Vocational teaching in ‘crisis’ as sole technology teaching degree is cut

The state's sole university degree in technology education faces the axe next year, worsening what school leaders say is already a desperate shortage of qualified vocational teachers in Victorian high schools.

La Trobe University has proposed the closure of its Bachelor of Technology Education, citing a 50 per cent drop in enrolments since 2017 as well as the heavy financial hit of COVID-19.

Northern College of the Arts and Technology students Alex Hosking and Isaac Lanza with electrotechnology teacher Carlos Rozales. Credit:Luis Ascui

Tech teachers have reacted with dismay at the news, with one principal describing the dearth of qualified educators as having “gone beyond crisis”.

“This is a disaster, as we desperately need VET (vocational education and training) teachers,” said Raffaela Galati-Brown, principal of the Northern College of the Arts and Technology in Preston.

“We already have a huge skills shortage as it is and schools as well as TAFEs are in need of quality teachers.”

Technology is part of the Victorian curriculum but suffers from a chronic shortage of qualified teachers.

According to the most recently published data from the Department of Education and Training, from 2018, 59.8 per cent of advertised secondary school vacancies in digital technology were unfilled – the worst result of any subject – and 48.1 per cent of design technology jobs were unfilled.

Ms Galati-Brown said she knew of schools that had simply stopped offering technology programs in years 7 to 10 because they cannot find suitably qualified teachers.

Others resort to appointing teachers from unrelated fields such as arts and humanities in these positions.

The Andrews government last week announced a major overhaul of vocational education at senior secondary level, with plans to merge the Vocational Certificate of Applied Learning into the VCE.

A review of the vocational certificate, by former Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority chief John Firth, reported that many schools struggle to attract or retain suitable vocationally qualified teachers and that there is a lack of opportunity for teachers to upskill and maintain industry currency.

Many of the best teachers are poached by TAFE institutes where pay is often better.

“There is a lack of incentives for well-qualified [vocational] trainers to stay in the school system,” the Firth review report found.

Technology education is one of a number of courses La Trobe has proposed scrapping due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 on the higher education sector. It also announced plans to dump modern Greek, Hindi and Indonesian language courses.

The university said it was unable to continue to offer the degree given modest enrolment numbers and the financial impact of COVID-19. It also said that a bachelor’s degree was no longer required to teach vocational education and training in schools.

“Although this is an area in which there is a theoretical undersupply of qualified teachers, the current regulatory requirements enable teachers to work as technology education teachers without completing this program,” a La Trobe spokesperson said.

Enrolments have halved since 2017, La Trobe says. That year, the Victorian Institute of Technology changed the policy for vocational teachers, exempting them from the need to hold a qualification, or even be in the process of gaining one.

Karen O’Reilly-Briggs is co-ordinator of the Bachelor of Technology Education and said the exemption was “an example of what they call institutional classism” and made a mockery of professional standards in education.

She said school students in subjects such as carpentry, agriculture and motor mechanics deserved to be taught by teachers who are experts in their fields.

“All you need to ask yourself is: would they do the same thing for a maths or English or science teacher? Would they just exclude the need for teacher qualification?” Dr O'Reilly-Briggs said.

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