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Career and Technical Education Gets an Upgrade: Case Studies From Around the World

Many people are recognizing the value of high-quality career and technical education (CTE) for the nation's economic future, and several examples are well-publicized. International education consultant and former OECD analyst Vanessa Shadoian-Gersing shares how CTE models around the world are innovating to better equip students with the skills to participate fully in 21st century economies.

By guest blogger Vanessa Shadoian-Gersing

The latest jobs report reveals a glaring mismatch between the skills needed for open positions and those of available workers. What's more, workforce experts stress that technical skills alone no longer suffice and highlight the growing need for employability skills (such as problem-solving and global mindedness) in the rapidly-evolving economy.

Delivering on the promise of high-quality CTE
Educators increasingly see the potential of CTE, not only for career preparation but also for enhancing student engagement and learning outcomes. But what does it take to deliver on this promise?

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In recent years, high-quality CTE programs across the United States have adapted to industry trends and education needs, and several innovative initiatives also impart transversal employability skills.

Similarly, countries around the world are taking steps to help young people align their talents with the possibilities their economies offer. Efforts abound to develop programs that meet the needs of learners, contribute to lasting careers, and build a pipeline of students with the skills that industry needs. Among these efforts are innovative models started by schools and often supported by local industry, illustrating what is possible in this evolving field.

CTE programs develop global competence
Global competence is in many ways a natural fit in CTE, as businesses and industries in our increasingly interconnected world need people who can work across cultures to tackle challenges. To add to the examples of programs integrating global content previously showcased in this blog (e.g., in Ohio and New Jersey), here is a look at efforts in other countries.

Business education in Austria
The Rankweil College of Management and Service Industries provides general and career education in subject-related practical and business-oriented topics for students (aged 14-19) to develop skills for the service and public sectors as well as the tourism and catering industries. The program focuses on language learning and exposure to positive multicultural situations, and most students choose to complete their mandatory work placements abroad and participate in international activities (sports events, fairs, etc.). 

In the multilingual program, students learn English, French, and either Spanish or Italian as foreign languages. Certain courses are taught in English, and students can take conversation classes in a world language. Students practice communicating in multilingual situations, train to switch from one language to another, and learn to recognize similarities and differences between languages. In contrast to customary practice in Austrian schools (which separate languages to avoid perceived ill effects) this program embodies the latest neuroscientific evidence: when students learn a language, all the others are activated in their brains.

Teacher preparation in Vienna
Teaching may not be the first profession evoked when one thinks of career education. Yet our interconnected world calls for globally-competent teachers who can support the growth of globally-minded students. The Europaschule Linz helps prepare such teachers. Affiliated with a teacher education university, the high school functions as both a practice site for student-teachers and an applied laboratory for optimum student learning conditions. Europaschule ultimately aims to develop intrinsically-motivated learners, emphasizing integrated language learning and international exchange. The pilot school's student assessment results are encouraging.

CTE programs impart other employability skills
A far cry from the dead-end nature and variable quality of yesterday's vocational education, today's innovative, high-quality CTE programs introduce job-specific skills and help students master the types of transferable skills valued across most careers (e.g., critical thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration).

Higher-order skills in Switzerland
The Swiss professional education system is considered one of the best, and still it continues experimenting with innovative models that impart transversal skills. Moving away from conventional rote learning approaches, the Obiettivo: comprehensione (which translates to Target: understanding) project works with technical schools to encourage deeper learning and build students' reasoning abilities.

Participating teachers use the "understanding by design" methodology to plan and deliver lessons and foster authentic understanding. This methodology emphasizes multiple dimensions (explain, interpret, apply, take perspective, empathize, self-knowledge) and collaborative learning, which builds academic as well as social learning outcomes. 

Cross-disciplinary agricultural education in Chile
Due to a need for well-rounded graduates, national efforts are underway across the Chilean technical education sector to better balance general and specific skills. Meanwhile, innovative grassroots models are taking steps to do so. The Instituto Agricola Pascual Barbuzza, an agricultural high school, seeks to equip students of all socioeconomic backgrounds for careers as agricultural technicians, entrepreneurs, or university-level professionals. 

The Institute provides students with both a cross-disciplinary balance of general education and agricultural subjects and hands-on application of sustainable agricultural practices. There is a strong emphasis on developing "soft" skills, such as honesty and taking initiative. Teachers facilitate learning and serve as mentors, providing students career and personal guidance.

Results speak for themselves: students' language and math scores have improved on national assessments, as have graduation and employment rates, earning the school a national reputation for program quality and social mobility outcomes.

Inspiring further change in CTE
While these initiatives vary in their contexts, resources, and approaches, they share the underlying ambition of developing innovative models that serve the needs of industry, education, and students. Like a good teacher, these examples from around the world can not only inform but also serve as a source of inspiration for transformative change.

Do you know of other promising CTE initiatives that examine global issues or are being taught with a global perspective? Asia Society is undertaking a new project to highlight such examples. Please contact Heather to get involved!

Connect with Vanessa and Heather on Twitter.

References and Further Reading:
OECD (2013): Innovative Learning Environments

The CTE models detailed above are participants of the OECD's Innovative Learning Environments project, which includes 125 cases from 20 countries. The project's forthcoming book examines how some countries have scaled such innovations across their education systems. 

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