Assessment Opinion

Work-Based Learning Engages Students: Vocational Education in Toronto

By Heather Singmaster — April 07, 2016 7 min read
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This interview with Beth Butcher, Executive Superintendent, Teaching and Learning, and Bernadette Shaw, Central Coordinating Principal, Teaching and Learning of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) explores vocational education or Career and Technical Education as it is called in the United States and Technological Education as it is known in Canada. This post part of our ongoing partnership with Advance CTE’s Learning that Works! blog (formerly the National Association of State Directors of CTE Consortium).

What does technological education look like in Toronto/Ontario?

Technological education in grades 9-12 is guided by Ontario’s Ministry of Education curriculum documents, Technological Education, 2009. Programs are offered in communications technology, computer technology, construction technology, green industries, hairstyling and aesthetics, health care, hospitality and tourism, manufacturing technology, technological design, and transportation technology. Course work focuses on broad-based technologies (grades 9 & 10) and areas of emphasis (grades 11 & 12). When technological education programs are packaged with cooperative education, students have the opportunity to transfer learning from the classroom to the workplace by further developing and refining skills. This enables students to gain hands-on experience in the subject area and explore careers in a specific industry sector. Technological education programs lead to all exit destinations including the workplace, college, university, and apprenticeship. Students in cooperative education, who are working in skilled trades, may register as apprentices through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), a joint partnership between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

What percentage of the student population participates in technological education?
Technological education is offered in eighty-six secondary schools in the TDSB. We are the largest provider of this form of experiential learning in the country. Any student transitioning from grade 8 to grade 9 may select the broad-based introductory course, Exploring Technologies (TIJ). At the secondary level, there are over two thousand sections/classes running during the regular school year and approximately twenty-seven thousand students participate in any of the broad-based programs and/or areas of emphasis courses.

Which sectors/fields of study are most popular with students?
The Ontario curriculum is aligned with current economic industry sectors. While there is substantial interest in all technological education programs, participation rates are frequently dependent on specialized school facilities. Transportation technology, hospitality and tourism, and hairstyling and aesthetics are popular among students, as demonstrated in the TDSB course enrolment data. More and more, the integration of technological education with other areas of study is emerging as a trend. Whether it’s communications technology supporting transportation diagnostics or the application of mathematics in construction classes, technological education is most effective when supported through a cross-curricular, contextualized framework. The academic versus vocational demarcation is beginning to blur and this is paramount for students who aspire to take on a career in skilled trades and technologies.

How is technological education funded in Toronto?
Like all Ontario curriculum, schools deliver technological education by way of the Ministry of Education’s funding model. Students participating in Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program are additionally funded through the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU). MTCU also supports students through funding to complete their Level 1 Apprenticeship training, through a Training Delivery Agent in an approved sector of the skilled trades.

What are the major goals of technological education in Toronto?
The major goals of technological education are to provide students with learning that focuses on knowledge and skill development in order to prepare for transition to post-secondary learning or the world of work. Within this learning are the requirements of problem-solving, critical thinking, transferable skills, and making connections with real world applications.

Every system has its challenges—what are yours? What are some solutions you are looking to implement?
For the TDSB, one of our biggest challenges is keeping up with infrastructure in terms of facilities. As technologies evolve, classrooms and shops quickly become outdated, and the need to refresh is a challenging endeavor. For senior students who are interested in exploring and going deeper with their learning, work-integrated learning and cooperative education are key. Workplace learning opportunities are offered in every single high school. This is one of the Ministry of Education’s Student Success Strategies, which yields high results given the engagement of students through this alternative learning option. It is therefore vigorously promoted and reinforced in the system. Students learn through real-world application, about products and services, and develop an understanding of the industry. This experiential learning stance supports students in making informed decisions about post-secondary pathways.

What is the role of employers/labor/industry in your system?
The philosophy of technological education is that students learn by doing. When students are engaged and able to expand and refine their skills in a workplace setting, learning is enhanced and reinforced through application. Employers, as mentors, coaches and role models have great influence on young people as they are able to demonstrate current technological processes in the industry. Industry experience also provides students with opportunities to practice skills using connectivity, media, super-computers and robotic systems. The Toronto District School Board has a database of about 30,000 employers willing to offer these experiences to students. This includes the TDSB itself, which offers co-op positions in areas of construction, trade, office applications, and classroom assistance. TDSB also offers summer job positions.

What do you think the future of technological education in your country looks like?
With a growing number of students graduating with an Ontario Secondary School Diploma, the goal of many educators and employers is to see students fill the skills shortage that nationally, continues to be an issue. Aligning the skills gap with labor market needs will serve our economy and the learning/occupational/employment needs of many secondary school graduates from the TDSB as well as college and university graduates. STEM careers continue to be in demand as changing technologies impact on all economic sectors, production, and services.

What advice do you have for other systems attempting to reform their vocational education systems? What are some of the policies in Toronto that could assist others in overcoming the challenges they face?
Through the TDSB’s ten-year Long Term Program Accommodation Strategy, program priorities have been set, addressed, and various studies are underway to assess their success. Through the strategy, thirty Centres of Innovation for Skills and Technologies have been identified and seven are preparing to accept students starting in September 2016. Full implementation is expected to be complete by September 2018, with phase 2 and 3 of the Strategy.

The Centres of Innovation for Skills and Technologies are learning hubs that provide students with the opportunity to design their own enhanced learning through specialized skills and knowledge recognized by industry-sectors and postsecondary institutions. Supported through strong community partnerships and responding to current and emerging economies, the curriculum is enhanced through STEM, the engineering/design process and career-related certifications, cooperative education, and reach ahead opportunities (for instance, going to a college for a day to participate in a competition or shadowing a college student or even taking a dual credit course).

Are there any educator tools or policy papers that you recommend as resources?Technological education and experiential learning are closely aligned with the Ministry of Education’s Student Success/Learning to 18 strategy. The following student success initiatives are aligned in schools with technological education to augment learning and promote graduation outcomes:

Connect with TDSB, Asia Society, and Advance CTE on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of the Toronto District School Board.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.