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Something to fight for

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Part of the problem is the lack of respect that vocational education receives around the world.

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

Mechanical technology

Those of you who know me have heard me speak about my mechanical technology students at Udon Thani Rajabhat University. By their own admission, their English language skills are not the best. However, I have had a lot of success with them, and I enjoy myself while teaching them.

Yes, they are a bit rough and ready, and yes, the classroom dynamics are different as I have had only one female student out of approximately 10 classes. I find that their character and their will to achieve a decent grade once they realise that maybe for the first time it is possible, makes it all worthwhile.

Some students arrive from technical college and enter year three to obtain their degree. Others spend the normal four years at the university. Many of them think that English is a waste of time and that they haven't a chance of getting any grade but an F.

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

Belief in self

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

In Udon Thani province, there would be more chance of winning the lottery than a mechanical technology student using these skills in the workplace. However, I spend about six weeks identifying their skills and qualities and putting them into a practical context.

This activity enables the students to build some kind or belief in themselves, at least in my classroom environment, allowing them to increase their self-esteem and achieve a grade that would be the envy of any vocational student. Many students already know me before the first class, and so I find it easy to motivate them. In an ideal world, employers want to employ graduates and workers who have the theory and the experience to do the job. It is possible for vocational students to present these strengths if they have self-confidence.

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

Graham is an English-language teacher at the Language Centre, Udon Thani Rajabhat University in northeast Thailand. If you want to discuss matters related to this article, you may write to 'In My Opinion' at .


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