Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Post-16 - South East Asian Trio Tackles Region's Vocational Woes: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Post-16 - South East Asian Trio Tackles Region's Vocational Woes: News

Article excerpt

Three countries to benefit from joint work-based qualifications.

In two years' time, 10 nations across South East Asia will become a single market with a free flow of labour and trade.

Although the move is designed to bring about economic benefits, three of the countries involved are hoping it will also reap educational improvements: Thailand, Laos and Vietnam have joined forces to create a plan for vocational education that they hope to roll out across the region.

Under the scheme, students from the three different nations will study for the same work-based qualifications, giving them a common currency when looking for jobs. Supporters hope that the initiative will eventually be embraced by all 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean).

While the details of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam's ambitious joint programme are still being decided, the need for improvement in vocational education in the region is urgent. Among the countries' shared problems are the underfunding of colleges and a shortage of trained teaching staff and modern equipment. As is often the case elsewhere, too, vocational programmes are much less popular than academic options such as university.

However, specific - and worrying - issues also exist, including gang warfare among students from rival vocational colleges in Thailand. According to Duncan McCargo, professor of South East Asian politics at the University of Leeds, it is a serious problem.

"Vocational colleges have a very bad reputation," Professor McCargo said. "There are deep, football-style rivalries between different colleges, and many male students get drawn into gang warfare, with lots of street fighting and people getting stabbed and shot.

"It's hard to understand what the culture is but it goes back to the politicisation of the student population in the 1970s."

Despite these problems, vocational education in the country remained popular until relatively recently, when private investment led to a rapid expansion of the university sector, Professor McCargo said. …

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