The story appears on

Page A10

September 3, 2016

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Education

Ditching the stigma of vocational education

AS his former middle school classmates trudged off to begin high school classes after the summer holidays, Ma Xufeng didn’t join them.

The 15-year-old is enrolled in a relatively new government pilot program that puts eligible students on a consecutive seven-year vocational training and university study.

Chinese parents don’t normally like to send children to vocational schools in lieu of high school because they fear that diminished chances of getting into university. Vocational schools have long been relegated to the B-list of education — places for those who aren’t academically gifted.

That perception is wrong, Shanghai Vice Mayor Weng Tiehui pointed out in a recent radio program.

“Actually, there are different levels of vocational education, and we are badly in need of high-level skills in areas such as modern service industries and advance manufacturing,” Weng said. “Vocational education can nurture these talents, and that’s why we are building a new growth path to provide both skills training and university diplomas.”

The idea is beginning to catch on. The vocational-college program is so popular that about 10,000 middle school graduates applied for 1,000 seats this year, Weng said.

“It is great to see that so many of the applicants had graduation exam scores that certainly would have qualified them for the top high schools,” she said.

Among the highest scorers was Ma.

A graduate of Yan’an Middle School, he will study mechanical engineering for three years at the Shanghai Industrial Technical School and then spend four years at the Shanghai Second Polytechnic University.

On the middle school exit exam, Ma scored 590 points — almost 100 points higher than the minimum requirement for normal high school admission.

“The exam score was just a kind of recognition of my learning ability,” Ma tells Shanghai Daily. “The choice of my future should not be based on marks, but on my real interests and ambitions.”

Ma says he has always been fascinated by mechanics. At home, he took devices apart to see how they worked. He repaired broken electrical devices and appliances for his parents, including the remote control unit for the television set and air-conditioners.

Ma says his interest probably comes from his father, who is a mechanical engineer.

“Since childhood, I have always dreamed of following in his footsteps,” Ma says. “My father is so skillful that he can deal with any problems in electrical appliances.”

Less stress, more learning

Ma and his parents say the vocational-university track will give him the chance to start honing practical skills at an earlier age.

“The vocational route is suitable for him because he likes mechanics,” says Xu Haijie, Ma’s mother. “It is attractive to us because he can achieve both a bachelor’s degree and skills certification after seven years.”

The government program was initiated in 2014 with 120 places and three majors. It was expanded to 1,000 places with 26 majors this year.

Under the program, vocational schools are coupled with universities to ensure a smooth track for students. After three years of vocational training, the students have to pass a written examination and a professional skills test to continue on to university. The tests are less difficult and less competitive than the gaokao, China’s national college entrance exam for high school graduates.

Ma says he worries a bit that the vocational part of the training may not be demanding enough for his mechanical engineering ambitions. So he is studying advanced math and English by himself.

The students accepted into the first year of the program are happy with the results.

Zheng Xiaoxiao is starting her final year at the Shanghai Information Technology College and will enter the Shanghai Institute of Technology in September next year. She is majoring in applied chemistry.

“When we first heard about this program, it was a totally new concept,” she says. “My mother suggested that I seize the opportunity.”

Her parents both work in the financial services industry.

“My mom analyzed the situation for me,” Zheng tells Shanghai Daily. “If I went to an ordinary high school, I might not qualify for a good university, even after three years of hard work. With this program, I can bypass some of that stress and uncertainty and will get a bachelor’s diploma.”

Another factor enters the decision process. An ordinary university degree is no longer an ironclad guarantee of a good job.

“This new route will ensure me a better chance of finding a really good job,” Zheng says.

Zhu Hui is one of Zheng’s classmates at the vocational school.

Zhu’s mother tells Shanghai Daily that her daughter was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in her final year of middle school. The vocation-university program will ease the pressure on her while giving her a top-rate education.

Her parents say they are pleased with the progress so far.

“I find the teachers at the vocational school very responsible, and my daughter is performing well,” says the mother.

Zhou Jian, vice president of the Shanghai Information Technology College, says the school attaches great importance to the program.

“We want this program to succeed and that means turning out students with skills that the market wants and respects,” he says. “We are trying our best to cooperate with universities to devise a workable model for future students. Our teaching plan is being modified repeatedly in that process.”

His school has created a special center where students enrolled in the program can have lessons and do independent study apart from mainstream vocational students.

Motivating student talent

Zhao Wei, a teacher at the school, says students in the vocational-university program are more motivated than traditional vocational students.

About 40 students have been enrolled each year, and most perform well. Only one or two students at each grade failed exams and had to retake courses.

“Make-up examinations or repeating a grade might be usual for traditional vocational students,” Zhao says. “But it’s a very severe indictment in the eyes of these students. So those who perform badly at the beginning now work hard to catch up.”

Student Zhu says she is very happy with the program, especially when she hears from friends in traditional high schools how dull their classes are and how fierce the competition they face.

“I don’t have to waste my time on subjects that aren’t pertinent to my ambitions,” she says. “I can devote my spare time to learning what is useful and interesting for me.”

She is now preparing for qualification tests in English and computer skills by herself.

Factors currently inhibiting expansion of the vocational-university program are the limited choices of majors and numbers of universities willing to participate.

“There are only 1,000 places in the program, compared with more than 75,000 middle school graduates,” says Shi Jianzhong, director of teaching affairs office at Zhabei No. 8 Middle School. “So high school-university is still the main track for students. Universities in the pilot program are not the top attractive ones, such as Fudan and Jiao Tong.”

Vice Mayor Weng said earlier that she expects more universities will eventually join the program, and subject areas will be expanded.

“We used to educate university students with a single model — that of academic research,” she said. “But now we are trying to diversify universities into more functional roles, with applied skills alongside research-oriented study. Only 20 to 30 percent of university students are really suitable for academic research.”

Universities in the program also see opportunities.

“We were not competing against top universities previously,” says Lu Jing, president of the Shanghai Institute of Technology. “But this program aims to upgrade vocational education in Shanghai, which will raise our profile.”


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend