Vocational and Technical Education

views updated May 14 2018


history of
howard r. d. gordon

current trends
willard r. daggett

preparation of teachers
n. l. mccaslin
darrel parks

international context
claudio de moura castro


Vocational education in the United States is the product of an extended evolutionary process. Economic, educational, and societal issues have repeatedly exerted influence on the definition of vocational education, as well as on how, when, where, and to whom it will be provided. There are many legal definitions of vocational education (i.e., how vocational education is defined by law). These legal definitions are critical since they specify how, for what purpose, and to what extent federal monies may be spent for vocational education. All too often this legal definition is interpreted by state and local officials as the only definition of vocational education.

For the purpose of this article, vocational education is defined as a practically illustrated and attempted job or career skill instruction. As such, a variety of components fall under the vocational education umbrella: agricultural education, business education, family and consumer sciences, health occupations education, marketing education, technical education, technology education, and trade and industrial education. The vocational curriculum can be identified as a combination of classroom instructionhands-on laboratory work and on-the-job trainingaugmented by an active network of student organizations. Vocational preparation must always be viewed against the backdrop of the needs of society and of the individual. While meeting the demands of the economy, the abilities of individuals must be utilized to the fullest. Meeting the internalized job needs of individuals is a crucial objective of vocational education.

Historical Foundations

The first formalized vocational education system in America can be traced to apprenticeship agreements of colonial times. The first education law passed in America, the Old Deluder Satan Act of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, set specific requirements for masters to teach apprentices academic as well as vocational skills. During the colonial period the colonies frequently cared for orphans, poor children, and delinquents by indenturing them to serve apprenticeships. As apprenticeship declined, other institutions developed to care for these youngsters. By the mid-1880s vocational education in the form of industrial education was synonymous with institutional programs for these youth. The children of defeated Native American leaders were sent to the Carlisle Pennsylvania Indian School, and the curriculum was job training.

After the Civil War Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the founder of Hampton Institute and the ideological father of African-American vocational education, tried to address the racial aspects of the social and economic relations between the former slaves and the white South. His vocational education programs emphasized the need for African Americans to be good, subservient laborers. The prominent educator Booker T. Washington, Armstrong's prize student, took the same values and philosophical views as his former mentor. Washington held firmly to his beliefs that vocational education was the ideal route for most African Americans. W. E. B. Du Bois, also an influential African-American educator, strongly objected to Washington's educational program. He accused Washington of teaching lessons of work and money, which potentially encouraged African Americans to forget about the highest aims of life.

The first land-grant college provisions, known as the First Morrill Act, were enacted by the U.S. Congress on July 2, 1862. The statute articulated the appointment of public lands to the states based on their representation in Congress in 1860. The Morrill Act was one of the first congressional actions to benefit from the postCivil War constitutional amendments. By the late 1860s Morrill Act funds were being distributed to the states, with the intention that they would foster educational opportunity for all students. Following the Civil War, the expansion of the land-grant college system continued, with its implied focus on educational opportunities. However, with the close of the army's occupation to the old South, funds from the Morrill Act began to flow systemically to schools offering only all-white education. Congress attempted by various legislation to force racial equality, including equality of educational opportunity. However, the U.S. Supreme Court initiated a series of interpretations of the postCivil War constitutional amendments that ultimately defeated these various legislative efforts. Culminating with its 1882 decision finding the first Civil Rights Act unconstitutional, the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth amendment only protected against direct discriminatory action by a state government. What followed was a period of nearly seventy-five years when only modest gains were made in higher educational opportunity for minorities. Congress did pass a second Morrill Act (1890), which required states with dual systems of education (all-white and nonwhite) to provide landgrand institutions for both systems. Basing their jurisdiction on the 1882 Supreme Court decision, Congress acted to curb direct state-sponsored discrimination. Eventually, nineteen higher education institutions for African Americans were organized as land-grant institutions. These institutions were founded to raise the aspirations of a generation of children of former slaves and to ensure that high quality higher education was provided for Americans of all races. While efforts persisted throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to reduce the funding to these colleges, the schools continued to function based on land-grant funds.

Early in the twentieth century, vocational education was a prominent topic of discussion among American educators as schools struggled to meet the labor force needs consistent with the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economic base. In his 1907 address to Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt urged major school reform that would provide industrial education in urban centers and agriculture education in rural areas. A powerful alliance supporting federal funding for vocational education was formed in 1910 when the American Federation of Labor (AFL), who had long opposed such programs as discriminatory, lent its approval to the National Association of Manufacturers' (NAM) promotion of trade instruction in schools. Formed in 1895, one of NAM's first projects was to investigate how education might provide a more effective means to help American manufacturers compete in expanding international markets. The AFL joined the vocational reform movement believing its participation would help protect working-class interests by providing them with a voice at the table on education policy development with the emerging industrial economy. The strength of the combined lobby influenced Congress in 1914 to authorize President Woodrow Wilson to appoint a commission to study whether federal aid to vocational education was warranted. Charles Prosser, a student of social efficiency advocate David Snedden, was principal author of the commission's report to Congress. Prosser considered separately administered, and narrowly focused, vocational training as the best available way to help nonacademic students secure employment after completing high school. In its final report to Congress, the commission chaired by Georgia Senator Hoke Smith declared an urgent social and educational need of vocational training in public schools.

Legislative History and Reforms

Federal support for vocational education began with the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. Two Democratic lawmakers from Georgia, Senator Hoke Smith and Representative Dudley Mays Hughes, were chiefly responsible for this historic bill, which established vocational education, particularly agricultural education, as a federal program. The act reflected the view of reformers who believed that youth should be prepared for entry-level jobs by learning specific occupational skills in separated vocational schools. According to Harvey Kantor and David B. Tyack, this brand of vocationalism had its critics, including the American philosopher and educator John Dewey, who believed that such specific skill training was unnecessarily narrow and undermined democracy. The Smith-Hughes Act, however, firmly supported the notion of a separate vocational education system and supported courses offered by vocational schools. The act called for specific skill training, focused on entry-level skills, and helped establish separate state boards for vocational education. The Smith-Hughes Act and its successors until 1963 were largely designed to expand these separate vocational education programs, in an effort to retain more students in secondary education, and to provide trained workers for a growing number of semiskilled occupations. These acts focused on basic support, providing funds for teachers and teacher training, and encouraging state support for vocational education through extensive funds-matching requirements.

By the 1960s, the vocational education system had been firmly established, and Congress recognized the need for a new focus. As a result, the 1963 Vocational Education Act, while still supporting the separate system approach by funding the construction of area vocational schools, broadened the definition of vocational education to include occupational programs in comprehensive high schools, such as business and commerce. The act also included the improvement of vocational education programs and the provision of programs and services for disadvantaged and disabled students.

Faced with initial evidence that localities were not responding to the new focus on improving programs and serving students with special needs, the 1968 Amendments to the Vocational Education Act backed each goal with specific funding. This change set the stage for what has become the distinguishing feature of all such legislation since 1968the manner in which it seeks a compromise between the demands for improved vocational program quality and for increased vocational education opportunities for students with special needs.

Separate funds set aside for disabled and disadvantaged students seemed an effective strategy, as it resulted in more funds expended on these groups and in increased enrollments. Since there are few other sources of federal assistance for secondary special needs students (other than students with disabilities), it is not surprising that other special populations were added to federal vocational education legislation over time. In 1974, the needs of limited English proficient (LEP) students were addressed through provisions for bilingual vocational training; funds for Native American students were also added. In 1976 LEP students were made eligible for part of the disadvantaged set-aside, and provisions to eliminate sex bias and sex stereotyping in vocational education were added.

Education reforms focusing on secondary education began in the early 1980s, prompted by concern about the nation's declining competitiveness in the international market, the relatively poor performance of American students on tests of educational achievement (both nationally and internationally), and complaints from the business community about the low level of skills and abilities found in high school graduates entering the workforce. This reform came in two waves. The first wave, sometimes characterized as academic reform, called for increased effort from the current education system: more academic course requirements for high school graduation, more stringent college entrance requirements, longer school days and years, and an emphasis on standards and testing for both students and teachers. The basic message might be paraphrased, "work more, try harder, strive for excellence."

Beginning in the mid-1980s, a second wave of school reform arose, based in part on the belief that the first wave did not go far enough to improve education for all students. The second wave, sometimes referred to as restructuring, called for changes in the way schools and the educational process were organized. While restructuring proposals included school choice and site-based management, of particular interest in this report was the emphasis on improving the school-to-work transition for nonbaccalaureate youth by creating closer linkages between vocational and academic education, secondary and postsecondary institutions, and schools and workplaces.

The reform movement, particularly its first phase, received major impetus from the publication in 1983 of the National Commission on Excellence in Education's report A Nation at Risk. This influential report observed that the United States was losing ground in international economic competition and attributed the decline in large part to the relatively low standards and poor performance of the American educational system. The report recommended many of the changes subsequently enacted in first-wave reforms: the strengthening of requirements for high school graduation, including the requirement of a core academic curriculum; the development and use of rigorous educational standards; more time in school or the more efficient use of presently available time; and better preparation of teachers.

The response to this report and related education reform initiatives was rapid and widespread. Marion Asche reported in 1991 that between the early and mid-1980s, more than 275 education task forces had been organized in the United States. By the mid-1980s, forty-three states had increased course requirements for high school graduation; seventeen had developed stronger requirements for admission to state colleges and universities; thirty-seven had created statewide student assessment programs; twenty-nine had developed teacher competency tests; and twenty-eight had increased teacher licensure requirements. Between 1984 and 1986 more than 700 state laws affecting some aspect of the teaching profession had been enacted.

The Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984 (Pub. L. 98-524), known as the Perkins Act, continued the affirmation of Congress that effective vocational education programs are essential to the nation's future as a free and democratic society. The act had two interrelated goals, one economic and one social. The economic goal was to improve the skills of the labor force and prepare adults for job opportunitiesa long-standing goal traceable to the Smith-Hughes Act. The social goal was to provide equal opportunities for adults in vocational education. In the late summer of 1990, Congress passed the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act (Pub. L. 101-392, also known as Perkins II), which amended and extended the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Act of 1984.

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act (STWOA) of 1994 (Pub. L. 103-239) was passed to address the national skills shortage by providing a model to create a highly skilled workforce for the nation's economy through partnerships between educators and employers. The STWOA emphasized preparing students with the knowledge, skills, abilities, and information about occupations and the labor market that would help them make the transition from school to postschool employment through school-based and work-based instructional components supported by a connecting activity's component. Key elements of STWOA included (a) collaborative partnerships, (b) integrated curriculum, (c) technological advances, (d) adaptable workers, (e) comprehensive career guidance, (f) work-based learning, and (g) a step-by-step approach.

On October 31, 1998 President Clinton signed the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act (Pub. L. 105-332). Two major focus areas of this legislation were to increase accountability and provide states with more flexibility to use funds.

Trends and Issues

In the United States of the early twenty-first century, vocational education has entered a new era. There is increasing acknowledgement that the traditional educational focus on college-bound youth needs to change. Greater attention is being focused on work-bound youth, particularly those who will require less than baccalaureate education. There is increasing concern that the United States is not adequately preparing a growing pool of new workerswomen, minorities, and immigrantsfor productive, successful roles in the workforce. Education is being urged to change the way it is preparing youth and adults to function in a global economy. All of these trends are bringing new importance to vocational education.

A U.S. General Accounting Office study examined strategies used to prepare work-bound youth for employment in the United States and four competitor nationsEngland, Germany, Japan and Sweden. Among the findings:

  1. The four competitor nations expect all students to do well in school, especially in the early years. U.S. schools accept that many will lag behind.
  2. The competitor nations have established competency-based national training standards that are used to certify skill competency. U.S. practice is to certify program completion.
  3. All four competitor nations invest as heavily in the education and training of work-bound youth as they do for each college-bound youth.
  4. To a much greater extent than in the United States, the schools and employment communities in the competitor countries guide students' transition from school to work, helping students learn about job requirements and assisting them in finding employment.
  5. Young adults in the four competitor nations have higher literacy rates than the comparable population segment in the United States.

Generally, research has shown that obtaining workers with a good work ethic and appropriate social behavior has been a priority for employers. Employers complain about the attitude and character of workersparticularly about absenteeism, an inability to adapt, a lack of discipline, and negative work behaviors. In response to criticism about the general employability of the workforce, the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills published in 1991 a range of skills that all workforce participants should have. These include the following:

  • 1. Basic Skills
  • a. Reading
  • b. Writing
  • c. Mathematics
  • d. Listening
  • e. Speaking
  • 2. Thinking Skills
  • a. Creative Thinking
  • b. Decision Making
  • c. Problem Solving
  • d. Knowing How to Learn
  • e. Reasoning
  • 3. Personal Qualities
  • a. Responsibility
  • b. Self-Esteem
  • c. Sociability
  • d. Self-Management
  • e. Integrity/Honesty

If the United States is to remain at the forefront in the high-tech global marketplace, the workforce must posses the requisite technological competencies and academic skills. As technology continues to influence vocational education, new and innovative educational approaches must be established to provide vocational education students with the enhanced skills and knowledge they will need to participate in the international marketplace.

Technology Education

Most people recognize that technology has changed the world, but few people understand the various aspects of technology and how pervasive technology is in U.S. society. Technology is commonly defined as a discipline or body of knowledge and the application of this knowledge combined with resources to produce outcomes in response to human desires and needs. Technology education draws its content from four universal domains: (1) sciences, (2) humanities, (3) technologies, and (4) formal knowledge. The sciences and humanities domains contain all recorded knowledge of the sciences and humanities. The technologies domain likewise contains all recorded knowledge related to the types of technology. The formal knowledge domain consists of language, linguistics, mathematics, and logic.

Technology education programs are available at the elementary, middle/junior high school, and secondary levels. At the elementary school level, the focus is on technological awareness with classroom activities oriented around the development of motor skills and informed attitudes about technology's influence on society. At the middle school level, the focus of technology education programs is on exploring the applications of technology to solve problems and exploring the various technological careers. A wide variety of problem-solving situations are used, giving students opportunities to create and design. Activities are designed to further promote technological awareness and to promote psychomotor development through processes associated with technology. Secondary technology education programs are designed to give students experience related to scientific principles, engineering concepts, and technological systems.

The New Vocationalism

Vocationalism is defined as the method used by schools, particularly high schools, to organize their curricula so the students may develop skills, both vocational and academic, that will give them the strategic labor market advantages needed to compete for good jobs. Overall enrollment in vocational courses has fallen. However, an incoming current has brought a growing number of participants into new programs and curricula. While traditional vocational offerings have been geared toward immediate entry into specific occupations, new programs and course sequences are intended to prepare students for both colleges and careers, by combining a challenging academic curriculum with development of work-related knowledge skill. The new combination aims to keep students' options open after high school. They can go to a two-year or four-year college and then work, go to work full-time and then back to college, or engage in paid employment and further education simultaneously.

The overall decline in high school vocational enrollment is evident from student transcript data. Between 1982 and 1994 the average number of vocational credits completed by high school graduates declined form 4.7 to 4.0, or from 22 percent to 16 percent of total credits earned in all subjects. The number of students who completed three or more courses in a single vocational program area slipped from 34 percent to 25 percent. Furthermore, students with disabilities, or with low grades, accounted for a growing proportion of vocational course-taking in high schools during this period. Combining a vocational sequence with college-prep academic courses seems to yield positive results. Several studies have found that high school students who combine a substantial academic curriculum with a set of vocational courses do better than students who omit either one of these two components.

The idea of combining vocational and academic coursework is also central to High Schools That Work, a network of more of more than 800 schools engaged in raising academic curriculum with modern vocational studies. It is also a key component of the New American High Schools identified by the U.S. Department of Education. Many of these schools are trying to raise academic standards and expectations by structuring the curriculum alignment around students' career-related interests. Charles Benson, in a paper delivered in 1992 and published posthumously in 1997, articulated some of the objectives of the new vocationalism: The first is to enable almost all students, not just the minority, to obtain a thorough working knowledge of mathematics, sciences, and languages. That is, the first objective of the new vocationalism is to help many more students obtain a much higher standard of academic proficiency. The second objective is to help many, many more students gain such a level of occupational proficiency that they enter easily and quickly into productive, rewarding, and interesting careers.

What does the integration of academic and vocational curricula entail? Research has shown that schools bring academic and vocational education together in a number of different ways, which comprise eight different models of integration at the secondary level. These models are summarized as follows:

  1. More academic content is incorporated in vocational courses.
  2. Academic courses are made more vocationally relevant.
  3. Academic and vocational teachers cooperate to incorporate academic content into vocational programs.
  4. Curricular alignment is accomplished by modifying or coordinating both academic and vocational curricula across courses.
  5. Seminar projects are done in lieu of elective courses and require students to complete a project that integrates knowledge and skills learned in both academic and vocational courses.
  6. The academy model is a school-within-a-school that aligns courses with each other and to an occupational focus.
  7. Vocational high schools and magnet schools align courses with each other and to an occupational focus for all students.
  8. Occupational clusters, career paths, and occupational majors feature a coherent sequence of courses and alignment among courses within clusters.

Work-Based Learning

Work experience programs allow students to learn first-hand about the world of work while still in school. These efforts, broadly referred to as work experience programs, include formal work-based training programs outside the school, such as cooperative education, youth apprenticeship, and school-based enterprises. Co-op education is run by individual schools as part of their vocational education programs. Students are provided part-time jobs during the school year in their field of vocational specialization. The job placements are arranged by the classroom vocational instructor or by the school's co-op coordinator. A training plan that clearly states what the student is expected to learn and what the employer is expected to provide is developed. Business and marketing education programs are generally the largest sponsors of co-op education.

The concept of youth apprenticeship includes preparation for postsecondary education as well as employment. Youth apprenticeship, typically designed for high school students who may go on to postsecondary education, are different from traditional apprenticeships run by unions or trade associations, that usually enroll young adults who have graduated from high school. There is a growing consensus about the principles that should guide any youth apprenticeship and about the basic design elements that differentiate youth apprenticeships from other models linking school and work. These principles include active participation of employers; integration of work-based and school-based learning; integration of academic and vocational learning; structured linkages between secondary and postsecondary institutions; and award of a broadly recognized certificate of occupational skill.

The third type of work experience program is school-based enterprises. In these programs, students produce goods or services for sale or use to other people. Such enterprises include school restaurants, construction projects, child care centers, auto repair shops, hair salons, and retail stores.

These programs differ from co-ops and apprenticeships in that they do not place students with employers. Rather, the goal of school-based enterprises is to allow students to apply their classroom knowledge to running real-world businesses. School-based enterprises are a viable option in communities where there are too few employers to provide sufficient jobs and training opportunities in the private sector.

As the evolution toward higher technology in the work place continues, the focus of federal support for vocational education must be on redoubling efforts to increase linkages between academic and occupational skill development, secondary and postsecondary education, and business and education.

See also: Agricultural Education; Business Education, subentry on School; Family and Consumer Sciences Education; Technology Education; Vocational School Fallacy.


Asche, Marion. 1991. "Educational Reform and Vocational Education: Review with Implications for Research and Development." The Journal of Vocational Education Research 16 (3):134.

Benson, Charles S. 1997. "New Vocationalism in the United States: Potential Problems and Outlook." Economics of Education Review 16 (3):201212.

Boesel, David; Rahn, Mikala; and Deich, Sharon. 1994. Program Improvement: Education Reform. Vol. 3: National Assessment of Vocational Education: Final Report to Congress. Washington DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.

Gordon, Howard R. D. 1999. The History and Growth of Vocational Education in America. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Gray, Kenneth C., and Herr, Edwin L. 1998. Workforce Education: The Basics. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Hyslop, Emery J. 2000. "An Assessment of the Historical Arguments in Vocational Education Reform." Journal of Career and Technical Education 17 (1):2330.

Johnson, Keith V. 1996. "Some Thoughts on African Americans' Struggle to Participate in Technology Education." The Journal of Technology Studies 22 (1):4954.

Kantor, Harvey, and Tyack, David B. 1982. Work, Youth, and Schooling: Historical Perspectives on Vocationalism in American Education. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Levesque, Karen, et al. 2000. Vocational Education in the United States: Toward the Year 2000. National Center for Education Statistics Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. 1983. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. 1991. What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.

Scott, John L., and Sarkees, Michelle. 1996. Overview of Vocational and Applied Technology Education. Homewood, IL: American Technical Publishers.

Walter, Richard A. 1993. "Development of Vocational Education." In Vocational Education in the 1990s II: A Sourcebook for Strategies, Methodology and Materials, ed. Craig Anderson and Larry C. Rampp. Ann Arbor, MI: Prakken Publications.

Warnat, Winifred I. 1991. "Preparing a Worldclass Workforce." Vocational Education Journal 66 (5):2325.

Howard R. D. Gordon


The trend in contemporary K12 vocational education is away from the use of the word vocational to label these programs. Most states have selected a broader term, although a few use vocational technical education. A number of states have followed the lead of the national vocational education organizations and adopted the term career and technical education. Others use variations, such as career and technology education and professional-technical education, and several states include the word workforce in describing these programs. The changes in terminology reflect a changing economy, in which technical careers have become the mainstay.

When the term career education first became popular in the 1970s, it was distinguished from vocational education by its emphasis on general employability and adaptability skills applicable to all occupations, while vocational education was primarily concerned with occupational skill training for specific occupations. That basic definition of career education remains appropriate today.

The purpose of career and technical education is to provide a foundation of skills that enable high school students to be gainfully employed after graduationeither full-time or while continuing their education or training. Nearly two-thirds of all graduates of career and technical programs enter some form of postsecondary program.

Across the United States, career and technical education programs are offered in about 11,000 comprehensive high schools, several hundred vocational-technical high schools, and about 1,400 area vocational-technical centers. Public middle schools typically offer some career and technical education courses, such as family and consumer sciences and technology education. About 9,400 postsecondary institutions offer technical programs, including community colleges, technical institutes, skill centers, and other public and private two-and four-year colleges. In 2001 there were 11 million secondary and postsecondary career and technical education students in the United States, according to the U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

The subject areas most commonly associated with career and technical education are: business (office administration, entrepreneurship); trade and industrial (e.g., automotive technician, carpenter, computer numerical control technician); health occupations (nursing, dental, and medical technicians); agriculture (food and fiber production, agribusiness); family and consumer sciences (culinary arts, family management and life skills); marketing (merchandising, retail); and technology (computer-based careers).

Career and technical education programs usually are offered as a sequence of courses supplemented by work-based experiences, such as internships or apprenticeships. These work experiences remain a hallmark of career and technical education.

Rethinking the Mission

For the last two decades of the twentieth century, business led the charge for school reform in order to have better prepared students for the workplace. Yet career and technical education programs, which have the mission of readying young people for employment, continue to be pushed aside by courses designed to prepare students for high-stakes academic assessments. All states have testing requirements for high school students in mathematics, science, English language arts, and sometimes social studies. One result of the emphasis on academic testing is a continuing decline in the number of students enrolled in career and technical education.

To reverse declining enrollments, career and technical education faces a twofold challenge: to restructure its programs and to rebuild its image. Traditional vocational programs provided students with job-specific skills that many parents viewed as too narrow for their children.

The trend is for career and technical education programs to rethink their mission by asking how they can prepare students with high-level academic skills and the broad-based transferable skills and technical skills required for participation in the "new economy," where adaptability is key. Programs adopt this dual approach in an effort to make career and technical education a realistic option for large numbers of students to achieve academic success, which will translate into employment for them.

These programs teach broad skills that are applicable to many occupations. This preparation for the world of work is anchored in strong academic skills, which students learn how to apply to real-world situations. These academic skills include the competencies needed in the contemporary workplace as well as the knowledge and skills valued by academic education and measured by state examinations.

The reality is that the academic skills needed for the workplace are often more rigorous than the academic skills required for college. The multidisciplinary approach of most work tasks and the amount of technology and information in the workplace contribute to the heightened expectations of all workers, including entry-level.

For career and technical education programs to flourish in the early twentieth century's test-driven school environment, they must: (1) find ways to continue to prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed in the increasingly sophisticated workplace; (2) embed, develop, and reinforce the academic standards/benchmarks that are tested on the state-mandated assessments; and (3) teach the essential skills that all students need for success in life.

Organizing Programs Around Career Clusters

The workplace requires three sets of skills of most workers:

  • Strong academics, especially in English language arts, mathematics, and science, as well as computer skills;
  • Career specific skills for a chosen career cluster;
  • Virtues such as honesty, responsibility, and integrity.

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education has identified sixteen broad career clusters that reflect a new direction for education. The clusters were created to assist educators in preparing students for a changing workplace. The intent is for secondary and postsecondary educators, employers, and industry group representatives to work together to formulate cluster standards. The careers in each cluster range from entry level through professional/technical management in a broad industry field. Each cluster includes both the academic and technical skills and knowledge needed for careers and postsecondary education. These clusters provide a way for schools to organize course offerings so students can learn about the whole cluster of occupations in a career field. It is an excellent tool to assist students in identifying their interests and goals for the future. The sixteen career clusters are:

  • Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • Architecture and Construction
  • Arts, Audiovisual Technology, and Communications
  • Business and Administration
  • Education and Training
  • Finance
  • Government and Public Administration
  • Health Science
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Human Services
  • Information Technology
  • Law and Public Safety
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail/Wholesale Sales and Services
  • Scientific Research/Engineering
  • Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics

The preparation of students in the career clusters must include (1) academic skills, (2) cluster-specific standards, and (3) broad transferable skills. All of these aspects of the curriculum must be organized in a continuum. As students grow and develop through this continuum, they will prepare themselves for broader and higher-level opportunities.

The Academic Issues

The 1983 publication of a government report, A Nation at Risk, sounded an alarm about the competitiveness of U.S. students in comparison to their international counterparts. Education systems responded by raising standards in mathematics, science, English language arts, and, in some states, other disciplines such as social studies as well. States have passed legislation and implemented regulations in hopes of solving the problem.

Because the business community was directly involved in the school reform process, business concepts were applied in schools in the 1980s and 1990s. Examples included Total Quality Management, continuous improvement, and the strategic planning techniques used by senior management to change business organizations.

Many schools also spent a great deal of energy creating vision, mission, and goal statements in their quest for higher student achievement. By the early 1990s, however, it was clear that these endeavors and others, such as site-based management, while well intended, had not improved student performance. Too often, the institutional issues took precedence over the needs of the students.

Schools then made a more aggressive effort to focus instruction on raising achievement, in what became referred to as the "standards movement." Again, this concept was taken directly from business, but industry standards for products and services were not easily transferable to the intellectual development of children. Furthermore, the rules of engagement in education are fundamentally different from the rules of engagement in the business sector. In business, everyone is expendable, whereas in education, nearly everyone is protected. Moreover, education is committed to equity as well as excellence.

Although the standards movement was intended to bring focus and direction to the curriculum, it led instead to a proliferation of content to be taught in the curriculum. This can be seen in research by Dr. Robert Marzano and colleagues in What Americans Believe Students Should Know: A Survey of U.S. Adults (1999). The authors examined standards across all subjects and grade levels and identified 200 distinct standards with 3,093 related benchmarks. From teachers' estimates of how long it would take to teach each benchmark adequately, the researchers calculated that it would require 15,465 hours to cover all of them. Yet, students have only 9,042 hours of instructional time over the course of their K12 careers.

The International Center for Leadership in Education conducted a survey in 1999 to identify the skills and knowledge graduates need for success in the world beyond school. The survey, reported in The Overcrowded Curriculum (1999), asked respondents to identify the top thirty-five standardsin terms of what a high school senior should know and be able to dofrom a list of content topics commonly found in states' exit standards. The top-rated skills in mathematics, science, and English language arts bear a striking resemblance to skills typically covered in career and technical education programs. Many of the lowest-rated topics remain a central focus of instruction in these disciplines.

More School Reform

When the standards movement did not translate into graduates with the skills that corporate America deemed necessary, business leaders pressed elected officials to instill more rigor into the system and to prove that students were mastering what was taught. In response, states initiated or upgraded mandatory statewide testing programs to find out what students know.

Although these testing programs have served some useful purposes, they do not measure a broad scope of knowledge. Schools do not have enough time to teach all the standards, benchmarks, performance objectives, goals, and other subcategories of standards, so states cannot test students on all of them.

While raising academic standards was a central concern of K12 education for two decades, issues raised by business about students' inability to apply their skills and knowledge on the job did not receive widespread attention. Vocational education was the only area uniformly to embrace the necessity for students to learn how to apply their knowledge in the real world.

The New Workplace

At the conclusion of World War II, the adults in the United States, many of whom grew up during the Great Depression, wanted their children to have a better standard of living than they did. They saw higher education as the ticket to that better life. Meanwhile, Europe and Asia focused more on rebuilding their war-torn countries than on education, thus allowing American colleges and universities to have the highest academic standards in the world for the next several decades.

America's reversal of educational prominence happened at the time when technology began to reshape the workplace. By the early 1990s the academic skills needed in the workplace often surpassed the academic skills required for entry into college. Like the United States, other countries experienced the call for school reform, but they did not need to be convinced of the link between education and work. The United States, with a different value system, retreated to the old ways: raise standards and define excellence through testing. But the reality is that the tests do not measure the skills that underpin the workplace, and U.S. graduates continue to be at a disadvantage in the global and domestic marketplaces.

Another significant event that occurred in the late 1980s was the shift from big business to small business. Companies across the America began to downsize. In small companies, broad skills and the ability to handle multiple tasks are of paramount importance. Even entry-level workers are expected to be jacks-of-all-trades.

The contemporary workplace is dynamic and entrepreneurial. Approximately one-third of jobs is in flux every year, meaning that they have just been added or will be eliminated. The job security once enjoyed in big companies is no sure bet anymore. Employees must continuously reinvent themselves by seeking out the additional training and new skills that will keep them marketable. Skills and adaptability have become the new job security.

The new economy requires that employees be able to apply mathematics, science, and technical reading and writings skills in a variety of job tasks. The trend in career and technical education is to teach transferable skills via the various occupational clusters. These clusters are industry-specific enough to enable students to develop employment skills without being so limited as to track students into narrowly defined or dead-end jobs. To accomplish this, the programs provide a strong academic foundation and teach students the processes of applying this knowledge.

The work environment is always in transition, with changing equipment, tasks, and responsibilities. Technology is progressing too rapidly to train students on the latest equipment, so the trend in career and technical education is to focus on teaching the skills, concepts, and systems that underpin technology rather than how to operate a particular piece of technology.

Use Research about Learning

A growing body of education research supports the efficacy of the methodology used in career and technical education programs. Research documents that the capacity to apply knowledge to practical situations is not only an important ability for students to have, but also an effective way to improve their academic performance. Research also shows that students learn more when they are motivated to do so. In career and technical education, motivation stems from the realization that what they are learning has a practical application to the world of work.

Arnold Packer, Chairman of the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) 2000 Center at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, has found that "solving realistic problems motivates students to work on their academics. They have their own answer to the oft-asked question: "Why do I have to learn this?" This blend of academic, career, and computer learning helps them acquire the skills needed for successful careers while they achieve to meet state standards."

The National Research Council has found that when instruction is based on students' interests and aptitudes and is appropriate to their learning styles, students are more motivated to learn. Academic performance generally improves, for example, when students attend magnet schools and theme academies.

The research suggests that the ability to apply knowledge requires experience in using that knowledge in a variety of ways over a period of time, drawing on the same knowledge base. Career and technical education does a good job in this regard. Skill and knowledge are taught and reinforced through hands-on activities and real-world applications.

The National Research Council's comprehensive 1999 report, How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice, shared key findings of the research literature on human learning, curriculum design, and the learning environment. One of those findings concerned metacognition. Metacognition occurs when a learner takes a new piece of information, debates its validity in relation to what else he or she knows about the subject, and then considers how it expands his or her understanding of the topic. Most career and technical education programs employ more metacognition activities than traditional programs, in which many students spend the school day listening to teachers disseminate knowledge. Learning by doing is the standard approach in their courses, as students use skills and knowledge to create products and model solutions to problems.

Research shows that students will try to rise to the level of expectation established for them. For career and technical education, this means having as high expectations for students' academic performance as for their performance of job-related skills.

In the technological, information-based economy, workers must be able to apply high-level, integrated academic skills on the job. As career and technical education programs redesign curriculum to embed academic standards, their students have an advantage over other students because career and technical education students also learn how to apply these skills.

See also: Business Education, subentry on School; School Reform; Technology Education; Vocational School Fallacy.


Bottoms, Gene; Presson, Alice; and Johnson, Mary. 1992. Making High Schools Work Through Integration of Academic and Vocational Education. Atlanta, GA: Southern Regional Education Board.

Button, Kenneth; Cox, Kenneth; Stough, Roger; and Taylor, Samantha. 2001. The Long Term Educational Needs of a High-Technology Society. Washington, DC: 21st Century Workforce Commission.

Campbell, Kim. 2001. "It's Technical, Really." Christian Science Monitor May 1.

Chea, Terence. 2000. "Panel Urges Bigger Pool for Tech Jobs." Washington Post July 14.

Committee for Economic Development Research and Policy Committee. 2000. Measuring What Matters: Using Assessment and Accountability to Improve Student Learning. New York: Committee for Economic Development.

Daggett, Willard R.; Kruse, Benedict; and Fields, Gary M. 2001. Education as a Business Investment. Rexford, NY: International Center for Leadership in Education.

Daggett, Willard R., and Ott, Timothy E. 1999. The Overcrowded Curriculum: Using Data to Determine Essential Skills. Rexford, NY: International Center for Leadership in Education.

Donovan, M. Suzanne; Bransford, John D.; and Pellegrino, James W., eds. 1999. How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. Washington, DC: National Research Council Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice.

Hull, Dan. 1995. Who Are You Calling Stupid? Waco, TX: Center for Occupational Research and Development, Inc.

Judy, Richard W., and D'Amico, Carol. 1997. Workforce 2020: Work and Workers in the 21st Century. Indianapolis, IN: Hudson Institute.

Marzano, Robert J.; Kendall, John S.; and Cicchinelli, Louis F. 1999. What Americans Believe Students Should Know: A Survey of U.S. Adults. Aurora, CO: Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. 1983. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Packer, Arnold. 2000. "How Lessons Can Compute." The Baltimore Sun April 27.

Ravitch, Diane. 2000. Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms. New York: Simon and Schuster.

U.S. Department of Labor. 1990. The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.

U.S. Department of Labor. 1999. Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.

Willard R. Daggett


Most state and local education agencies in the United States have changed the name of vocational education to "career and technical" or "career technical" education to reflect a broader mission. The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium indicated that career technical education "is provided in a variety of settings and levels including middle school career exploration, secondary programs, postsecondary certificates and degrees, and customized training for employees in the workplace. Career Technical Education also provides students and adults (1) the technical skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in occupations and careers, (2) the cross-functional or workplace basics necessary for success in any occupation or career (such as problem solving, teamwork and the ability to find and use information) as well as skills for balancing family and work responsibilities, and (3) the context in which traditional academic skills and a variety of more general educational goals can be enhanced" (National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education website). The term career and technical education, rather than vocational education, will be used throughout this article when describing current programs and activities.

History of Pre-Service Teacher Education

In 1914 a congressional Commission on National Aid to Vocational Education was established to study the skilled worker needs and report its findings to Congress. The findings of this commission resulted in the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917the first federally enacted legislation to promote vocational education in public high schools in America. This act provided federal funds for vocational education at the secondary level in the areas of agriculture, trades and industry, and home economics.

The Smith-Hughes Act was also the first federal legislation to make funds available to train teachers. Sections 2, 3, and 4 in the Act authorized the use of funds to be paid to states for the purpose of paying the salaries of teachers, supervisors, and directors and in the preparation of teachers, supervisors, and directors. The George-Deen Act (1936) extended the coverage of vocational education to include distributive education. The George-Barden Act Amendments (1956) extended coverage to include practical nursing and the fishery trades. The Vocational Education Act (1963) included business and office education.

Vocational education teacher requirements have often required a number of years of experience in a craft or trade prior to being employed as a teacher. In some occupational areas, some alternative state certification schemes have allowed those without a college degree, but with extensive occupational experience, to teach vocational education courses.

The educational reform movement of the late twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century has had an important impact on career and technical teacher education programs. Educational reform influences in career and technical teacher education programs include increasing technical and academic achievement; increasing assessment and accountability requirements; designing meaningful instructional tasks based on real world problems; using technology; teaching teamwork and collaboration skills; and developing leadership skills.

A career and technical education teacher must also be prepared to relate to an increasingly diverse student clientele in a manner that results in higher levels of academic and technical proficiency. Furthermore, these students need to be able to reason analytically, solve complex problems, and gather and process information and data.

Organization of Career and Technical Teacher Education

Land-grant universities, state colleges and universities, church-related colleges, and private colleges are important sources of career and technical education teachers. The majority of career and technical teacher education programs are housed in departments or colleges of education. However, they are also found in other colleges or subject area departments such as Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences; Business; Engineering; Human Ecology; and Professional Studies.

Career and technical teacher education faculties are charged with teaching both pre-service and inservice educational programs. Increasingly, colleges and universities are relying on adjunct and part-time faculty to teach career and technical teacher education courses. More programs are offering field-based courses in conjunction with public schools and distance education is also being used to deliver instruction.

Students are generally admitted to a career and technical teacher education program after they have earned at least a 2.5 cumulative grade point average. Other criteria for admission include requirements such as general education courses, work experience, letters of reference and successful passing of the Praxis I (academic skills) examination.

Career and technical teacher education programs include courses such as history and philosophy, methods of teaching, program planning, curriculum development, and field-based inquiry/student teaching. At the end of their pre-service program, students often must pass the Praxis II (subject assessments and principles of learning and teaching) test. Beginning teachers are increasingly required to pass the Praxis III (classroom performance assessments) examination by the end of their first year of teaching. The shortage of certified and/or licensed career and technical education teachers has resulted in the hiring of people from business and industry to fill teacher vacancies. Individuals from business and industry often have the technical skills required but lack the pedagogical skills and understanding needed to establish productive teaching and learning environments. People from business and industry entering teaching are often brought in under temporary licensure and required to obtain, within a specified time period, the educational competencies needed to succeed in the classroom. Individuals entering alternative licensure programs often have the option of being a part of field-based or cohort-based courses.

In-Service and Staff Development Programs

Career and technical education teachers are expected to meet their students' needs for career development, technical and academic achievement, and technology skills. Career and technical education students must also demonstrate higher order skills in reasoning, problem solving, and collaborative work. At the same time, teachers are faced with serving a more diverse student clientele. Finally, the rapidly changing workplace and technological revolution require ongoing curriculum revisions.

Career and technical education teachers participate in professional development using a variety of techniques. These include techniques such as formal education courses, interactions with business and industry, workshops, seminars, conferences, literature, and networking with other career and technical education professionals.

Beginning career and technical education teachers, while facing the same expectations and demands required of all teachers, are also faced with the need to refine their pedagogical skills. Most beginning teachers are required to participate in teacher induction programs designed to help them survive their first year of teaching and pass the Praxis III (class-room performance assessment) examination. Often teacher induction programs are offered through cooperative efforts of local school districts, colleges and universities, state departments of education, and professional career and technical education teachers' organizations.

Major Trends and Issues in Teacher Preparation

Career and technical teacher education is affected by a number of trends and issues. Four of these major trends and issues are: approaches to teaching and learning, infrastructure, teacher licensure and standards, and innovative programs.

Approaches to teaching and learning. Behavioral, cognitive, constructivist, and contextual learning environments have all been used in vocational and career and technical education. However, the psychological approaches in career and technical teacher education changed significantly in the last half of the twentieth century.

From about 1920 to 1970, behaviorists such as B. F. Skinner theorized that human behavior was highly shaped by its consequences. Later, cognitive psychologists portrayed learners as being active processors of information and assigned priority to the knowledge and perspective students bring to their learning. Cognitive theorists stressed the role of thinking in the learning process and believed that the teacher was to provide learners with opportunities and incentives to learn. Cognitive development theorists have more recently taken a constructivist view of learning that incorporates learner-centered teaching practices, problem-based learning, contextual teaching and learning experiences, integrated academic and vocational curriculum, and authentic assessments. Career and technical education teachers, in working with their students, have routinely used learner-centered approaches.

Contextual teaching and learning represents yet another approach to teaching and learning used by career and technical education. Contextual teaching and learning encourages students to employ their academic understandings and abilities in a variety of in-and out-of-school contexts by asking them to solve simulated or real-world problems both alone and with others. Career and technical education teachers often use contextual teaching strategies to help students make connections with their roles and responsibilities as family members, citizens, students, and workers.

Infrastructure. High quality career and technical teacher education programs require personnel (e.g., faculty, staff, and students), productivity tools (such as curriculum, technology, professional development opportunities, supplies, and telecommunication technology), and physical facilities (buildings, libraries, classrooms, and laboratories). Unfortunately, higher educationfor the most parthas failed to invest in career and technical education personnel, productivity tools, and physical facilities to support quality teacher education programs.

Teacher licensure and standards. The licensure of career and technical teachers varies greatly across states, and can be obtained in a number of different ways depending upon the requirements established by each state. Several types of licenses are available, including initial (or probationary), regular (or permanent), emergency, private school, and alternative. Although numerous routes are available to obtaining a teaching license, very little is known about the effects of these licenses on student achievement.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was created to recognize teachers who have been judged by their peers as being accomplished, making sound professional judgments about students' best interests, and acting effectively on those judgments. As of 2001 there were 342 Nationally Board Certified Early Adolescence through Young Adulthood/Career and Technical Education teachers.

Innovative programs. One of the major suggestions emanating from policy studies for improving education has been to ensure that students are achieving at higher levels of academic and technical competency. Career and technical teacher education has a long history of responding to national needs and initiatives. Among the newer developments in career and technical education are career clusters, career pathways, career academies, and exemplary programs and promising practices.

Seventeen broad clusters have been identified that include all entry-level through professional-level occupations. The goal for these career clusters was to create curricular frameworks designed to organize knowledge and skills in a relevant manner that would help prepare students to transition successfully from high school to postsecondary education and employment in a career area, or both. These career clusters include agriculture and natural resources; business and administration; education and training; health science; human services; law and public safety; government and public administration; scientific research/engineering; arts; audio/video technology and communication; architecture and construction; finance; hospitality and tourism; information technology; manufacturing; retail/wholesale sales and service; and transportation, distribution, and logistics.

Career pathways are a series of academic, technological, and occupational courses and other educational experiences with a career focus in which students participate. Through a continuum of career-focused programs, students are provided with multiple pathways to employment and postsecondary education. Career pathways include rigorous academics as well as technical skills, in order for students to be prepared for both postsecondary education and for careers.

Career academies align clusters of courses around specific career areas, with teachers collaborating to develop integrated academic and vocational programs in a personalized learning environment, delivered over a period of years. These academies are designed to increase engagement and academic performance, students' personal and academic development, preparation for college and work, postsecondary attainment, and successful employment. Many large city school districts, such as Philadelphia, are organizing schools around career academies.

Teacher educators also look for examples of high quality career and technical education programs to use as illustrations in preparing prospective teachers. Wesley Budke, Debra Bragg, and others identified exemplary and promising secondary and postsecondary career and technical education programs in 2000 and 2001. The exemplary secondary career and technical education programs included programs in culinary arts and hospitality services, digital design, tech prep electronics technology, welding technology fabrication, computer graphics design, computer network administrator, culinary academy, and early childhood education/careers in education. The exemplary postsecondary career and technical education programs included programs in associate-degree nursing, telecommunications, integrated manufacturing management, and refugee targeted assistance. This effort to identify and disseminate information about exemplary and promising programs is ongoing.

See also: Agricultural Education; Business Education, subentries on Preparation of Teachers, School; Experiential Education; Teacher Education; Teaching, subentry on Knowledge Bases of; Technology Education.


Berns, Robert G., and Erikson, Patricia M. 2001. Contextual Teaching and Learning: Preparing Students for the New Economy. Columbus: Ohio State University, the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education.

Brown, Bettina L. 1998. Applying Constructivism in Vocational and Career Education. Information Series No. 378. Columbus: Ohio State University, Center on Education and Training for Employment.

Bruening, Thomas H.; Scanlon, Dennis C.; Hodes, Carol; Dhital, Purandhar; Shao, Xiaorong; and Liu, Shih-Tsen. 2001. The Status of Career and Technical Education Teacher Preparation Programs. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.

Budke, Wesley, E., and Bragg, Debra D. 2000. Sharing What Works: Identifying Successful Programs in Secondary and Postsecondary Career and Technical Education. Information Series No.376. Columbus: Ohio State University, the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education.

Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Amendments of 1998. U.S. Public Law 1105-332. U.S. Code. Vol. 20, sec. 2301 nt.

Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC). 1998. Contextual Teaching and Learning: Preparing Teachers to Enhance Student Success in and Beyond School. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education and ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education.

George Barden Act Amendments of 1957. U.S. Public Law 84-911.

George-Deen Vocational Education Act of 1936. U.S. Public Law 74-673. U.S. Code. Vol. 20 ch. 541, 49 Stat. 1428 (20 U.S.C. Sec. 1241). et seq i.

Joerger, Richard M., and Bremer, Christine D. 2001. Teacher Induction Programs: A Strategy for Improving the Professional Experience of Beginning Career and Technical Education Teachers. Columbus: Ohio State University, the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education.

McCaslin, N. L., and Parks, Darrell. 2002. Teacher Education in Career and Technical Education: Background and Policy Implications for the New Millennium. Columbus: Ohio State University, the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education.

Rojewski, Jay W. 2002. Preparing the Workforce of Tomorrow: A Conceptual Framework for Career and Technical Education. Columbus: Ohio State University, the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education.

Skinner, B. F. 1953. Science and Human Behavior, 2nd edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. U.S. Public Law 64-347. (Vocational Education Act, 1917. ) U.S. Code. Vol. 20, sec. 1145, 1628.

Vocational Education Act of 1963. U.S. Public Law 88-210. U.S. Code. Vol. 20, secs. 1241 et seq.

Vocational Education Amendments of 1968. U.S. Public Law 90-576. U.S. Code. Vol. 20, sec. 6, 11 nt, 158 nt, 240, 241c, 611, 886nt, 119c 2119c-4, 1201, 1221, 1226, 12411248 and others; U.S. Code. Vol. 42, sec. 2809 nt.

internet resources

National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education. 2002. "Career and Technical Education: An Essential Component of the Total Education System." <www.nasdvtec.org>.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. 2002. <www.nbpts.org/about/index.html>.

U.S. Department of Education. 2000. "Career Clusters." <www.ed.gov/offices/OVAE/clusters/index.html>.

N. L. McCaslin

Darrel Parks


Education and training have often been considered polar extremes, the first being the development of the mind and the latter the mastery of strictly practical endeavors. But the two worlds of practical and conceptual endeavors are less distant than they may seem, and these simplistic views of education and training are misguided.

Indeed, there are definitional problems concerning education and training, leading to misguided policies. There is a need for a clear understanding of the overlaps and contrasts between the two concepts.

There is a long and old controversy in the literature opposing education and training. The Roman rhetorician Quintilian claimed that oratory was more useful than philosophy, thereby stating the superiority of training over education. But for many centuries education was closer to philosophy than to applied endeavors.

Some educators use the word training in a derogatory way, as if to suggest that the learning is intellectually shallow or that it goes with attempts to educate the poor. In contrast, some trainers refer to education as vacuous, fuzzy, and rambling learning that is good only for wasting the time of students.

What Vocational Training Offers

Both views, however, are too narrow and misleading. When dealing with less-schooled students, vocational subjects can be used to motivate and to create an environment that is familiar to them. Good training may function as a conduit for the best possible education for students less ready for abstraction. By using practical situations as start and end points, abstract concepts can be introduced and mastered by students who otherwise would be very low achievers in academic schools.

The environment created by good vocational schools can give students a sense of getting closer to a concrete job. This can in turn generate a degree of motivation and sense of self-efficacy that is conducive to the mastery of abstract concepts that would leave students cold and aloof when taught at academic schools that have difficulties in recreating environments that motivate low-achieving students.

Good vocational training makes use of the context of the practical subjects to teach mathematics, writing, reading, and science. Students are asked to read the instructions of what they are doing and write down the procedures they will execute. Concrete workshop situations are conceived, for instance, to have students convert inches to centimeters, Fahrenheit to Celsius, and so on. In other words, proportion is learned as a by-product of solving shop problems. Mathematics is smuggled into the practicalities of shop work. In fact, good training institutions have different versions of mathematics, one for machinists, another for electricians, and so on.

As research in the psychology of learning suggests, the mastery of subjects increases when the contexts in which phenomena are examined are fully familiar to the students. Experiments have shown that a physical principle is better understood when the students are given the broad context in which it applies. For instance, it has been shown that students acquired a better grasp of the concept of density when they were shown a clip from the film Raiders of the Lost Ark in which the hero, Indiana Jones, has to replace a golden skull sitting on a platform with his bag filled with rocks, both which weighed the same. Students were asked to estimate the weight of the golden skull by measuring the approximate volume of a human skull and multiplying it by the relative density of gold. What good training does is to present inside the workshop such concrete problems based on concrete needs arising in the practical tasks to be performed.

Nevertheless, what training offers is merely the possibility to tap into this potential. There is nothing automatic about it. Training can fail to use these opportunities. Training that is only training is bad training or merely too shallow to go beyond the transmission of some dexterity. How to put out a fire or how to unclog a pipe are useful pieces of knowledge in their own right and need to be taught. But they are essentially different from longer training programs that contain more conceptual and theoretical structures.

The "basic skills" movement consists of improving the knowledge of the fundamental literacy and numeracy skills of workers who are learning a trade or have already mastered the more practical and manual aspects of their occupations. The essence of the successful strategies, however, is to use the same workplace operations as a scaffold on which to build the conceptual or cognitive skills that are missing. Workers learn how to read by reading the same manual that they need to read to perform their job correctly.

Vocational contents can be an ideal context in which to plant cognitive development of a higher order. Thinking skills and good reading and writing habits can be developed while doing practical tasks that lead to marketable skills.

By the same token, academic education may also resort to practical endeavors in order to carry the more general message. Laboratory classes try to do this, and the Indiana Jones example illustrates more deliberate attempts to bring context to learning. Theory, after all, involves the generalization and conceptualization of real-world observations. Formulas written on the blackboard merely display packaged and sanitized versions of the intense intellectual effort that was required to arrive at them. The idea of having students "rediscover" physical principles goes in the same direction.

Developments in Technology and Work Organization

This reasoning implies that the differences between education and training have always been exaggerated and that most reputable training programs are education as much as training. Recent developments in technology and work organization, however, seem to be blurring even further the distinction between education and training. In industrialized countries, a very significant share of manufacturing activities have changed considerably and incorporate new technologies, particularly those based on microprocessors and the variety of automation techniques that result from them. Some successful industrializing countries are definitely moving in the same direction.

New production technologies require more reading, more writing, more applied mathematics, and more science. In the past, these cognitive skills were, at best, a means to master a trade (e.g., one needs to know how to read to take the machinist course because some of the instruction is written in books or handouts). But these cognitive skills are becoming part and parcel of the occupational profile. For example, reading is directly useful for the performance of the core tasks of the occupation. Could it then be said that reading and mathematics are now vocational subjects? For that reason, most training programs could benefit from a little more emphasis on language, mathematics, and science, as occurs in the best courses and apprenticeships. This is increasingly happening in Germany, in the American techprep programs, and in the new generation of SENAI courses in Brazil.

While learning an occupation, the trainee may have an ideal opportunity to develop the same general skills that are taught in academic schools, that is, a general education. But this will not happen spontaneously. The integration of theory and practice, of shop activities with general principles of science, can be the result only of deliberate and well-informed efforts. Training programs should not underestimate the potential offered by such integration or the difficulties of achieving it. But there are good examples of these ideas. For instance, the new versions of the traditional Latin American "methodical series," as well as new methods developed in countries such as the United States (tech prep, School to Work) and Germany (key qualifications), have good track records.

In short, vocational subjects can be used to motivate and to create an environment that is familiar to the students. Good training may function as a conduit for the best possible education for students less ready for abstraction. By the same token, academic education may also resort to practical endeavors in order to carry the more general message.

Differences and Similarities between Training and Education

There are conceptual differences between the roles of vocational training and education. Yet, as mentioned, the borderline between training and education is quite blurred. In its purest version, education is knowledge removed from practical applications (e.g., learning astronomy is pure education, except for those who plan to become professional astronomers). At the other extreme, pure training is a version of skill preparation that does not explore the theoretical implications of the tasks being learned (e.g., learning how to use a saw and a jack plane without learning drafting and the requisite mathematics). In most cases, however, the two are combined.

Good training and a good education are equally goodand actually very similar in naturewhen they promote the broad conceptual and analytical development of the trainee. By the same token, a good education is often linked to applied endeavors that turn theoretical knowledge into a practical skill. The difference is mostly one of intention. Education uses the practical or occupational content to obtain a deeper mastery of theory, being somewhat unconcerned with the application of the knowledge in the marketplace. Training starts with the clear goal of preparing for an existing occupation, the theory being a necessary component to prepare a better worker for that position.

Yet, despite all the merits of training, it is not a cost-efficient substitute for good schools for all. By contrast, a solid basic education is the best preparation for a wide range of jobs. In addition, a good basic education shortens the length of training required. In other words, the need to develop a good training system does not replace the (perhaps) stronger imperative to develop a good general education system.

Workers with a good mix of practical skills and conceptual understanding of technology can adjust more easily to new and different occupations, grow in their careers, and adjust to technological changes. The real issue is not general versus superspecialized training but the solidity and depth of the basic skills that go together with specialized training.

A first element to understanding the differences and similarities between training and education is to consider that the presence of training contents that may be applicable at the workplace does not vary inversely with the presence of fundamental concepts and abstraction. Both poetry and solid-state physics are rich in abstraction. The first has scarce direct applicability at the workplace. The second has ample utilization. Basket weaving has hardly any abstraction or conceptualization and finds little demand in modern societies. Cutting hair offers little in abstract thinking but there are ample economic applications for this skill.

It is necessary to stress that theory and practice are not the extremes of a single continuum but independent concepts that admit all possible combinations of highs and lows, as exemplified above. Fortunately, to have the high theoretical and conceptual content that educates and sharpens the mind, one does not have to forego learning the practicalities of life and work. Both what is called vocational training and what is called education of all sorts have both the theory and the practice. The main point here is that occupational training that fetches a good market is as good or better than any other environment to educate the mind in the fundamental concepts that are usually found in good education.

Training should not be understood as something poor in theory and conceptualization. It can be rich or poor. Education should not be understood as something helplessly unpractical. In fact, it may be removed from immediate applications or it may be very close to them. There are no good reasons to be concerned with the differences between education and training instead of offering learning opportunities that have both.


Abstract subjects that are removed from the everyday life of students offer a more arid ground for learning. Such subjects as Latin declensions, French irregular verbs, underground geological layers, the successions of kings of France, and the capitals of African states are not topics that fascinate the average student. Hence, they are not the ideal place to graft the broad basic skills that constitute an education for a modern society. Vocational schools can avoid these motivational difficulties by bringing in the world of the factory, with its practicalities and the inherent motivation of learning some skills that have immediate market value. Nevertheless, not everything that happens in the factory is ideal for the process of learning. In particular, the factory routines teach mostly how to deal with repetitive activities. This is a worthy objective of short training courses and for the preparation of workers who lack the prerequisites for further development. This may be justified in many cases, but it is not what is considered the optimal environment for broad learning. But equally important to understand is that many interesting, motivating, or even fascinating practical applications of the concepts and theories taught in academic schools may fail to have immediate demand in the marketplaceeven though, indirectly, all good education ends up being valuable in the world of work. Learning statistics by dealing with Formula 1 auto racing data is as good as any other method of motivating students and leading them to complex concepts. However, newspapers rarely include advertisements for jobs involving the analysis of Formula 1 data.

See also: Curriculum, International; International Gap in Technology, The; Secondary Education, subentry on International Issues; Vocational School Fallacy.


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Interamerican Development Bank. Sustainable Development Department. 2000. "Vocational and Technical Training: A Strategy for the IDB." Washington, DC: Interamerican Development Bank, Sustainable Development Department.

Raizen, S. 1994. "Learning and Work: The Research Base." In Vocational Education and Training for Youth: Toward Coherent Policy and Practice, ed. Laurel McFarland and Margaret Vickers. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

U.S. Department of Labor. 1990. The Bottom Line: Basic Skills in the Workplace. Washington, DC:U.S. Department of Labor.

Claudio de Moura Castro

Vocational Education

views updated May 29 2018

Chapter 4
Vocational Education

1. Introduction

2. Prioritizing Market and Employment

3. Developing Key Secondary Vocational Schools

4. Developing 100 Key Specializations

5. Inter-regional Joint Recruitment and School Management

6. Talent Training by “Order”

7. Enhancing Career Guidance and Employment

8. Building Open Training Centers

9. Curriculum Development and Reform in Secondary Vocational Education

10. Typical Features of Higher Vocational Education in Shanghai

11. A Channel between Secondary and Higher Vocational Education

12. Vocational Qualification Certificate System

1. Introduction

Shanghai is recognized as the birthplace of vocational education in China. In 1917, Huang Yanpei, the father of modern vocational education in China, initiated the National Association of Vocational Education of China (NAVEC) with the cooperation of reputable educators and influential figures from industries. With the promotion and improvement of vocational education as its objective, the association vigorously carried out vocational education by actively setting up vocational schools. The efforts of the association secured an equal footing for vocational education with regular education in the modern education system in China. However, due to the prolonged plagues of foreign aggression, civil strife, and languishing business, it was impossible for the modern industry of China to develop, let alone vocational education.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, there has been a revival of vocational education. Moreover, since 1950, secondary vocational education and skilled worker training have been integrated into the national development agenda. This integration has played a vital role in restoring and developing the national economy, as well as cultivating various kinds of talents and maintaining the systematic support of the labor force for the country. Thereafter, various types of vocational and technical schools, including work-study and farm-study schools, were developed and became successful as evident in the improvement of standards of industrial and agricultural production technologies, as well as the cultural and the skill levels of the public.

Reform and opening up of China has ushered vocational education into a new phase of development. In the last few years, Shanghai has made continuous and sustainable progress in its vocational education through reforms aimed to improve its service, employment, and profit levels. A modern vocational education system has been emerging. Some 135 secondary vocational schools were allowed in 2005 to recruit students, with 243,900 registered students in schools. The graduate employment rate in that year was 98.32%. In the senior high school phase, the regular/vocational education ratio was about half and half. There were 168,700 registered students studying in 61 institutions of higher vocational education. The graduate employment rate was 96.18%. More than 2,000 private educational organizations obtained approval for operation. Most large and medium-sized state-owned enterprises had established their own training centers. There were 126 technical colleges for adults in the townships.

In recent years, Shanghai has taken the following measures to promote the healthy development of vocational education. First, Shanghai has restructured the layouts and specializations. During the Tenth Five-Year Plan, 185 secondary vocational schools were merged into 135, with the average student population increasing from below 1,000 to over 1,500. More than 20 new independent institutes of higher vocational education were established, resulting in an additional 90,000 students. Of all the specializations in secondary and higher vocational schools, primary, secondary, and tertiary industries accounted for 3.09% and 3.2%, 24.44% and 28.3%, and 72.47% and 68.5%. This proportional structure could basically meet the needs of industrial restructuring in Shanghai. There were 100 key specializations at the secondary level, eight of which were at national level; and 17 national-level training centers were in operation for urgently needed talents. There were also 23 national-level specializations at the higher level.

Second, Shanghai has intensified its reforms in vocational education in order to establish a modern vocational education system that is well connected across different levels, balanced in structure, as well as diverse in functions. Specifically:

  • Cooperation was encouraged between schools and enterprises in vocational education. Most vocational schools established alliances with business and enterprises for career guidance or teaching reform. Secondary vocational schools had more than 2,000 internship bases in business and enterprises.
  • Numerous sectors were involved in the operation of vocational schools. The vocational education in Shanghai has evolved a new pattern in which government dominates, enterprises and corporations assist, and private sectors participate. There are two independent secondary vocational schools co-run by Shanghai and Taiwan; 16 schools have specializations offered through Sino-Foreign joint efforts. The higher vocational education projects co-run with foreign partners account for the majority in Shanghai education system, covering about 60 specializations, such as electronics and electricity, communication and information, processing and manufacture, trade services, tourism, broadcasting, film and television. There are 14 private higher vocational schools, accounting for a quarter of the yearly total enrolment.
  • Shanghai has also reformed the way of running schools. The establishment of comprehensive senior high technical schools and the adoption of a credit system are underway.
  • Secondary and higher vocational schools have become important for on-the-job training, trans-employment training, and reemployment training. Technical schools for adults in townships, businesses, and enterprises also played a significant role in vocational training.
  • Shanghai has intensified the reforms in the personnel system of vocational education, specifically the tenure system. Shanghai is the first city in China to implement the system of professional titles in higher vocational schools. A united appraisal committee of higher vocational education was organized to appraise the academic and technical competence of teachers.

Third, Shanghai has also diversified its fund-raising channels for vocational education in an effort to establish demonstration vocational schools and promote the overall quality of vocational education. Shanghai allocates 22% of the extra funds for urban education to secondary vocational education and sets aside special funds for higher vocational education. After completing ten modern standardized secondary vocational schools, Shanghai has focused on six projects of vocational education:

  • Building 100 secondary vocational schools;
  • Speeding up the building of ten demonstration higher vocational schools and elevating at least five of them into the national-level demonstration higher vocational schools;
  • Building an information platform for vocational education consisting of campus networks, multimedia classrooms, and electronic reading rooms;
  • Opening training centers in light of the developmental needs of modern manufacturing and service industries with the assistance of vocational schools;
  • Reforming vigorously the curriculum of secondary vocational schools;
  • Enhancing teachers’ professional competence. Ninety-five percent of full-time teachers in secondary vocational education have a bachelor’s degree or above, while 42% are teachers with dual qualifications.

The six projects have changed the misconception that vocational schools can hardly develop into top-notch educational institutions and enhanced the overall quality of secondary-vocational education in Shanghai.

Shanghai has adopted a cost-sharing scheme in raising funds for secondary vocational education; that is, the MEC, sponsoring corporations, and schools share the cost of investment. This strategy proves very effective as it optimizes the scarce resources from government and improves the quality of school facilities.

2. Prioritizing Market and Employment

It is a widely accepted trend that vocational education must be developed with a focus on the market and employment. Before the 1980s, vocational education in Shanghai operated under the planned economic system. Vocational schools were run by enterprises, which provided students with employment upon graduation. Thus, employment was not an issue then. After the emergence of market economy in China, enterprises no longer shouldered the responsibility of financing and running vocational schools as they faced higher risks in business development and a more fierce competition in the profit-oriented market. Vocational schools originally run by enterprises started to receive support from the government and became comparatively independent. Consequently, enterprises were no longer responsible for graduates’ employment. Both graduates and enterprises had to choose each other during the employment process, which implied that graduates had to compete in the job market. Therefore, it became important for vocational schools to adjust their specializations and teaching methods in order to improve graduates’ technical skills and employment-oriented competence.

From the perspective of school operation, vocational schools take the initiative to respond to the market demand and strengthen their collaboration with enterprises. Many vocational schools have abandoned the traditional pattern of“making decisions behind closed doors.” They started to mobilize various stakeholders, especially the school direction committees and the parents’ associations, to promote mutual understanding among enterprises, parents, society, and the labor market in terms of the running of schools.

From the perspective of functional orientation, the objective of vocational schools has been transformed from “landing one job” to a more open education of sustainable development of human resources, establishing the human-oriented, lifelong educational concept, putting in place a system under which degree-targeted education and non-degree training are both carried out, and attaching equal importance to various certificates. Vocational schools actively conduct corporate training programs, which have expanded the educational function of vocational schools.

In terms of specialization development, vocational schools cater to market demand. Many schools have developed characteristic specializations in accordance with the industrial restructuring in Shanghai. The creation of these specializations is based on a grasp of the actual demand of regional economic and social development for talents, the students’ needs, and their learning ability.

A series of reforms catering to career and employment have been carried out. The thrust in curriculum design is to de-emphasize theory but to underscore practical skills. Consequently, teaching methods have also experienced sweeping changes. One noticeable change, for example, is the adoption of such effective teaching methods as the Credit Hour System, the Task-Oriented System, the Modular Conformity, and the On-Site Teaching Method. The Credit Hour System has been implemented by schools as an approach to assess students’ academic performance. Students may graduate so long as they obtain all the required credit hours. Those who fail to do so may continue their studies even after they are employed. Once they have obtained enough credit hours, they receive their diplomas.

A program has been proposed in vocational schools, which is called Teachers with Dual Qualifications. The dual-qualifications system requires teachers of any specialization to conduct courses in two areas: theory and hands-on skills. Due to historical reasons, teachers in vocational schools are strong at imparting theoretical knowledge, but relatively weak at practical skills. In order to remedy this state of affairs, many schools invite technical personnel from enterprises to work as part-time teachers on the one hand, and encourage full-time teachers to gain first-hand experience by working in the factories, attend training courses on technical skills, and obtain professional certificates. These efforts have all enhanced the quality of teachers.

3. Developing Key Secondary Vocational Schools

The MEC of Shanghai and Shanghai Labor and Social Security Bureau decided to build 100 key secondary vocational schools in Shanghai in March 2001. So far, 79 of them have passed the appraisal of the Shanghai Education Evaluation Institute and been approved by the MEC of Shanghai and Shanghai Labor and Social Security Bureau.

The program of building 100 key schools received a total investment of RMB 1.42 billion, with RMB 160 million (11%) contributed from the municipal government, RMB 740 million (52%) from employment units, and RMB 520 million (37%) from schools. Nearly 2,000 training centers were built for secondary vocational schools. About 100% of compulsory experiments were conducted and so were 96% of the on-site professional training centers. Thirty-three secondary vocational schools started reforms on the credit-hour system, accounting for 33% of all schools of this type. The number of full-time teaching staff increased by 10% and 95% of them were degree holders, 5% with a master’s degree, 75% with intermediate or senior professional titles, and 42% of full-time teachers with dual qualifications.

A comparison of the school facilities in 75 secondary vocational schools between 2001 and 2003 shows the remarkable achievements of this program. The school area increased from 5,579 mu to 6,172 mu, with an additional area of near 600 mu; the school floor space increased from the original 2.3 million square meters to 2.75 million square meters, with an extra 450,000 square meters in total and an average increase of 30,000 square meters for each school. The original value of the equipment property of the 75 secondary vocational schools jumped from RMB 710 million in 2001 to RMB 1.02 billion in 2003, with a 44% growth or an average rise of RMB 13.6 million for each school.

To centralize the limited educational resources, some schools were merged. In 2003, 205 vocational schools were merged into 135, among which 58 were special secondary schools, 46 vocational schools, and 45 schools for skilled workers. The average student population increased from below 1,000 per school to over 1,500.

In 2004 and 2005, 50 secondary vocational schools were recognized as key national schools of vocational education. With support from the district government and local industries, Shanghai vocational schools have made noticeable improvements in infrastructure and facilities. Statistical data on the first batch of 32 national key secondary vocational schools indicates that the school area increased by more than 400 mu; the floor space increased by 50,000 square meters; registered students reached 84,000, with an increase of 15,700, taking up approximately one-third of the total student population of secondary vocational schools in Shanghai; the full-time teachers also increased by 26%. Teachers with master’s degrees increased by 38%, teachers with senior professional titles by 39%, and full-time teachers with dual qualifications by 40%. Unprecedented progress was also made in the deployment of information technology.

4. Developing 100 Key Specializations

In 1998, Shanghai launched a program to develop key specializations in secondary vocational schools for various purposes. Today, 100 key specializations have been developed in the following areas: Farming and Forestry (2 specializations); Resources and Environment (1); Civil and Hydraulic Engineering (7); Processing and Manufacture (35); Transportation (7); Information Technology (5); Medicine and Health (5); Business, Trade, and Tourism (23); Finance and Economics (3); Arts and Sports (11); and Social Affairs (1). The distribution by industry is 3% for the primary industry, 42% for the second industry, and 55% for the third industry, tallying roughly with the industrial structure of Shanghai.

The development of key specializations has promoted the educational reform and favored students’ employment. The curriculum, teaching plans, and contents of courses are all based on the market demands and students’ needs of development. In the learning process, the schools insist on employment as the guidance, design student-oriented teaching plans, adjust course contents, optimize knowledge structure, strengthen practical training, and link up training programs with professional credentials. Statistics show that the recruitment and employment of students in key specializations enjoy a higher rate than the average.

Apart from having stable funding, these key specializations also have various experimental facilities, on-site training bases, and unique simulation equipment. According to available statistics, the third batch of 19 recognized key specializations have attracted in the past three years a total investment of RMB 28.925 million and purchased experimental and on-site training facilities worth RMB 12.656 million. Each key specialization has established its own training centers off campus. Over 99% of the specializations have carried out on-site training programs.

The development of key specializations has also improved the quality of teaching through enhanced teacher training programs.

5. Inter-regional Joint Recruitment and School Management

Shanghai’s vocational education is based locally but aims to serve the nation. It has trained qualified talents of various professions for other provinces and cities, particularly those in the central and western regions of China. In 2005, the secondary vocational schools in Shanghai enrolled 10,010 junior middle school graduates from other provinces and cities, an increase of 234% against that in 2004.

Three methods have been adopted by Shanghai vocational schools in carrying out regional joint recruitment and cooperative school management. First, these secondary vocational schools practice nationwide recruitment. Based on an employment-oriented principle, these schools have tailored their specializations to the job markets in those regions where students are enrolled. At the same time, these schools have also established specializations related to new industries and specializations with severe shortage of human resources in order to help graduates from other regions secure employment. The main recruitment sources include junior high school graduates from 26 provinces and cities, such as Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Shaanxi. The total enrolment in 2005 was 4,029 students, and most of them were from West China, the old northeastern industrial base, and the Yangtze River Delta Area. Second, Shanghai has carried out a program of joint recruitment and cooperative school management. Under the arrangement of the MEC of Shanghai, 18 secondary vocational schools implemented this program with eight provinces and cities, such as Yunnan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hubei, and Chongqing. In 2005, 14 schools in Shanghai entered into agreements with 25 schools in other regions for joint recruitment and cooperative school management. Third, the vocational schools in Shanghai established branches in other regions, adopting the “2 +1” pattern of school management. Students spend the first one or two years studying in western China and in schools located in rural areas, and spend the last year in Shanghai-based schools to study specialized skills and conduct graduation fieldwork. Under the scheme of pairing up one vocational school (in Shanghai) with one vocational school in western China or the rural areas, the Shanghai-based vocational schools have helped enhance the overall quality of their counterparts through sharing advanced educational concepts and experience of management and teaching.

Measures have been taken to provide secondary vocational education for adults and technical training to migrant workers. In 2005 secondary vocational schools, secondary technical and specialized schools for adults enrolled altogether 3,900 migrant workers. This has greatly improved the quality of urban workers, making them more capable of contributing to Shanghai’s urban construction.

In order to strengthen the program of inter-regional joint recruitment and cooperative school management, SMG allocated RMB 10 million to reward schools implementing the program. For each student enrolled from other areas, the school gets a reward of RMB 3,000. In view of the difference in income and living standards between different regions of China, Shanghai’s vocational schools established a tuition standard that takes account of the students’ places of origin. In addition, scholarships, stipends, tuition reduction or exemption have also been provided to those students.

Cooperative school management can provide teachers from other regions with opportunities to further their education and enable outstanding teachers in Shanghai to work temporarily in other areas. In order to enhance the quality of teaching in the joint venture schools, the Shanghai-based secondary vocational schools have planned to arrange for 100 teaching and administrative staff from the aided areas to come to Shanghai for three years of training. At the same time, 250 outstanding teachers and administrative personnel will be dispatched to those areas for teaching and supervisory work. This has boosted exchanges and cooperation between schools in Shanghai and those areas.

6. Talent Training by “Order”

Talent training by “order” refers to an education mode in which enterprises inform vocational schools about the knowledge and skills expected of their potential employees while schools try to foster talents according to this “order.” If these students meet enterprises’ requirements, they are employed upon graduation. This type of cooperation between enterprises and vocational schools stimulates schools to update their curricula, enhance students’ mastery of technical skills, and raise graduates’ employment rate. Such cooperation can also attract enterprises to lend more support to vocational education.

Talent training by “order” consists of two main types: Entitled Classes and Commissioned Classes. The former is made up of students selected by enterprises through examination out of the freshmen in the vocational schools. The enterprises cooperate with the schools in formulating an educational plan, selecting course books, or writing their own course books. While enterprises send technical personnel to these classes as part-time and full-time teachers, the schools also visit these enterprises on field trips. With regard to Commissioned Classes, enterprises propose the number of students and formulate detailed requirements while vocational schools modify accordingly their educational plan and gear the education toward the goal of securing employment for the graduates. Enterprises conduct examinations and interview graduates upon their graduation and employ the successful ones.

Talent training by “order” also propelled curriculum development. Every year, multinational corporations, such as Toyota and GM, provide Shanghai Transportation School with the latest automobile information and materials, while the latter compile more suitable course materials for the students “ordered.” These course materials exemplify the organic integration of theory and practice with more emphasis on practical skills training that is seamlessly linked with what the potential employers require.

Talent training by “order” has also created many training opportunities for teachers of vocational schools. For instance, Shanghai Petrochemical Industrial School invited foreign experts to conduct training sessions on practical skills for its teachers. Bayer Group and Basf Group have both assigned experts from their German headquarters to work at vocational schools in Shanghai and supervise the learning activities of their Entitled Classes. Shanghai Secco Petrochemical Co. Ltd. also invited three experts from Britain, America, and Australia to organize training sessions for its teachers.

Enterprises have also provided financial support to vocational schools, such as setting up special scholarships and grant subsidies to students. Some enterprises supply schools with equipment and materials necessary for fieldwork; some establish training centers in vocational schools. For instance, Bayer Group invested one million Euro for the building of a training center in Shanghai Petrochemical School. Shanghai Secco Petrochemical Co. Ltd. furnished the same school with RMB 1.5 million as a training fee and allocated RMB 80,000 as the Secco Scholarship. The German Corporation Degussa purchased 250,000 Euro-worth of equipment in the building of a training center and financed key teachers’ overseas training programs.

7. Enhancing Career Guidance and Employment

In response to reform and socio-economic development, vocational schools in Shanghai have provided effective employment guidance to their graduates, thereby sharpening their skills in the employment market.

Over the past several years, career guidance in vocational education has evolved from simply introducing graduates to enterprises to the promotion of students’ professional quality and comprehensive competence. In other words, the focus of career guidance has shifted from landing a job to the overall planning of a career life, covering the selection of profession, survival, competition, and long-term development. The approach to career guidance has also been transformed from emphasis on education to a broader vision of serving humanity and society.

In particular, the focus of career guidance lies in: (1) implementing the “Four Equal Highlights,” which refers to ideological education and career guidance; school guidance, and student independence; the classroom education and ability cultivation; and the entire process of education and the period before graduation; (2) paying attention to the “Two Markets”: the student recruitment market and the job market. Due attention is paid to the cause-effect and interactive relationships between these two markets. The employment of graduates is duly considered at the time of recruitment. The trends of the job market are carefully studied so as to forecast the industrial demand for human resources, restructure specializations, and develop students’ characteristics; (3) setting up multiple goals of development from the macro-viewpoint of education in order to meet the various demands of the job market. Students are expected to master different vocational skills and be familiar with more than one specialization in order to meet the different needs of the job market and to adapt better to long-term requests of industrial development.

To promote employment for graduates from vocational schools, the following measures have been taken:

  • Establishing the graduates’ bulletin board system (BBS). This system conducts online surveys of graduates’ employment of all the vocational schools in Shanghai and publishes statistics. Multi-functional in nature, this system provides information, appraisal, and services to both graduates and prospective students. It influences the employment and career guidance of vocational schools and helps prospective students with their choice of schools. The effectiveness of the system has been further enhanced with the establishment of supplementary systems, such as employment analysis, professional appraisal, and employment stability.
  • Developing employment agencies. Special talents exchange and consultation companies have been set up to handle graduates from secondary vocational schools. These companies are to provide job market forecast and analysis; organize career guidance and service training for employment personnel in the vocational schools; establish the management information system on employers; organize survey, investigation, external exchanges of information on supply and demand of talents; provide multi-channel communication of information on graduates and employment; carry out personalized consultation and guidance for graduates; and offer feedback on the actual employment of graduates from secondary vocational schools as the basis for macro-management and decisionmaking.
  • Setting up career guidance committees. All vocational schools have established career guidance committees with representatives from different professions and enterprises. This has drawn career guidance closer to the enterprises’ demands and bridged the gap between students and employers. Some schools act upon enterprises’ requests in talent training, establish a direct link between graduates and job posts, and thus define clearly the tasks of schools, students, and teachers; some schools locate their training centers right in enterprises, combining graduates’ employment with their practice training programs

After several years of work, remarkable results have been obtained. The first result is that the employment rate of graduates from secondary-vocational schools has been continuously improving over the past few years due to robust demand from the market. For instance, in 2003, the employment rate of graduates from secondary vocational schools in Shanghai was 96.32%; in 2004, the rate reached 98.34%, up 2%; and in 2005, the rate stood at 98.31%.

8. Building Open Training Centers

Training centers are built to provide students of vocational schools with better facilities to master professional skills. These centers also provide the venue for enterprises to conduct training sessions to improve the professional skills of their employees. A number of open training centers for vocational education have been completed since 2004.

With the expansion of area, addition of facilities, and upgraded training courses, these centers are now well equipped with modern facilities, being multi-functional and open to the public. Besides the students’ training programs, the centers also conduct professional qualification assessment and offer various training programs for the public on the basis of the quality standards formulated by the MEC of Shanghai.

At the threshold of this century, there were eight training centers in Shanghai, namely, Training Center of Agriculture, Training Center of Urban Planning & Management, Training Center of Automobile Projects, Training Center of Electromechanical Technology, Training Center of Tourism, Training Center of Digital Control, Training Center of Modern Health Care, and Training Center of Applied Fine Arts. Another round of building training centers began in 2004, with 34 proposed in the first batch. By the first half of 2006, about one-third of the projects had been completed. The approval procedure for the second batch is almost completed, with another 15 new open training centers on the list.

The building of open training centers is financed through multiple channels, including government support, self-provision of schools, and corporate sponsorship. There are mainly four channels of investment: (1) a special fund set up by the MEC of Shanghai and Shanghai Finance Bureau using the educational surcharge each year; (2) a matching grant from the authorities at 1:1 each year; (3) considerable amounts of business and enterprise donations and investment in equipment; and (4) self-provision of schools. For instance, the Training Center of Urban Planning and Management secured financial support from over 50 large corporations and transnational group companies in Japan, Switzerland, America, Germany, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Jiangsu.

These open training centers are built in close connection with the objective of industrial development in Shanghai with the aim of training urgently needed talents. The first batch of construction items covered 20 specializations under seven categories: (1) Processing and Manufacturing (like Digital Control Technology and Application, Mold Design and Manufacture, Mechanical and Electrical Technology Application, Refrigeration Equipment Operation and Maintenance, Chemical Technology, Civil and Material Engineering, and Microelectronics); (2) Transportation category (including Railroad Transportation, Automobile Utilization and Maintenance, Civil Air Transportation and Services); (3) Information Technology (such as Communication Technology, Computer Science and Application); (4) Medicine and Hygiene (including Health Care, Medical Examination, Biological Technology); (5) Modern Service Industries (including Finance and Insurance, Logistics, Modern Business and Trade, Hairdressing and Cosmetology); (6) Urban Agriculture and Forestry; and (7) Performing Arts.

The training centers are distributed according to the layout of industries to promote local economic development. Due consideration was given at the same time to the uniqueness of each district and county, as well as the public demand for training. For instance, the Training Centers for International Commerce and Trading are located in the vocational schools in Pudong, Hongkou, and Changning districts. The two Training Centers for Urban Agriculture and Forestry are sited in Chongming and Songjiang districts where agriculture is well developed, while the Training Center for Chemical Technology is located in Jinshan Petrochemical Industrial District.

9. Curriculum Development and Reform in Secondary Vocational Education

Curriculum development and reform in secondary vocational education were implemented in the second half of 2004. This program is employment-oriented in order to reflect the needs of the market. It aims to make breakthroughs in curriculum reform in light of socio-economic advancement and the actual employment requirements and to link professional qualification certificates closely with diplomas. It also prioritizes students’ professional ethics and comprehensive capability. The program seeks to achieve the following:

(1) To optimize moral education and basic courses in six subjects and set up the criteria for these subjects, including Chinese.

(2) To enhance professional teaching by developing teaching criteria for 50 majors, such as Operation and Maintenance of Automobiles and combining the diploma and professional qualification certificate with necessary verification, training, and examination.

(3) To strengthen the integration of info-tech and curriculum by developing 20 online courses so as to share quality educational resources.

(4) To build ten experimental and model schools under the Curriculum Reform Program of Secondary Vocational Education.

(5) To implement the strategy of “one syllabus but different textbooks,” that is, different textbooks and supplementary teaching materials can be written under the same syllabus.

(6) To set up various educational platforms for the transformation of teachers’ educational concepts and the enhancement of the teaching quality and students’ practical skills, such as the triennial textbook exhibitions, the quadrennial evaluation of teaching methodologies, and the biennial vocational skill contests.

The implementation of the reform program has borne good fruit. Various research projects involving application topics were carried out. Twenty-four research topics were identified and 48 research teams were formed to complete the research tasks. Development of the course Career Planning was completed. It has been used by over 8,000 students on a trial basis since September 2005. The syllabus for the course of Basic Information Technology was formulated, published, and adopted by some schools in Shanghai, with a student population of about 40,000. The syllabuses of Chinese, Mathematics, and English were completed and approved. The leading organizations and project managers have been selected through public bidding for the first 12 specializations listed for new syllabuses. These specializations were Digital Control Technique and Application, Application of Mechanical and Electrical Technology, Application and Maintenance of Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Equipment, Power System Operation and Control, Automobile Servicing and Maintenance, Computer and Application, Medical Care, Hotel Service Management, Finance, International Business, Exhibition and Rail Transportation.

10. Typical Features of Higher Vocational Education in Shanghai

Higher vocational education is an important part of the higher education in Shanghai as it unearths talents with professional skills fully applicable in the front line of production, construction, management, and other services. Higher vocational education adopts a three-year system and recruits students mainly from graduates of senior high schools and secondary vocational schools. Through classroom learning, fieldwork, and off-campus training, graduates are equipped with the necessary knowledge of their specializations, practical skills, as well as professional commitment. Higher vocational education in Shanghai has indeed made remarkable achievements within a short period of time, given that it was initiated in 1985.

There are three types of higher vocational institutions in Shanghai: independent colleges of higher vocational education with specializations ranging from Transportation, Agriculture and Forestry, Information Technology, Electromechanical Engineering, Business and Finance, to Arts and Crafts; secondary colleges in regular universities; and independent higher vocational institutions for adults. Private higher vocational education has been developing rapidly owing to their new mechanisms. So far, 15 private higher vocational colleges have started enrolling students.

At present, institutions of higher vocational education in Shanghai recruit over 60,000 students each year, with more than 50,000 from Shanghai, accounting for 55% of the total. The total student population reaches 170,000. Higher vocational colleges have played a major part in popularizing higher education in Shanghai. For the past few years, most of the expanded enrolment has been carried out by higher vocational colleges. From 2002 to 2005, the employment rate of graduates from higher vocational colleges surpassed 90%, leading all other regions of China. There are now 159 specializations in Shanghai’s colleges of higher vocational education spread over 944 locations.

Besides regular education, higher vocational education has been creating employment or re-employment possibilities. About 300,000 people each year attend skill evaluation and on-site training sessions conducted in and by these schools.

Shanghai’s higher vocational education has made significant progress over the past few years. Its value has been generally recognized in society, especially by corporations. It has also demonstrated strong momentum for future development through its persistent efforts to push forward the educational reform and improve the quality of teaching. Lastly, it is also committed to serving the whole nation as an educational hub. Shanghai is designated by the central government as the southern base of national training programs designed for teachers of higher vocational colleges. The Higher Vocational Educational Network of China is located in Shanghai Second Polytechnic University. The office of Principals’ Association of Higher Vocational Institutions is also in Shanghai.

11. A Channel between Secondary and Higher Vocational Education

In the past, students graduating from secondary vocational schools, technical schools, or vocational senior high schools could hardly find a way to further their education and obtain a higher paper qualification. The emergence of higher vocational education has presented an opportunity for them to continue their studies and prepare themselves more adequately for future employment.

One way in which secondary vocational school students enter higher vocational schools is the examination the municipal government conducts every May, prior to the National University Entrance Examination (NUEE) for senior high school graduates. This special examination has taken full account of the curriculum for vocational education that stresses the training of vocational skills. It places graduates from secondary vocational schools on a level playing field to compete against each other rather than against senior high school graduates, as it was before. It represents another major innovation of China’s educational system.

In addition, secondary vocational school students can also enter higher vocational schools via recommendation. Every March, higher vocational schools in Shanghai receive recommendations for graduates from secondary-vocational schools under the supervision of the MEC of Shanghai and Shanghai Labor and Social Security Bureau. Only those graduating students who satisfy one of the following conditions can be recommended: (1) they must be recognized as excellent students; (2) they must have been commended or won any award issued by educational authorities; (3) they must be prize winners in any national or municipal vocational skills contests for secondary vocational students; (4) they must have mastered the skills of a certain profession. After verification, qualified students will be enrolled by higher vocational schools without further examinations.

The construction of this channel between secondary and higher vocational education has brought about tremendous educational and social benefits. At present, about 16,000 graduates from secondary vocational schools in Shanghai are enrolled by higher vocational colleges each year.

12. Vocational Qualification Certificate System

The MEC of Shanghai and Shanghai Labor and Social Security Bureau implements the vocational qualification certificate system alongside the diploma system among tertiary students, especially those of higher vocational colleges with a view to nurturing talents equipped with theoretical knowledge, technical skills, and the ability to tackle problems on the spot. The dual-qualification system encourages students to become top-level all-rounders at the production front.

As a completely new system of evaluating the candidate’s comprehensive vocational capability, this certificate system emphasizes technical, managerial, and comprehensive application ability. Students who have passed the predetermined technical tests will be issued the vocational qualification certificate with the seal of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MOLSS). This pioneering effort has been highly commended by the MOE and MOLSS.

At present, 25 specializations in higher vocational colleges have been included in the vocational qualification certificate system. The testing standards for another 20 are being formulated and will be put in place soon. The first batch of certificate holders got their employment contracts with large corporations the very day they were issued the certificates. The implementation of the system has accelerated the reform of the traditional way of talent training and given rise to a number of good new textbooks. A win-win situation is created as higher vocational colleges have cut out a niche market for certification and training, while the employers are getting new hands with enhanced quality and capability.

Vocational School Fallacy

views updated May 29 2018


Few articles in the field of international and comparative education have been as influential in academic circles and among some donor-agency personnel as Philip Foster's "The Vocational School Fallacy in Development Planning" (1965). This article went to the heart of the long-running (and continuing) debate about whether schools and their curricula can influence society through changing student attitudes towards jobs and workor whether schools and their pupils are themselves much more influenced by the surrounding economy and by the patterns of work and rewards that exist in the surrounding urban and rural areas. During the period immediately following the independence of many African countries, it was commonplace to suggest that schools could deliver all kinds of attitude change (e.g., towards nation building, good citizenship, and rural development). Foster, however, argued that "schools are remarkably clumsy instruments for inducing large-scale changes in underdeveloped areas" (1965a, p. 144). Foster's message came at a time when a whole series of innovations were being introduced to deal with a sudden surge in unemployment in the developing world among those who had finished primary school, as well as the flight of young people from subsistence agriculture in rural areas. The most famous of these schemes was Education for Self-Reliance, developed by Tanzania's first president, Julius Nyerere.

Foster's warning about the limitations of schooling to change society arrived during the 1960s, a decade that saw many new and more instrumental approaches to schooling (from manpower planning to educational planning). These were frequently about engaging the schools in the creation of high-level manpower for the rapidly Africanizing civil service, but they also implied that schools could directly contribute to the modernization of traditional societies.

Foster's critique of these visions for engaging schools in the transformation of their surrounding societies was derived from an in-depth analysis of Ghana and from a detailed knowledge of its educational history prior to independence in 1957, when it was known as the Gold Coast. Foster was able to argue that, for well over a hundred years, Western education had been responsible for a massive amount of social change in this area, but that schools had very seldom functioned in the manner expected by the educators and the policymakers. In the new era of rational education planning and the new discipline of the economics of education (which involved looking at education as human capital and calculating the costs and benefits of different mixes of education), Foster's research was a vivid testimony to what he called the "unplanned consequences of educational growth" (1965b, p. 303).

At the heart of this debate lay the issue of vocationalism and its relationship to economic growth. Should not schools, the argument went, and especially those in predominantly agricultural societies where the formal sector of the economy could only absorb a very small proportion of the economically active population, keenly prepare young people with a substantial measure of the practical, agricultural, and technical skills needed for the transformation of their societies? Foster's answer was that, in Ghana, missionary societies, colonial governments, and the new independence government had frequently been attracted by the apparent logic of this position, and had sought to use schools in this instrumental way. But the plain truth was that "the educational history of the Gold Coast is strewn with the wreckage of schemes" based on these assumptions (1965a, p. 145).

Foster's explanation for these failures was that pupils are very realistic and are able to work out what is in their best career interests, regardless of the orientations schools seek to provide. In particular, he argued that schools had been very shrewdly used by pupils as a gateway to the modern sector of the economyand as an escape from poor prospects in many rural areas. The core argument of the vocational school fallacy, according to Foster, is that "the schools themselves can do little about this. So long as parents and students perceive the function of education in this manner, agricultural education and vocational instruction in the schools is [sic] not likely to have a determinative influence on the occupational aspirations and destinations of students. Aspirations are determined largely the individual's perception of opportunities within the exchange sector of the economy, destinations by the actual structure of opportunities in that sector" (1965a, p. 151).

Impact of the Vocational School Fallacy

It could be argued that the vocational school fallacy is much better known by students and professors of international and comparative education than by policymakers in ministries of education. Policy-makers in many countries continue to be attracted by the possibility of using the school system to change young peoples' attitudes towards different kinds of work and employment. With the reduction in the number of good jobs in the formal sector of many African economies, the school system in the early twenty-first century is being asked to reorient young people towards skills for self-employment. Such optimism tends to be uninformed about the complexity of entering dynamic forms of self-employment.

One exception to the suggestion that policy-makers have been largely immune to the message of the vocational school fallacy can be found in the policies of the World Bank. There is strong evidence that acceptance of the vocational school fallacy was one reason why the World Bank, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, turned its back on its earlier widespread policy of supporting vocationalised, or diversified, secondary education.

The question of whether the vocational school fallacy is still relevant has been addressed in a study conducted by Kenneth King and Chris Martin during 1999 and 2000. This study sought to revisit in Ghanaian secondary schools the same questions and debates that Foster explored in post-independence Ghana. The results confirmed many of Foster's findings about the impact of the economy on education, but, intriguingly, they also suggest that there does, in fact, seem to be a substantial school influence on attitudes towards employment and self-employment and that this is connected in some way to the vocational options in school.

See also: Sub-Saharan Africa; Vocational and Technical Education, subentry on International Context.


Foster, Phillip. 1965a. "The Vocational School Fallacy in Development Planning." In Education and Economic Development, ed. Arnold A. Anderson and Mary Jean Bowman. Chicago: Aldine.

Foster, Phillip. 1965b. Education and Social Change in Ghana. London: Routledge.

Heyneman, Stephen P. 1985. "Diversifying Secondary School Curricula in Developing Countries: An Implementation History and Some Policy Options." International Journal of Educational Development 5 (4):283288.

Heyneman, Stephen P. 1987. "Curriculum Economics in Secondary Education: An Emerging Crisis in Developing Crisis." Prospects 18 (1) 6374.

King, Kenneth, and Martin, Chris. 2002. "The Vocational School Fallacy Revisited: Education, Aspiration, and Work in Ghana, 19592000." International Journal of Educational Development 22:526.

Kenneth King

Vocational Education Act of 1917

views updated Jun 11 2018

Vocational Education Act of 1917

Pamela L. Gray

Excerpt from the Vocational Education Act

An Act to provide for the promotion of vocational education; to provide for cooperation with the states in the promotion of such education in agriculture and the trades and industries; to provide for cooperation with the states in the preparation of teachers of vocational subjects; and to appropriate money and regulate its expenditures.

The Vocational Education Act of 1917 (P.L. 65-347), also known as the Smith-Hughes Act, was designed to provide federal assistance to states to promote vocational education. The act marked the first time that state and local public institutions formed a partnership to provide vocational training in the areas of agriculture, home economics, and trade and industrial education. Legislators and business leaders, recognizing the need for a technically trained workforce (as well as efficiently run households), felt that federal assistance was needed to help the states achieve this goal.

The act required the states to establish a board to develop and administer vocational programs. Some states used existing boards of education, whereas others created separate entities. A major interpretation of the Smith-Hughes Act, which became known as the 50-25-25 Rule, required 50 percent of students' time in school to be spent in shop work, 25 percent in classes related to vocational study, and 25 percent in academic courses.


Before the Industrial Revolution in the mid-nineteenth century, workers became skilled at various tasks by means of apprenticeships. After the 1880s, elementary schools used a program of manual training to prepare future factory workers. The first public vocational high school, with a comprehensive training program in agriculture, was established at the University of Minnesota in 1888.

Also in the late nineteenth century, many educators believed that home management was an important skill that could be taught through scientific principles. The development of home economics began with experimental stations and courses established in the 1870s. Annie Dewey, Maria Daniell (a specialist in institutional management), and Ellen Swallow Richards were pioneers in the profession and training of students in what was called domestic sciences. This group organized meetings in Lake Placid, New York, from 1899 through 1909, developing training standards and an overall agenda for the field.


The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, the first federal legislation in the vocational area, required state proceeds from federally donated land to be utilized for creation and maintenance of at least one college dedicated to instruction in agriculture and mechanical arts. The Morrill Acts were precursors to the Vocational Act of 1917. Several legislators were highly influential in the passage of the 1917 act. Dudley M. Hughes, Democratic congressman from Georgia, was a longtime advocate of agricultural clubs and secondary school agricultural education. Carroll Page, Republican senator from Vermont, upheld the Vermont tradition begun by former Senator Justin Morrill (for whom the Morrill Acts were named). Other important figures were Dr. Charles Prosser, an educator and first executive secretary and lobbyist for the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education (NSPIE), and Hoke Smith, former governor of Georgia and Democratic senator, who wrote several important pieces of legislation and helped to create the political coalition that would secure passage of the 1917 act.

Page and Prosser formed an alliance in 1911 to advance the goals of vocational study. President Woodrow Wilson, an advocate for vocational education, appointed Dudley M. Hughes to the Commission on National Aid to Vocational Education in 1914. The passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the Cooperative Extension Service (programs of practical applications of research knowledge including public instruction and demonstration), and Smith, Page, Hughes, and Prosser were appointed as members. World War I also helped to focus national attention on the need for a technically trained workforce for the war effort.

However, political maneuvering, personality differences, and the health problems and deaths of key supporters delayed the passage of a comprehensive vocational education act until 1917. The major topics of debate were the division of funds among the areas of study and the degree of federal involvement in education. Legislators recognized that the Constitution left the matter of education to the states and local governments. Ultimately, a coalition of political parties, industry, education leaders, and lobbyists brought about passage of the act.


Later legislation extended the Smith-Hughes Act by expanding federal assistance in specific areas, including teacher education and new building construction. The most significant changes to the act came with the adoption of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-524), which was expanded in 1990 and again in 1997. The Smith-Hughes/Vocational Education Act of 1917 was officially repealed by the Carl D. Perkins Act of 1997 (also known as Perkins III). The new direction of vocational education then shifted to encourage integration of academic and vocational content.

See also: Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862.


Evans, Rupert N. The Foundations of Vocational Education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Higher Education, 1971.

Krug, Edward A. The Shaping of the American High School, 18801960, 2 vols. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

Lazerson, Marvin, and W. Norton Grubbs, eds. American Education and Vocationalism: A Documentary History, 18701970. New York: Teachers College Press, 1974.

Vocational Aptitude Test

views updated May 11 2018

Vocational Aptitude Test

A predictive test designed to measure an individual's potential for success and satisfaction in any of various occupations and professions.

As a general example, a vocational aptitude test might consist of an instrument that assesses an individual's abilities, personality characteristics, and interests, and compares the individual's responses to those persons considered to be successful in their occupations and professions, with a notation of points of similarity and dissimilarity.

Vocational aptitude tests are valuable to both employers and prospective employees in a given occupation. To the prospective employee, the test results offer guidance in choosing a particular career. To the employer, they aid in the process of screening suitable employees. Vocational aptitude tests measure a wider variety of skill areas than scholastic aptitude tests. For example, the Differential Aptitude Test, one of the most widely used vocational tests, measures verbal, numerical, abstract, and mechanical reasoning; spatial relations; clerical speed and accuracy; and language usage.

Vocational aptitude tests have three primary orientations. The interactional perspective stresses the interaction between the individual and the work environment as the determining factor in vocational success and satisfaction. The theories of John Holland and the widely used tests based on them are an example of this approach. The central focus for Holland is congruence between an individual's personality type (realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, or conventional) and his or her vocational environment. Research has indicated that congruent person-environment interactions lead to personal and vocational stability and fulfillment.

Tests based on the person perspective emphasize the individual, rather than the work environment, as the crucial variable in vocational success. Theories associated with this orientation include Osipow's Trait Factor approach, focusing on personal characteristics linking an individual to various vocational groups, and Super's developmental self-concept theory, which regards vocational choice as a means of self-expression. Roe's personality theory concentrates on individuals employed in scientific fields and their relative degree of interest in people and things. Finally, the environment perspective views vocational choice and performance as primarily a function of environmental or situational factors.

Further Reading

Gale, Barry. Discover What You're Best At. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.

vocational education

views updated May 18 2018

vocational education Instruction in industrial or commercial skills. A range of levels of vocational training and qualification are available from schools and colleges, often in collaboration with organizations concerned to improve training and quality standards in particular areas of employment.