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Vocational education could be set for golden era as changes begin

Moves underway to lift teaching standards,curricula

THIS YEAR could mark the start of a "golden age" for vocational education in Thailand if plans proposed by educational authorities move ahead successfully.

A number of tangible goals have been laid out, including a more equal ratio of students doing vocational programmes to those taking general-education courses, as well as an improvement in the overall quality of vocational education courses by 2015.

However, the target ratio of 51:49 per cent for students taking general education and vocational education courses is a rather ambitious goal, given that 64 per cent of Mathayom 3 graduates currently opt for general-education programmes when doing further studies. Currently, only about 36 per cent want to enter vocational schools.

"But it's a goal we must achieve," Office of Vocational Education Commission (Ovec) secretary-general Chaiyaphruek Serirak said in a recent exclusive interview with The Nation.

Thailand has been struggling with a shortage of qualified vocational graduates, and a failure to provide an adequate number of them could have repercussions for economic growth if local and foreign investors opt for other parts of the region to do business. Graduates with unwanted vocational qualifications could also have difficulty finding jobs.

According to Chaiyapruek, from 2014 onwards, Ovec will be reaching out to Thai students a few years before they decide whether or not to further their education in vocational or general-education programmes.

"From Mathayom 1, we will guide them on the options. We will conduct roadshows, open house events and more, in a bid to attract a larger number of students to take courses in vocational education."

He said students needed to receive information about vocational training a few years in advance so that they had time to make up their minds about the best career path to take.

He added many students turned away from vocational education simply because they believed it was more fashionable to go to university.

"Such a widespread perception, means they have failed to carefully review their aptitude and their interests before choosing their field of education," Chaiyaphreuk said.

Similar problems also existed in neighbouring countries like Vietnam and Laos. Educational authorities in those countries are now also busy addressing the issue, he added.

Therefore, from 2014 on, Ovec will implement occupational mapping to survey the needs of students and to inform them about the kind of careers that are in high demand.

"We will also collaborate with local administrative bodies to provide information on the vocational education opportunities they can offer and to create a general awareness about the importance of vocational education," Chaiyaphruek said.

He added that junior-secondary education programmes would also be adjusted to ensure that young student recognise what agriculture, welding, auto mechanics, and construction were all about.

Other tangible options would be the provision of scholarships and an easier application-submission process for those interested in going on to study at vocational schools.

Ovec was also determined to address the qualitative and quantitative issues surrounding vocational-education, said Chaiyaphruek. In terms of quality, it planned to engage the private sector to develop new and relevant vocational education courses.

Dual vocational-education courses, created by educational authorities and private industry, were generally better for the needs of employers, he said.

"We now also have the Dual Vocational Education Centre working to boost efficiency."

He disclosed that during Chaturon Chaisang's tenure as education minister, he had set up a joint-government and private-sector committee to develop vocational education in areas of automobile manufacturing, electronics, moulding, and more.

"With the participation by private firms, the quality of vocational education should improve, given that these firms can help draft and evaluate the curricula of these vocational courses. Experts in specialised fields working in the private sector can also step in to

conduct classes too," he explained.

Chaiyaphruek said that efforts would also be made, via the government and private-sector committee, to set appropriate salary rates for each position, based on the job description and the qualifications of jobholders. He was therefore confident that dual vocational education would benefit both entrepreneurs and students.

Under its vision, Ovec has now set its sights on bringing Thai vocational education up to international standards.

"We have already signed agreements on co-operation with Germany and South Korea," Chaiyaphruek said.

Documents from Ovec show the German-Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH - an organisation which offers Broad-based expertise for sustainable development - have agreed to help Thailand improve its vocational education system.

"Through these agreements, we can expect better teacher development and better curricula for our vocational education students," he said, adding that German entrepreneurs like BMW, Bosche, and B Grimm were now also offering internships for Thai students. "They have opened their Thailand-based operations to Thai interns," Chaiyaphruek said.

In addition, German authorities have agreed to train Thai teachers in German fields of expertise, such as mechatronics. "We are planning to make German-style vocational education available in Thailand soon," Chaiyaphruek said.

Ovec's efforts don't end there either. Chaiyaphruek said that Singapore's National Institute of Education and Institute of Technical Education had also agreed to provide training to Thai vocational teachers.

"We know Thailand's vocational education still has problems in terms of the quality of the teaching, which is why we are going to seriously address it," he said.

Even the Kosen Institute of National Colleges of Technology, Japan, had stepped in to help improve Thailand's vocational education strategy, the Ovec chief said.

Thailand will also be working with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam during the establishment of the AEC, to set up vocational-education courses that best suit the needs of the region, he said.


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