in" in the work place were not adequately addressed or developed by the academic focus of schools.

The new vocationalism then, has four main characteristics according to Dale (1985b in Pollard et al, 1988). The first is that it has a specific target age group, 14 to 18, and of those the lower two thirds of the academic ability range. Secondly it is clear in its focus on training students for jobs. Adjustments in attitudes are a major part of this. New vocationalism thirdly recognises the ingrained bias of education and training toward academic pursuits. Fourthly and finally it recognises that there is an element of society at large who are yet to be convinced of the value of the new initiatives.

It is ironic to note that the increasing retention rate in senior high school has caused a re-focusing and greater attention to be given to preparing pupils for work. This is seen as a way to motivate students to complete their qualifications and enable them to gain an edge over other job seekers (Pollack et al, 1988).

The loss of confidence in education also served to re-focus those both inside and outside the system. The change in attitude towards unemployment from it being a personal failing (individual deficit model), to a reflection on a person's access to training and educational services (Pollack et al, 1988). This led to the establishment of work experience schemes to provide more real world experience and thereby increase employability.

New vocationalism then is a change in the direction of education and training. It has caused a re-focusing and re-orientation of policy and outcomes for those students who would have traditionally gone into non-academic careers (Pollack et al, 1988).

Implications for school students

The change in the focus has been slow on the uptake. The majority of VET (Vocational Education and Training) is in government schools. Private schools are yet to fully embrace the new initiatives. This is not to say that one or other is better, it is simply a consequence of the major change in thinking, timetabling, administration and implementation of the goals of VET. Traditionally the school senior secondary school environment did not need to concern itself with the different skills required for non academic careers (ANTA web site, 2000).

There are 2 major streams to VET currently in schools, those that relate to receiving a senior certificate, general education, and those which are directly linked to national industry competency standards, leading to a national qualification (vocational education and training programs) (ANTA web site, 2000). The later include on the job training coupled with industry specific courses (apprenticeship or traineeship), out of school hours courses or work and classes at schools which have a work experience or work placement addition to the chalk and talk of the classroom. General educational courses are not completely devoid of VET. Programs such as work experience for all students in years 9 and 10 allow students and employers to test the water and show off the respective skills they have (ANTA web site, 2000).

VET can be highly tailored, depending on the programs in place in a region or school, students may undertake discrete VET courses, dual

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