Education

Teacher education at MCAST in the context of Industry 4.0

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The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) has long been recognised as the top vocational education college in Malta. Applied subjects require a hands-on pedagogy where learning does not necessarily happen in a classroom setting.

Industry 4.0 brought with it the influence of automation on the lives of individuals as workers and as active citizens. Information is readily available at the touch of a button. This impinged on teaching and learning, and as a result, it also needs to affect teacher education programmes. Practices in society have changed and, therefore, this has to be reflected in teacher education programmes.

MCAST has identified the increasing need for teachers in vocational education and training (VET) in this time of Industry 4.0. This need is evident in vocational strands such as health and social care, hairdressing and beauty, engineering, agribusiness, retail, and media and fashion, which are taught in secondary schools. As the popularity of VET increases, more qualified teachers in this area are required.

If we wish to nurture a society with sound values, we need motivated and adequately trained teachers. Most of our national policy documents in the educational sphere are built around knowledge, skills and competence acquisition. This is a response to the needs of Industry 4.0 that is perhaps excessively driven by a market ideology.

However, over the years we have understood the importance of attitudes and values even more. Often, these feature only vaguely in official documents because of an obsession we have with measurability. We are obsessed with measuring knowledge. We want to measure skills. We want to measure competences as outcomes from a period of formal education. These are actually measurable. The quality culture emphasises measurability, setting and meeting goals, as well as standardisation, among other things.

However, there is more than this transactional approach in the interaction during a learning journey. The beauty of the educational process goes beyond all this. It is a human interaction often led by the teacher. With the advent of Industry 4.0, the teacher needs to embody certain agreed attitudes and values we wish to have in society, including an attitude towards learning to learn and active citizenship, among others.

One of the foremost educational values is that of inclusion. Students are all different and all equally important. Gone are the days of considering a person’s intelligence based on a (socially unfair) written test with abstract examples. Intelligence is much broader than that. The recognition of different abilities, needed in other circumstances, are brought to the fore with talk of much-needed transversal competences. Furthermore, people have multiple intelligences and learn differently influenced by their lifelong, life-broad and life-wide educational journey.

Vocational education is not the imparting of knowledge. The emphasis is on learning rather than teaching. The teacher is essential

This belief is, for example, evident in curricular decisions such as the ‘My Journey’ route of vocational subjects offered to students in senior secondary schools. Such curricular decisions move away from the one-size-fits-all approach towards one that considers the different aptitudes of students from diverse backgrounds.

It is here that quality vocational education comes into the picture. For a just curricular menu to be made available to students, a significant share of vocational subjects needs to feature in the mainstream curriculum. Thankfully, vocational education has returned to the mainstream curriculum, as opposed to the times when it was offered as a fallback position or a softer option and – worst of all – in a separate school away from all the students’ friends. Vocational education is now part of the curriculum of every senior secondary school.

Quality vocational education is now the choice of a significant number of students. Most students – in fact, a high percentage – are opting to learn a vocational subject in their final years of compulsory schooling.

But again, the effect of Industry 4.0 comes into the equation. Vocational education is not the imparting of knowledge. No quality education today can ever be an imparting of knowledge from the teacher to the student. This is more so in vocational education. The emphasis is on learning rather than teaching. The teacher is essential.

The teacher is even more important in the landscape of Industry 4.0. The students need the teachers to direct them to sources of knowledge to critically engage in society. The student needs the teacher to mimic the sector-related skills the teacher confidently manifests. The teacher thus becomes the facilitator of learning rather than the one who teaches.

The increase in students following a vocational subject during compulsory schooling is moving hand in hand with the rise in students following a vocational education at MCAST. Thanks to the deliberate political direction on a national level, coupled with the direction from the leadership of this vocational institution, MCAST is now recognised as the foremost vocational institution in Malta. Students who followed a vocational route in their compulsory schooling will find it natural to progress to a vocational route in a post-secondary and tertiary setting at MCAST.

The criteria of a vocational curriculum that responds to Industry 4.0 include: 1) the means of knowing where there is less of theory and more of practice; 2) nature of activities where there is more of authentic work-related tasks; and 3) visibility of processes in groups. These criteria match perfectly with the intelligence and learning styles of particular students. Following compulsory schooling, students who have followed vocational subjects become accustomed to their specific nature. Particular modes of ongoing assessment are also worthy of mention. All this is what MCAST stands for.

The same emphasis on practice, work-based learning and group processes is found in the Bachelor in Vocational Education and Training 4.0 (BVET). MCAST has built on its extensive experience in vocational education and training and the close relationship with industry related to these fields to provide BVET – a three-year full-time course. BVET graduates will be able to work as warranted teachers in compulsory education, other VET institutions and lead learning experiences in industry or mentor students in workplace settings. The course is recognised as a route towards a permanent teacher’s warrant by the Council for the Teaching Profession.

Another course that the Council for the Teaching Profession recognises as a route towards a permanent teacher’s warrant is the MCAST Master in Vocational Education Applied Research 4.0 (MVEAR). This three-year part-time course is built around themes. So the assignments are research-based on matters relevant to the practitioner’s daily experiences instead of traditional assignments, which are just a literature review of the books, articles and journal papers.

Teachers make a difference in students’ lives by teaching hands-on vocational subjects directly linked to Industry 4.0. The competences needed to navigate in a society shaped by Industry 4.0 require teachers who are ready to invest in continuous professional development to remain abreast with developments.

Teaching is truly a vocation. MCAST encourages those who love a particular VET subject and would like to help others progress in their learning to consider joining a teacher education course offered by MCAST. Educators make a positive difference in our community.

Reuben Mifsud is deputy director for continuous professional development at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology.

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