Preconceived notions 'hinder vocational education'
Dubai, December 20, 2010
A major factor hindering vocational education in the GCC is the preconception against it as most parents believe students should only follow the path of conventional academic education which leads to university degrees, said an expert.
The vocational education should be viewed in the Arab world as it is in Europe: as a viable alternative to traditional academic education, remarked Reham Mustafa, external relations manager of Sharjah Institute of Technology (SIT).
Mustafa said, 'GCC higher education ministries should take into consideration that internationally the Edexcel BTEC Higher National Diploma HND is equivalent to the first two years of a university program so that students are encouraged to enroll and, in 3/4 years, will get work experience and theoretical knowledge as well as two qualifications.'
“Countries like Oman and Bahrain recognise HND as an equivalent to 1st and 2nd year of universities,” she pointed out.
'Through its use of practical, experiential learning techniques, vocational educational helps people acquire essential employability skills which academic education, that is theoretical in nature, does not.'
'Moreover, because vocational qualifications are created specifically to meet employer and industry requirements, graduates obtain the practical skills and knowledge employers require,' she observed.
Mustafa pointed out that individuals in the UK started working at 17, whereas in the GCC the average age under best conditions was 22.
'Thus, the UK population is more valuable to employers because they have more years of experience whereas GCC students are unfamiliar with the professional workplace,' she pointed out.
According to Mustafa, this has caused an imbalance in the GCC employment market where fresh graduates with bachelors and masters degrees refuse entry-level jobs while in reality they do not have the experience required for higher level jobs.
Vocational education is a worthwhile alternative for individuals inclined to learn through practical instruction either at high school or university, those who can't afford a university education, those who wish to join workforce sooner, older individuals who are aiming for a career change or wish to update their skills, people who are not interested in pursuing an academic education and employees interested in continuing professional development.
Recently, SIT visited Pembrokeshire College and Coleg Gwent in Wales as part of the British Council Skills for Employability project.
The visit was a fact-finding mission aimed at learning best practices regarding providing flexible, high quality, world-class vocational education, benchmarked against professional standards that meet the current and future needs of stakeholders, government, the community, employers and individuals in the UAE and the Gulf region.
Mustafa added: 'One of the most significant challenges is the perception of vocational education in the Middle East and specifically in the UAE. We have to bring educators and employers together through seminars and conferences. SIT is ready to do this in collaboration with Edexcel.”
'These events would help dispel the misconceptions about vocational education and allow employers and educators to better understand each others’ roles and how they need to work together to ensure that job seekers are properly equipped for the workplace,' said Mustafa.
As a result, job seekers may find it easier to gain employment and would feel less overwhelmed by their duties. Similarly, employers would experience a lower staff turnover rate and less staff training costs, she added.
Working together, SIT and Edexcel are eager to support the partnership between the government, education and industry which will consequently strengthen national reforms in education and technical training in the region, said Mustafa.
'Edexcel’s exclusive BTEC qualifications provide a practical, real-world approach to learning alongside a theoretical background. They are designed both to replicate the professional working environment and provide learners with the skills, knowledge and behaviours they need to succeed in the current job market.'
Various opportunities for higher education are available for BTEC HND holders in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Australasia, she pointed out.-TradeArabia News Service