Technology Education-Empty Classrooms and Dying Programs

Matthew Edwards


In the US Technology Education is a broad term that attempts to put a myriad of vocations under one title. It was created to define needed curricula for various new technologies, and subsequently was used to define a degree. Technology education teachers come from a variety of backgrounds including, but not limited to: Graphic arts, carpentry, welding, electronics, agriculture, cabinet making, building construction, communications, and so forth.

In the mid to late 1980’s the “technology revolution” was an emerging monolith that moved so quickly that it was hard to get your arms around. The development of great amounts of technology encouraged the feeling among educators that it was necessary to develop curriculum that focused on training students how to use and be comfortable with these types of new technologies. In an effort to keep up with this educational need, educators developed a program that created as many problems as it did solutions.

US statistics have the general population graduating from a university at about 20 percent of the total population. The US public school system is like a giant funnel. This system is large at the top and allows every kind of individual to enter, regardless of education, language, culture, or desired results of the individual entering. This is good. However, our system attempts to take this entire body of individuals, and funnel them towards a four year degree in a university. There is very little effort in general put into promoting technical or trade schools, unless it is presented as a last resort for those who can’t otherwise make it in the esteemed university system. Trying to push every student to adhere to this narrow ideology is unethical.

With this thought process in mind, the vocational programs that existed in secondary education throughout the US have been the equivalent of an educational dumping ground. Therefore, it was no surprise that when educators looked for a place to put the “new technology”, they saw a way out of expensive and sometimes dangerous vocational programs. This solved the problem of where the money would come from to purchase new expensive technological equipment, but phasing out the old and bringing in the new had one main problem; who would teach this new technology?

Industrial Education was the degree that teachers received when desiring to teach in the vocational departments for secondary education. Revamping this degree became part of the program. The results of replacing vocational equipment with new technology also became the choice of life or death for one program or the other. Once a school made the decision to move towards technology, the shops died. This is when the battles began.

While it seemed that technology was winning the battles, it began to suffer from an unseen problem. The old school industrial arts programs have always been elective, or classes of choice, rather than mandatory courses that fall under the term “core” classes, and have always been funded based on the number of students attending those classes. Some of the new courses became academically more rigorous, and with statistics stating that the vast majority of students in secondary education will not continue to complete a university degree, the technology education teacher had a looming dilemma. Do they honor the curriculum developed for the new technology, or do they risk changing it by ignoring state mandates in an effort to keep more students in the classroom? This creates an ethical dilemma for the teacher, and shutting down excellent “on campus” vocational programs creates an unfair crisis for the student who wishes to pursue education outside the confines of a university.

One of the main problems is the lack of qualified individuals who are willing to teach the next generation of students. Our current education system struggles to pull qualified teachers from industry, and often loses good educators to industry based on the economic disparity between salaries. In many regions of the United States, legislators and educators have developed programs and policy in an effort to overcome these problems. For example, the State of Utah has a certification for individuals who would like to enter into the education field, but do not have the proper academic credentials. The certification is aptly called “Trade and Industry” or T & I certification. This certification allows the individual to teach in the secondary schools based on their particular aptitudes in their field. They must have a specified number of years work experience, and they must pass a written test. However, the area of expertise that they are allowed to teach under is so narrow that school administrators can rarely find a full time position for them.

Based on my past experience as a curriculum developer, career counselor, and classroom educator, and with a review of current studies, this paper makes practical suggestions on how to enhance the technology education courses, find creative solutions for finding a qualified workforce, create courses where vocational students don’t feel overwhelmed or out of place, and thus save the programs from diminishing all together. I would like to use some of my past experience as an educator to model possible solutions. For example, I developed a course in the secondary school system that used modern technology (a laser engraver with and X, Y, and Z axis) so that students could create beautiful trophies and other awards that were then sold for profit to educational institutions. The proceeds went back to the students for use as scholarships, and to purchase technology equipment for their own “future businesses”. The student motivation was high, and my student numbers were always at full capacity. I tied the curriculum to a “real world” experience, and the results were excellent. I was from industry, and I brought my experience to the classroom. It is hoped that this insight will provide valuable feedback to curriculum developers within universities.