Wu Di, a 20-year old student from Guangdong Province, China, dreams of becoming a chemical analyst. “I just like the feeling of wearing a white coat,” he says with a smile. To realize this dream, he has to receive essential skills that will help him compete in the job market soon.
He is happy that the school he attends – Guangdong Advanced Technical School of City Construction – is offering what he needs to get job-ready. “I’ve not only mastered practical skills in chemical analysis and testing, but also developed other competences,” he says.
In China, every year, over 11 million students like Wu Di enroll into technical and vocational schools or institutes. According to China’s Ministry of Education, there are over 1,100 technical/vocational institutes at tertiary level and almost 15,000 secondary technical/vocational schools.
But they face certain challenges to varying extents: curriculums and training methods are outdated and can barely keep pace with the evolving market’s needs; teachers often lack practical skills themselves; students don’t get enough hands-on training and workplace experience as they hope.
The World Bank-funded Guangdong Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project is helping three technical schools(Guangdong Advanced Technical School of City Construction, Guangdong Advanced Technical School of Light Industry, Yangjiang Advanced Technical School) in Guangdong Province to overcome these challenges so that vocational education can improve its quality and become more relevant to students’ needs.
One of the project’s focuses is to modernize curriculums including the introduction of a modular, competency-based curriculum and student-centered pedagogy. Wei Bincheng, Wu Di’s schoolmate majoring in construction management, says the changes are quite apparent.
“It used to be that the teacher was the leader in class, and we would be just listening to them,” he says. “Now a new way has been adopted - teachers work together with us on the subject, and together we make progress.”
“Assessing our performance in school used to be based on a single factor – exams,” he adds. “Now the school is paying more attention to our practical skills.”
He Xiaowen from Guangdong Advanced Technical School of Light Industry says that similar changes are taking place in his school as well. “We are now encouraged to ‘learn by doing’ and ‘learn through trial and error’. So we focus more on how to complete a whole project rather than just memorizing what teachers deliver in class,” he says.
The project also helps retrain teachers and administrators.
Chen Gongfan, Vice Principal of Guangdong Advanced Technical School of Light Industry, says that changing teachers’ mindsets on education is a most important part of the project. “Teachers are at the forefront of the school-based reforms, so they should be the pioneers,” he says.
In Chen’s school, over 80 instructors received training either outside Guangdong or even outside China, such as in Singapore.
He Tieshan, a teacher of professional ethics, agrees. Thanks to the training, his understanding of how to be a good teacher has evolved, he says, “I’ve realized that I may not be a good teacher even if I lecture well. I would be a good teacher only if my students learn well.”
To let his students learn well, He Tieshan has introduced more case studies into his class and also organized rich activities to better engage with students, such as role-playing. The class has become more interactive and the students are more proactive.
Besides offering internships and apprenticeships, the schools also co-founded studios or labs with companies so that students can directly participate in bona fide projects. Industry experts are also invited to teach courses at school – they now account for 11 percent of the teachers at the three schools supported by the project.
As a result of these reforms, the percentage of students who passed national skill certification exams reached 86 percent in 2012 from 70 percent in 2009. And also in 2012, 91 percent of the graduates were able to find their first job within six months after graduation.