When we think of education technology, we often focus exclusively on how it can change traditional academics, trying to come up with new ways it can transform subjects such as English, maths, science or art, but that is a limited view that fails to see the full potential of integrating technology in all kinds of schools, including those that do not focus on academics, but on teaching students the specific skills of a trade.
Most students today are pressured into continuing to higher education once they have finished school, but inevitably, not all of them are college-bound: a healthy, thriving society needs both workers with a university degree and trained labourers with fewer years of study, but with a specialised, practical skill set.
Vocational schools – that is, schools that aim at making students immediately employable in the industry and combine basic academics with practical courses and workshops to learn useful skills – can benefit from the use of technology just as much as schools whose objective is to prepare students for university rather than for immediate entrance into the job market.
A window to the real world
A vocational school, by definition, is a school that teaches practical skills; digital literacy is a practical skill that is expected of all workers today, whatever their chosen field. If nothing else, having access to information technology in a vocational school ensures that graduates are functional adults ready to navigate an increasingly digital world where being unable to use a computer is as much of a hindrance as being unable to read and write. Using social media to keep students in contact with each other and with their teachers is standard practice by now and there is no reason why vocational schools should be excluded from it: after all, the teaching philosophy on which a vocational school is founded is to offer an experience that is as close as possible to the real world.
The Internet also offers a wealth of resources for students to peruse that not only improve their social and communication skills, but also give them insight into their future jobs: the Web can be used to connect directly or indirectly with experts in the field who may have written publicly accessible teaching material for students to learn the ropes of their chosen trade or be available for message exchanges or real-time communication on the subject, supplementing the teachers’ work.
Cheaper, safer, better
The greatest impact technology can have on vocational schools, however, is its direct influence on the nature of the practical courses. Technology has revolutionised the entire job market; why should it not do the same with the schools that aim at producing the newest generation of workers?
It is pointless to master outdated technologies in class only to find out that the same task can be carried out with newer, better devices that require different skills and need you to re-train from the beginning: it is the responsibility of the teachers and administrators of any good vocational school to keep their equipment up to date so that the simulations of work situations offered in class are as realistic as possible and make students immediately useful to the workforce with little to no adjustment period.
Speaking of simulations, virtual and mixed reality are also an investment that may be worth looking into for vocational schools: practicing work skills in a virtual environment is not only safer for the students, especially in the case of trades that deal with heavy machinery or toxic chemicals that may lead to injury if an inexperienced worker makes a mistake, but also ultimately cheaper for the school: software can emulate the workings of specialised machines that would be more expensive than a mid-range computer, and a virtual reality lesson never runs out of substances or parts to use: while it may initially feel like a strain on the school’s budget, using virtual and mixed reality to reproduce work environments will eventually lead to saving money.
In conclusion, using technology in both the academic and the practical classes of a vocational school keeps students in touch with the world in which they will be working and ultimately benefits both the learners and the school itself.
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