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Something to fight for Print E-mail


Recent violence between vocational students goes to show the deep routed problems society faces today. Part of the problem is the lack of respect that vocational education receives around the world, especially in Thailand.

Those of you who know me have heard me speak about my mechanical technology students at Udon Thani Rajabhat University. By their own admission, their English language skills are pretty awful; however, I have had a lot of success with them and enjoy myself whilst doing so.


Yes, they are a bit rough and ready and yes, the classroom dynamics are different as I have had only one female student out of approximately ten classes. I find that their character and their will to achieve a decent grade once they realise that maybe for the first time it is possible, makes it all worthwhile.


Some students have arrived from technical college and go straight to year three to complete two year courses to obtain their degree. Others spend the normal four years at the university to complete theirs. I believe that, initially, most of them think that English is a waste of time and that they haven’t any chance of getting any type of grade apart from an ‘F’.


From my limited experience, I am of the opinion that these students have been on the bottom rung of the education ladder for so long that they have no belief in themselves and that the stigma of vocational training has led them to believe that they are worthless compared to their academic counterparts.


Nothing could be further from the truth. To motivate students such as this, there needs to be some kind of rapport in the classroom in order for learning to take place. One of the courses I teach is English for Future Careers which involves students being taught to write curriculum vitas (CVs) and covering letters in English.


In Udon Thani province, there would be more chance of winning the lottery than a mechanical technology student using these skills in the workplace; however, during the instruction, I have managed to use about six to eight weeks of the course to spend time with them identifying their skills and qualities and putting them into a practical context.


This activity enables the students to build some kind or belief in themselves, at least in my classroom environment, allowing them to increase their self esteem and in the majority of cases, achieve a grade that would be the envy of any vocational student. Over the years, I have built up a reputation as being fair and these students already know who I am when they turn up for their first class. Now I find it even easier to motivate them than before.


In an ideal world, employers want to employ graduates and workers who have the theory and the experience to do the job at hand. Having done the job before and having an understanding of the theory behind the practice gives meaning to what is being accomplished. It is possible for vocational students to play this role if they have the confidence in themselves to do it.


However, there are more problems on the horizon. Action needs to be taken to address the shortfall of 15,000 teachers of mechanical studies and the 10,000 engineering graduates that are reportedly unemployed. The government is supposed to be attempting to attract another 500,000 students to vocational schools in the next five years, requiring a further 20,000 mechanics instructors. This could compound vocational education’s existing problems, but in my opinion, these students are worth fighting for.


Something to fight for 


Mechanical technology students from Udon Thani Rajabhat University display the confidence needed to succeed in their chosen careers.


(Unedited article published in the Bangkok Post 2nd November 2010) 

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