Byron's Babbles

Application of Practice & Theory

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Valerie and I

As I prepared for dinner last evening in Bern Switzerland, I had no idea what I was in store for. First of all, the views of the Swiss Alps were breathtaking. The meal was absolutely awesome! The restaurant first opened in 1862. But, it was the conversation with our waitress that blew me away.

Here I was in Switzerland with a delegation from Indiana organized by Horizon Education Alliance to learn about vocational education and apprenticeships, and all of the sudden I am in a conversation with our waitress, Valerie, who was in her last year (4th year) of apprenticeship in Service. She was two months away from taking her final exam. She will earn a Federal Diploma of Vocational Education and Training in Service. Valerie was outstanding at serving us and spoke incredible English. Most would say she spoke better English than me.

Check out the video of me introducing Valerie to our delegation and telling her story here:

Valerie really values the apprenticeship program she is a part of. She explained that she really likes the fact that she is learning in a real world context. As the guy who really values teaching in a relevant context, this was amazing to me. In Valerie’s case she went to her vocational school two days per week and then works in the restaurant three days per week learning the business. In addition, every so many weeks she got to what are called “Branch Courses” to learn specific skills. One of the themes that has come out in the Swiss model is the belief that a student should not just “know it,” but “know it and do it.” This is an applied model.

“A Swiss Apprenticeship doesn’t define you for life, but it is designed to prepare you for life.” ~ Ambassador Suzi and Eric Levine

When I asked Valerie what she thought could be improved about the way she was being educated she talked about career exploration/guidance and how students are sometimes “pushed” into different areas. Valerie explained career guidance is very important and believed she needed more. She also discussed that she believes her teachers in compulsory education (k-10) do not know enough about business and industry. This caused a lot of discussion in our study group about needing more teacher externships. We need to really ramp up the number of our teachers we are putting out into actual workplace environments to learn first hand about the places their students will be working.

IMG_2574When we get push back in the policy-making space about how having Graduation Pathways in Indiana and providing more opportunities for students makes more work for counselors, I disagree. As a former teacher, I believe teachers have the closest relationships with students and must take on part of the responsibility of helping guide students to post-secondary paths and choices. Valerie was also concerned that student sometimes get pushed into the wrong area of interest.

IMG_2550In Switzerland 2/3 of the students do vocational/apprenticeship training while a third go on to college. I believe it is great that in Switzerland wanting a vocational education is not the second choice. In the United States we need to really work on making sure students understand the value of vocational education and apprenticeship programs. We need to make sure that students and families understand that it is just as great of education to go the career and technical education and going to a university. It is all about what the student wants to go into and where the high wage, high demand jobs are.

Furthermore, Valerie really has lots of options with her apprenticeship program – what the Swiss call “Permeability.” She can go straight into the workforce, or go to the university, or into professional education. See the chart below:

IMG_2565Make no mistake as you read this post. I do not want us (Indiana) to copy the Swiss model. I do not believe you can just cut and paste or copy another system into our own, But…I do believe there are pieces of the Swiss model that was started in 1932 that we could use in our system to better our apprenticeship programs for our students.

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