Saturday 29 November 2014

ITE training model draws overseas interest

Institute's private arm boosting its revenue from consultancy services
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2014

EVEN as Singapore looks at improving the prospects of its Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates, others are looking to it for help in improving vocational training, drawn by its high-quality education and facilities and its practical educational model.

ITE's wholly owned private arm, ITE Education Services (ITEES), has been boosting its revenue from consultancy, skills accreditation and training.

When ITEES started in 2003, it took in about $1 million a year.

It now earns $7 million a year and expects annual takings to reach $10 million in the next three years, its chief executive Tan Seng Hua told The Straits Times.

The 61-year-old - who took up the post in August and is also deputy chief executive of academic matters - has seen greater interest from other countries which want to share in Singapore's educational experience.

"Many countries are turning to vocational training as a solution to unemployment," he said. "In the past, officials spoke only about developing tertiary education and universities, but now they're changing their focus."

Singapore is also strengthening its vocational education system.

In September, the Government accepted recommendations by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee to improve the quality of education and job prospects of ITE and polytechnic students. These include enhanced internships and work-study programmes.

The completion of ITE's three mega campuses - the first of which was the $240 million ITE College East in Simei in 2005 - has also attracted interest.

Each year, ITE hosts more than 1,000 visitors from 40 countries at its campuses in Simei, Choa Chu Kang and Ang Mo Kio.

"Many officials are impressed by facilities such as hair salons and hospital wards modelled after workplaces," said Mr Tan.

Over the years, ITEES has helped 25 countries such as Panama and Sri Lanka revamp their curriculum and training educators. It has also helped countries such as Nigeria build vocational training schools.

One such institute in Myanmar will take in 800 students next year. ITEES will train 40 of its educators in engineering services and hospitality.

As part of a two-year tie-up which started this year, ITEES will train 140 educators from China's Hebei province in pedagogy and skills in precision engineering and mechatronics. These educators will later train another 700 educators back home.

Ms Liu Jing, deputy director of vocational education and adult learning in the Hebei provincial education department, said: "My impression of Singapore is that it has very high education standards."

Singapore's model was chosen over others such as Germany and Australia because it shares a similar Asian culture, said Ms Liu, whose department oversees more than 700 vocational schools.

"Young people tend to avoid technical trades, and parents want children to go to university," she said. "Few employers are willing to spend to train people."

Mr Tan agreed, saying that while countries look to the famed German apprenticeships as a model for success, Singapore's college-based system is seen as more "practical" and "achievable".

"The German system is not easy to implement as it is driven largely by companies. Most countries do not have that long a history of trades, and most employers are not willing to share the responsibility of training young people.

"We're slowly changing that - by bringing in industry-based training for students. The challenge is to keep innovating to stay relevant," he said.

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