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Crossing boundaries at the Bremen International VET conference – Part Three: Concluding reflections on the conference

September 14th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My two previous posts on the Bremen International VET conference have been reports on sessions that were related to our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This is due to the fact that I and some other colleagues missed the first part of the conference due to our field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC (see my earlier post). Therefore, we joined in in the middle with our sessions and started getting impressions shortly before and after our sessions. Yet, due to good planning and timely publication of proceedings, the conference organisers made it easy for us to catch up. Below some impressions on the conference program and on the dynamics in the conference, then some remarks on specific sessions.

The conference as an international event of VET researchers

I have already referred to the background of the conference in an earlier post. Also, the conference got added value as a de facto pre-conference to the ECER 2015 of the European Educational Research Association EERA (that took place on the next week in Budapest). Moreover, this conference had been accepted as the annual main event of the International VET Research Network of the World Educational Research Association (WERA IRN-VET, the global pendant of the European VETNET network). In this way it attracted participants from Europe and beyond Europe – those who were on the way to ECER and those who couldn’t make ECER.

What was striking in the conference dynamics was the fact that old and new acquaintances got very well mixed with each other. Most of the European participants new each other from ECER, but this was also true with several others coming outside Europe. Some participants outside Europe had already been connected via other networks and conferences. So, the conference was a combination of many happy returns and new encounters. Also, the new journal IJRVET (launched by VETNET with the support of EERA and WERA) was also experienced as a common cause – to be promoted by all of us.

This all was very much appreciated by the European Commission representative Joao Santos, who took the initiative to visit the conference and to attend throughout the program.

The thematic continuum of keynote addresses

Looking at the keynote addresses, they appeared to to provide a thematic continuity in spite of the different topics. Firstly Martin Mulder (from the Netherlands) started with a global view on competence-based vocational and professional education. Matthias Pilz (from Germany) discussed in-company vocational training in USA, India, China and Japan – and raised questions on transfer of VET models. (These were then discussed in further sessions.) Johanna Lasonen (from Finland and the USA) discussed from a cross-cultural perspective the vocational learning vs. career & technical education in Finland and the United States  – walking the tightrope between commonalities and differences. Margaret Malloch (from UK and Australia) discussed boundaries and intersections in the recent development of Australian VET policies in the era of privatisation and withdrawal of state. Lazaro Moreno (from Cuba and Sweden) analysed the historical developments in Swedish vocational education – from initially workplace-based VET to scholarisation (and amalgamation into comprehensive upper secondary education) and to recent initiatives to enhance workplace learning. Ramlee bin Mustapha (from Malaysia) gave us insights into 21 century VET landscape in Asia and into issues on competitiveness, sustainability and ‘regional’ cooperation.

 Remarks on other sessions

The first paper session – after the Learning Layers sessions – in which I participated in the audience was dedicated to “Work-Based Learning, Learning in Work Processes and in SME’s from a Norwegian,
Dutch and German Perspective”. Here one could have thought that the session was a jointly prepared symposium instead of a line-up of three independent papers. The Norwegian pilot study on Upskilling and technological renewal in Norwegian SMEs (presented by Odd Björn Ure) and the Dutch project on Contributions to learning at workplace – experienced by secondary vocational trainees (presented by Haske van Vlokhoven) gave mutually complementing perspectives to a common theme. Then, the final conceptual discussion paper (presented on behalf of an ITB research group by Sven Schulte) grasped the theme from both perspectives and raised the question: “Work-Based Learning and Learning within Work Processes – Two Sides of the same Coin?” And – as usual – Sven didn’t give easy answers but kept the tension throughout the presentation.

The second paper session – already on the final day – gave the floor to two contributions that discussed policy developments and/or educational initiatives in developing countries. Firstly Salim Akoojee (from South Africa) took us to a journey to explore “TVET and the South African Democratic Developmental Ideal” with a question: “Plausible Rhetoric, Creative Tinkering or Radical Revisioning”. During his presentation we learned a lot of high hopes, economic constraints, frustrations and new perspectives in the post-apartheid South Africa. Then Nematollah Azizi (from Iran) took us to another journey with a project to develop “An Integrated and Community-Oriented TVET Framework for Rural Areas in Iran”. This project and his presentation had the following motto: “People’s Skill Empowerment towards Sustainable Employment”.  After presenting an interesting historical background Nematollah took us to a journey with a new project that combines traditional methods of adult educators, community developers and regional developers with new possibilities to engage villagers’ participation, to institutionalise initiatives and to provide support for community-based crafts, trades and other local self-employment ideas. Also, we learned a lot about successful initiatives and on cultural barriers to taking up ideas from elsewhere.

Altogether, I was pleased to experience an atmosphere of sharing ideas, knowledge and experiences via research papers and workshops. Also, I was happy to notice that the participants tried to give us a comprehensive view into complex issues and to specific contexts in which they are working. Moreover, the fact that the sessions were not overly packed gave us enough room for discussions. This all was communicated to the organisers in the final wrap-up sessions. The participants were keen to continue such conference experience with a follow-up conference in due time. Clearly, this pilot case had shown that there is need and room for such an event. (We are looking forward to the response of the organisers.)

I think this is enough of the Bremen International VET conference. In my next blog posts I will report on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’15) in Budapest.

More blogs to come …


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