In an era when almost all Chinese parents hope that their children can go to college, what role can vocational education play in preparing China’s young generations for success and facilitating social development? This is a question that the Summit Forum entitled “Shanghai Vocational Education: Towards 2035” tried to answer. Held on April 27 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center as part of the 16th Shanghai Education Expo, the forum invited several experts from local education institutions to share their views about the new challenges facing vocational education and offer their insights into the solutions.
Bao Qifan, Dean of Academy of International Transport and Logics at the East China Normal University (ECNU), who is known as the “King of the Grab Crane”, summarized his career path as one of incessant exploration driven by craftsmanship—an attitude featuring full dedication to one’s profession and attention to every detail. “We need to advocate craftsmanship and raise public awareness of the importance of vocational education, so as to offer a springboard for the advancement of manufacturing and innovation,” said Bao.
In the spirit of “doing your best or not at all, Bian Jianhong, Principal of the Yangpu Vocational and Technical School who has won the “Shanghai Education Hero” (SEH) and “Super Principal” (SP) titles, led the auto body repair team of his school to win medals at the 42nd, 43th and 44th WorldSkills Competition consecutively: from medallion for excellence to silver medal and then to gold medal. By “taking bold moves that others dare not take or even think”, e.g. establishing partnerships with industrial giants, he facilitated the creation of an innovative training model, thus not only ensuring that each graduate had a promising career, but also turning his school into a cradle for skilled talents eagerly sought after by the local labor market and the markets across the whole country.
“In 1982, an opinion poll in the U.S. showed that 57% of families hoped to send their children to college, and this number rose to 92% in 2010. China has reached the same stage.” said Wu Xianwei, Principal of Shanghai Information Technology College who has also won the SEH and SP titles. He noted that higher vocational education had nurtured the first college graduates in China and that Shanghai, as the first city in China to witness the take-off in vocational education, should seek to build a “Shanghai Model” to sustain the future development of the sector. He stressed that “to make Shanghai a modern international metropolis with global influence by 2035, a major step is to upgrade our education system to the world-class level, of which vocational education is a crucial part.”
To achieve that goal, he proposed three measures: building an experimental vocational college to explore a training model covering middle and higher vocational education and undergraduate programs; grouping vocational education institutions into showcase groups, focusing on specific industries, such as biomedicine and integrated circuit; improving the vocational education system by implementing the “diploma plus technical certificates” pilot project, reforming the examination and admission system of vocational colleges, establishing an academic credit bank system and building a strong body of teachers with both academic and practical professional skills, etc.
“Putting vocational education in a strategic position should not be only theoretical, but should be accompanied by pragmatic policies and measures,” said Xu Guoqing, Director of the Institute of Vocational and Adult Education at ECNU, who regarded textbook quality as one of the most important factors in improving vocational education. He noted that the vocational education sector in Shanghai should push forward curriculum reform, starting with the development of high-quality textbooks and teaching materials. “With the boundaries of different professions becoming increasingly blurred, we need to train more cross-disciplinary technical talents. Shanghai should take the lead in this drive,” said Xu.