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Shortfalls in STCW Code call for a paradigm shift

Sep 30, 2020 | Manning and Training

by Captain Richard Teo

In this guest article, maritime training expert Captain Richard Teo takes a hard look at the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and the accompanying Code. He identifies some shortfalls and bats for a paradigm shift that would place greater emphasis on competence-based training and assessment. Captain Teo is a fellow at the Royal Institution Singapore/Manila; visiting lecturer at the Australian Maritime College (University of Tasmania); and Board member at GlobalMET.

An introductory note

The STCW was adopted on 7 July 1978 and entered into force on 28 April 1984. The Convention established standard minimum requirements for the training and certification of seafarers, replacing those made by individual governments.

The 1995 amendments entered into force on 1 February 1997 and represented a major revision of the Convention. They were in response to a recognised need to bring the Convention up to date and to respond to critics who pointed out the many vague phrases, such as “to the satisfaction of the Administration”, which resulted in different interpretations being made. One of the major features of the revision was the division of the technical annex into regulations, divided into Chapters as before, and a new STCW Code, to which many technical regulations were transferred. Part A of the Code is mandatory while Part B is recommended. Dividing the regulations up in this way makes administration easier and it also makes the task of revising and updating them simpler.

The Manila amendments to the STCW Convention and Code were adopted on 25 June 2010 and entered into force on 1 January 2012. They were aimed at bringing the Convention and Code up to speed with new developments and addressing issues that could emerge in the foreseeable future.

Shortfalls in the STCW Code

Despite the amendments to the Convention and Code, there have been numerous complaints about the lack of competence and critical skills of crew from various supplier countries.

Competence per the various tables for each level of marine qualification is described briefly without specifications for the assessment under the performance criteria. There is currently no Global Qualification Framework (GQF) for the STCW qualifications. Most OECD countries have already created their respective National Qualifications Framework (NQF) for tertiary education. Other nations have done so as well, including Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Marine qualifications are at tertiary level, and the two educational wings (Higher Education—HED and Vocational Education & Training VET/TVET) call for global recognition and acceptance in equivalence. If not, career pathways remain muddy waters.

It is imperative that common user methodology and language (currently regulatory roles are left to individual administrations) are applied across the board.. Otherwise, standards become victims. The following are some of the shortfalls and suggested solutions:

• The STCW Code will need to be reviewed and exact terms and descriptors (action verbs) of the various qualifications with each competence incorporated at the requisite NQF/GQF level;

• Each qualification must contain universally accepted competence. Each competence must have in its construct, universally accepted performance criteria that identifies the volume of learning (cognition), the skills or skills sets (psychomotor) and the behaviour/attitude (affective) in carrying out each or set of competencies per skill/skills set;

• Each assessment of competence within each qualification must be evidence-based and common user rubrics that qualify the above dot point. Reasonable adjustments can be applied in accordance with universal best practice. Many proponents of MET (maritime education and training) do not fully comprehend what evidence-based really entails. Hence, retraining of MET teaching/learning staff is imperative; and

• Models of best practice delivery, learning and assessment strategies should be included for each qualification.

For the above to be practicable and attainable, retraining of teaching and assessment staff members must be implemented for delivery of competency-based learning/education (CBE), adopting outcomes-based education (OBE) and work-based learning (WBL). Strategies for learning and assessments must meet common user outcomes. Current IMO Model courses for trainers (which are instructor–led and -centred) are inadequate in meeting the standards.

The tides of change

It is prudent to note that the practical hands-on approach was part and parcel of early MET when apprenticeships followed time-based, on-the-job, work-based learning programmes as described in the indentures. Towards the mid years of the 20th century, modernisation of the merchant fleets and businesses transferred apprenticeships to college-based education training which was seen as attractive career pathways. Specified sea service as a prerequisite for attaining initial certificates of competence were reduced to 70% academic work and perhaps 30% or less on-the-job, work-based learning. However, vocational education in recent years have taken on a more workplace-focussed methodology of 70% practice (job-related, experiential) and 20-10% interaction with others and supportive educational events.

Wanted: A paradigm shift

Clearly, some fundamental and extensive changes are necessary. Amongst them:

Retrain and recertificate trainers and teaching staff to move fully into adult education/vocational education and become facilitators to transfer mastery of outcomes comprising, required knowledge, skills and attitudes. This means changing from teacher-centred pedagogy (school-based) to learner-centred andragogy, and heutagogy applying work based learning applications. Intrinsically the paradigm would shift from traditional learning to non-traditional methods, although some may be retained.

Rewrite course programmes and certification rules and regulations. The current IMO model courses (knowledge-based /time-based) are not suitable for competency-based education/learning delivery.

Redesign assessment methodologies and rubrics to ensure satisfactory compliance with performance criteria (demonstrable outcomes). That is, do away with the old grading system.

• Change learning environments from classroom-based to workshop/ work-based learning and assessment.

Revise time-based reckoning to one that is flexible and self-paced. This continues to be a major challenge, although historically the time-based approach has satisfied the age-old requirement for regulatory sea time.

Encourage teachers and trainers to be workplace-focussed.

It is worth noting that candidates for maritime qualifications today seek certification through college degree/academic equivalence. This has disrupted the learning modus operandi as many regions now have cadets graduating with a degree before sea service or coinciding with their initial Officer of The Watch certification after a very short internship at sea. The internship should satisfy the criteria required for the officer to operate in all seasons, weather and types of vessels in different environments (cultural, legal, operational methods etc.), and ports.

There are several models of competency-based learning. This I learnt from talking to quite a selection of experts in MET across the region and some from the other side of the world. Really? I asked. What’s your take?

I realised that many have no formal training in facilitating learning to attain outcomes that meet the standards of performance. Many jurisdictions struggle with this concept as the proper descriptors are inadequate universally. This results in poor interpretation of the performance criteria as many deliver training through prescribed syllabi privileging examinations — i.e., regurgitation of content/information and not competency-based assessments.

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