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Technical education not second class

While technical tertiary level education is still being treated as second class, one head of such an institution contends that these areas are where the innovations are heading.

Executive Director of the TVET Council, Henderson Eastmond, speaking at the Third Barbados International Conference on Higher Education, queried whether Barbados’ education system was preparing students for the reality of the highly technical areas that were being increasingly sought by industry for jobs.

He pointed out that engineering students from the St. Augustine campus were joining with the technical institute in that country to put students through a technical and vocational qualification in engineering because companies were complaining that students were coming into the workforce with only theoretical knowledge.

“Also we work with the University of the West Indies, the School of Business, and they are using our standards to develop their programmes because I heard someone mention about on-the-job training being a thing of the past. Yes, the demand for the skills when you are coming in is great, but that on the job training becomes part and parcel of your training.”

Even MBA students, he said, were being required in today’s working environment to go through apprenticeship programmes before they were able to manage.

“In terms of technical education, are we making that shift to tertiary education. Now when I hear the discussion I think that tertiary education referring to UWI. Tertiary education here refers to all these institutions; and are we adequately completing our tertiary education in Barbados, delivering it to meet the needs of the community?

“Right now, alternative energy, are our people being prepared since we want to make this transformation to using alternative energy” Food processing — you heard Armstrong in St. Philip dealing with sweet potato chips, a lot of research goes into chips to keep the taste and keep people interested. That is highly technical work and I am not hearing the discussion about funding,” Eastmond argued.

His comments followed those of Automotive and Welding student, Jason Williams, who noted that it was perhaps the plantation mentality that held technical and vocational education still in such low esteem.

“Years ago, our forefathers were uneducated by force and the only jobs they were hired for were the so-called second class jobs and that thinking seems to have remained with society.”

Williams said after conducting an informal questionnaire among his peers, it was apparent that some still considered technical and vocational courses as “merely being the back-up plan from other fields which they aspire to”.

“Often one will hear ‘Go and do a trade so that if things don’t work out, at least you will have something to fall back on’. I must admit that old paradigms and teachings have shaped our minds in the direction that learning a skill in the area of a vocational nature is somehow inferior to other jobs deemed of much higher stature.

“Some would even argue that jobs of non-vocational technical variance are more rewarding than jobs that promote skills in the technical vocational arts. Such a way of thinking only limits our minds and gives us a false perception of categorising vocational jobs of being second class.” (LB)

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