THREE ASEAN countries including Thailand have embarked on a plan to develop a vocational-education programme that will prepare graduates for work in any of their territories.

“Their degrees and skills will be officially recognised in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam alike,” Office of Vocational Education Commission secretary-general Dr Chaiprug Sereerak said during a recent trip to Laos.

He said the three countries have shared very similar problems when it comes to vocational education. For example, vocational training is not popular among youths. They also lack adequate teaching staff and modern equipment. Moreover, most – if not all – of their brightest students prefer to enter general-education programmes.

Chaiprug said the three countries were aware of their shared problems and of the need to prepare themselves – including their vocational-education programmes – for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which will begin in 2015.

After all 10 ASEAN nations become a single market there will be a free flow of labour.

Chaiprug also said that efforts to make the degrees of educational institutes in ASEAN countries valid in other parts of the region should involve all 10 ASEAN members. “But now, we will begin with three countries first,” he said, “The goal for the tri-nation vocational-education programme is that it produces graduates who can work in any of the three countries, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.”

Relevant officials from Laos and Cambodia will come to Thailand this month to discuss subjects to be included in the programme. The chosen subjects must respond to the needs of all three nations. “Our programme will have the students sit classes in other countries too,” Chaiprug disclosed.

He expected the programme to recruit between 20 and 30 students in the beginning.

Vini San Keokanya, a vocational student at Khammouane Technical Vocational School (KTVS) in Laos said he was excited about the prospect of the tri-nation vocational training programme. “The programme sounds so good,” he said, noting that he would like to work in Thailand, if possible.

Thailand and Laos have already been working quite closely together in the area of vocational education. At least 12 of their vocational colleges have now become sister colleges. The Khammouane Technical Vocational School, for example, is a sister college of the Nakhon Phanom Technology and Management College.

Nouphanh Outsa, director-general of Laos’ Department of Technical and Vocational Education, said vocational education was important to all developing countries.

“The Laotian government has therefore given priority to the promotion of vocational education today,” he said.

According to Nouphanh, the Laotian government has approved a bigger budget for vocational-education programmes. “Students in fields like woodwork, construction, the food industry and agriculture don’t need to pay tuition fees. The government also offers them monthly salaries during their studies,” Nouphanh said.

However, he admitted there was still a lot of room for improvement.

“Problems with the quality of teachers and teaching techniques are still there,” he said, adding that the availability of teaching materials was also very limited. This made it hard to arrange practice sessions for vocational students.

Nouphanh said he believed that by pairing vocational colleges in Thailand and Laos, the two sides would be able to share resources and equipment.

Chaiprug said Thailand had assigned its vocational colleges in Thai-Laotian border areas to conduct short vocational training for Laotians too. “We want to boost Laotians’ vocational skills,” he said.

A teacher from the Khammouane Technical Vocational School said he had received several kinds of training in Thailand before. “This term I have learnt to be a barber,” he said. “If I can teach such skills to my students they will be able to earn money right after their graduation.”

Dr Dao Viet Dung, director of Vinh University of Technology Education in Vietnam’s Vihn City, warmly welcomed the cooperation with Thailand too. He said the tri-nation vocational training scheme would set the same standards in the same professions across the three countries, making it convenient and easy for those in the field to move across borders. His university now teaches 11,000 students.

Dung said he saw Thailand as the source of great intern opportunities for Vietnamese students.

“Thailand has many enterprises that accept interns and offers them pay,” he said. He believed the closer co-operation between Thailand and Vietnam would boost Vietnamese students’ chances of getting internships in Thailand. –CHULARAT SAENGPASSA, THE NATION