Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

Revisiting “Learning about politics” project – Part Four: The continuing story of refugees and migrants (2011 and now)

August 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my three previous blogs I have worked with a series of posts that revisit the European project “Learning about politics” in which I was the ITB partner in 2010 and 2011.  In the first post I discussed the project experience as a whole and presented some thoughts on the key activities. In the second post I look at some ‘hot issues’ in the German (and international) politics in 2011 and what has happened since then. In the third post I discussed some themes raised by German vocational school teachers with whom I worked in the project. In this final post I will have a look at a story that our group developed in the Politics Spring School 2011 – and which I followed up afterwards as a contribution to the Politics project. It so happens that the theme – integration of migrants and refugees – was a hot topic in 2011 and even more in 2016.

Making the initial story at Politics Spring School April 2011

As I have told in my first blog of this series, the Greek partners of the Politics project organised a joint Comenius and Grundtvig course with the name “Politics Spring school” to support the project work and as a free event for other interested participants. One part of the program for the project-oriented participants (mainly teachers on Comenius course) was to work in trans-national groups and to create a joint story based on each one’s individual inputs. In our group we had the Italian participant Valentina, the Norwegian Lisa (expatriate living in Brussels) and myself (Finnish expatriate in Germany).

Together we came up with a story of three observers visiting different places and looking, how the local people receive newcomers or how people from different origins get along with each other and their new environment. Our first station was the isle of Lampedusa, where we saw a video documenting the local people letting the refugees (who came with boats to harbour) that they were not welcome. Our second station was the intercultural environment in Brussels where we saw pupils of the international school communicating with each other in several languages – and small children of bilingual families talking fluently (and in turns) to their parents in their respective languages. Our third station was Berlin where we followed the work of the German-Turkish theatre group ‘Berlin Heroes’ trying to weed violent behaviour out of the relations between boys and girls (and young people with different religion). We also followed the work of the voluntary migrant-based ‘neighbourhood mothers’ (Stadtteilmütter) who visited newly arrived migrants and provided information and support to them in their new environment. So – we documented different kinds of activities and intercultural encounters – from clashes and conflicts to ‘new normality’ and to community initiatives to overcome tensions and provide mutual assistance.

Follow-up with news on refugees heading from Italy to France and Belgium

After the Spring School initiative I felt the need to continue the story with two follow-up threads. Firstly, I felt the need to follow the movements of refugees – in particular those arriving in Italy. At that time the government of Italy felt overwhelmed by the number of refugees – and provided them temporary admission certificates and free access to trains (to move further into the neighbouring countries). As a response, the government of France refused to receive refugees with such documents and introduced border control on the Italian border. At that time I wrote blogs with video documents on the movements of refugees in Italy, their problems at the Italian-French border and on the experiences of those who had made their way up to Brussels (or elsewhere in Belgium). Altogether, these documents showed that the refugees had not had an easy ride at any of the parts of their journeys.

Follow-up with stories on the integration of Turkish migrants in German society

Parallel to this I felt the need to look more closely at the integration of the earlier waves of migrants – such as the Turkish Gastarbeiter in Germany and their descendants.  I was very much inspired by the new film “Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland” that gave a humorous picture of three generations of migrant family and their experiences in Turkey and Germany between 1970 and 2010. But I also took note of reports on the experiences of German-born German-Turks ‘returning’ to Turkey to start working in the country of their ancestors (and being perceived as ‘Germaners’ – Almancilar, Deutschländer). Therefore, I had discussions with mixed couples – Germans married to Turks and with experiences in living in both countries. After these sessions I wrote follow-up blogs to the story that was started at the Spring School.

Movements of refugees and reactions in receiving countries – 2011 and 2015/2016

Sadly enough, the results of our work with this story and the follow-up threads are no longer available in public domain. Archiving of old project websites is not an interesting task for former partner organisations. Nevertheless, these experiences served as a preparatory phase for encountering the more recent wave of refugees coming to EU member states in 2015 and 2016. Whilst government policies wavered between a permissive ‘welcoming culture’ and strict ‘fencing the trespassers out’ attitude, the citizens and NGOs tried to provide assistance and support. Yet, rather soon there was a backlash of xenophobic and hostile reactions as well.

For us working with social and educational projects this is not only a matter of observing what is going on. From this perspective I have found it interesting that the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC (application partner in our EU-funded Learning Layers project) has also been supporting the integration of refugees and the placement of refugee children to appropriate education provisions. Moreover, we have been thinking, how the newly developed Learning Toolbox could support the social and educational integration of refugees. These questions go clearly beyond the current project. But we know that there is a lot of potential – and that there is a lot of work to be done with these issues.

More blogs to come …

Revisiting “Learning about politics” project – Part Three: Themes raised by the teachers

July 31st, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two latest blogs I started a series of posts to revisit the prior European project “Learning about politics” in which I worked as the ITB partner in 2010 and 2011.  In the first post I discussed the project experience as a whole and presented some thoughts on the key activities in Germany and on the Politics Spring School 2011. In the second post I look at some ‘hot issues’ in the German (and international) politics in 2011 and what kind of developments we have seen since then. In this third post I will have a look at the the themes raised by German vocational school teachers with whom I worked in the project.

WikiLeaks, Netzpolitik and the NSA-affair

One of the vocational school teachers raised the issue ‘WikiLeaks’ as a new phenomenon in the international politices of those years. Although he couldn’t participate very intensively in the continuation of the project, he had drawn our attention to the new role of social media and new kinds of social networks in national and international politics. We firstly paid attention to the WikiLeaks network and its revelations. Then, we took note of the new role of social media and new kinds of protest movements in the revolutionary developments during the Arabic Spring. Finally, parallel to these developments, we took note of the new kinds of Netzpolitik networks that revealed plagiarism in the academic dissertations of some leading German polticians. At that time the abrupt fall of the popular conservative politician Guttenberg (then minister of defence) was the most striking case in which a politician had to resign because of plagiarism in dissertation.

Whilst these themes firstly seemed to refer to relatively separate phenomena, during the subsequent years they appeared to be more closer to each other and to concerns of ordinary citizens. Whilst the revelations on plagiarism had put the credibility of several politicians into question, a further episode around the WikiLeaks network had a major impact on the atmosphere of trust vs. mistrust on government policies. The whistleblower Edward Snowden (former agent of the NSA) had revealed to what extent NSA had got access to major servers and thus to private data. The most striking news was that of listening of the private phone of chancellor Angela Merkel by the NSA. All this raised the public interest in data privacy and concerns about data protection by national governments and major internet and telephone service providers.

Juniorvoting and participation of young people in elections

Another vocational school teacher was interested in the phenomenon ‘juniorvoting’ (Juniorenwahlen)  – an initiative to organise simulated elections in schools among youngsters who didn’t have the right to vote. Such events had been organised successfully before national elections in Germany during the recent years. In 2011 there was an increased interest to organise such preliminary voting arrangements for youngsters also before the regional parliaments. However, before the elections of the regional parliament in Bremen there was less interest to organise such simulated voting, because the voting age had already been brought to 16 years. Thus, the youngsters had become real voters. Therefore, the schools were less willing to arrange juniorvoting events. Nevertheless, the teacher had collected lot of information on the implementation of such events and their role as preliminary elections and presented this as input to Politics Spring School. Also, we could use this material for the German platform of the Politics project. Sadly enough, the lowering of voting age appeared to have little impact on the participation of young voters in the regional elections in Bremen 2011 and 2015.

Climate change as challenge for policy makers and individual citizens

The third vocational school teacher had engaged himself intensively with the theme ‘climate change’ and managed to make use of this theme in his teaching. Therefore, we could use primarily his material as a basis for the respective ‘learning pathway’ of the German platform. This material had awareness-raising exercises (with YouTube videos), basic information on international policy processes to control/prevent climate change (Kyoto protocol and Copenhagen conference) and tasks that brought climate change close to the vocational area of his apprentices and to their individual behaviour as consumers. The grande finale was the competition for the apprentices to calculate the CO2 footprint of their designed holiday trips. Based on this material the teacher also prepared an input for the Politics Spring School and to work with several other participants on this theme.

Looking back, the theme ‘climate change’ gained weight in the German politics and at the international level. In particular the fact that the Copenhagen conference couldn’t reach major results, gave pressure to the next international climate summit – in Paris 2015. This time the conference managed to reach an result – a binding document that replaced the Kyoto protocol. Now the international community had made commitments to keep the climate change in limits. And the ecologically oriented NGOs had points of reference for monitoring, whether the policy-makers keep their promises.

– – –

I think this is enough of the themes that were raised by the teachers and how we worked with them – and what kind of actuality these themes have had afterwards. As we felt it at that time, our German team worked separately from the other national teams with clearly different contents. However, during the Politics Spring School we could all bring some of our themes forward in the group work – young people’s participation, climate change and integration of migrants/intercultural understanding. (I will have a closer look at the last mentioned theme and how it was taken up in the Spring School and in the follow-up.) And it it is worthwhile to mention that the the two German teachers who participated in the Spring School have worked together to develop their teaching in the subject politics.

More blogs to come … 

 

Revisiting “Learning about politics” project – Part Two: Hot issues in 2011 and now

July 29th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest blog I started a series of posts to revisit the prior European project “Learning about politics” in which I worked as the ITB partner in 2010 and 2011.  In the first post I discussed the project experience as a whole and presented some thoughts on the key activities in Germany and on the Politics Spring School 2011. In this second post I will have a look at some ‘hot issues’ in the German (and international) politics in 2011 and what kind of developments we have seen since then. From this perspective I will have a look at the themes that we discussed in 2011 due to their centrality for German and international politics. Below I try to group some of the themes together.

Protest movements (on nuclear power and Stuttgart 2010) and elections of regional parliaments

During the Autumn and Winter months Germany experienced a series of protest movements with strong ecological message. Most prominently the German environmental activists were protesting against transports of nuclear waste to interim deposits that were not sufficiently secure. At the same time there was a strong ecologically motivated local movement to stop the project to replace the functioning overground railway station in Stuttgart with a new underground station. This rebuilding would require major construction work in the central park area (Schlosspark) of the city of Stuttgart. These protests were of importance because in 2011 Germany had several elections of regional parliaments – and it was not clear, what the outcome would be.

Concerning the project Stuttgart 2010, the conservative-led regional government of Baden-Württemberg tried to settle the conflict with a Round Table process led by an independent mediator (former conservative politician Heiner Geissler). The process was a special experience of democratic dialogue between decision-makers, the railway company DB and different representatives of citizens, including protest groups. Once the arguments had been collected, the conclusion was that the project has to be continued but the regional government and DB had to modify their plans to take into account certain ecological factors and safety issues. In addition, the Green party and the Social democrats agreed to arrange a referendum on this result.

Concerning the protests on nuclear power, they received a great echo due to the tsunami and meltdown at the Japanese nuclear plant Fukushima. This triggered a sudden political consensus to call for a moratorium in the operation of nuclear plants (until additional security checks are carried out) and to a gradual exit from nuclear power within a given time frame.

As a result, the conservative party (CDU) made losses in several elections but remained relatively strong. The majority in the state of Baden-Württemberg (around Stuttgart) shifted to the green-red coalition (Greens as major partner) whilst in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz the red-green coalition got the majority. Thus, there had been a clear movement in the political climate due to the protest movements. Five years after, the Green popularity in Baden-Württemberg had sustained but the Social democrats had heavy losses. Now, the new regional government was based on a green-black coalition.

Debates on multi-cultural society and the consequences of the ‘Arab Spring’

At the same time the German media was busy with debates on the sustainability of a multi-cultural society in Germany. The former civil servant and social democratic politician Thilo Sarrazin had published a book in with he stated that the Germans will become minority in their own country. He also claimed that ethnic minorities with Muslim religion are establishing isolated parallel societies with their own language, culture and justice (independently of the surrounding society and its laws). This ‘doomsday scenario’ was heavily debated in the press and in the TV talkshows. There was also much speculation, whether Sarrazin wants to create a new political party around these themes.

Shortly after the peak point of these debates a series of revolutions or revolutionary movements broke out in several Arab countries – old regimes collapsed in Tunisia and Egypt, whilst the tensions in Libya and Syria transformed into civil wars. In 2011 there was more optimism in the air but the post-revolutionary developments in these countries turned out to be harder than expected. In particular the civil war in Syria and the post-war chaos in Libya gave rise to instability and to the movement of greater masses of refugees to Europe.

In the year 2015 this movement (via Turkey and across the Mediterranean) reached such dimension that the coastal countries and the neighbouring countries gave up and let the masses proceed further North to their desired countries of destination – in particular to Germany. Whilst the first newcomers were often received by voluntary helpers who welcomed them, practical problems (in accommodating them) and cultural prejudices became soon apparent. And this situation gave rise to new political movements (Pegida, AFD) that were characterised by xenophoby and attempts to keep the refugees out. In this way the ‘domestic’ and international issues had come together and given new dimensions to debates on multi-cultural societies, integration of migrants and intercultural understanding.

– – –

I guess this is enough of these themes. It appears that many previously separate issues and processes have got woven together – in particular the previously ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ issues in the recent political climate.  Thus, the task ‘to learn about politics’ has become more complicated. (This can also be demonstrated  with the themes raised by the German vocational school teachers that I will discuss in my next post.)

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

Revisiting “Learning about politics” project – Part One: The project experience and its impact

July 28th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

During my summer break I have several times had thoughts on a prior European project “Learning about politics” in which I worked as the ITB partner in 2010 and 2011. The project as such was not one of the most successful ones in which I have been working. Yet – looking back at some of the activities carried out in the project and at the themes covered in the German contributions – I must say that I learned a lot during that time. And when comparing the hot issues of that time and those of the present date – there is a lot to be learned about the evolution of politics in the light of these issues. Therefore, I have decided to write a series of blogs to revisit the project experience and some of the key themes – now, five years after the end of the project. In this first post I will deal with the project as a whole and some of its key activities.

The project idea, the partnership and the evolution of the project

The project was initiated in Estonia on the basis of a ‘seed corn story’ on a young schoolboy who wants to change the world and starts a political campaign to run for the next elections. All this started in family talks and the boy and his followers started to get information and draft their program for the elections. The trans-national partnership was supposed to build upon the core story and continue it as national variants adjusted to their contexts.

As the project was launched under the transversal programme of the EU-funded Lifelong Learning Programme, the partners represented different educational sectors and had respectively different ideas, how to work further. Thus, the Estonian, Slovenian and Italian partners (who represented lower secondary schools) chose to work with this script. As a contrast, the Greek, German and Welsh partners (who represented other educational sectors) worked their own ways forward independently of the initial core story. This was reflected in the development of the trans-national website that gave each partner its own WordPress platform for developing its own contents. Below I will first give an overview on the work of the German team and then give insights into the Politics Spring School event.

The German sub-project took shape as a theme-based online learning environment

In the beginning phase we had had some difficulties in getting the project moving. After some time I cam in as a replacement of the initial partner. After exploring some other options, I ended up working with three vocational school teachers who had ‘politics’ as their second subject (in addition to their vocational subjects). We discussed several themes that might be interesting and outlined a set of  thematic ‘learning pathways’ (Lernwege) to be covered with introductory blog posts and separate ‘learning units’ with more specific information, links to additional materials and workspaces for learning tasks.

When developing this online learning environment, some additional themes came up. So, at the end of the project we had developed the following ‘learning pathways’:

Pathway One: The regional parliament elections in Germany in 2011

Pathway Two: Protest movements and citizens’ participation in Germany (Anti-nuclear protests and protests against Stuttgart 2010  railway station project)

Pathway Three: Protest movements and revolutions in Arab countries

Pathway Four: The new role of internet and social media in policy

Pathway Five: Debates on the integration of migrants and on multicultural society in Germany

Pathway Six: The issue of climate change and citizens’ responsibility

Pathway Seven: Young people’s participation in politics.

(I will get back to these themes in my next blogs.)

The Politics Spring School 2011 as a joint training and learning event

During the project the partners tended to work somewhat separately with their own contents and learning stories (except for the Estonian and Slovenian partners who had a closer collaboration). Therefore, the Politics Spring School (initiated and hosted by the Greek partners) was an important complementary training and learning event. The Politics Spring School was designed as a combination of a Grundtvig course for individual adult learners and of a Comenius course for teacher’s further education. In practice, the two first day were run as a joint multimedia training and then during three following days the groups were separated. The adult learners worked individually with their stories, whilst the teacher group worked in transnational teams that created their own stories. To me it was a positive experience to see that I could combine the theme ‘integration of migrants’ with the interests of two other participants (outside the project context). I a similar way the two German vocational school teachers could link their themes (junior voting and climate change) into their group stories.

– – –

I think this is enough of the project as such. I do not think that we would have been very successful if we would have followed strictly the original original plan. Some partners found it appropriate for them – for the others it was better to follow alternative options. Yet, as the Politics Spring School showed it, there was enough common content and interest to get the international partners learn and work together. Based on our teamwork in Bremen and in the Spring School the German vocational school teachers have continued their cooperation and shared experiences on their teaching in politics. I think this is already a good result. Moreover, the work with the German platform and the respective ‘pathways’ and ‘learning units’ provided me a pre-school for the kind of multimedia competences that I have needed in our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers project. Finally, the work with the themes to be covered has clearly been a valuable learning experience in German and international politics. (I will get back to this in my next blogs.)

More blogs to come …

Bremen talks on young refugees’ access to training and labour market – Part One: The event and the Bremen study

February 13th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the recent times my blogs on this site have focused almost exclusively on our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This time I will shift the emphasis to a major issue that we are discussing in the Bremen region: Measures to support the reception and integration of refugees. In particular Bremen is struggling with a large number of unaccompanied young people (under 18 years). On Thursday I attended with several other ITB colleagues a public event that brought into discussion a new study from Bremen, an ongoing model project in Bavaria and several views of stakeholders (from different organisations). In the first post I will give some background information and present insights int the Bremen study. In the second post I will give insights into the model project in Bavaria and highlight some key points of the discussion.

1. The background of the event

One of the specific institutions of the Hanseatic City of Bremen is the Chamber of salaried employees (Arbeitnehmerkammer). This is a public body and all salaried employees in Bremen are also members of the chamber. This is a similar arrangement as is the case with Chambers of Commerce or with Chambers of Craft and Trade (which comprise all the enterprises in their respective domains). Given this co-existence of public representative bodies, they have developed several forms of practical cooperation with different societal issues. Also, they have a tradition to contribute to each others’ events.

From the year 2015  on (when the amount of refugees coming to Bremen grew rapidly) the Arbeitnehmerkammer has taken several initiatives to get information on refugees’ situation, to facilitate cooperation between different support organisations and to promote public discusssion on necessary policy measures. In this context the Arbeitnehmerkammer had initiated with the research institute of the University of Bremen for Work and Economy (Institut für Arbeit und Wirtschaft) a special study on the prospects of young refugees to enter training and labour market in Bremen. This event was called to

  • make public the main results of the study,
  • make comparisons to an ongoing model project in Bavaria and to
  • promote public discussion between  different stakeholders who engage themselves with problems of young refugees.

2. Insights into the study on young refugees in Bremen

In the first part of the event the author of the Bremen study, René Böhme gave a comprehensive overview on the context, design and results of the study. Here I will not try to reflect its richness. Instead, I try to draw attention to some points that were of vital importance for the discussion:

 a) Concerning the amount of refugees arrived in Bremen: Whilst in 2014 the number of refugees was slightly over 2000, in 2015 it was over 10.000. In addition, the number of unaccompanied young refugees was in 2014 ca. 500, whilst in 2015 it was over 2500.

b) Concerning attitudes of employees: In general, employees are ready to receive refugees (given the shortage of skilled workforce) and to make extra efforts to support their training and integration into working life. Yet, they are aware of problems and risks (e.g. of high drop-out rates).

c) Concerning efforts to overcome formal hurdles: Preconditions for flexible and supported entry to training (e.g. via pre-vocational measures) have already been created. Yet, they alone do not guarantee successful completion of training.

d) Concerning parallel support measures and initiatives: At the moment the services and initiatives have been brought into picture in rapid tempo and separately by different actors. Therefore, they appear as uncoordinated patchwork of activities. However, as such they are not merely limited to educational and career guidance but cover also everyday life problems.

In the light of the above the study drew attention to the following needs:

  • to make the formal frameworks more flexible at Federal level,
  • to improve the pre-vocational learning opportunities in vocational school (with linked career guidance and counselling)
  • to improve the cooperation of public authorities, companies and service providers to create a coherent support system for refugee-trainees and -apprentices,
  • to strengthen complementary support  and mentoring networks to support overall integration into society and everyday life.

I think this is enough of the background of the event and of the Bremen study that was presented as a basis for joint situation assessment. In the next post it is appropriate to present the Bavarian model project and some insights into the discussion.

More blogs to come …

 

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Four: Comparative analyses on European VET reforms

May 28th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the first post of this series I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy alongside a the ongoing coalition talks of three parties. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. With my second post I gave a picture on the educational policy background for the current debate. With my third post I  discussed the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the bigger picture of educational reforms. With this post I try to set the Finnish developments into a wider European contexts.

1. Comparative analyses – what for and how?

Firstly, I need to ask myself, why I want to discuss the Finnish developments in a wider European context. Very often comparative analyses are expected to give insights into ‘best practice’ or ‘bad practice’. The foreign solutions for vocational education and training (VET) are expected to be highlighted either as positive models (to be copied) or as negative models (to be avoided). To me it is important that such simplistic approaches have been overcome long ago in the European cooperation of VET researchers. Instead of such simplistic rankings the interest of knowledge has been more dialogue-oriented: understanding each other, learning from each other.

In this context I do not try to carry out in-depth comparisons. Instead, I will firstly take a quick look to the discussion on reforms in post-16 education in a European cooperation project that analysed theses reform strategies in the years 1996-1998. Here my interest of knowledge is to see, how the Finnish reforms were perceived in a European group picture. Secondly, I will have a quick look at some parallel models for linking school-based vocational education to apprentice training. In this case I refer to separate contributions of my Scandinavian colleagues in different European conferences. Here my interest of knowledge is to find out what kind of consequences rapid systemic changes have had.

2. Strategies for post-16 education: alternative starting positions, options and possible consequences

In the initial phase of the new European cooperation programme Leonardo da Vinci (1995-2000) the policy-makers, researchers and practitioners were interested in projects that could draw a European group picture of parallel reforms and different goal-settings. From this perspective the Leonardo project “Finding new strategies for post-16 strategies” (coordinated by Dr Johanna Lasonen from the University of Jyväskylä) was of key interest. The project put an emphasis on specifying strategies to increase the attractiveness of vocational learning and to promote parity of esteem between general/academic education and vocational  education & training. From the perspective of the current debates the project is important since it could develop a joint framework for mapping different strategies – in which the partners could find themselves as part of a picture.

The project gathered background information on the educational systems, reform issues and possible ways forward. After the preliminary analyses the project identified four main types of strategies:

  • ‘Unified frameworks’ for general/academic education (either institutional unification or unified modular system),
  • ‘Mutual enrichment’ via boundary-crossing curricular cooperation (between general/academic and vocational learning),
  • ‘Linkages’ between different educational tracks via mutually adjusted baccalaureate frameworks,
  • ‘Enhancement of vocational learning’ via curricular initiatives in VET that open new progression routes.

Looking back, it is easy to see that these strategies had different cultural roots – some emerging from educational cultures that were open for structural reforms whilst others were characterised by underlying cultural distinctions. Some reforms tended to emphasise the integration of all upper secondary education – at the expense of the cultural identity of vocational and professional education. Others were deeply rooted in educational cultures that had clear barriers between general/academic and vocational/professional  learning pathways. Therefore, the models were hardly transferable and even the prospects for mutual learning between them remained limited. Yet, in this constellation the Finnish structural reforms were perceived as a constellation of measures  that could contribute to a more balanced demand of educational options between academic, professional and vocational learning opportunities. In particular the flexible curricular cooperation between general/academic and vocational programs in upper secondary education were perceived as interesting effort to keep the future learning pathways open to alternative directions.

3. Transitions between school-based vocational education and apprentice training: options and issues?

Whilst the above mentioned project and the comparative analyses were looking at educational system architectures and curricular frameworks, the role of vocational education and training (VET) in the integration of young people to working life was less central. From this perspective it is interesting to take a closer look at some Scandinavian VET reforms in which both aspects – coherent educational structures and integration to working life – were central. My key interest here is to discuss, how rapid redistribution of responsibilities between vocational schools and enterprises has contributed

a) The Danish VET reform (Erhvervsuudannelsesreformen) of the early 1990s. Befors that reform the ininal vocational training was provided within two frameworks. Traditional apprentice training was not very popular and seemed to be fading away. The alternative model – launched as a school-based foundation scheme (Erhvervsfaglige grunnduddannelse – EFG) was becoming more popular and was extended with workplace learning placements. The reform tried to merge the two models into unified curricular framework and into integrated delivery model. Thus, there were two different access routes and two different learner categories for the unified programs. Those who had apprentice contracts started with orientation block in their company. Those who came in as vocational school students had the orientation block at school. After that block the curriculum was continues as a sandwich model – school periods and workplace learning periods

The main thrust of the reform was to give a new push for apprentice training and to encourage companies to extend their activities. In this respect the companies were entitled to choose their school partners freely , without any geographic restrictions. The schools had to compete with each other on their attractiveness as providers of VET. Parallel to this, the vocational schools were made responsible to arrange workplace learning opportunities for the vocational school students who had no apprentice contract.

Contrary to the expectations, companies were not keenly interested in increasing the amount of apprentice contracts. And – furthermore – they were not interested in increasing the amount of workplace learning opportunities for vocational school learners to the extent that was needed. Therefore, vocational schools needed to create more opportunities for simulated learning – firstly as a compensatory measure but then as regular arrangement. These mismatches led to several modifications of the reform afterwards.

b) The Norwegian VET reform (Reform 94) in the middle of the 1990s. The background of this reform was the  earlier compromises between two earlier reforms – the creation of a unified framework for upper secondary education and enabling flexible transitions from school-based vocational education to apprentice training. On the paper both reform concepts worked very well. Within the unified upper secondary education the learners could make annual choices, whether to pursue a general/academic program  or a vocational program. The programs had a similar structure – foundation course, continuation course1 and continuation course. In order to complete a vocational program at least one year in apprentice training was required on top of the courses of the vocational programs. Within school-based programs flexible choices were allowed between different programs. Also, if the local vocational schools could not provide continuation courses, there was an opportunity to change to other school or to apprentice training.

The national review of the policy in the early 1990s (by committee led by Kari Blegen) revealed that the system leaked in many ways. Only the students in academic programs could be sure that they have a full menu of continuation courses. In vocational programs it became common that the students started moving sideways taking further foundation courses or first level continuation courses. There were many reasons for this. Also, the flexible transition to apprenticeship didn’t work as expected and most of the vocational school-leavers who could not take the advanced continuation courses dropped their programs.

The reform of the year 1994 gave the regional educational authorities new responsibilities to cater for the supply of school-based vocational education and on the flexible transition to apprentice training. The regions (Fylken) got the responsibility to arrange the opportunities to complete the two first years of initial VET in school-based education in their region. They also got the responsibility to arrange transition opportunities that enable completion of vocational qualifications. Thus, Norway introduced the 2+2 model. Vocational schools were responsible for the first two years. Companies and the joint bodies of trades and industries took over the responsibilities of the two second years.

Looking back, this reform model seemed to be successful in providing more training opportunities and in ensuring the completion of vocational qualifications. Yet, it seems that it led to a cultural divide between the two phases of the initial VET and between the key actors involved. This has led to subsequent modifications of the reform afterwards.

I think these remarks are enough to point out how complex the European group picture of VET reforms can be. Also, they show how easily reforms that count on rapid redistribution of responsibilities and on collaboration between different parties may miss their targets. In this respect it is worthwhile to learn more of the unintended consequences of such reforms. These blogs were just opening remarks for such analyses when they are needed. At the moment I need to return to the current issues of the Learning Layers project.

More blogs to come …

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Three: New emphasis on workplace learning and apprentice training in Finland

May 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the first post of this series I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy alongside a the ongoing coalition talks of three parties. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. With my previous post I gave a picture on the educational policy background for the current debate (looking back to the reforms of the 1990s). With this post I try to complete this picture by discussing the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the Finnish vocational education and training (VET) system.

1. New emphasis on workplace learning in initial VET programs

I my previous post I described how the shaping of initial vocational education (mainly school-based) became part of a larger reform agenda. The duration of the vocational programs played a role in the attempts to create a balance between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ options in the upper secondary education. However, it appeared that this balancing approach put the main emphasis on the desired equality of these options as educational choices. By the end of the 1990s the discussion on initial VET gave more emphasis on workplace learning.

Already in the early 1990s several minor initiatives were taken to increase the amount of work experience placements in the school-based vocational education. By the end of 1990s the educational authorities and the Social Partners had agreed to strengthen the emphasis and to enhance the relative importance of workplace learning. In the new curricular frameworks the amount of workplace-based learning was increased to the equivalent of 1 year in full-time education. The educational authorities spoke of the 2+1 model. For this extension new cooperation frameworks were developed for vocational schools and participating enterprises. In this way both parties took responsibilities on the arrangement and monitoring – although the overarching responsibility was kept at the vocational schools.

Altogether, this was a cultural and organisational reorientation and it was introduced via pilot projects that were accompanied by an educational research project led by the University of Jyväskylä (and by Dr Johanna Lasonen as the key researcher). Looking back, the projects gave a positive picture of the enhancement of workplace learning. At the same time they pointed out that the development of appropriate workplace learning opportunities required efforts from all parties involved.

2. New interest in apprentice training

Parallel to the reforms in initial VET the policy makers who were concerned about appropriate solutions for adult learners had been promoting more flexible arrangements for obtaining vocational qualifications. In this strategy the nation-wide network for vocational adult education centres and the combined schemes of preparatory courses and competence-based assessment had played a central role. Without going into details with this policy development it is worthwhile to note that this approach seemed to be more appropriate for advanced vocational learners who were looking for frameworks for continuing professional development.

In the light of my previous blogs and the above mentioned remarks it is more apparent that the new interest in apprentice training has been linked more to adult learning than initial vocational eduction for youth. Given the scenario that the Finnish society is rapidly aging and that the youth cohorts are getting smaller, there has been an increased concern of providing appropriate learning opportunities for adults who are already in working life but lacking formal qualifications. for this clientele a modern apprentice training with tailored vocational subject teaching appeared to be a timely solution.

The modernisation of apprentice training had already been started in the early 1990s and the support organisation was reformed parallel to organisational reforms in VET. Currently apprentice training is managed from intermediate apprenticeship offices that are located in vocational school consortia and function as the brokers between the interested enterprises and the supporting vocational schools.

As has been mentioned above, apprentice training has been taken up more strongly as an option for adult learners but more recently it has been brought into discussion also as an option for young people. In particular in the construction sector there is a strong interest to promote a flexible transition from the earlier 2+1 model to a variant in which the third year would be implemented as apprentice training. However, as we know from different sources, this requires mutual agreement between different parties involved.

I think this is enough to set the issues of workplace learning and apprentice training to the bigger educational policy context. Having said that I think that it is worthwhile to consider, how this Finnish educational policy context fits to broader European group picture – both concerning structural reforms and the role of workplace learning.

More blogs to come …

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Two: Looking back at the Finnish reforms in 1990s

May 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy that has emerged as a by-product of the ongoing coalition talks after the parliament election in April. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. Yet, as the first reactions to the news from the coalition talks indicate, there seems to be much more at stake than a seemingly simple decision. With this blog post I try to give a picture on the educational reforms of the 1990s that gave the Finnish educational policy its core principles and the VET system its current frameworks.

1. What were the issues for the educational reforms in the 1990s?

The reform debates of the early 1990s were introduced by critical assessment of the earlier reforms of the 1970s. These earlier reforms had tried to provide a balance between the general (academic) track and the vocational (professional) track in the upper secondary education. In particular the status differences between different vocational/professional education options were to be reduced and the vocational/professional routes were supposed to become more attractive. After a lengthy implementation period  the reality showed a different picture.

The critical reviews by the educational authorities and independent research groups were summarised in 1990 in the following way:

1) The educational demand was characterised by academic drift: In spite of the efforts to create a new balance between the tracks, the educational demand of young people drifted towards the general/academic track and towards university studies. Given the fact that the Finnish universities have taken their students on the basis of domain-specific entrance examinations, this led to increased queueing of candidates for university studies.

2) The transition to vocational/professional options remained status-oriented: In spite of the efforts to reduce the status differences and to promote vocational progression, the educational demand led towards segmentation. The higher vocational (professional) options were overwhelmed by graduates from the general/academic track whilst graduates from vocational schools remained minority.

3) The use of lower vocational education options as transit stations: Parallel to the above mentioned tendencies there was an increase in the enrollment of graduates from the general/academic track to lower vocational education programs. Here, the interest was not necessarily to obtain an additional qualification but, instead, to obtain a domain-speficic transit station (to prepare for entrance examinations of universities or higher vocational education). Due to this increased demand the vocational schools started to develop special options for graduates from the general/academic track. In this way the vocational schools tried to encourage such learners to complete their programs instead of using them as transit stations (and drop the programs if they got an access to ‘higher’ option).

2. What were the structural changes and the guiding principles outlined by the reforms?

The reforms that were outlined via high level conferences, public consultations and a pilot period took the following course:

a) Creation of a non-university sector of higher education: The higher vocational (professional) education had already become post-secondary and recruited mainly graduates of academic track. Several domain-specific institutes had already pushed for decisions to upgrade them as colleges of higher education. Now, the reform opted for upgrading such institutes into HE but at the same time creating merged polytechnics that would cater for the constant development of their departments. Via these mergers and a national accreditation process the newly created polytechnics became eligible for the Bologna process. (Later on, the polytechnics started to use the name ‘universities of applied sciences’.)

b) Separation of the secondary vocational education from the higher vocational education: The above mentioned reform led to an institutional separation between the secondary vocational education (that remained in vocational schools) and the higher level (that was upgraded and integrated into the polytechnics). As a compensatory measure, the reform maintained the vocational progression route from secondary vocational education to polytechnics.

c) Flexible curricular cooperation between ‘academic’ and vocational programs in upper secondary education: Another major feature of the reforms of the 1990s was to enable flexible curricular cooperation between upper secondary schools (‘academic track’) and vocational schools. Instead of integrating them into a common institutional and curricular framework, new cooperation options were opened. Firstly, learners of both type of schools got the opportunity to choose courses from the other type of schools. E.g. ‘academic learners’ with interest in economics could choose commercial subjects from vocational schools. And vice versa, ‘vocational learners’ with interest in continuing to higher education could choose general subjects from the upper secondary schools. One step further was the option of obtaining dual qualifications – the Finnish baccalaureate (Abitur) and the vocational qualification – via a mutually adjusted schedule.

Altogether this reform agenda tried to to solve the problems of the earlier periods in the following way:

  • by redirecting the academically oriented educational demand to both universities and to the newly created polytechnics,
  • by maintaining the vocational progression routes (from vocational schools to polytechnics)
  • by encouraging boundary-crossing curricular cooperation and educational choices between the ‘academic’ and ‘vocational programs in upper secondary education.

In this respect the emphasis was mainly on providing new opportunities for Higher Education, but at the same time trying to enhance the attractiveness of vocational education as well. From this point of view it was important that the vocational programs had the same duration as the general/academic programs.

I think this is enough of the educational reforms and of structural changes of the 1990s. With this quick recollection I tried to reconstruct the political and cultural background of the current debates. However, there is a need to have a closer look at the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the Finnish VET system as well.

More blogs to come …

 

 

Training Day in Bau-ABC – Part Two: How to work with the Learning Toolbox?

May 15th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

This post continues the reports on the recent highlight event of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and its construction sector pilot in North Germany – the Training Days of the training centre Bau-ABC (that took place on Monday and Tuesday this week). On Monday the LL teams of ITB and Pontydysgu organised three workshop sessions to present the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and to plan further pilot activities with LTB in Bau-ABC. In my previous post I gave an overview on the event as such and on our contributions. In this post I will focus on the issues that were raised and on the results of different sessions and working groups.

1. General issues to be taken into account

Already after the general presentations we were confronted by several issues that we need to consider when preparing the actual pilot activities with LTB to be used with mobile devices:

  • Officially the use of mobile phones is prohibited in the training centres – mainly because the use of them is perceived as distraction. When using their smartphones, the apprentices seem to have their attention elsewhere than in their working and learning tasks. Even if the trainers can see that these devices can be used to support work and learning, there is a need to get others convinced.
  • Use of mobile devices is often a safety risk in traffic and in working life – therefore, many companies have prohibited the use of mobile devices at construction sites (or allowed only the site manager/ supervisor to use one). These issues need to be reflected in the code of conduct for users.
  • Video recordings from working and training contexts need to pay attention to specific sensitivity issues – are these recordings documenting good or bad practice, is the behaviour of the people appropriate, are the videos showing something that is confidential … These issues need to be reflected in the code of conduct for users.
  • From the pedagogic point of view use of multimedia and web can support different types of learning behaviour: a) It can lead to ‘light learning’ that uses quick searches and quick documenting solutions that seem to give appropriate answers (without paving the way to adequate understanding of the problems and the solutions). b) Or it can lead to ‘smart learning’ in which digital media and web resources are used as illustrations that give insights into problems, solutions and understanding of appropriate practice.

These introductory discussions brought us (once again) to the picture that the use of mobile devices, digital media and web resources has to be introduced in a work- and context-adjusted way.

2. The first workshop on initial training: picking exemplary themes for particular occupations

In the first workshop session we had groups that represented the following occupations/occupational fields: concrete builders (one group), carpenters and indoor builders (one group), road builders and pipeline builders (one group). Each of these groups had as their starting point a specific project for apprentices in the respective occupation. The trainers were looking for ways to introduce Learning Toolbox into the project work. In this session the groups had somewhat different concerns and interests:

a) The group of concrete builders (Betonbauer) was concerned of the lack of written instructions for older techniques to build frames for concrete constructs. Currently, most of the frames for concrete builders are standardised and often pre-fabricated. Thus, the transfer of craftsmen’s know-how on building special-shaped frames is not supported by up-to-date learning materials. This could be compensated by video recordings that are edited into digital learning materials.

b) The group of carpenters (Zimmerer) listed several points in which the use of digital media and access to web were found useful, starting form general health and safety instructions, access to drawings, QR codes referring to appropriate tools, Barcode scanner that refers to materials, tools for documentation of learning achievements.

c) The group of road builders and pipeline builders (Strassenbauer, Rohrleitungsbauer) discussed the possibilities to link drawings, photos and DIN norms to each other, creative ways to introduce technical terminology, creative ways to control learning gains and smart ways to use videos for presenting essential ‘tricks of the trade’.

As a common point of interest the groups of the first workshop session drew attention to differentiated communication channels (messages to all vs. bilateral communication between apprentice and trainer), collecting examples of good practice to be presented to all and on differentiated ways to document learning progress at different stages of apprentice training.

3. The second workshop on initial training: developing core themes for groups of occupations

In the second workshop session the parallel groups consisted of mutually linked occupations or occupational fields and the participants had selected integrative ‘core projects’ in which they explored the use of digital media and web resources:

d) The group of well-builders and tunnel-builders (Brunnenbauer, Spezialtiefbauer) had chosen a project task on disassembling, maintenance & testing and assembling of pumps used in their trades. Here the discussion focused on the uses of digital media to visualize the processes, to draw attention to key concepts and to safety precautions. Here, a critical issue was, how to guide the work with video recording so that the documents are appropriate for the project and for the apprentices’ learning processes.

e) The group representing occupations in metal and machine techniques (Metall- und Maschinentechnik, Baugerätetechnik) had also selected a project that drew attention to the core knowledge of all these occupations – producing a threaded plate according to technical drawing (Herstellen einer Gewindeplatte gemäß Zeichnung). The group discussed different phases of the project and then drew attention to points of intervention with digital media and web tools (e.g. digital access to references, producing user-generated learning contents with apprentices, using QR-codes to demonstrate health and safety risks and using digital tools and apps to simulate use of real tools plus to discuss quality criteria and tolerances).

f) The group of road-builders, bricklayers and plasterers (Strassenbauer, Maurer, Fliesenleger) had also selected an integrative project – building a parking place for vehicles transporting disabled people (Behindertenparkplatz). Here the discussion focused on the special challenges of such task (e.g. search for information on the requirements, making the scattered information accessible for the groups of construction workers, using special techniques for constructing adequate slopes and surfaces, documentation of the work and simulation of the final inspection and acceptance of the work by public authorities).

Here, the groups focused on integrating the use of digital media and web resources into the logic of the selected projects.

4. The workshop on continuing training: identifying uses for LTB and other tools/apps promoted by LL project

The final workshop focused on the usability of the Learning Toolbox and other LL tools in the continuing training schemes. Here, the basic problem was that we could not rely on similar projects as in the initial training. Secondly, we were still demonstrating tools that were not yet finalised. And thirdly, most of the participants were only getting familiarised with the LL project on the whole. Finally, we were discussing issues that can partly be implemented as spin-offs and by-effects of the LL project work in the initial training, but partly require major spin-out activities.  Yet, given these limitations the participants could make several points for further discussion alongside the pilot activities in apprentice training.

5. Next steps to be taken

I think this is as much as I can say about the workshops and on the way the prepared us for working with the Learning Toolbox. We saw (once again) that the trainers are willing to start working with it. We also noticed, that we (the accompanying LL teams of ITB and Pontydysgu) need to join them when the domain-specific piloting with LTB applications will start. There are several technical, practical and pedagogic issues coming up in that phase. So, we are looking forward to a new collaborative phase in the fieldwork with Bau-ABC trainers.

More blogs to come …

After the LL Design Conference – Part 3: Sharing experiences between LL pilots

March 21st, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous posts I have reported on the Year 3 Design Conference of the Learning Layers (LL) project that took place in Espoo and of the talks I had afterwards in Helsinki. Now it is time to shift emphasis to knowledge sharing – and in particular sharing experiences – between parallel pilot activities in the LL project. In this respect we got new impulses both regarding the construction sector pilots – sharing experiences on tools and workshops – as well as documentation of fieldwork with LL tools – in particular those to be used as collectors of experiences (“Erfahrungssammler“).

1, Sharing knowledge and experience with the Finnish pilots in construction sector

We were pleased to hear fresh reports of the pilots of the Finnish team from Aalto University with vocational schools and construction companies in using the AchSo! tool to document workplace learning. Here we were interested of the recent development of the tool since we want to integrate it into the piloting with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). Shortly after the Design Conference the Finnish team could deliver us a very positive report on their pilot in the trade union journal of the construction workers – with voices of apprentices/trainees, skilled workers and vocational teachers. It ios encouraging that the relatively limited piloting with a video annotation tool has proven to be successful in many respects. The tool seems to be working in practice, the construction workers and apprentices are getting used to shooting videos to document their work and the representatives of vocational schools are happy to work with such documentation. Moreover, this pilot appears to demonstrate good cooperation between school-based and apprenticeship-based vocational education and training (VET). As we have been informed, the Finnish pilot context provides the opportunity for flexible transition from school-based education to apprenticeship in the third year. For the LL project it is interesting to find out that the well-functioning documentation of workplace learning is considered as an important success factor in the pilot.

For us, working with the construction sector pilots in Germany (in which apprentice training is essentially present) this is in many respects inspiring. Firstly, we interested in integrating the use of AchSo! in our pilots. Secondly, we are interested in exploring the prospect for piloting with the Learning Toolbox in Finland (provided that the Finnish counterparts are interested). And thirdly, we are interested in sharing knowledge of pedagogy of VET.

 2. Using LL tools to share our project experiences

The more we have learned about the Finnish pilot, the more we ( = the ITB team) have understood the value our own fieldwork for parallel pilots and spin-off initiatives. This has inspired us to consider, how we could make our prior activities, learning experiences and interim conclusions transparent. In particular we have understood the value of our early workshops. In these events we brought the co-design processes closer to the working and training/learning contexts of apprentices and trainers and got them tuned in into participative design of LL tools. Now, looking back, the existing documentation in the form of flipcharts, workshop reports and blogs is not that easily accessible to others.

The positive experience with the videos produced by our Bau-ABC colleagues suggests that we could have a second look at the workshop results to harvest conclusions for our forthcoming field workshops – and to document them with videos  (eventually using AchSo!). However, it is not merely the experiences with individual workshops that we want to bring forward. In the exchanges with the parallel pilots we came to think of the potentials of the Bits & Pieces tool (with the timeliner) as an instrument for such project-internal exchanges. Here, indeed, we can put our own design teams into the position of application partners and to reflect, how to use LL tools to facilitate sharing of knowledge and experiences across complex pilot activities. This, surely will help us to find further pilot contexts for the respective tools.

I think this is enough about second thoughts after Espoo. In the meantime Gilbert Peffer has published a series of blogs on the Exploitation Launchpad Workshop in the Design Conference, worth having a closer look.

More blogs to come …

 

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