Vocational education and training focuses too much on meeting required roles and tasks and too little on developing the individual.
And that is a big problem, says Professor Leesa Wheelahan. It is a big problem because many students don't end up in jobs that they train for.
It is a big problem because in liberal economies like Australia and Singapore, vocational education and training is often treated like a lesser cousin to higher education.
It is a big problem because by focusing on rote learning and following formulae, students are not empowered to go beyond what they are "qualified" to do.
In other words, a plumber will be a plumber will be a plumber forevermore.
If someone wants to be a plumber, then it's all fine and good, but what if he wants something else? How has he been equipped to do so?
All these questions are extremely relevant to Singapore. Just think about our ITE system. Can you imagine an ITE graduate managing an NUS grad? Now ask yourself, why not?
Prof Wheelahan's passionate argument is to move away from competency-based training and into capability training. Focus on using skills as a lens to view the world, not just on applying said skills. Teach math, she says, not just formulae.
This, she argues, would help not just graduating students, but adult learners, in their transitions from one job to another, from an occupation to the next.
Strong words, bold vision.
Now, how do we do it?