Ability vs. academicsAmong 265 seniors at Daegu Jeil Girls’ Info High School - one of 691 vocational secondary schools around the country - 13 sat for this year’s college entrance exam. Most of their peers opted to jump right into the workforce and skip college, at least for now.
At the same time, Jin Girls’ Commercial High School in Busan expects more than half of its graduates to land jobs this year, up slightly from 49 percent last year. Last year, more than half of Daejeon Girls’ Commercial High School graduates found jobs at brokerage houses and other financial institutions.
Vocational schools aim to train students with the specific skills required for their careers, and the employment ratio of graduates from the schools mentioned suggests they have live up to their promises. Yet sadly, they are a rarity among their peers. Among graduates of all vocational and career high schools last year, 73 percent went to college versus 19 percent that entered the workforce.
If students of vocational schools prefer to seek an academic path and the schools shift their curriculum focus accordingly to meet the demand, these schools will stray from their original objective, which is training people with the skills specifically needed for the line of work they want to enter.
These schools should place a priority on reinforcing vocational training and raising the employment ratio. Their graduates should be ready to make valuable contributions in their fields immediately after being hired. The Jeil, Jin and Daejeon schools teach business English and other types of skills necessary for popular jobs among female workers instead of focusing on common academic subject areas such as reading and math.
The government plans to reduce the number of vocational schools to 400 by 2015 from the current 691 and convert them into trade-specific schools. Aviation, automobile and fisheries schools nested in rural areas serve as successful examples of how to fill empty classrooms with eager students from around the country after becoming more narrowly focused.
But it is no use if the supply is not met with demand. Companies must increase jobs for high school graduates with specialized skills.
The government and local administrations should encourage companies to hire skilled high school graduates by providing incentives. Our society and corporate community must learn to respect ability more than academic background.