4.18.2010

Changes in Education: Strengthen VoTech Programs

This post is part of my Critical Changes series, a collection of observations from an un-jaded newbie in education.

Change 2: Strengthen Vocational and Technical Programs

Call them what you will - votech, industrial arts, applied academics, shop class - we need programs where kids learn hands-on skills, use tools, build things, fix things. When the economy takes a hit, and subsequently school budgets, these valuable technical programs are often the first to go, in deference to traditional core classes. Or in a sad compromise, tech programs are morphed into supposed STEM programs where doing the science/engineering/math on a computer constitutes using technology. However, when the economy goes sour, what a person really needs is a marketable skill, not a comprehensive knowledge of Shakespeare.

This is not to say we should cut Humanities or any other core class, but rather trim around the entire pie of academics instead of taking out an a specific slice. Tech classes are great sources of differentiation, especially for spatial and kinetic students; in many ways, tech classes are a different approach to learning the material taught in core classes. Projects like building a birdhouse may seem reminiscent of summer camp craft time, but in actuality are real-world applications of theoretical knowledge – one must be literate to read instructions and blueprints, use science to hypothesize and test different designs or materials, understand math to calculate dimensions and angles, etc.

In addition to financial and administrative support of tech programs, there needs to be an attitude shift away from high school votech programs being considered as a last resort for struggling students, and from technical & community colleges being considered the lesser post-secondary option for students. Not everyone is suited for a 4-year liberal arts college, and a liberal arts degree is not applicable to all jobs; when last I checked, Harvard does not offer courses in metal-working, but every construction site needs a welder at some point.