Vocational Education provision to International students
There is a growing number of Non – Native English (NNEs) speakers within the Australian post-compulsory education sector. Figures obtained from Australian Tertiary Institutions shows an overall increase in the number of Non – Native English (NNEs) speakers studying within Australian over the past 10 years with an expectation the trend will continue in the coming decades.
Queensland Racing Industry Training Centre (QRITC)
The Queensland Racing Industry Training Centre (QRITC) provides vocational and pre-vocational training for the Queensland Racing Industry (QRI). This training is provided to both State participants as well as participants from International markets that want to take advantage of the level of training that is offered in Australia for this Industry.
Delivery is via nationally (Australian) accredited curriculum that is arguably on par with world Racing Industry Training standards. Methodology implored is traditional classroom style (handouts, worksheets and tests), with some experiential fieldwork, and with ‘instructional’ resources including Computer Technology. It is this last aspect, utilising Computer Technology as an ‘Instructional’ Resource within a pre-vocational training institution that I wish to explore within the parameters of this essay. I will analyse what I have learnt from the study of this institution, showing how the issues of Global education clarify my understanding of sound educational institutional practice. The theoretical basis of this essay is found in part 2 of this blog. I recommend it is read prior to the reading of this essay.
As we approach the end of the millennium, it is has become clear that technology should play a vital role in the way in which we educate our students (Lankshear and Knobel:1997:pp133-163). Following such advice, QRITC elected to install a ‘state of the art’ Computer Learning facility at the Deagon campus.This involved the purchase of a considerable amount of computer equipment, with the total cost far exceeding $100,000. Aviram talks about the pioneering quality that we as educationalists should be displaying (Aviram:1996:pp423-443). In line with this philosophy, QRITC expanded its’ student educational schedule to include a range of CAL and CALL sessions for each class, instead of the more traditional or experiential classroom instruction. This continued for about a 6 – 9 month period.
However, it was at this point that management started to receive feedback that the learning process was considered far from satisfactory. Both staff and students were despondent about the quality of learning opportunities (or the lack there of) that existed. Staff complained that whilst activities incorporated the Internet and a wealth of specific content information, there were questions as to what actually the students were learning. Students were complaining that what they were doing within their computer classes what could actually be done after formal class hours, by themselves, without any instruction. They started to insist that they had paid for a practical -orientated course, rather than a computer-based one. After some investigation, and finally management intervention, the instructional schedule was altered again, this time with far less CAL and CALL sessions allotted for each class. The number of experiential lessons was increased and immediately a positive response by both staff and students was forthcoming.
It is my purpose to look at why, in this era of technological advancement, that the attempt to incorporate technology into this particular institutional curriculum/program, failed. I will at the same time suggest what should happen in order to improve the perceived usefulness of CAL and CALL instruction.
QRITC seemed to be following an innovative educational pathway. They were investing a lot of capital into the implementation of a ‘state of the art‘ technological facility. This was quite significant given the short term that they had been operating as a commercial educational institution and the degree to which they still needed to achieve a level of income stability. There are some very sound reasons for pursuing this educational path. In their article, Lankshear and Knobel put forward two reasons for the necessary changes to the school delivery process and curriculum:
to keep pace with the demands of the contemporary knowledge society and a new orientation towards learning;
student perceptions that modern educational institutions are out of touch (Lankshear and Knobel in QUT guide:1997: pp133-163).
However some basic oversights of sound educational pedagogy prevented the implementation from being given a fair trial, preventing some would-be sceptics the opportunity of being shown how technology could not only enhance the instructional process, but add a learning opportunity that is becoming imperative to all.
The oversights at QRITC can be summarised as follows:
Failing to consider the course objectives as a whole, in detail and determining how, if at all, technological resources could be incorporated as one of the methodologies, as an instructional tool for enhanced learning within this context;
Failure to determine how the competencies were to be assessed, and then failing to utilise appropriate methodologies to assist the learners in arriving at this point;
Neglecting the style of course being offered and failing to incorporate much needed industry practical or experiential sessions;
Failing to determine whether the course, given the time constraints and the learner group, would be of an instructional or discovery style;
Incorporating technology as an add-on (that is, for its’ own sake) instead of as a tool of leverage. That is, in the playing of games instead of utilising the technology for the support of the acquisition of the content process;
There is ample evidence that the integrating of computers into the classroom opens up many issues that must be addressed (Lankshear and Knobel:1997:133-163). I believe the issues have a reciprocal impact on the following 3 main areas:
In order to ensure that technology does receive a fair trial in how it can enhance the instructional process, I believe all of these three areas therefore need serious consideration. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of this essay, I will not address all three areas here, in detail. I will however attempt to show the extent of this reciprocal impact in the areas of curriculum and learner differences, from the perspective of cultural differences, on the effective delivery of quality contemporary education. I have chosen these two areas as the priority of what an organisation should consider. These macro issues, are the issues that could without initial consideration, prevent the delivery of quality contemporary education. I feel the organisation needs to give these conscious (philosophical) consideration in order to decide how they are going to deliver an inclusive educational approach. The curriculum should therefore reflect the philosophical viewpoint and address it in an appropriate manner given the anticipated cultural differences. I feel then, that at that point, worthy solutions to address the anticipated learner group disparity on an ongoing basis, can be provided through such means as teacher training. [Whilst I have therefore put forward some ideas of how one may implement a training agenda that completes the holistic delivery of quality contemporary education, I have chosen to omit this area of discussion from the main body of the essay. A suggested agenda can be found in part 3 of this International Education blog series].
Can the growth of technology assist in learning?
Computer Technology is considered by some as a means of transforming current classroom practices (reform). Others feel it could be a way of finally achieving the replacement of the contemporary school system with a high-tech learning system (change). Either way, computer technology represents at the very least reform: at the best, change from the way education is currently delivered (Lankshear and Knobel:1997:134).
The second way that the growth of technology impacts the delivery process is in the manner learning takes place. “Perelman claims that whereas instruction is the essence of school education, the essence of the coming integrated, universal, multimedia, digital network is discovery” (Lankshear and Knobel:1997:135).
Whilst it is not my intention to debate the benefits and drawbacks of both learning or delivery styles, it is important to note that they are different. In so doing, we acknowledge that due consideration should be made prior to the commencement of the program to ascertain which style is more appropriate given the unique institutional characteristics. I would argue that the delivery style an institution chooses should be dependant upon the styles that the learner and the instructors/facilitators are skilled to do. That is, that style that they have experienced or are experienced in, within their culture. Which ever style one chooses, all of the three main areas that have been highlighted already – curriculum, learner differences and teacher training – share an interdependence with this delivery style, and therefore need to be considered and addressed once the delivery style has been decided.
“The process of curriculum design is not concerned with the ‘piecing’ together of isolated factors; but in fact the assembly of a group of interdependent elements that together create a framework for effective learning “(Vale et al:1991:13).
Nunan suggests that this holistic, integrated approach of the term curriculum is necessary. So whilst most would agree that methodological style is important, its’ discussion in isolation is to be avoided. The failure to consider all of these elements, is where some instruction to Non – Native English (NNEs) speakers within the Australian Tertiary sector fail. It is the sum of these areas, that should be considered as the essential elements of effective learning programs (Nunan:1991:pp228-248).
QRITC exemplifies this failure in its ‘development’ of a computer-based program, void of any mention of a greater picture of consideration such as the complete curriculum, the learners, their needs, and their goals, the teaching staff and the delivery style. Therefore the ‘development’ of a computer-based program at QRITC was based on a whole array of assumptions, voiding it of any real chance for success. QRITC failed to contextualise the computer-based program appropriately within the operational framework that it was to exist, within the specific institutional curriculum, in order to satisfy the particular learners.
The third impact technological growth has is on globalisation, particularly the speed with which globalisation is occurring. Globalisation, defined as “a set of conditions in which an increasing fraction of value and wealth is produced and distributed worldwide through a system of interlinking private networks”(OECD in Kelly:1998:1), and its “intensification over recent years owes much to the emergence of means of instantaneous global communication and mass transportation”(Giddens in Taylor et al:1997:55). Since the 1970’s, a world economy has become a valid economic concept. (Hobsbawm in Taylor et al:1997:55)
However, two issues arise:
(1) the spread of the western paradigm, through its’ designers and majority of users. This influences the recipient or user of the technology, irrespective of their nationality, with very little regard for the cultural needs of this recipient/learner/user;
(2) the degree of exclusivity that technology brings. Technology is available to a specific group of global citizens. The industrialised economically advanced nations are also the nations that have embraced the information age. Technological access allows its recipients, its learners and its users to become part of the information –based world economy, interacting with the latest information.
In contrast, third world nation citizens are said to not have reasonable access potential. Therefore, based on the destructive spread of the western paradigm argument, this can only be positive. However, information can bfing great advantages. Issues of universal human rights and ecological awareness are two such benefits in my view (Taylor:1999:59). Therefore, the danger exists that with the growth of technology is that the information rich will become richer (that is, become more informed of their humanitarian rights, and the environmental benefits of a lifestyle) and the information poor will remain so. This inequitable distribution of the knowledge, and the additional technological skills that are associated with its’ use, will lead to further disparity in socio-economic, cultural and political spheres.
With many non –Americanised cultures similarly embracing yet another symbol of the western perspective, education, I would have to include this as another dimension of potential influence. Again, it could be perceived as both an advantage or a curse. Yet, irrespective of ones’ view, acknowledgment must be given that this could provide one more avenue for cultural conversion. “The process called education is based on the same assumptions and the same Eurocentric model. The focus is on faraway facts and figures, on “universal” knowledge. The books propagate information that is believed to be appropriate for the entire planet. But since the only knowledge that is universally applicable is far removed from the specific ecosystems and cultures, what children learn is essentially synthetic, divorced from its living context”(Norberg-Hodge:1996:37). Likewise, the content of technologically-communicated information is of a particular cultural bias. Therefore in the consideration of the inclusion of computer-based sessions within an educational institution, the degree of cultural relevance of the learning material/task has to be looked at.
Significance for QRITC?
So what significance do these issues have for an educational institution such as QRITC? QRITC is educating Japanese students in Australia in an Australian vocational education course. I know that no mapping exercise has been done of the competencies to ascertain the degree of relevance between the Japanese home culture where the competencies are going to be finally applied and what is required in order to receive the Australian host culture’s qualification. I also know that whilst some information has been gathered to assist the student’s in their career options, (that is, the types of jobs available and the type of work they can expect) the actual assessable components are not related or linked to their living context. So what we have is a specific cultural group of Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) learners that are being taught within a foreign culture, via a foreign language, course content that has not necessarily any cultural relevance, via methodology that is not necessarily culturally relevant nor of a style with which the learner has experience with or aptitude for. The question that needs to be asked is whether this is in fact a negative attribute or could this be a positive attribute. Once again, I don’t feel it is necessarily the place to engage in this debate here, but merely to raise certain questions in order to attempt to ascertain the appropriate answer, given the specific context of QRITC. Such questions could be:
Is there any alignment between the Australian Racing Industry practice and the Japanese Racing Industry practice?
If not, is there any desire and/or need to be so?
And if so, who has decided that this is the case and who if anyone at all within the Japanese home culture agrees there should be so?
Is it a majority opinion or merely the opinion of a few in influential positions? (Only the controlling bodies?)
Is there any real benefit for the students to learn a foreign language and experience a foreign culture, given most students return to their country immediately after the course?
These questions highlight certain areas of the learners’ home industry to be understood. Perhaps their racing industry structures; the power relationships within the respective governing authorities; the economic opportunities, both within the local industry and outside of the industry in other countries, both in terms of the nation and the individual. All of these could potentially influence the possible responses to the above questions one receives, and therefore alter the philosophical position an educational institution might adopt in justifying the courses’ cultural relevance.
QRITC didn’t carry out any strategic investigation on the market of the prospective international learners. However, I was told that they assumed two things:
(1) that Japan was in need of world recognised generic training; and,
(2) QRITC delivered world recognised generic training.
Again certain questions arise. I would be asking:
who ( person or nation) actually determined that the Japanese were in need of ‘world recognised generic training’; and,
whether by following a generic world recognised training standard is of the most advantage for the ‘home’ culture;
In addition, who determined that QRITC was a world recognised generic racing industry training body?
Other questions that come to mind are:
If QRITC is of a world recognised standard, upon what basis was it determined? (Within what cultural context?)
And finally, how aligned are the generic training courses to the learner group?
In the highly generic curriculum, the client is assumed to be of a specific stereotype. In the case of the curriculum being offered at QRITC, the stereotypical learner is: English speaking, moderate levels of literacy, both communicatively and technologically, and from a euro-centric cultural background. Obviously, a problem arises when the client being offered this type of course, does not satisfy one or any of these target audience characteristics. This raises the question as to whether generic solutions are appropriate, relevant, or in any way responsive to specific specialist areas. The major delivery challenge at QRITC was with the international learners and meeting the client’s cultural and language, or lack there of, needs. Given that the curriculum/program was not designed with the learner’s specific needs in mind, it should be of no surprise that the generic solution was not appropriate, congruent, compatible, or responsive to the specific needs of the Japanese learner group. The clients ranged from low to pre-intermediate proficiency levels of English, with fairly low levels of experience with International/western cultures.
I have already broached the issue of certain learners’ access potential to technology. At QRITC, learners had physical access to Information Technology. However, despite this, issues of access still dominated many conversations and discussions. It was pointed out that some individuals had quite varied educational backgrounds that had included diverse learning opportunities with regard to Information Technology. Some had not had the opportunity at school or home as others did, or the support and encouragement that they needed given the instructional or delivery style, or their particular learning style. Lankshear and Knobel draw two distinctions between types of learners who:
those that have never received opportunities to learn information technology; and,
those that are presented opportunities to receive but have not the level of computer literacy required(due to a number of reasons) to take advantage, full advantage of the learning opportunity. (Lankshear and Knobel:1997:133-163).
It was with this second point that was of considerable concern in the program at QRITC. The issue was the disparity of the learner group that was accepted within the program. Learners ranged from IT graduates, hobby-hackers to technophobics. This presented quite a few challenges, with the technically proficient soaring ahead and the technophobic slowly being turned off the computer-based instruction classes until their lack of attendance started to become an issue. The question that came to my mind was: To what degree was education for everyone? To what degree was it an inclusive curriculum? Coupled to this, was the fact that some of the instructors were as equally unskilled with the technology and/or inexperienced in the teaching of classes that had technology incorporated within them. I had to wonder what hope an inexperienced or even fearful learner would have of developing confidence and competence if the teacher also shared those traits.
Whilst the proficiency-level disparity amongst the learners is expected to remain as a major challenge of the information society as it has in other eras, I would hope that instead of viewing computer-based education as problematic, one should isolate the real issues and accept there are positive solutions. One solution is I believe very simple in concept but more challenging for institutions to commit to given their busy daily teaching schedules. However, if an institution has made a philosophical commitment to provide the effective delivery of quality contemporary education, then provision must be made in staff development programs to train the teachers to be able to provide ‘access’ for all those learners involved in their classes. It is only through ‘inclusive’ relevant programs, supported by trained, confident teachers, that we can achieve effective delivery of quality contemporary education.
As I have attempted to show in this essay, the integrating of computers into the classroom opens up many issues (Lankshear and Knobel:1997:133-163). I have introduced some of the issues: reform versus change; delivery style as being either instruction or discovery; the issue of globalisation- the western paradigm underlying it, the inclusive/exclusive nature of it and due to the rate of IT’s growth, the widening gap between the information haves and have nots. I believe I have also shown that the issues have a reciprocal impact on 3 main areas of educational delivery: curriculum; learner differences; and teacher training. I have focussed on the specific area of cultural differences of the learner group, highlighting the philosophical considerations an educational institution needs to be making in order to provide effective delivery of quality contemporary education. Then once a conscious decision has been made as to how an educational institution chooses to stage its’ delivery, positive solutions such as curriculum design and teacher training can be implemented. In order to ensure that technology does receive a fair trial in how it can enhance the instructional process, I believe all of these three areas therefore need serious consideration. QRITC has provided an excellent case study to exemplify the range of issues that can arise in what may seem a relatively simple exercise of integrating computers into the school program. And simple it may be. However, in order to ensure that the effective delivery of quality contemporary education is realised, holistic consideration of the educational delivery process and the learner group is recommended.
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