Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Learning Layers meets Finnish promoters of apprenticeship and workplace learning

June 8th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last week (Thursday 4.6.2015) we had a small working meeting to present the current phase of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) pilots to our Finnish counterparts who are promoting apprenticeship and workplace learning. The event took place in Espoo, in the Design Factory building of the Aalto University and it was hosted by Marjo Virnes from Aalto and me from ITB. The Finnish counterparts represented the Finnish agencies for apprentice training (oppisopimustoimistot), the Finnish association of “Promoters of Apprenticeships” (Oppisopimuskummit ry) and the Finnish vocational teacher education in the fields of commerce and hospitality. Some of the invited participants were writing their doctoral theses on apprentice training – unfortunately not all could attend the meeting. Here some insights into our discussion.

1. Presenting the Learning Layers project and the LL tools

We started with an overview of the LL project – looking at prior European projects that had tried to promote e-learning, knowledge management and mobile technologies in working life. The shortcomings of the ‘technology push’ or ‘system push’ approaches had provided the basis for our project and its emphasis on learning at workplaces, participative design and iterative development processes.

In this spirit I (= Pekka Kämäräinen) presented the progress that we (ITB and the Bremen team) had made with our application partners (mainly Bau-ABC) in the construction sector. I explained the journey from the initial idea to digitise learning materials (design idea “Sharing Turbine”) and heading to the development of a mobile solution for managing learning resources and communication (Learning Toolbox).

Marjo Virnes explained firstly the key idea of the AchSo! tool for video annotation and then presented exemplary cases in the construction sector (apprentices and trainees using tablet PCs to document their learning at construction sites) and in healthcare (the nurses documenting each others’ efforts to revitalise patients in a simulated exercise). In these cases we could note the advantages of the video annotation tool to draw attention to critical details and episodes without the need to write extensive explanatory notes. At the same time we noted that the functionality for sharing and further commenting is under development.

I then presented the Learning Toolbox (LTB) with the help of the most recent power points and screenshots from the online demonstration that we had used recently. This presentation drew attention to the possibility to develop flexible frameworks for managing sets of tools and apps and for customising the menus and the sets for different contexts (training centres, companies, construction sites). In this context I also drew attention to the parallel development of the ‘technology package’ Layers Box that enables the user organisations to control the data and the internet connections of the LTB.

2. Discussion on the current phase of apprentice training (and of the role of research) in Finland

After these presentations Kari Viinisalo (retired director of the Helsinki agency for apprentice training) gave a brief overview of the status of apprentice training in Finland (as a complementary model parallel to school-based vocational education) and on the efforts to give more visibility to this path. In this context he drew attention to the work of the joint association of the agencies for apprentice training (OpSo ry) and of the newly established voluntary association of Promoters of Apprenticeships. His main concern was that research on apprentice training is very limited, falls between the established disciplines and has had very little visibility. From this perspective he welcomed the contribution of the LL project.

Annukka Norontaus (Jyväskylä agency for apprentice training) informed of her doctoral study that focuses on the expectations on/ impact of apprentice training on the companies involved. She had interviewed company representatives (that employ young learners in apprentice contracts) in five branches and also some company representatives that have not been involved in apprentice training. She also informed of some other parallel doctoral studies. Virve Vainio (Haaga-Helia University of applied sciences) informed of their forthcoming pilot event (forum for promoting workplace learning) and of the contribution of vocational teacher education in supporting workplace learning.

3. Conclusions for further cooperation

In the concluding discussion our Finnish counterparts felt inspired by the ongoing LL pilots and pointed to the potential of the tools in different organisational contexts. Also they emphasised the value of the R&D activities that put workplace learning and apprentice training into the centre of such pilots. They agreed to propose similar workshops (as our session) to be integrated into the regular bi-annual meetings of the national association of the agencies for apprentice training (OpSo). They also agreed to propose the launch of a ‘research forum’ section of the electronic journal “Osaaja”. We (as participants of the meeting) agreed to maintain communication with each other as a Working Group (with the nickname “Betoniryhmä” based on the street Betonimiehentie where the Design Factory is located). There is so much to be shared on the work of the LL project and on the context of apprentice training.

I think this all gives a sufficient picture of small steps to start with. As we noted it during the meeting, there are severe political pressures to cut costs of (vocational) education and training in Finland. Yet, there is also a growing interest to speed up the entry of young people into working life. Therefore, the role of apprentice training may be of major political interest in the near future.

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 …

 

 

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part One: What is at stake in current Finnish debates?

May 23rd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Given the fact that I am blogging as a Finnish expatriate living outside my home country, it has not been my habit to comment politics in Finland. In some of my recent blogs I have reported on the Finnish pilots linked to our ongoing Learning  Layers (LL) project. An article of the pilots with the video annotation tool AchSo! brought into picture bigger issues of educational policies and of sustainable work. This gave rise to brief comments on the educational background of the pilot (collaboration between school-based vocational education, workplace learning and flexible transition to apprentice training). At the same time the  Sustainability Commitment process initiated by the Ministry of Environment seemed to provide an appropriate working perspective for dissemination of good practice. Now, after the general elections in Finland the negotiations on a three-party government coalition have raised new questions on the future course for developing the Finnish vocational education and training (VET) system. This gives me a reason to write a series of blogs on the past Finnish VET reforms and how they can be mapped to a European group picture. But firstly I need to give a quick view on the current VET policy issue in the coalition talks.

 1. What is being discussed in the coalition talks concerning VET?

Last week the Finnish media reported that one of the hot issues in the coalition talks is the duration of the initial VET programs. Here we have several issues. Firstly, the Finnish – predominantly school-based VET – has been organised as part of the upper secondary education. The duration of three years has been based on two main arguments:

  • Firstly, to open a vocational pathway to higher education (with sufficient general educational content).
  • Secondly, to accommodate an appropriate amount of workplace learning (base on cooperation arrangements between vocational schools and partners enterprises).

Now the news reports tell that there is a pressure to cut the costs of full-time education by cutting the duration of full-time vocational education. Also, there is a wish to promote a quicker transition of young people to working life. In this context the role of apprentice training and work experience placements are being mentioned as necessary measures.

2. How have these news been received in the public?

So far the news have not been based on public documents or statements by politicians. Therefore,  both the news coverage and the public debates have been based on sophisticated guesses. In their first reactions the Trade Union of Education in Finland (representing all teachers in Finland) and the Union of vocational learners in Finland have criticised these plans heavily. They are concerned about the functioning of vocational pathways to higher education as well as of the quality of workplace learning. Altogether, they are concerned of possible short-term rationalisation measures that may have severe negative consequences – whether from the perspective of providing educational opportunities or from the perspective of integrating young people into working life. Alongside these strong reactions there have been some individual remarks that Finland should look at other models and alternative solutions.

It is not my purpose to enter this Finnish debate on my blog (that I am writing in English as an expatriate working abroad). Yet, as a VET researcher who has started his career by comparing European VET reforms and then continued by monitoring European cooperation, I feel the need to look back. Firstly, I want to have a second look at the Finnish reforms that have shaped the current educational frameworks. Secondly, I want to explore, what role apprentice training and integration of school-based and workplace-based learning have played in these reforms. Thirdly, I want to make some comparisons to parallel developments in other European countries. We need to have a picture, how we have come to the current situation – what has been achieved and what may appear as weaknesses. Also, we need to reflect, what may appear as ‘good practice’ in a European comparison and why.

I think this is enough for the moment. I hope that I get my thoughts on paper in due time.

More blogs to come …

1st of May – Part Three: The End of World War II

May 6th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

After the First of May we in Europe are experiencing the 70th anniversary of the end of World War. In different countries this anniversary has a different meaning and it is being celebrated on different dates. The countries that were under the occupation of NS-regimes are celebrating their dates of liberation by the allied forces. The major west allies are celebrating the 8th of May as the great day during which the NS-regime in Germany signed the unconditional capitulation. The Soviet Union and afterwards the Russian Federation has celebrated the 9th of May – on which the capitulation came into force – as the Day of Victory. Having said all this it is interesting to observe – as an expatriate living in Germany – how the Germans take these anniversaries.

 1. The difficult issue “liberation”

Firstly, it is obvious that the these dates are characterised by mixed feelings – Germany had been on the wrong side, the NS-regime had made itself guilty of atrocities, war crimes and unnecessary mass destruction. This cannot be celebrated with joy. Yet, already a decade a ago the late Federal President von Weiszäcker declared that also Germans should consider the end of the war as liberation – the end of a terror regime and the beginning of the new era. This message was radical at the time he spoke these words, but now it seems to be generally accepted.

The current Federal president Gauck has taken one step further in emphasising that all allies – both Western and the Soviets – were involved in the liberation of Germans. When saying this, he takes into account that many Germans have bad experiences of the Soviets as occupational power and are reluctant to use the word ‘liberation’ when speaking of the Soviets. Gauck himself knows this very well – his father was a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union and it took long years before these POWs (or the remaining ones) were released. Yet, Gauck has drawn attention to the fact that the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war in Germany was far worse – in this context he uses the word ‘war crime’. Acknowledging this is to him the starting point of true reconciliation and getting over to new era.

This message it is being multiplied in the way in which the German leading politicians participate in events that commemorate the liberation of the former concentration camps. It is a matter of honour for the present date political leaders to pay their respect to the victims and to declare their solidarity to the survivors.

 2. The memory of war crimes and of the blind faith on the NS-regime

In this spirit the German TV and radio programs are overwhelmed with historical documents and commentaries that reflect on the dark chapter of the German history. These report very thoroughly of the sad history of the war years and in particular of the last months of the war. In particular they make use of the film material produced by British and American camera teams. Thus, we get a picture of meaningless fanaticism as well as of the slow collapse of militarism. We get insights into the work of exiled German and Austrian Jews who now returned as American specialists (psychologists and social researchers) examining, how and why ordinary Germans felt so tied with the old regime. In the same way we see the old documents that showed how ordinary Germans were confronted with the terrible scenes that they experienced in the liberated concentration camps. All this is analysed by present date German historians and other specialists who want to give reflected insights into events, circumstances and the mindsets of people.

 3. The post-war reconciliation and the present date

The documents have not only covered the final events of the war but the also the shocking experience of the end of the war – die Stunde Null, the moment when time ceased to pass on. They give a picture on the loss of orientation and the struggle of mere survival when the society had collapsed. And they give a picture on the difficult relations between the civilians and the new occupation powers – in different respects.

But the documents also give insights into the newly emerging societal structures and to the tensions between the allied powers. And in this constellation the support for the reconstruction in West Germany becomes a strategic approach in the Cold War between the opposed military blocks. And in this spirit the recently filmed documents on the atrocities are filed into archives. Also, some specialists from secret services, military and police forces (in spite of their dark past) become useful for the new regimes (and not only in West Germany). This all is being reflected and remembered.

In the present-date circumstances – when the era of Cold War has been left behind – this all serves the purpose of presenting Germans as ones who have learned their lessons and who want to speak for reconciliation. Yet, they do not want to push themselves or to instrumentalise the anniversaries in any way. In this respect the German Chancellor Merkel and the Foreign Minister Steinmeier have chosen their dates to visit Russia – not during military parades but during days of mourning and peaceful rethinking.

I think this is enough of the historical anniversaries. It is time to get back to the working issues of our ongoing project.

More blogs to come …

1st of May 2015 – Part Two: Historical anniversaries

May 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

As I had indicated in my previous post, I am writing a series of posts with focus on the First of May. In the first post I discussed the tradition of First of May demonstrations and described the event in Bremen. In this post I will discuss some historical anniversaries that have to some extent overshadowed the First of May in 2015.

1. The massacres/genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915

Shortly before the First of May there was a lot of discussion on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the World War I. It is known to all that a major part of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire was destroyed due to organized deportations and massacres. Up to this date the Turkish government refuses to accept that thus mass destruction was intentional. Instead, their version is that the Armenians were involved in rebellions and got killed in armed conflicts. Most European countries and the European parliament have considered that this mass destruction had been a well-organised operation that altogether aimed to destroy the Armenian minority. Therefore, they have used the expression ‘genocide’.

For the German government this has been a sensitive issue – partly because Germans were allies of the Ottoman Empire, partly because of their own dark history during the NS-regime and partly because they want to serve as mediators in present-date conflicts. However, in the ecumenic service to commemorate the 100th anniversary the Federal President Gauck (former civil right activist from DDR) used the word genocide. And the next day in the special session the president of the Federal Parliament Lammert used the same words. And finally the resolution of the parliament used this wording as well.

 2. The Carnation Revolution in Portugal 1974

During the same days we experienced the 41st anniversary of the Carnation Revolution of Portugal. This event has not been so strongly present in the German media (neither last year nor this year). However, in my memory it was one of the strong experiences for the students of the 1970s. At that time young army officers who had served a right-wing dictatorship started a revolution to stop a colonial war and got a massive support. The symbols of this support were the carnations on the weapons of the soldiers. This uprising and the following revolutionary transformation served as an example of a possibility to put an end to a dictatorship and colonial wars and to start a new course to democracy. Since then Portugal has gone a long way and experienced both successes and disappointments when looking back at the ideals of the carnation revolution. Yet, the great changes have been irreversible.

3. The end of Vietnam War 1975

And immediately after the previous one came the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. This event was at its time the symbol of a struggle of a small nation against former colonisers, occupation powers, neo-colonial partition and new invasion. This struggle became known via media and the documents gave rise to worldwide international solidarity. The end of the war was greeted as a great achievement of the Vietnamese people and as a lesson to those who wanted to push a post-colonial regime upon them. Shortly after the news from Portugal this was a greater sign of the winds of change that were blowing at that time.

It was paradoxical that the wave of international solidarity – that was so strong during the years of war – so easily faded away. The economic and social problems of Vietnam during the reconstruction period, unsettled issues with the US government, problems with the neighbouring terror regime of Cambodia (and its supporter China), internal problems within the civil society … All this became complicated and could not fit into a simplistic that only saw heroes and villains. Yet, the history of the reconstruction and recovery of Vietnam has shown us that this people has worked its way forward and deserves all the respect of the international community. And many of the historical document films shown by the German TV channels have conveyed this message.

I think this is enough of these historical anniversaries. In my next posts I will discuss yet another historical anniversary – the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II.

 

More blogs to come …

1st of May 2015 – Part One: First of May demonstration in Bremen

May 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

I have named this blog as “Working and Learning” and chosen to focus on that theme – in many respects. I am writing mainly on research & development projects in vocational and workplace learning. And I am discussing lessons learned in the project work in which I have been involved. Only on rare occasions I have taken up other issues. Now, to me the 1st of May 2015 gives rise to several blog posts – starting from the event itself.

1. First of May as an event of trade unions and workers’ movement

As we know it from the history, the tradition to celebrate the First of May as workers’ day emerges from the struggle of trade unions for the 8-hour working day. Now, the trade unions and the political parties of workers’ movement had already the 125th anniversary to celebrate. In Germany (as in many other European countries) the day has already long ago been established as a national holiday. And moreover, the strong trade unions have become the main organisers of the First of May demonstrations.

In this spirit the central organization of the German trade unions (DGB) had agreed on a common theme for all the demonstrations in Germany: “Future of work – we are the ones to shape it!” For us in ITB that reminded us of several earlier R&D programs of 1980s and 1990s like “Humanisation of Work” or “Social shaping of Work & Technology”. They were brought on the political agenda by the trade unions and they had put a strong emphasis on workers’ participation in developmental initiatives. The key point was on social shaping of work processes, organisation of work and the social implications of the new technologies. These earlier programs were characterized by optimistic expectations on social innovations and on the contribution of research. Now, the trade unions were very concerned of the newest developments in working life.

2. Observations on the First of May demonstration in Bremen

In the light of the above (and given that we had a public holiday) I once again attended the First of May demonstration – making observations on the participants, the issues taken up and on the atmosphere. Here some remarks on what caught my attention:

a) Trade unions concerned on recent development of industrial relations

As has been indicated above, the trade unions had raised the issue of future-oriented shaping of working life with severe concerns. At the moment there were several unsettled conflicts on trades and tariffs, including the issues on trade unions’ rights. Some of the speakers have characterized the current situation as a struggle between ‘humanisation’ vs. amazonisation of working life.’ These issues were strongly present in the demonstration and in the speeches.

b) The forthcoming elections in Bremen

As has been the case fore some time, the trade unions are the key players in organising these events and the political parties are accompanying supporters. However, during election campaigns the politicians and political parties may gain more attention. Yet, the forthcoming regional elections (10th of May) did not overshadow the event to great extent. The social democrats, left party and green party were there as usual – and the Mayor of Bremen was in the front row. But the elections were not such a hot topic. At best, the young voters were encouraged to make use of their voting rights.

c) The presence of ethnic and cultural minorities

As I had observed on earlier occasions, several communities of ethnic and cultural minorities with their own political agenda were usually present in the demonstrations. This time in particular the Alevite community of Bremen as well as the political groups of Turkish Kurds were strongly present. Given the current conflicts in their original home regions, their presence was noticed and their appeals for international solidarity were listened to.

I think this is enough of the event itself. In my next posts I will discuss some historical anniversaries that have overshadowed the weeks before and after the First of May.

More blogs to come …

Marx, use value, exchange value and social networks

October 13th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I have to admit I am not a great fan of lectures on line. there seems far to little human interaction and the slick production of things like the TED talks has got both ‘samey’ and somewhat tedious. But I loved this lecture by David Harvey on Karl Marx delivered in Amsterdam with no slides and no notes! As the blurb says “David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and the author of numerous books. He has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for over 40 years.”

David Harvey does not shy away from the politics of Karl Marx. But his focus is on Marx’s writings and ideas as a tool for social science and analysis. For those of you without the time, interest or patience to listen to the whole video the particular bits I found interesting include his ideas around rational consumption (about 30 minutes in), the idea of accumulation by dispossession (some 38 minutes in), the idea of management of the ommons important (after about 47 minutes) and contradictions over the role of the state (towards the end of the lecture and before the discussion).

Harvey talks a lot about contradictions – the biggest being the contradiction between use value and exchange value. As Wikipedia explains: “In Marx’s critique of political economy, any product has a labor-value and a use-value, and if it is traded as a commodity in markets, it additionally has an exchange value, most often expressed as a money-price. Marx acknowledges that commodities being traded also have a general utility, implied by the fact that people want them, but he argues that this by itself tells us nothing about the specific character of the economy in which they are produced and sold.”

Much of David Harvey;s work has been in the area of urban development and housing and he explains how this contradiction applies there and its implications. But it may also be a useful explanation of understanding what is happening with social networks. Social networks have a use value for us all in allowing us to stay in touch with friends, develop personal learning networks, learn about new ideas or just letting off steam to anyone who will listen. OK – the exchange value is not expressed as a money price. But most people now realise that social networking applications are seldom free. Instead of paying money we give our data away for them to use. And in turn they use this data to try to extract money from us through buying commodities. This is all fine as long as the use value exceeds the exchange value. But as social network providers try to monetise their products they are constantly upping the ante in terms of exchange value. In other words we are increasingly being required to sign over our data as well as our privacy in order to use their applications.

Alternatively social networks are trying to push ever more commodities at us. An article in the Gaurdian newspaper yesterday over Twitters attempts to build a business model noted: “Chief executive Dick Costolo has talked longingly about growing, and eventually making money from, the huge number of people who view tweets without signing up. This is fine on YouTube, where most of us watch the content without producing it and only sigh a little as we’re forced to watch ads when we do so. In contrast, sponsored tweets are a bit like being asked to pay for gossip from your colleague over the coffee machine.”

All this means more and more people are questioning whether the use value of Facebook and Twitter is worth the exchange value.

And such contradictions are hard to resolve!

Thoughts on the Day of German Unity – Part 2: My memories of my visits 1989-1990

October 3rd, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I started writing out  memories on the process that led to Germanunification in the years 1989-1990. This is my contribution – as a Finnish expatriat working in Germany – to the celebration of the national holiday – the Day of German Unity. But, as I mentioned in my previous blog, these events have a more personal meaning than news from foreign countries. It so happened that during the turbulent October-November days 1989 I was on a a five weeks’ study visit in Germany. And in the beginning of October 1990 I was again in Germany as a participant of a conference that was organised during the days of the unification. In the previous blog I have tried to reconstruct the chain of main events. Now I try to refresh my memories on how I observed the events when travelling round Germany in 1989 or witnessing the day of unification in the middle of a German conference.

1. Memories of the period October-November 1989

I had planned a five weeks’ tour starting from North Germany (Bremen, Hamburg), then continuing via Kassel and Göttingen to the Ruhr area (Dortmund, Düsseldorf), then having a stop in Bonn, making quick  visits to Karlsruhe and Frankfurt, then spending a Week in München (Munich if you insist) and then spending the last week in Berlin. My aim was to get to know the main research institutes in the field of vocational education and training (VET), industrial sociology (social shaping of work and technology) and educational policy research (with emphasis on VET). From this perspective the trip was successful – I got a lot of fresh insights and made several good contacts. In particular, my long-term cooperation with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) started from that visit. But in this blog I do not wish to go to those aspects of my study visit. Instead, I try to reconstruct how I experiences the turbulent times in the German-German history while travelling in Germany when great changes were on the way to happen.

During the first weeks in North Germany the most striking news were the arrival of the masses of refugees that were evacuated from the embassies where they had been camping. It was striking, how great their expectations were on their personal future, now that they had managed to escape and start a new life. However, they had to adjust themselves to rather inconvenient temporary accommodation before they could get settled. Also, getting used to market economy with consumer goods richly available – but with market prices – was not easy for all. People told stories of young men who had just got their first jobs and immediately tried to order top class BMWs.

During the next weeks’ travels from Kassel to the Ruhr area and to Bonn the news focused more on the mass demonstrations in different cities of the German Democratic Republic (DDR). Also, we started to get insights into the difficulties caused to the DDR economy and society by the mass exodus of people to the west. Key functionaries and key professionals had left their posts and fled away – the organisations were struggling to cope with less people available. In particular in the healthcare sector this started to be a problem. At the same time the ones who continued with protests became more determined.

During the visits from Bonn to Karlsruhe and Frankfurt I heard the first news on changes in the leadership of DDR. The top man in the leadership, president and party leader Erich Honecker had stepped down. Yet, it was not clear, whether this would be just a minor face lift with some of the oldest representatives of the ancien regime stepping aside, whilst younger technocrats would try to save the regime.

During the week in München the uncertainty of the future course was still there. There were new waves of refugees via embassies. The demonstrations were continued with growing number of participants. And some other key persons in the leadership of DDR stepped down. Yet -what was to be expected. My host organisation, the sociological research institute ISF had planned a comparative project on industrial relations and working conditions in several countries and they had invited a promising young researcher from DDR to join in the consortium. She was also invited to give a speech on this topic in an event of the Civic Academy of München. Her speech was received well and the discussion started exploring other issues of public interest. When asked directly of her opinion on the recent events, the speaker shocked her audience by stating that she will not return to DDR. She had no confidence that the things would turn better.

During the week in Berlin I got the chance to understand what it means to live in a divided city and in an insular city that has been surrounded by walls. Indeed, the Berlin wall was there and you had to climb to the terraces on the western side to see the Brandenburg gate and the sites in the East. The protests kept going on and the West-Berliners were getting sure that the regime in the East is losing control. A taxi-driver’s comment was symptomatic: “They have mismanaged their economy and the political leaders have no control. If they get a chance for free election, they will vote for unification.” At that time many key persons in the protest movement were still hoping to find an alternative course for their DDR – not to push through a unification with the superpower in the west.

Few days after my return to Finland the ancien regime lost the control irreversibly, the wall was opened, the offices of the secret service were abandoned and the demonstrators caught the last agents that were trying to delete documents. And the big wheels started rolling towards the unification.

 2. Memories of the conference trip to Magdeburg in October 1990

Almost one year later I had a chance to visit Germany again. I had a chance to participate in the German umbrella conference on pedagogics of vocational education and training (Hochschultage Berufliche Bildung). Originally this conference was supposed to take place in a West-German university. However, the designed host organisation had to give up the plan. Therefore, the national organising committee made an arrangement with the University of Technology in Magdeburg to organise a West-German conference in DDR. This was understood as a a friendly gesture to support the gradual coming together between the two German states after the wall had been opened.

However, real life was much faster than anyone had anticipated. The process of gradual coming together turned into rapid unification. To the great surprise of the organisers they had to cope with the decision that the final day of the conference would be the day of unification – and a new national holiday for the unified republic. The organisers decided that they will celebrate unification by continuing the conference as had been planned.

When I arrived in Magdeburg I realised that the conference was heavily overshadowed by the forthcoming unification. The mode of unification was to join the DDR area as new federal states into the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD). In this way the Federal legislation will come into force in the new states. This caused a lot of anxieties among the people who had to cope witt legal and organisational rearrangements. These discussions overshadowed many of the sessions. The East-German participants tried to highlight what they felt was appropriate in their system of VET. The West-German participants tried to show solidarity and understanding. They also were pleading for flexibility and creativity in the the process of systemic transitions in the field of VET.

Due to the timing of the conference it got some attention from top-level policy-makers. The last Minister of Education and the last Secretary of State of DDR were attended the conference and completed their missions in these positions. The Federal Minister of Education of BRD had promised to attend during the opening panel discussion. He arrived – just in time – and gave a speech with which he indicated, who is the new master in the house and whose rules count from now on. Then, contrary to his promise, he apologised that he had to leave at once because of an important appointment in his West-German home town. So, he missed the speeches of the Minister and Secretary of State of DDR (who gave their last speeches in these positions).

On the way back from the conference I and the other Finnish delegate experienced a complete traffic chaos in Berlin. We were supposed to have plenty of time from the railway station Berlin Schöneweide to the airport Berlin Tegel. But the streets were full of people who wanted to get to the City centre to witness the special session of the parliament in the Reichstag building and/or the nearby events. Also, when we finally got to the airport, the plane was kept waiting because the Members of Parliament kept coming on charter planes to attend the session. Finally, we got a permission to fly away (but we missed our connecting flight and got an extra dinner in Hamburg, courtesy to flight company). In the meantime the prominents had their celebrations in Berlin. The picture that was taken on that evening was symptomatic – we see the Mayor of West Berlin, Mr Momper, the old Chancellor Willy Brandt, the Foreign Minister Genscher, the Chancellor Kohl, his wife Ms Kohl, the Federal president Mr v. Weiszäcker waiving their hands – and just fitting to the picture the last Prime Minister of DDR, Mr de Maizière. The new era had been started.

I guess this is enough with these memories. I have had to witness important events from close vicinity. Little of this could be understood immediately on the spot. The big picture could only be reconstructed afterwards. It is time to end these stories now that the Day of German Unity is turning into evening.

The story of the day is told. More blogs to come on working issues …

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    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


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    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at http://goo.gl/LwR65t.


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    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100’s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”


    Code Academy expands

    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

    Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.


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