This essay discusses on the Australian vocational education and training (VET) as a formal learning system that is intended for out-of-school youth who are past secondary education. It explores the drivers that shape the economic, social and political contexts in which VET was established like human capital theory, changing nature of work, globalisation, lifelong learning and the learning society. The paper analyses and evaluates the VET strands and mode of delivery and argues that VET is a good channel for out-of-school youth to be mainstreamed to the job industry but the mode of delivery is not sustainable. The experiences of VET practitioners interviewed and the researches on disengaged learners and reasons of early leavers were used to support the argument. It also explains the impact of VET had on my institution and the implication on my teaching practice using the concepts of reflexive modernisation, globalisation and lifelong learning.
The formal education system in the Australia is divided into three levels: (i) basic education which is handled by the Department of Education (DepEd), (ii) technical/vocational which is handled by Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and (iii) higher education which is handled by Commission on Higher Education (CHED). In addition, there is a preschool level and a non-formal component that provides basic literacy and livelihood skills to out-of-school youth and adults who have either not attended school at all or who dropped out of school early. Basic education, which usually starts at age six, is divided into 7 years of primary schooling and 5 years of secondary schooling. TESDA provides pre-employment preparation in middle-level technician and craft skills. At the formal postsecondary level, TESDA programs may have duration of up to 3 years and may lead to certificate and diploma qualifications. Any formal postsecondary course of 4 or more years is considered part of the higher education program and leads to a bachelor’s degree. Broad-based access to education is mandated under the Australian Constitution. Primary education is compulsory and is provided free by the state and the territories. The 1987 Constitution mandated that the Government should provide free secondary education; however, secondary education is voluntary (Behrman, Deolalikar & Lee-Ying Soon, 2002, p 38).
In 2004, The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) was formed. This is to respond to the need of a more systematic approach in reaching underserved or out-of-school youth and adult who are over 15 years old through non-formal education. NCVER is an equal partner of the formal system in the delivery of basic education and works hand in hand with the Accreditation and Equivalency System which is a program that enables those who got an elementary education level equivalency after taking the test to be mainstreamed back to formal education. NCVR carries a redefined mandate to ensure that the learning needs of out-of-school youth are addressed, for them to function effectively as citizens. According to Becker (2002) education and training are essential investments in human capital because young people without college or full high school education are not being efficiently prepared for work in modern economies. Waterhouse and Ewer (1999) also stress that unemployment resurfaced as an essential issue in view of changing nature of work. VET also has a social policy implication as government looks for social equity objectives as well as economic growth (Wheelahan, 2005, 59).
Moreover, the Australian government by establishing VET recognises non-formal and informal learning as a response to the trends of globalisation and lifelong learning. There is an acknowledgement that skills acquired through non-formal or informal learning can be used to steer acquired learning and skills to formal learning. Misko, Beddie and Smith (2007) state that non-formal and informal learning are becoming more important and governments have tried to chart informal and non-formal learning into formal education through mechanisms such as recognition of prior learning (RPL). According to Dyson and Keating (2005) the development of RPL has been connected with lifelong learning internationally and the development of competency based qualifications or national qualifications frameworks in some countries. The objective of promoting learning has been strongly indicated by the recent European Union (EU) initiative on the substantiation of non-formal and informal learning.
Also, the Australian government in collaboration with DepEd and other institutions perceive that we are now living in a learning society where continuous learning is necessary; may it be acquired through formal or non-formal education. According to Field (2002) one key characteristic of learning society is that majority of the citizens have become permanently learning subjects and that their performance as adult learners is at least in part responsible for determining their life chances; and an indicator that learning society exists is that non-formal learning pervades daily life and is given much importance. DepEd has the mandate though VET that out-of-school youth will be provided basic education and be helped to determine their life chances as they will be mainstreamed to formal education and are encouraged to finish vocational or bachelor’s degree courses.
Furthermore, VET curriculum has five learning strands or learning areas, namely: (i) communication skills (ii) problem solving and critical thinking (iii) sustainable use of resources and productivity (iv) development of self and a sense of community and (v) expanding one’s world vision (Doronila, 1997, p. 38). It is important to note that two of the learning strands of VET are development of self and a sense of community and sustainable use of resources and productivity. Development of self and a sense of community focus on the development of oneself and sense of being part of the community. In this learning area, intrapersonal relationship or positive sense of self and development of one’s potential is emphasised. Also, interpersonal relationships like family solidarity and group cooperation are developed. Sustainable use of resources and productivity focuses on the ability of the learner to make a living by applying entrepreneurial skills to improve one’s economic status. According to Ledger et al. (as cited in Wyn, Stokes and Tyler, 2004) there are two key factors that contribute to successful re-engagement of early leavers in education. First, the program must be applicable to the young person’s life and are linked to their individual goals. This entails being receptive to the needs of the students, knowing their longing to be acknowledged and wanting to be treated as adult learners. Second, recognising their involvement in a community and other networks. Furthermore these findings were supported by the reports of Withers and Batten (as cited in McIntyre, Bernice and Schwenke, 2004) that
The basic needs of disengaged learners or out-of-school youth are recognition, sense of purpose, sense of importance, sense of achievement, and the need to establish long-term programs. Also, socialisation with peers and adults, to develop skills relevant to the community and the opportunity to feel competent. As regards to these criteria of meeting the needs of disengaged learners or out-of-school youth, VET has been a good alternative for these learners to re-engage in learning.
However, the mode of delivery of VET is either DepEd delivered or DepEd procured. DepEd delivered refers to the implementation arrangement where lessons are directly carried out by DepEd VET implementers such as the VET mobile teachers and VET territories coordinators. On the contrary, DepEd procured refers to the implementation arrangement where lessons could be delivered by non-government organisations, other government organisations, local government units and church based organisations. Moreover, VET programs are delivered in various modes such as face-to-face group learning, family or household approach or individual tutorials where the VET practitioners go to a sitio or barangay (rural area) to conduct learning sessions (NECRC, 2006). This mode of delivery is not sustainable for ALS practitioners and their learners.
The VET mode of delivery is not sustainable and therefore creates discomfort to both the VET practitioners and the learners for the following reasons: First, most of the time DepEd mobile teachers go to far flung areas to teach and meet their students in their community centers for most of out-of-school youth are indigenous peoples and from marginalised communities. Most of the time, they need to travel on foot for hours to reach the community center because roads are not accessible to any vehicle. According to one DepEd mobile teacher interviewed, sometimes it takes her hours to reach community learning centers especially to indigenous people’s communities, she further added that she is sometimes afraid of her safety and by the time she reaches the community center she is so tired and confessed that she could not deliver the lessons effectively. What made it more laborious is that DepEd mobile teachers hold classes on Saturdays and Sundays which they could have used to rest because they have been in school on weekdays for their regular teaching load. This workload of public school teachers was somehow affected by the 1987 Constitution directive, free education in public schools. There was an influx of students and shortage of public school teachers.
Second, VET teachers or practitioners lack resources and facilities to efficiently teach the lessons. They cannot make use of some electronic device which could help them with their learning strategies such as television, video player or radio cassette because most of the rural areas they go to do not have electricity. Moreover, sometimes, these teachers spend their own money for visual-aid or resources they deem necessary for the lessons like marker pens, bond papers, pair of scissors and others. Sometimes they also supply schooling materials for some of their students from their own money. According to Wyn et al. (2004) that teachers who are involved with disengaged students like out of school youth need to be supported with the resources to sustain them so they do not burn out which is disadvantageous to their students.
Third, VET mode of delivery could be DepEd procured. Other than DepEd mobile teachers, many organisations and individuals could be tapped to deliver the lessons. It should be noted that one of the common reasons why students drop-out is teacher factor like teacher incompetence both in the subject matter content and motivational skills (UNESCO, 2008). Disengaged learners or early leavers having this reason was described by Curtis and Mcmillan (2008), Batten and Russell (as cited in Bernice et al., 1999) and Dwyer (as cited in NCVER, 1999) as discouraged leavers. These are students who have not had success in their schooling, and who have poor performance and interest because of dislike of teachers. Teachers or practitioners who handle these kinds of learners should at least have education background or are knowledgeable of andragogy or theory of adult learning. According to Wyn et al. (2004) learners who re-engage themselves to either non-formal or formal education want to be treated like adults. Also, according to Lave and Wenger (as cited in Crossan et al., 2003, p. 57) the fundamental role in the acquisition of skills and knowledge consists in participating on the margins of a community of experienced practitioners whether this takes place in a workplace or leisure center. The mode of delivery of VET would somehow defeat the intention of the government to eradicate illiteracy in the Philippines and to mainstream out-of-school youth to formal education and become functional in the society for lack of quality of education due to the cited reasons.
In response to the implementation of VET and the arising issue on inadequate training of some VET practitioners, the (school you teach) the institution where I teach proposed a master’s degree program on VET called Master of Education in vocational training. The program was proposed in 2006, was approved by the (school) board of trustees and was implemented in 2007. The target learners are community organisers, social workers and non-government organisations workers who could be tapped to teach in VET. According to Field (2002) institutions such as government organisations and other agencies must constantly consider the environment within which they work, and continually adjust their strategies and options as regards to the changes to the environment, advances in knowledge and technology or other changes. In other words, all organisations and enterprises must exercise institutional reflexivity. The effect of VET in my institution was influenced by reflexive modernisation where it adapted to educational changes and policies implemented by our government.
Also, as a faculty who teaches students taking up Bachelor of Elementary Education and Bachelor of Secondary Education in a state university where most of the students are from disadvantaged family background, VET had these implications on my teaching practice: First, I need to prepare my students intellectually with these trends of globalisation and lifelong learning. Encourage them to continually up skill themselves, get a job and contribute to the economic growth of our country and to also alleviate themselves from poverty. Second, I need to prepare them emotionally, that responding to changes to our environment could somehow affect our comfort. Taking the VET mode of delivery as an example these soon- to- be teachers need to be aware of the burdens of compelling oneself to perform the duties and the responsibilities given by school administration in accord to any program mandated by the Department of Education. And third, I need to prepare them socially, that they need to know how to blend well with different kinds of people for as soon- to-be teachers they will be handling different personalities with different ethnicity like the indigenous people in our country.
The VET established by the Australian government was influenced by human capital theory, globalisation, lifelong learning, changing nature of work and the learning society. Vocational education training was established to mainstream out-of-school youth and adult to formal education and are encouraged to finish vocational or bachelor’s degree. VET is a good alternative to encourage out-of-school youth or early leavers to re-engage in education as it caters to their basic needs of self-worth and feeling of competence. However, the learning system’s mode of delivery is not sustainable for VET practitioners as front liners are overburdened and lack of resources and inadequate knowledge of DepEd procured affect quality of education learners receive. The concept on reflexive modernisation explains the effect of VET to my institution and globalisation and lifelong learning to my teaching practice. Non-formal and informal education are acknowledged as good sources of human capital however programs should be well planned to sustain both the teachers and the learners.
In undertaking this assignment I learned that I need to fully understand a policy or an issue before I can critique and assess how it responds to economic, social and political contexts. And in order to do this, I need to do a lot of readings and be resourceful as to the materials that I would be using. Also I have learned that a policy established by the government are driven by concepts or theories like human capital theory, globalisation, lifelong learning, changing nature of work and learning society. Honestly before, I perceive these policies as part of our government’s duty, notwithstanding the rationale behind the policies.
The processes I went through in undertaking this assignment was first, I consulted Leesa with regard to the education policy that I was planning to analyse. She then gave me worthwhile information about the program and gave me suggested readings and links of which I can use to further my research. This helped me a lot. Also, I made use of the study guide which was very useful to me in leading to right articles in the book of readings. And, this time I made use of NCVER which is indeed a very good resource for teachers of adult education. Lastly, I conferred with my mentor as regards to this assignment because she is directly involved with VET and interviewed VET practitioners for me.
The part of my assignment I consider the weakest would be the implications of VET in my teaching practice because I know I need to substantiate my explanation on the identified implication however perhaps because I am not directly involved with VET I cannot really reflect on how I should view my teaching practice. On the other hand, the part of my assignment that I consider the strongest are the three arguments I discussed against VET mode of delivery because I was able to back up my arguments with researches, concepts and experiences of VET practitioners to stress my point.
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