Given the trend of globalization, significant changes have emerged in the nature and training of vocations to cater to the new model of social development. Hong Kong needs to further strengthen vocational education in order to develop a diversified, multi-channel and highly acceptable education and training system.
Pathway for people to move upward
As an international metropolis, Hong Kong is moving beyond the old boundaries of dualistic opposition between grammar school and pre-vocational schools. Some schools have already introduced vocational education elements at the upper-secondary level. The Qualifications Framework (QF) has been established for vocational education so that young people can get on to a degree or even higher education level according to their interests and talents. However, for vocational education to become a pathway for people to move upward while improving the quality of talents to prepare for diversified social development, Hong Kong needs to further strengthen vocational education to enable it to develop into an education and training system that is more diversified, offers more channels and has a higher acceptability level.
Admittedly, the Government has attached increasingly greater importance to vocational education in recent years. In the 2014 Policy Address, the Chief Executive in council earmarked HK$1 billion to set up an endowment fund to provide long-term support for the sustainable development of the QF. However, while resources are momentous, more importantly, the Education Bureau must proactively formulate a long-term development blueprint for an all-round development of vocational education and training, and implement it in a progressive and step-by-step manner.
Refresh the image of “vocational education” in society
I once served as the Chairman of the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ). During my tenure, the HKCAAVQ’s terms of reference expanded from reviewing the degree programmes of Hong Kong’s higher education institutions to the vocational training sector, and the QF and Qualifications Register (QR) were also established with the assurance of quality. In the current vocational education system, the pathway for furthering education has been extended from secondary three or above to degree level. Course topics now cover different vocational skills or expertise, and the courses are recognized by professional organizations or associations. Students can obtain vocational qualifications progressively, given a very clear pathway for furthering education. It is possible for these students to get impressive salaries or returns. For example, students taking courses under the “Pilot Scheme” are given allowances. Upon completion of the course, they will receive a minimum monthly salary of above HK$10,000, which opens the door to opportunity for many young people. At last year’s WorldSkills Competition, a team of young people from Hong Kong won seven Medallions for Excellence out of sixteen events on the strength of its outstanding performance. The competition aims to promote vocational education.
Unfortunately, the traditional Chinese concept of “everything is inferior to studying” is still deeply rooted in Hong Kong. Therefore, I believe that the Government should first strengthen the promotion of vocational education by establishing a dedicated, complete online database to list out all the vocational education courses and the information of the related industries, the advancement path of the industries, and the opportunities to get on the QF, in order to reverse the outdated concept among the public that vocational education is a dead end.
Learn from the successful experience of other countries
In fact, the society today needs diverse talents. Apart from blue-collar and white-collar, we also need “grey-collar” workers, i.e. we need new skilled professionals who have both high educational qualifications and advanced skills. Embarking on the path of vocational education, actually, is equivalent to getting an entry ticket to jobs in the new economy. More importantly, vocational education emphasises on teaching students in accordance to their aptitude. Young people learnt and practiced in their own interested areas will only perform better.
Throughout the world, the vocational education systems of Germany and Switzerland are the most mature, and are recognized globally as the most outstanding and successful. In both countries, the ratio of tertiary students receiving academic and vocational education is up to 3:7. Most of the young people are able to chart out their path of studies based on personal dream career. Relevant representative figures include former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who had vocational origin of apprentice.
Overall, the success of Germany and Switzerland’s apprenticeship systems lies in the design of courses, which fully meet the needs of the rapid development of various industries. In Germany, the Chambers of Commerce and professional organizations are actively involved with vocational training bodies in formulating the examinations for vocational education and training, as well as designing the courses. Due to their thorough understanding of the content and the general situation of the vocational training system, the qualifications granted by the courses are fully recognized by employers. In contrast, employers in Hong Kong play a limited role in vocational education. At most, they merely organize events to introduce students to the Business-School Partnership Programme (BSPP) for various types of work. I believe the Government authorities should actively build a platform to enable closer cooperation and contact among the government, schools and the business community in Hong Kong so that vocational education can meet the needs of the various industries more closely. The authorities should also encourage non-governmental organizations and the business community to provide more work experience opportunities for students to encourage them to choose vocational education.
Two-pronged approach in hardware and software for reform
To strengthen vocational education, the Government cannot ignore the construction of hardware. It should encourage educational institutions to build or improve their premises through land grants and loans. In recent years, the Singapore Government has provided land and funds to convert the campuses of ten institutes of technical education into three large campuses with advanced facilities in order to attract young people to enrol. The question is, does Hong Kong have such boldness and resolution to comprehensively review and coordinate the infrastructure of vocational education, and adopt a two-pronged approach in both software and hardware, so that vocational education can truly become the pathway to promote diversified economic development and lead our young people in pursuit of their personal dreams?
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