Vocational Education and Training: Why VET Teachers are Crucial to the Education Sector
A Skills Australia study found that the workforce participation needs to increase to 69% by 2020 to meet Australia’s working needs and that to make that happen, both vocational education and higher education need to become more accessible to everybody.
But with 2020 fast approaching, Australian universities seem to have shot ahead, leaving the VET sector behind, largely because of the VET teaching system currently in place.
In Australia, the requirements for the VET sector requires teachers to have:
- A certificate IV level qualification in VET teaching
- The industry qualification for the level that they’re training students at
From 2019, students will need a minimum ATAR of 70 to complete a teaching degree.
These requirements are much lower than those of teachers in comparable industries internationally. With an aging workforce, the older teachers with a higher teaching qualification and more education research will be retiring, leaving training providers with teachers who have only completed the bare minimum of teacher training, in every state, from Victoria to Queensland.
With multiple studies emphasizing the importance of teachers in adult education and VET, the question has to be asked: why has professional development for TAFE and VET teachers been ignored?
In 2001, the National Center for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) found that only half of the VET teachers at the time were equipped to deal with the next five to seven years. Then, a national training program called Reframing the Future, which designed and suggested professional development activities for VET teachers at different levels, was canceled in 2008.
Despite the multiple studies pointing out both the importance of quality teaching skills and teaching practice for the VET system, since then there has been little to no clear direction for VET teachers. As a result, those looking to improve their training qualifications have likely received a significant lack of support.
Provided they have the current, relatively low bar VET teacher training, private RTOs and TAFE schools are unlikely to fund higher-level qualifications for workforce development, when they’re often already strapped for cash and looking to cut costs.
Until 1997, full-time TAFE teachers were assisted to get into VET teaching.
That doesn’t mean that there’s no support whatsoever. Those who are looking to complete VET teacher qualifications are often offered courses in both full-time and part-time modes, as well as via online or distance learning.
Plus, the VET teaching qualification itself is often updated, so there is some level of professional development for qualified teachers who then complete the new requirements. For example, the government recently updated the course in training and assessment to include dealing with adult literacy and numeracy problems, as well as a course in creating and updating assessments.
We know that the teachers need more training and more support, and even possibly more experience in the industry area they are teaching. Currently, they don’t actually have to have worked in the industry, provided they have the relevant certificate. But what does this mean for student outcomes?
For registered training organisations (RTOs) who are privately funded, they may have the option of choosing to fund further training and development for their teachers through community colleges or even their own institution – provided they’re willing to look at a long-term gain, not short term profit.
But for the TAFE system, this won’t be an option without further funding – and that means students potentially being taught by substandard teaching methods.
A national study from 2015 to 2017 by students from Federation University, the University of South Australia, and University of Technology Sydney undertook research to find out just how much of a difference VET teachers’ qualifications actually make. They had three main findings:
If a teacher had a higher level qualification, regardless of whether it was a VET teaching practice or a different one, it made a significant difference in teaching approaches, confidence, and ability
Having a higher level of qualification was especially significant in giving teachers confidence when teaching a diversity of learners – which is a crucial part of why the TAFE and VET systems are so important to Australian society.
Having a degree shows the highest level of improvement in teaching.
The authors (Keiko Yasukawa, Erica Smith, Roger Harris, and Jacqueline Tuck) undertook research that included interviews, focus groups, case studies, and a number of other research methods over two years.
The overall conclusion was that teachers and trainers are crucial to the success of the VET system.
Since that same study found that only 11.9% of teachers and trainers have qualifications in both their industry and in the required VET teaching level, we can safely assume that students are missing out on the best possible teaching.
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