The U.S. can learn a lot from Switzerland’s apprenticeship program, which allows students to prepare on the job for careers in health care, finance, and law, said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a speech Thursday to the International Congress on Vocational & Professional Training in Zurich.
“It is so interesting that more than two-thirds of current [Swiss] students pursue their education through apprenticeships,” DeVos said. “Of course apprenticeships include those for welders and carpenters—which, in my country, is more common. But apprenticeships here include many options in every sector of the economy, including healthcare, finance and law. I was so intrigued to learn from Switzerland’s Ambassador to the U.S. Martin Dahinden that the CEO of UBS, Sergio Ermotti, started his career as an apprentice. And Lukas Gähwiler, Chairman of UBS, Switzerland also started out his career as an apprentice. That’s not commonplace in America, but perhaps it should be!”
By contrast, DeVos said many schools in the U.S. are still stuck “in a bygone era"—a sentiment that’s drawn sharp critiques from American educators. who say that DeVos doesn’t have a real sense of what actually happens in modern classrooms.
“Today’s students need something drastically different, something significantly better than what my own experience was,” DeVos said, who attended private schools. “They need learning environments that are agile, relevant, exciting. Students need customized, self-paced, and challenging life-long learning journeys.”
DeVos said apprenticeships have been a big priority for President Donald Trump, who set up a task force to study the issue. The task force’s report, issued last month, recommended apprenticeship opportunities in every high school in America, but didn’t lay out clear steps on how to make that happen. And Trump’s first budget proposed cutting the $1 billion Career and Technical Education program, the biggest federal source of funding for high schools.
In her speech in Zurich, DeVos also returned to a familiar theme: the need to individualize instruction to better meet students’ needs.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for every student. And no individual student is “average.” Every student comes to learn with different experiences, different needs, different learning styles and different dreams. Their education then must be equally customized.”
The stop-over in Zurich is part of a nearly two-week tour of how three European countries approach career and technical education and school choice. Find out more about her schedule here.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos listens during a meeting between President Donald Trump and business leaders in the State Department Library of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House on April 11. --Evan Vucci/AP
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