The 2014/15 school year has just ended and, with it, the Polish Year of vocational schools. The idea for this initiative, decreed by the Minister for National Education, came from a wish to restore the importance and prestige of VET.
Although VET reforms have been continuing for several years, results were not visible to the wider public. Therefore, the education ministry planned a number of specific actions which should improve VET system. These will be not be restricted to the 2014/15 school year but also continue into the future.
The minister intended to convince primary and lower secondary students and their parents that Polish vocational schools have become modern and provide high quality general education alongside excellent vocational education. The following priorities were identified:
- adjusting vocational education to labour market needs;
- creating flexible pathways to obtain qualifications;
- assisting students and parents with education and career planning;
- supporting school staff to improve their professional performance;
- improving the examination system;
- making vocational education more attractive;
- increasing the quality and efficiency of vocational education.
One priority was to cooperate with employers, to adjust VET to labour market needs, prepare students to work in their professions, and organise apprenticeships. A VET advisory team was appointed consisting of ministers and representatives from employers’ organisations and trade unions. The main task of the advisory body was to suggest measures strengthening cooperation between schools and employers, to adapt VET to the needs of employers, local labour markets, and an innovative economy, and to discuss future practical training.
Another important activity in the year’s agenda was directed at students and their parents. The ministry developed tools facilitating access to information about occupations and vocational schools:
- a new web portal for educational and vocational counselling and guidance was launched: this includes material on professions in which education is offered in particular regions, on schools, educational and vocational counsellors and institutions, and information necessary if choosing or changing educational and vocational path. The portal is linked to 16 regional portals offering more detailed region-specific information;
- a map of professions was created: it includes vocational schools of all levels and informs about vocational qualifications, practical training and internships, plus student achievements in external examinations.
Equally significant were promotional campaigns in social media improving the image of vocational schools and encouraging young people to choose vocational pathways. The minister engaged a well-known blogger, Rezi (privately a student of upper secondary technical school) to promote VET on his YouTube channel. In short films Rezi answered questions about VET, told funny stories about his school and about practical training. His profile had over 850 000 regular followers and grew constantly during the campaign.
A special fun page was created on Facebook where there was a competition for lower secondary and vocational school students. Young people made short films telling why they have chosen or were going to choose vocational education and selected entries were presented on Facebook and YouTube.
Although the year of vocational schools has concluded, its activities will go on; the consequences will continue to arrive into the future.