An assessment of the vocational curriculum, Department of Production Engineering, College of Technological Studies, Kuwait
Salah Abdullah Al-Ali
College of Technological Studies, Kuwait
The importance of reviewing and up-grading vocational curricula to meet local market requirements is strongly emphasised in related literature. (Ecclestone, 1996; World Bank, 1995) In fact, it is generally recognised that the success of technical and vocational institutions would relies mainly on the quality of the curriculum. In addition, there is no doubt that courses, particularly those dealing with science and technology, must undergo continued review and up-dating as the world of work is exposed to the imposition of new techniques and methods that can be a blessing or a curse to human mankind.
The need to link particularly vocational and technical education with industry is extensively discussed in literature. (UNESCO 1979, BHEF 1988, Patrick 1990) "In recent years, progress has been made not only in expanding technical and vocational education to meet skilled manpower needs, but also in terms of broad reform directed at making education as a whole more responsive to social and economical requirements." (UNESCO 1979)
This paper examines the performance of the College of Technological Studies, (CTS), and in particular the department of Production Engineering in achieving its objectives. Attention is devoted to examining the content of the curriculum taught and markets requirements. The study would is based on extensive fieldwork that encompassed a review of related literature, questionnaires and personal interviews with the dean of the CTS, and selected staff and students. In addition, to obtain a wider view of the subject under investigation, personal interviews with key figures and direct supervisors in the industrial sector were also conducted. The aim is to investigate and assess the methods applied in forging links with local industry, especially those directed in reviewing and up-grading the curriculum. Finally, the paper argues that unless the CTS strengthen collaboration with local industry, the standard of graduates will not be improved - thus increasing dependence on expatriates.
Human resource development (HRD) in developing countries has received considerable attention in the economics literature (Jones, G. 1971, Harbinson, F. 1962). Technical and vocational institutes have a significant role to play in development, especially in developing countries where a shortage of qualified scientists, technologists, technicians and engineers is considered one of the most acute obstacles in the effective application of science and technology. In fact, technical and vocational institutions are viewed as the main vehicle through which to generate the skills and knowledge necessary to assimilate and absorb new technologies. "In recent years, progress has been made not only in expanding technical and vocational education to meet skilled manpower needs but also in terms of broad reform directed at making education as a whole more responsive to social and economical requirements". (UNESCO, 1979).
Several authors have expressed the need for curriculum development particularly in the field of technical and vocational education (Wicklein, 1993). The lack of focus on curriculum development content has created a somewhat disjointed approach to the study of educational technology.
Extensive debate over the past decade has produced a fairly consistent rationale for the study of technology and the need for technology education. An acceptable explanation of technology was suggested by Wright, Israel, & Lauda (1993), when they said: "Technology is the practice used to develop, produce, and use artefacts and the impacts these practices have on humans and the natural world."
As a result, technology education should encourage students to study (a) the processes used by practitioners (technologists) to develop new technology (this may include critical thinking and problem solving), (b) areas of technology which represent the accumulated knowledge of practice (specific technological applications), and (c) the impact of technology on society and the environment (Wright, 1992).
The research objectives of this study are six-fold:
- To identify the efforts are made to review, up-date, and monitor curriculum development.
- To identify the type of links (if any) between the CTS and local Industry.
- To examine the perception of the CTS staff towards the quality of the curriculum.
- To examine industrialists' perception of the standard of curriculum at the CTS.
- To identify and examine the perception of industrialists with regard to the standard of the CTS graduates.
- To identify those obstacles (if any) confronting the CTS in forging strong links with local industry, particularly those dealing with curriculum development.
It was hypothesised that:
- The link between industry and the CTS is only limited to the Industrial placement programs.
- Industrialists viewed the standard of the curriculum at the CTS "fair".
- The objective of the CTS in supplying local industry with sufficient skilled Kuwaiti manpower has not yet been achieved.
Population and sampling
A questionnaire was designed, tested and applied to 135 final year students at the Department of Production Engineering. The aim was to examine students' perception of various aspects related to their courses, with particular emphasis on the efficiency of the curriculum. The following relevant issues were examined and analysed; were course objectives and language, course content, teaching techniques, teaching aids, and industrial training programs.
Personal interviews with selected staff (28) at the Department of Production Engineering, 23 staff from other departments, and the college dean was also carried out to seek their views. Among the issues discussed were whether links with local industry have been established, the quality of industrial training programs, the standard of the curriculum, and the identification of any efforts to review, up-grade, and monitor curriculum development.
Selected industrialists were also interviewed to establish their opinions on the quality of the curriculum, the efficiency of the industrial training programs and to evaluate the quality of graduates. The selected parties were the oil sector (Kuwait Oil Company, Kuwait National Petroleum Company, Petrochemical Industries Company), and the Ministry of Electricity and Water.
Characteristics of sample
In all, 155 questionnaires were distributed to final year students at the Department of Production Engineering, of which 135 questionnaires were completed. This represents an 87% response rate. Such a response rate is considered appropriate since the main problem with using a questionnaire as a tool of data collection is that of getting an adequate response rate.
In addition, informal, un-structured personal interviews were conducted with 28 lecturers at the Department of Production Engineering and 23 staff from other departments, in order to seek their views on the standard of the courses, and particularly on links with local industry.
Industrialists (Kuwait Oil Company, Kuwait National Petroleum Company, Petrochemical Industries Company, and the Ministry of Electricity and Water), were also interviewed, (with particular emphasis on) those dealing with the graduates of the Department of Production Engineering. The aim was to seek an inside view on the quality of the curriculum and to evaluate the standard of graduates.
The Department of Production Engineering provides different courses for students and the following courses were selected to form as a case study. These are namely; the technological workshop, engineering drawings, machine parts drawing, production drawing, maintenance, and material handling. These courses are compulsory for all students to qualify for a degree at the Department of Production Engineering.
Measuring students perception to the standard of curriculum
Course objectives and language
Students were asked whether lecturers clarify and stress the course objectives in the first meeting, and 70.2% gave a positive answer "agree". In fact, lecturers were found to appreciate the importance of linking the course syllabus with actual needs, and this was supported by all the selected lecturers themselves.
In terms of the language of the course, the Arabic language seems to be the only language applied on all the selected courses, since students indicated difficulty in understanding the courses in English. This was strongly supported by 49.6% who "agree" and 20% "strongly agree". However, students indicated that the selected lecturers stress the importance of the scientific terms in English rather than Arabic.
Course content, teaching techniques, theory vs practice
Student's perception was also measured in terms of their evaluation of the level of theory vs. practice in their course content. The findings of the research reported that 68.9% of the total selected students stated that lecturers include practical cases in their course syllabus. In addition, 68.9% of the selected students stressed that the theoretical topics presented enrich their knowledge. In fact, 69.6% of the total selected students reported that lecturers manage to maintain a balance between theory and practice in the taught courses. However, when asked whether the subjects taught enhanced students capability in understanding new technology, 71.1% were found to "disagree". Lecturers were found to be capable to successfully transferring their knowledge to students, and this was supported by 49.6% "agree" and 20% "strongly agree". However, 48.9% of the selected students were found to "disagree" and 48.9% "strongly disagree" on the ability of the lecturers to transfer the skills required by the market place. In fact, when measuring whether lecturers ensured that the topics discussed related directly to market requirements, 40.4% of the selected students "strongly disagree", 39.6% "disagree", and only 20% "agree".
In terms of teaching techniques, lecturers seemed to encourage students to participate in the topics discussed, and this is supported by 70.4% of the selected students. In addition, when asked whether lecturers were able to answer questions raised by the students, 40% "agree", 29.6% "strongly agree", and only 20% "disagree". However, when questioned whether the lecturers had used different teaching techniques during the course, 48.9% of the selected students were found to "disagree", and 20.7% "strongly disagree". In addition, 49.6% of the selected students indicated that they "disagree" and 20.7% "strongly disagree" with regard to the use of real case studies by lecturers in their related subjects.
An attempt was made to examine students' perception of the evaluation system, and 48.9% of the selected students were found to "disagree" and 20.7% "strongly disagree" with the current system followed by lecturers in evaluating their standard.
Industrial training program
In associated literature, such a program has been defined as " a course which incorporated periods both of organised full-time work experience and of full-time study, the work experience of placement being linked in some measures of the course content" (Department of Education and Science, 1985). In a survey to determine the goals of co-operative education (by ranking in terms of high score) through addressing the question of "what are we trying to achieve and how well are we achieving?" McKenna's study revealed the followings objectives: to provide practical experience; to develop knowledge and skills beyond the classroom; to explore career choices; to develop the ability to work with others; and to improve working habits (McKenna, 1985).
In this respect, the findings of this research revealed that nearly 45% of the selected students indicated that the industrial training programs have enriched to "some extent" their "skills", 35% "knowledge", and 20% "attitudes". Selected students stressed the importance of industrial training programs and highlighted the need to extend the duration of training allocated as well as to improve the assessment system. In fact, the selected lecturers also shared the same opinion as the selected students, and emphasised the need to explore and extend collaboration with industry in other essential areas. In this regard, 65% of the selected students "agreed strongly" to extending the duration of the program, 55% "agreed" to improving the evaluation system, and 45% to involvement in other areas of an industrial nature such as problem solving, monitoring production, and improving quality. In addition, selected lecturers expressed their own concern with in regard to extending collaboration where a mutual agreement needs to be formed between the College of Technological Study and the industry concerned. In other words, in the view of the selected lecturers, the current status of the relationship with industry is formed on a friendly basis with the training department at the college, rather than by signing a specific mutual agreement where responsibilities and objectives are clearly defined. Such action is essential so that optimum use of the industrial training program can be maintained.
Selected lecturers were asked whether they required the use of educational aids (eg. overhead projector, computer services, books and visual aids) in their courses, and 100% said "yes". However, when they were asked if such facilities were available, 90% gave a negative answer. The lack of an adequate number and quality of references at the College of Technological Studies library, for example, was viewed by lecturers to be an obstacle in improving the learning.
Selected students (80%) were found to "strongly disagree" on the application of teaching aids by lecturers in their classroom. In fact, they stressed the lack of educational aids that would facilitate the transfer of knowledge, skills and attitudes in a more professional way.
Links with other institution and industries
In related references, many authors have expressed the need to link technical and vocational institutions and industry (Carsurd, A., & Ellison, B., 1990; Department of Trade and Industry, 1990). Several areas that could be exposed to mutual collaboration would include curriculum development, exchange of staff, joint committees, research and development, and secondment. However, the findings of this research revealed that no signs of mutual collaboration were noted between the Department of Production and similar departments, either in Kuwait or in surrounding countries. In addition, the links between the Department of Production and local industry seem to be lacking proper and efficient channels, since 90% of the selected staff gave a negative answer. These findings indicate without a doubt, the lack of understanding of the selected staff with regard to the main objective of established the College of Technological Studies, which stresses the need for mutual collaboration with local industry.
The links between the Department of Production Engineering and local industry should be enhanced and promoted to include various aspects of collaboration, such as joint research, curriculum development, and planning committees. It is also notable that the perception of the existence of the College of Technological Studies should not be viewed as a one way process, working in complete isolation with the external recipient of graduates.
Similar institutions in the UK, (eg. Newcastle University and Sunderland University, previously called polytechnics) provide a good example of forging strong links with local industry. In fact, both institutions have established a so-called "Polylink", which is considered to be a central academic liaison service. The office is entirely responsible for establishing contact with various sections of the universities, and keeps in touch on a regular basic with industry, business, commerce and the professions.
Quality assurance system
Unlike the trend of similar departments in the UK, the Department of Production Engineering in Kuwait lacks a proper system for reviewing, up-grading, and monitoring curriculum development. There is an obvious lack of a so called "quality assurance scheme" which is aimed at ensuring the consistency of courses taught at the Department of Production Engineering with the requirement of local industry. Technical institutions in the UK for example, have entered into a partnership in joint validation with the Council of National Academic Award (CNAA). Under the CNAA charter for validation the academic board is fully responsible for the validation, approval and review, of all technical institutions courses. This board is empowered to change existing courses and approve new ones. The dual essential aims of the system should insist upon high quality and continual progress in improving and safeguarding standards. To stimulate and encourage an atmosphere within the institution which will encourage members of staff to review, assess, monitor and validate courses and share in these activities, in a positive way, recognising that in so doing they will be developing their own powers, skills and expertise. (Quality Assurance Validation and Review Guidelines, 1991, p.v).
Several types of course review are undertaken in technical institutions in the UK. They are namely; annual course review, annual departmental review, and annual review of central departments, annual faculty review, five-year departmental review, five-year central department review, and five-year faculty review. They are all aimed at achieving quality in technical education that meets the needs of local industry, rather than concentrating on how courses are operated within the college boundaries.
Measuring staff perception to the standard of curriculum
Selected staffs were questioned first on their awareness of the college mission and strategy, particularly those dealing with curriculum development. The findings revealed that all the selected staffs were well aware of the mission statement and strategy. However, despite their awareness to the procedures required for evaluating the curriculum, no serious or sincere attempt has been made to review or evaluate the curriculum. In fact, the participation of industrialists no sought in the evaluation of curriculum. When asked to indicate whether there is a clear criteria in evaluating the curriculum taught at the Department of Production Engineering (DPE), all the selected staff gave a positive answer. The most common criteria is that the curriculum must meet industrial expectations since the purpose of the department in particular and the college in general is to meet the market requirement for semi and skilled national manpower. All the selected staff were also satisfied with the standard of the current curriculum taught and rate the standard of curriculum at the Department of Production Engineering as "very good", thus having met market requirements.
Measuring industrial perception of the DPE graduates
An attempt was made to examine industrial perception of the standard of the DPE graduates. Industrialists at the Ministry of Oil were selected to form the sample of this research. Personal interviews were conducted with industrialists dealing directly with DPE graduates. Several questions were asked regarding which graduates level of knowledge, ability to work use-related machines and tools, and graduates attitudes towards working in a related industry. Industrialists rated the level of knowledge of DPE graduates as "good" and this was supported by 70%, 20% rated it as "very good" and only 10% as "excellent". However, industrialists expressed some concern regarding the level of skills, since they all insist on enrolling graduates in a series of training programs. This action would, in the view of industrialists, help in shaping the ability of graduates in working with the technology applied in their industry. In regard to graduates attitudes towards working in industry, 55% of the selected industrialists expressed their concern on this matter and thus rated graduates attitudes as "good", 35% "very good", and only 10% "excellent". DPE graduates seem reluctant to take under outdoor work (65% of the selected graduates working in the selected industry), and working long hours constitutes another major obstacle to prolonged work in the chosen industry (85% of the selected graduates working in industry).
Conclusions and recommendations
An assessment of the standard of the curriculum taught at the Department of Production Engineering at the College of Technological Studies revealed some drawbacks. Despite staff awareness of the college mission and strategy, particularly those relating to market requirement, no acceptable, unified and scientific criteria were allocated in term of curriculum development. Unlike similar institutions in the UK, the College of Technological Studies in not taking serious action in forming a curriculum appraisal scheme that ensured its consistency with market requirement. In fact, it is entirely left to the departmental staff to review and/or up-date their curriculum. These worsen by the lack of linkage with industrialist, the main recipient of the college graduates. These findings supported hypothesis no.1, which stated that "the linkage between industry and the CTS is only limited to the Industrial placement programmes". As a result industrialist expressed their concerned to the standard of the CTS particularly to those skills required to manage and adapt the imported technology. To obtain the required standard, industrialist forced the CTS graduates to enrol in a serious on-job-training programs, since as stated by the selected industrialist "the standard of the curriculum at the CTS can be rated as "below their expectation". In general, the research findings strongly support hypothesis no.3, which indicated that "the objective of the CTS in supplying local industry with sufficient skilled Kuwaiti manpower is not yet achieved".
To achieve satisfactory results in terms of the standard of the CTS graduates, the following recommendations must be taken seriously by decision-makers. These are as follows:
Staff must thoroughly absorb the CTS mission statement and strategy.
- A unified, acceptable and scientific criteria's must be forge for reviewing, up-grading and developing the existing curriculum that takes into account market requirement.
- Industrialist must play a significant role in reviewing and evaluating curriculum.
- An evaluating scheme must be imposed for graduates working in industry, so that proper measures can be formed to maintain un-acceptable standard.
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|Author: Dr Salah Abdullah Al-Ali, College of Technological Studies, The Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAE&T), PO Box 261, Al-Surra, Post Code 45703, Kuwait.
Please cite as: Salah, A. A. (2002). An assessment of the vocational curriculum, Department of Production Engineering, College of Technological Studies, Kuwait. In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/2002/salah.html
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