Recent developments in the tertiary sector and the Government’s proposal to merge 16 polytechnics has created a new challenge for tertiary educators to upskill themselves and focus on providing work-integrated learning for students. There is a constant demand for new skills in the job market that has led to a paradigm shift in the tertiary education sector over the last few years with an emphasis on creating a work-ready workforce. Besides developing subject knowledge, an educator must be aware of the local skill needs and aim at filling the gap between education and industry demand. According to Statistic New Zealand,93% of international university students choose to study in New Zealand because of the strong reputation of our universities, that gives an additional responsibility for educators to train themselves, develop new skill sets and use different strategies while working with national and international adult learners.
Outlined below are a few key areas which an educator teaching at the tertiary level must focus upon to meet the challenges of vocational education in New Zealand and create a sustainable workforce:
- Diverse Learners – International Education is NZ’s 5th largest export earner, generating $3.5 billion annually leading to a huge influx of international students, which implies that an educator must be prepared to work with students from different ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds. It is important to understand that each learner is unique and each one brings with him his/her own personality, preferences and prior work experience to the class. Lecturers have to ensure that they are flexible with their teaching methods and create an interactive and democratic learning environment for students which encourages engagement and cooperative learning. Developing robust teaching strategies to engage learners and using reflective practices would ensure maximum productivity of learners in the knowledge economy. An educator should focus on experiential learning methods and use strategies such as Constructivism ,VARK questionnaire, Knowles philosophy, Connectivism Scaffolding, that caters to the needs of students and foster learning achievement. Using different teaching strategies and learning about the new ones would help in making learning effective and meeting the demands of the students. Training workshops and Professional Development opportunities offered by Ako Aotearoa and other such organizations would help the educators to learn about active learning methods that can enhance cooperative and collaborative learning.
- Focus on Maori and Pasifika– Another challenge for the tertiary educator is to increase the success rate of Maori and Pasifika students. With a significant increase in Maori & Pasifika students, an educator must focus on the needs of both Maori & Pasifika. To ensure a high success rate of Maori & Pasifika, a teacher must understand how to link their course content with the holistic needs of Maori students which are spiritual, physical, mental and family. Keeping in mind the Treaty of Waitangi’s core concept of Partnership, Participation and protection would help in enhancing the skills of Maori learners in the classroom. Applying learning models like Te Whare Tapa Wha (Durie, Bishop & Glynn,1999) and Te Wheke (Pere,1999) in class would ensure a learning environment which is inclusive of Maori culture, where the learners get sufficient opportunity to learn and achieve their learning outcomes.
Pasifika students are currently at 11% in tertiary education as compared to the total population. Understanding Pasifika models such as Fonofale model that focusses on satisfaction of whole being of a student which includes family, culture, mental and career aspirations, would help the tutors understand the needs of Pasifika students .Based on these needs’ educators can design ways to increase their participation in the class and provide them with an environment where the learners feel included and respected.
A teacher can contribute to the well-being of Maori and Pasifika in a class by providing a safe learning environment to learners, constant encouragement and motivation so that they have successful jobs and career after the completion of course. To ensure that the success rate of Maori & Pasifika students is high, an educator should constantly upgrade themselves with policies and initiatives by TEC that lead to the development of Maori and Pasifika. Maori still have low participation rate as compared to the total population, 16% of Maori under 25 participate in study level at level 4 as compared to 23% of the total population.
3.Literacy and numeracy challenges-There is a big gap when it comes to literacy and numeracy skills that the students have and what is required in today’s knowledge economy. Students at the tertiary level are expected to have basic computer skills, communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, and knowledge of basic mathematical concepts. Knowing about TEC initiative to improve learners’ skills is a great way to improve the learner’s abilities. By knowing about strategies designed by TEC and attending workshops conducted by Ako Aotearoa, educators can make sure that they know about the latest approaches that can be implemented in the classroom to provide learners right literacy and numeracy support.
4. Success rate of students-It has been realized that there is a huge achievement gap between the number of enrolments and the students pass rate. 88% of New Zealanders with a degree or higher qualification have high levels of satisfaction with life compared with 83% of those with lower level qualifications. Constant monitoring of students during the course work and getting feedback from them would help in identifying the students who are lagging behind and efforts can be taken by educators taken to encourage learners by proving them extra support, one on one sessions to ensure that they understand the concepts and use their knowledge for completion of the course.
- Creating skilled workforce-Having a skilled and equipped workforce for the future to meet the demand of the industry is another big challenge for New Zealand tertiary sector ,which is also a prerequisite for economic growth. The focus of an educator of tertiary education should be to link courses/assessments to real-world situations and make students capable so that they can integrate into the New Zealand job Market. Median hourly earnings are 65% higher for New Zealanders with a degree or higher qualification compared with those with no qualifications – more than twice the earnings premium of those with lower level tertiary qualification. Making assessments which are well matched with the real market scenarios and according to NZQA prescriptions would help the students in applying class knowledge to various industries. The best way to meet this challenge would be to doing workshops that would help in developing assessments, teaching design and linking theory to practice. Job market is highly dynamic and students need to develop both academic and soft skills ,that would be required in the corporate world. A recent survey indicated that the three most important attributes an employer seek are oral Communication skills, cooperation and teamwork. There is a challenge for the educator as the students should not only be prepared academically but also have interpersonal and behavioural skills like confidence, working in teams and excellent communication skills. Class activities should be designed in such a way that the learner is participative, gain social behavioural skills and acquires skills to in a collaborative environment. A tertiary educator has the responsibility of updating the courses with real industry scenarios to ensure that the transition of the learners from college to the industry is smooth.
- Adopting new technologies-One of the major challenges in tertiary education is adapting to new technologies in the education sector. This is an era of blended education which is a mix of classroom and digital learning, with students having access to varied resources. With learners preferring interactive learning over the traditional form of lecturing, it becomes highly important for a tutor to constantly upgrade themselves about new technologies and integrate them into the classroom. Educators should use technology not only in classroom teaching but also in other areas like grading, checking plagiarism etc. The best way to improve a skill set and learn about technologies would be attending professional development programs, workshops and attending seminars. An educator should plan to attend as many workshops as possible so they can provide a technology-based learning environment to the students.
- Research-Last but not the least challenge is the research undertaken by educators. Research develops critical thinking and analytical skills. There is still not enough motivation for the teachers to undertake research which is a requirement for the teachers who are teaching at tertiary levels as they should be able to apply research teachings in the class. The aim of the future is to have classrooms which have research-oriented tutors who are able to have wide-ranging discussions with their students. Educators should be able to understand the concepts /models taught in the class to their relevant field. NZ universities spend around $140m annually on research that specifically enriches our social and cultural understanding. To ensure quality teaching in higher education, there a number of initiatives taken with the Ministry of education, Tertiary Education Commission, Ako Aotearoa to improve standards for tertiary teaching and enhance learning practices. Tertiary Education Commission invests over $3 billion into tertiary education and supporting the tertiary and careers system .For achievement of the research objective, teachers should be encouraged to write research papers in academic journals and make sure they have in-depth, current knowledge in their field. By prioritizing research and attending workshops/seminars, educators get a great opportunity to know about the latest developments in their subject.
“A teacher is no longer a sage on the stage but a facilitator“ is a famous quote and holds perfectly true in today’s training environment. There has been a shift in the teaching methods over the years and the aim of delivery is not only to develop subject knowledge of the learners but provide them with a safe, respectful environment where their learning is maximised. The focus is to shift from memorizing knowledge to experiential learning that creates an environment that fosters experimentation and creativity. Educator has the responsibility to overcome all the challenges of the tertiary education market with a perspective of developing a future workforce that is able to meet the demand of industries both nationally and internationally.