Research shows need for integrated model

Focus, Normal


RESEARCH has shown that we need an integrated academic/VET model for our secondary school education system.
An integrated aca-demic/VET model is one where several related disciplines are integrated to provide the basis for the topics that students study.
A recent study in PNG revealed that VET programmes do not stress mastery of the basic academic skills, something which business houses would like to see.
With vocational institutions training students to acquire specific occupational skills, it would be beneficial to students if academic and vocational education at the secondary school level were integrated. 
Students do not realise that employers today require them to have both academic and skills.
Students would truly benefit from a restructuring of academic and vocational education.
Not a new brand of academicism nor a new style of vocationalism, but a fusion of the two.
Academic and vocational-technical education cannot remain exclusive entities competing for limited resources amid finite school boundaries.
Rather, all students must be afforded the opportunity to graduate from high school with marketable occupational skills as well as those needed for post-secondary education.
An integrated partnership supporting students’ varied learning styles is the most effective means of achieving the academic and vocational-technical competence needed in a global economy.
Strategies that connect academic and vocational content usually result in content that is primarily academic with vocational elements woven throughout or primarily vocational with academic elements woven throughout.
An integrated aca-demic/VET model will provide a bridge between purpose and outcome, head and hand, academic and vocational, knowing and doing, theory and practice, time and competence and education and training.
It will help students to acquire different job skills and attributes, and better equip them to find employment, further education and training and self-fulfilment in their communities.
The proposed model will prevent fragmentation of curriculum, stimulate high level, integrated thinking processes, and help to view complex issues from a broader perspective.
VET knowledge and academic learning have only been segregated in the school system for many years.
Inventors, producers and managers have always dealt with theory and application as a hand-in-hand process of getting things done.
Only in the academic world does one hear of people speaking of pure maths and pure science, almost as though applying theory to practice somehow contaminates knowledge.
Educators have bought this particular line, and allowed college-track education to become divorced from the world of industry and business, and technical education separated from traditional academics.
There is strong evidence to support the claim that the integration of academic and VET subjects into a single curriculum would cause students (both vocational/technical and academic or college-bound) to be well-prepared to enter the workforce.
When students graduate, they do not concentrate only on maths, science, social science or English.
They live in a world that is “overlapping”.
It takes one skill to accomplish another.
They cannot put a lawnmower together if they cannot read the directions.
An integrated academic/VET model has the potential to motivate students, develop workplace linkages, facilitate equity, provide educationally rich learning, and help to produce a qualified workforce.
It would offer students identified as lacking basic academic and higher order thinking skills a meaningful education instead of relegation to a low track programme that could compromise their future opportunities.
Integration is how people learn in the real world.
In school contexts, concepts, issues and ideas flow in many directions.
Students learn more quickly and easily if information is given in the context.
Recent studies of the brain confirm what good teachers have long suspected that it is a pattern seeker.
When teachers assign isolated skills, they deprive students of the opportunity to make the types of connections that nourish the brain.
The following examples illustrate the difference between students learning just the content and how content is applied beyond the classroom context.
Real-world scenario 1: A supervisor at a large, high-tech chemical plant asks a quality control technician to troubleshoot a major problem with one of the storage tanks.
The technician corrects the defect by combining problem-solving skills with knowledge of high-level mathematics, chemistry, and physics.
Both technician and supervisor are pleased with the results.
School-based scenario 2: For 50 minutes, 40 students sit through a physics lecture in which they watch the teacher write formulas on the chalkboard. 
School-based scenario 3: Twenty-five students have 30 minutes to solve 20 problems found in their Algebra I textbooks.
School-based scenario 4:  Students memorise the effects of chemicals on certain metals, because the next examination will contain questions on these reactions.
School-based scenario 5:  Career-bound students in an industrial maintenance class are asked to repair high-tech equipment, but they lack the proper background in chemistry, physics, and mathematics.
Most students are enrolled in “general” academic courses which do not prepare them for today’s high-tech world.
In scenarios 2, 3, 4, and 5, students wonder why they are being asked to “learn this stuff”, and teachers wonder why so many students are “in the dark”.
What is wrong with this learning method?
In the school-based scenarios, students are learning content unrelated to its use beyond school walls and taught in isolation from other classes.
While the supervisor in the work-based scenario expects the technician to solve complex problems, teachers in the school-based scenarios only expect their students to memorise facts.
Integrated instruction makes it possible for students to analyse and synthesise information, hypothesise solutions, and demonstrate high-order thinking skills.
Students will use their knowledge to challenge assumptions, take the initiative, and solve work-related problems.
Integration connects what students are learning now to what they have experienced in the past or hope to experience in the future.
An integrated academic/VET model would enable teachers to move beyond lecturing by involving students in problem-solving and projects.
By using the constructivist/situated learning approaches, it would allow students to construct new knowledge by working on problems, projects, and products that relate academic knowledge to the work environment.
Traditional instruction rewards students who learn by listening and watching; it excludes those who learn best by doing.
Such an approach reduces the fear of failure that impedes learning.
In the process, vocational education will become more rigorous, and academic learning will become more relevant.
By working together, academic and vocational teachers can actually motivate students to ask for applied and integrated learning in other classes.
An integrated academic/VET model has many benefits.
It will cultivate a “yearning for learning” among youths, improve academic achievement and so on.
An integrated aca-demic/VET model may answer the fundamental
questions such as “Why do I need to know this” or “How will I use it?”
Physics principles are easier to learn in a hands-on, laboratory setting than in a lecture class.
Physiological evidence supports the value of coordinating academic concepts with experiential vocational studies that minimise students’ anxiety when they are confronted with challenging mathematical problems.
Experiential learners often feel afraid, fatigued, and hopeless in traditional classrooms. 
These emotions are natural enemies of learning and can cause the brain to release hormones that inhibit new and meaningful learning.
Students who develop an aversion to mathematics before they reach high school need a new and less threatening way to learn algebra and geometry.
Integration may be these students’ key to gaining and using knowledge.
In integrated learning, teachers collaborate in developing curricula for their specific students.
Acting as decision-makers rather than conduits for pre-packaged curricula, these teachers connect with each other as members of a professional team and with the community as they develop courses related to students’ lives.
Parents care about their children, and employers have a vested interest in education.
A relevant curriculum offers many opportunities for parents and community leaders to become involved in schooling, as guest speakers, mentors, project consultants, and evaluators of students’ products and performances.
Parents and community support for higher student performance greatly improves the schools’ chances of success in educating young people.
It also convinces students that high school experiences are important.



*Dr Daniel K. Leke teaches at the University of PNG.