Vocational training needed at public schools
By David S. Matsumoto
During this election year, nearly every candidate will advocate the need for improvement in the educational system in Hawai'i. Just how to improve the system is open to debate, and debate there certainly has been over the school budget, quality of teachers, quality of students and SAT scores.
I strongly believe that it is time for Hawai'i to expand vocational education in the public school system.
Many employers are concerned that graduates are not adequately prepared for the job market. Despite their enthusiasm, job seekers right out of high school are at a disadvantage to those with experience, primarily because of lack of vocational training in our high schools.
For a large number of our students who have no intention of going to college, entry to the work force requires that they have the knowledge and practical employment skill that will make them successful on a long-term basis to their employers.
Therefore, rather than comparing test scores, all elected officials and educational leaders should be asking, "What should we expect of our students after a certain level of education?" The answer is that we expect them to be industrious and productive. We expect them to contribute to our economy. We expect them to add new blood and renewed enthusiasm to our work force.
In this respect, the public school should understand the economic and business vision of our state and produce graduates who can carry out our vision.
To this end, the state Department of Education for several years has conducted a school-to-work partnership that teams up with the business community to teach students what it takes to be successful in the real business world. However, this school-to-work program alone is not sufficient. A renewed and expanded focus on vocational training is in order.
There is no doubt that minimum levels of knowledge and academics are essential to provide our graduates with flexibility to meet the ever-changing requirements of the job market. But vocational objectives should not be considered exclusive of a general liberal education.
By way of example, much has been written about the competitiveness of the Japanese high school. But what has been overlooked is that in the Japanese schools there also is a strong system of technical, commercial and vocational curricula. It covers agriculture, aquaculture, business, nursing and basic industries.
Therefore, especially during three years of public high schools in Hawai'i, curricula should be tailored to the student's abilities and aptitudes.
Further, by expanding our vocational program in our high schools, some students are able to acquire enough knowledge and skills to advance to a university or community college of their choice to be certified in their chosen fields.
Kathryn Matayoshi, the interim superintendent of the state Department of Education, has said she is establishing "zones of school innovation" to help reform the system. She states that "these zones extend the educational horizon beyond the typical school day and year, and beyond the traditional campus."
I strongly hope that the "zones of school innovation" will help to bring and expand an effective vocational education program in the public school system..
In summary, we must ask how we can help students make the transition from school to the business community. This is the bridge that all of us must construct to provide a world-class education for all public school students in Hawai'i.