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Vocational Education Awards Are Needed

Although just about every field has its own version of the Oscars, vocational education up until now has received little publicity.  But thanks to a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal about the 44th world championship of vocational skills, that is hopefully changing ("The Thrill of Victory in Welding, Baking and Bricklaying," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 30).

Contestants from 58 countries competed in 51 job categories over four days in what is known as WorldSkills for bragging rights for being the best in their respective areas of expertise.  Nearly 100,000 spectators watched as 10,000 participants vied for honors.  I think the event deserves far greater media coverage because it helps provide vocational education the respect it deserves.

This nation's obsession with college for all is a well intentioned but wrongheaded strategy.  There are so many young people who derive great satisfaction working with their hands.  Yet school counselors persist in urging them to apply for a bachelor's degree in academic subjects.  Is it any wonder that the dropout rate is so high?  Most of these students have neither the interest nor aptitude to go to a four-year college or university. 

I submit that providing greater media exposure to WorldSkills could be the first step in changing attitudes about vocational education as a viable alternative.  I see so many college graduates who are saddled with huge student loan debt and are underemployed.  I wonder how many regret their decision.  I bet many would be better off if they had  learned a marketable skill.  Young people's attitudes today are shaped by the media.  They follow the Oscars and the Olympics.  Maybe they'd also follow and be influenced by WorldSkills.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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