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Congress demands academic rigour

UNITED STATES

Congress is pondering a seismic shift in the nature of vocational training in America - it wants to make it more academic.

Job-related training is hugely popular in the US, in fact such courses are more popular than maths or science. Nearly 45 per cent of students do three or more year-long vocational courses - in dedicated schools, special lessons, or day-release course - during their school career.

But new Congress legislation to be debated later this year, seeks to instil more academic rigour in hitherto practical, hands-on courses.

The introduction of standard compulsory tests- the cornerstone of the Bush administration's school reforms - has led to the pressure for higher academic content. Vocational students lag behind peers in test scores, but new targets for American schools hold all pupils to common attainment standards.

Another reason cited for improving academic content is technological advancements in the workplace, demanding more sophisticated training.

"Vocational education used to be regarded as ... academically inferior. But the face of it is changing," said Terry Orr, senior researcher at Columbia Teachers College's Institute for Education and the Economy. "Most technical fields now require further education beyond high school."

Workplace training is also suffering a budget squeeze. Funding as a proportion of government spending has halved over two decades.

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