IBM backs Tony Abbott’s pet project: corporate-sponsored vocational schools

ibm-chaplin

Financial Review 21 April, 2015 – http://bit.ly/1bfrTO5 

by Tim Dodd

In a win for the federal government, technology company IBM will back the development in Australia of vocational schools in which local employers help develop the curriculum, mentor students, and offer jobs to suitable graduates.

Two pilot schools, which follow a model pioneered in the United States by IBM, are planned to open next year in the Victorian regional cities of Ballarat and Geelong.

The US school model, called Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, is strongly backed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott who was impressed by a visit last year to one of the schools in Brooklyn, New York.

Stan Litow, IBM’s vice-president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, said the company will take responsibility for a pilot P-TECH school in Ballarat and would support the other pilot school in Geelong.

“We are delighted to be able to help,” said Mr Litow, who is visiting Australia and met with employers and educational institutions in Victoria on Monday.

Details of the Australian P-TECH model were yet to be finalised but the two schools are expected to be set up within existing high schools in partnership with employers and local TAFE colleges or universities.

It is expected to be similar to the US model in which students study at a P-TECH for six years – the last two years of high school and the first two years of post-school education – leading to a vocational qualification such as diploma or certificate. There is a strong emphasis on workplace learning and each school specialised in a particular area, such as information technology or healthcare, which was backed by local employers who helped develop the curriculum and mentored the students.

Last year the federal government allocated $500,000 to the pilot project to introduce P-TECH schools to Australia, which was to cover the costs of establishing one school in Geelong.

Federal Assistant Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham welcomed IBM’s involvement. He said the $500,000 in federal money was enough to expand the pilot to two schools, which would operate within the existing school and vocational education funding structures in Victoria.

“I’ve been really encouraged by meeting with the Victorian Education Minister and Skills Minister and I’m confident they will co-operate with us,” Senator Birmingham said.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino, said he looked forward to discussing the details of the P-TECH model.

“The Labor Government is supportive of any sustainable initiative that gives Victorian students the opportunity to advance their careers through further education,” he said.

It is not yet known how many students each P-TECH school will enrol. Nor is it known which employers will sponsor the Geelong school.

Mr Litow said in Ballarat IBM would follow the model it established in the US where it sponsors four P-TECH schools. The company would pay for a person with an education background, employed by IBM to work with the Ballarat P-TECH school, who would help integrate workplace learning into the curriculum.

He said in the US the IBM employee “leads the IBM model” in each school. “They help support the mentors, help support the teachers and lead in a collegial fashion,” he said.

Mr Litow said the STEM-based curriculum in Ballarat was likely to also include writing skills, presentation skills, problem solving, teamwork and
collaboration. He said students who completed P-TECH with the required skills would be “first in line” for jobs with IBM.

There are 27 P-TECH schools in the US and Mr Litow said the number would increase to 40 by the end of this year.

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