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Vocational education a 'key' to curriculum reform

Jun 16. 2013
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By The Nation

Taiwan, US models examined at 2nd QLF forum
Thailand’s education system is currently going through a number of reforms, with a prime objective to meet the demands of the 21st-century job market. However, the trend is very much in the direction of career education – considered to be a key component in the reform process. 
The Committee on Basic Education Curriculum Reform, set up in March, has pinpointed six areas to be covered under curriculum reform. They include “Life Skills and the World of Work”; STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths); language and culture; media skills and communication; society and humanity; and Asean and international relations.
To support curriculum reform, the Quality Learning Foundation (QLF) has also held a number of forums for academics and stakeholders in the education industry. Its second forum – held last month – focused on technological and vocational education and looked at career academies in Taiwan and the US respectively. Both countries are recognised for their success in producing quality students with vocational skills that boost their respective economies.
Kessara Amornvuthivorn, innovative education manager of the Kenan Institute Asia, said the US model known as “Career Technical Education” (CTE) had been in operation for over 40 years. She said a major advantage of the programme was that it relied on multiple-sector participation from the private sector in terms of vocational training and course objectives. 
Under the CTE concept, education is not a responsibility of the government alone, but involves the cooperation of many stakeholders, including employers from both the public and private sector; education and training institutions and local communities. All participatory bodies play a vital role in education development and management from primary to secondary school level, to make sure skills provided in the curriculum are in line with careers and global employment trends. The carefully thought-out curriculum helps to create motivation for students to pursue their studies, which are geared directly to their careers and demands of the job market. 
As a result, CTE courses have a low dropout rate and generate income for students while they are still in school. Most importantly, it is a solid foundation in helping to secure a strong and stable economy. 
Another model – “Technological and Vocational Education” (TVE) – was presented by Jill Lai, senior education officer, for the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Thailand. 
According to Lai, the Taiwanese government has targeted the importance to human resources development in technical and vocational fields. She said the country’s economy was growing fast and had shifted to more capital and technology-intensive industries. As a result, TVE had also received substantial government funding. Cooperation between universities and the business sector also played a part in promoting vocational education and the development of human resources. 
Taiwan has also set up a special programme for disadvantaged children called TVE High School Cooperative Work Experience Education that offers a chance for high-school students to study and work part-time without having to pay tuition fees. The students also have a chance to complete internships, during which they take on different areas of responsibility to experience the various occupational skills. They are also paid for their work.
Thai business operators who participated in the forum also stressed their increasing need for skilled workers. Viroj Vaewvoravit, representative of Thai Yamaha Motor Co Ltd, said the company was currently in need of skilled workers who could adjust to new technologies in motorcycle production. 
When new motorcycle models are launched on the market, Thai Yamaha Motor provides opportunities for educational institutions, teachers and students to visit and learn about the new technologies, while providing technician training at every step of the production process. Thai Toyota Motor also helps to support vocational institutions by setting up training centres within those institutions’ compounds. However, so far there have been only three institutions able to handle the training centres. 
Another important issue is the vocational skills certifying system. At present, a number of graduates cannot find jobs to match their skills. Curriculum adjustment is therefore required to respond to the demands of the job market. More investment is also needed for educational tools and equipment.
Pongsak Vacharanukulkiat, from the Committee of the Federation of Thai Industries, said Thailand’s education curriculum was not based on demand from the industrial sector. He suggested the Ministry of Education and those involved in curriculum reform allow the industry to participate in the curriculum drafting process.
“Career motivation should be included in the curriculum, from primary up to secondary school level. At present, the industrial sector is in need of 300,000 workers, and the situation is expected to become more acute when Thailand joins the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, as only 15 percent of the workforce have graduated from direct education fields. Moreover, since Thailand is becoming an ageing society, it is necessary to reorganise the entire education procedure,” said Pongsak.
QLF board vice-chairman Krissanapong Kirtikara said for education reform to be achieved, three main areas needed to be addressed. Firstly, while the Thai education system produces many graduates, they find their skills are not in demand and are therefore unable to follow their chosen careers. This concept of education needs to be changed from fundamental, to vocational at the university level. Secondly, the Thai population has been shrinking for more than 20 years. Small schools are being closed because there are no students. If the problem is not solved, Thailand will see an emptying of vocational colleges and universities in 10 to 20 years.
In addition, there are 35-40 million people in the workforce and more than 80 per cent of them do not finish their nine-year compulsory education. While Thailand has spent 400,000 million baht to provide education for 13 million people of school age, no budget has been allocated for the 35-million people in the workforce. Krissanapong pointed out that more attention should be paid to different age groups within the workforce – providing them with training and new skills.
Furthermore, as the Thai government plans to borrow 2.35 trillion baht for its infrastructure mega-projects, Krissanapong said this should also be treated as an opportunity for human resources development. He urged the government not to focus only on infrastructure development, but to also invest more in the country’s human resources. Curriculum reform should be tailor-made and prepare students for the demands of the market.
Thirdly, the government needs to change its role from education manager to budget administrator and supporter, while allowing participation from local administrative organisations and the private sector in providing education for students.

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