Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Germany and Austria all have strong public vocational education programmes; Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal don’t. Better vocational education leads to more resilient economies and lower youth unemployment rates. Although everyone agrees that better, more widespread vocational education supports sustained economic growth, many parents still push their children towards academic, highly abstract qualifications. The strongest reason for this rush towards increasingly academic qualifications at the secondary school level may be social prestige. Even if plumbers can make a lot of money, that line of work is rarely thought of as prestigious – either among teenagers or their parents. But vocational education is also an inspiring way to access careers in aerospace engineering, in business, in a wide range of creative industries, in healthcare, and in hotel management. These are high-prestige fields because they are useful to society, they are well remunerated and they can provide career flexibility and high levels of job satisfaction.
Despite the many benefits of a purely vocational education, we know that academic education teaches students important skills too. Its focus on using language to analyse a wide range of situations combined with the well-rounded approach of an academic curriculum is still associated with superior communication skills. If vocational education is traditionally associated with resilience and resourcefulness and academic approaches are thought of as strong in analysis and communication, why can’t we have the best of both worlds? How long will it take us to recognise that there is no need to choose between the joy of intellectual exploration for its own sake and the need to make one’s way in the world?
The International Baccalaureate Career-Related Certificate (IBCC): Bridging the Gap Between Academic and Vocational Learning
Learning to apply subject knowledge to a career context is what quality vocational education is all about. Educators have known for years that teaching knowledge, and teaching students how to critically evaluate that knowledge is not enough. Students also need to be taught how to apply that knowledge to real world contexts – and it is here that academic education can benefit from the traditions of vocational education, a tradition that goes far beyond work experience, a tradition that remains rigorously focused on the context of the problem which needs solving.
Over five years ago, the International Baccalaureate Organisation began considering how they could provide a rigorous post-16 education which would bridge the gap between the academic and the vocational. The highly academic IB Diploma Programme courses were a starting point. They knew that students around the world would want vocational education in courses ranging from engineering to business to art and design and that academic courses such as physics, mathematics, economics, and design technology would be able to provide some of the knowledge base to support the development of vocational expertise. To these academic courses, the International Baccalaureate Organisation added a vocational qualification and a core course which reflects the skills which employers are looking for infuture recruits. These elements, and more, combine to form the International Baccalaureate Career-related Certificate (IBCC), the details of which can be seen in the diagram below.
The IBCC at the International School of Geneva
From September 2013 the International School of Geneva (Campus des Nations) will be the only school in Switzerland offering the IBCC. There are two career tracks available: business and art and design. Both of these courses prepare students for university studies, but we have our eyes set on the far horizon and our ultimate goal is to prepare students to excel in the careers of their choice. CBI, the biggest business lobby in the UK, has echoed what many employers have been telling educators for years. Employers want skilful, knowledgeable, tenacious, and creative employees who show a knowledge of global concerns grounded in a solid ethical framework. This is what the IBCC at Ecolint aims to deliver.
We constructed the requirements of the Ecolint curriculum based on the premise that if students can drop subjects they hate and choose those they love, then they will be more passionate about their studies. Students can choose between 2 and 4 Diploma Programme subjects and they can take these at higher or at standard level. Since students are, presumably, more highly motivated by their chosen subjects they will work harder to acquire the academic knowledge and the analytical skills prized by that subject area. Thus the flexibility and the focus of the IBCC will help students excel.
Clear Expectations for Students:
Whilst an element of choice is important, it is essential that teaching strategies and expectations are structured and clear. This is especially important in the vocational element of the IBCC, the BTEC (The Business and Technology Education Council). The focus here is on the transfer of knowledge from the theoretical realm to a practical application. For many students in secondary school the most difficult skill to master is knowing when to use knowledge from one practical application to solve a new problem. Students make the knowledge transfer more effectively when they feel that they are faced with a meaningful real-life context related to their chosen study in either business or art and design. In addition to this the BTEC criteria are very easy to interpret and they lend themselves to practical tasks. Business students might be asked, for example, to produce a cash flow statement for a local company which meets the International Accounting Standard. Or art and design students might be asked to use “motion blur, differential focus, depth of field, and bokeh” in their location photography portfolios to help market a sporting event. Students might then be assessed on their ability to combine these techniques coherently with a range of technologies and recording media for ease of distribution.
The IBCC allows students the possibility to specialise and it provides them with clear and achievable targets, but to keep student ambition high on a day to day basis, we need to be certain that all knowledge is explicitly relevant to the student and the career area. The core of the IBCC teaches practical office skills, such as touch-typing and computer literacy, independent research skills, entrepreneurship, business ethics, international mindedness, language acquisition, and presentation skills. All of these units are taught to encourage students to link their academic knowledge with their core skills so they can demonstrate mastery of their vocational skills in their chosen career.
An Exciting Education:
The IBCC at Nations will be exciting not just in its content but in its delivery. Expert practitioners from marketing, product design, law, event management, the art world and many other fields will teach classes to share their experiences with students and to ensure that what students are learning is really relevant to these professions. We will actively support students in finding internships so that they can build industry experience while studying. We will recognise and praise the informal learning which happens outside the classroom. Students will organize events and work on business plans and websites linked to local businesses and initiatives. In short students will be encouraged to demonstrate their skills and knowledge through action. It is our belief that this will make for more confident, competent, happier students.
For more information on the IBCC please see: http://www.ibo.org/ibcc/
For more information on the BTEC please see: http://www.edexcel.com/BTEC
For more information on the IBCC at the International School of Geneva, please see: http://www.ecolint.ch/