Welcome to episode 2 of the Art of Learning podcast, brought to you by Pearson Asia.
We're joined by Lê Thị Phượng Liên, Deputy Director of International Education - BTEC at the American Polytechnic College in Hồ Chí Minh, to discuss the power of vocational education and the importance of linking qualifications to jobs.
We introduce the American Polytechnic College (1:23), we discuss why Pearson's BTEC qualifications stand out (4:34), the importance of guidance from your education partners (6:39), student feedback on hands-on learning (9:07), and Lê Thị Phượng Liên offers her advice on implementing BTEC qualifications in your institution (10:53).
In Thailand, the high-end manufacturing sector is booming. Aided in part by the government’s support, there is real enthusiasm for specialised engineering learning, and many young Thais are looking for careers in what is becoming an increasingly competitive field.
In response, the country’s higher-education institutions, such as King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL), are catering to this increase in interest.
With many younger, aspiring engineers focused on advanced fields like nanotechnology, undergraduates in the STEM disciplines are looking for additional courses to give them much-needed practical knowledge, and ultimately, an edge in the job market.
In schools like KMITL, this heightened interest in specialised education has led to an increased adoption of high-quality, practical qualifications like BTEC.
These courses, which are highly experience-based and geared towards the skills that make graduates attractive to employers, allow students who value hands-on experience and practical learning to get tangible qualifications that can really make a difference when entering the workforce.
What is BTEC?
For over 30 years BTEC qualifications have offered an engaging alternative to more academic, traditional learning models.
Based on real-life work skills and knowledge, these qualifications are more attractive to students who have a career path in mind and want the relevant experience related to their chosen field – in STEM, health, sport, business, IT, the creative industries, and more. Because the courses are focused on “learning by doing,” BTEC students work on assignments set in real-life scenarios and can put their learning into practice straight away.
Employers benefit just as much, secure in the knowledge that new graduates from BTEC programs have the relevant skills – and experience – to hit the ground running. It’s a proven strategy – according to global data, some 90% of BTEC students are employed full-time after graduating.
The courses have developed as a way to unify English with technical and vocational qualifications, giving educators a framework around which to experiment and innovate in the way they teach, and offering their students the range of skills needed to thrive in today’s competitive job market.
KMITL – a Thai educational innovator
KMITL, a research and educational institution in Bangkok, has a heavy STEM focus and its reputation for imparting high-quality vocational training makes it an ideal partner to pilot BTEC Higher Nationals, internationally recognized vocational qualifications equivalent to the first two years of a university degree. KMITL has long been an innovator in Thai education, including awarding the country’s first doctoral degree in electrical engineering, and is associated with the Southeast Asia Engineering Education Development Network (SEED-NET).
While BTEC programs have been known at the high-school level in Thailand for some time, KMITL is pioneering its application for tertiary-level learners through new courses in Manufacturing Engineering and Management & Leadership.
The KMITL selection process for inclusion in its BTEC program is exacting, with only nine successful applicants for every 100, according to Dr. Chatrpol Pakasiri, a BTEC instructor at the institution. Students studying science, technology or engineering bachelor’s degrees are encouraged to apply.
Dr. Chatrpol has been teaching at KMITL for six years and helms the institution’s BTEC course on the principles of electrical engineering.
He says that while the BTEC curriculum is similar in many ways to the coursework he previously taught, his students benefit greatly from the practical experience, noting that those in his program directly “learn about manufacturing,” which will help them find jobs after graduation.
He adds that the new methodology, with a greater focus on self-starting and engaging learning, allows his students to “take responsibility for themselves,” which is a quality highly attractive to potential employers. He says that the course is ideal for motivated students who are prepared to work hard and many of his BTEC students are so involved in the course and value the practical aspects so highly, a simple passing grade isn’t enough for them: they are aiming, instead, to graduate with distinction.
He adds that the course is a hugely valuable additional qualification, which can be taken concurrently with their undergraduate degree courses. “It’s like having a second degree – usually if you want to have two degrees, it’s difficult to do so in different fields. Either [the students] would have to go back and get another bachelor’s degree and spend more time doing it – so in that respect it’s very good.”
Road to success
As the higher-level BTEC qualifications are relatively new to Thailand’s universities, their benefits are – for now – somewhat unfamiliar to the hiring departments of the country’s manufacturing and engineering industries.
But Dr. Chatrpol sees the qualification as having a bright future in Thailand. He is confident that as class after class of BTEC students graduate and enter the workforce, their worth will come to be known and valued by employers. “Awareness of BTEC will improve as students start to graduate and get their certificates. Then industry will get to know their capabilities,” he says.
Dr. Chatrpol says that KMITL plans to introduce additional BTEC courses into its current rotation across hospitality management, management and leadership, and business. He hopes that expanding the course options will further establish his institution as a BTEC leader in Thailand and attract top talent from across the Southeast Asian nation and beyond.