Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Short films about working people

August 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

It is a shame notice to this is so short (6 September deadline) or I would have tried to do something. And anyway I guess this competition is really geared towards professionals but it would be cool to have a more crowd sourced (amateur) version. But in case anyone  has already produced something here are the details (via LabourStart).

The third London Labour Film Festival will screen a selection of labour-related shorts throughout the film festival which takes place next month.

These short films will be screened between the feature length films.

We would like to invite you to be part of this.

We are asking people to submit short films to the festival.

The films and videos submitted can be made in the UK or anywhere in the world.

The films will be labour-related, they can be about any and every aspect of work, as well as those issues affecting unionised workers and those not represented by unions.

The selected (winners) will be chosen by a global panel of judges and shown as part of the festival.

The shorts selection competition is open to anybody. The purpose of the contest is to discover the hard work of filmmakers whose voices have yet to be heard.

Click here for full details and an entry form.

Talking to Trolls

August 19th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I like Owen Jones. I ma reading his excellent book – The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It - at the moment. In the introduction to this video he says: “I joined Twitter in 2009 because it seemed like a really powerful way of getting your beliefs across. Before too long, my first trolls arrived and started hurling all sorts at me. It ranged from jokes about it being past my bedtime, to petty insults, to full on homophobic abuse. But I think if you met these trolls in person they wouldn’t dream of speaking to you like that. So I went to Dorset to meet one of those Twitter trolls (@pasparakis) to find out exactly why he does it.”

Graduate jobs, skills and productivity in the UK?

August 19th, 2015 by Graham Attwell
There has been much commenting in the press today over a report from from the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which claims that 58% of UK university-leavers are entering jobs that do not require a degree, with graduate over-qualification now at “saturation point”.
The Guardian says reports that “the mismatch between the number of university leavers and the jobs appropriate to their skills has left the UK with more than half of its graduates in non-graduate jobs, one of the highest rates in Europe,
The Huffington Post quotes Ben Wilmott, CIPD’s head of public policy, as blaming New Labour’s 1999 landmark pledge to send 50% of young people to university, and  the Government’s failure to create high-skill jobs.
Wilmot called for better careers advice, a renewed emphasis on driving up apprenticeship numbers and a re-think of the disparity between further and higher education funding. “We had the assumption that increasing the conveyer belt of graduates will allow the UK to transition into a higher-skilled economy, but research shows that if you compare graduates and non-graduates who are doing the same or a similar job, skill requirement is not enhanced by the presence of a graduate”, he said.
The report raises a series of issues. Firstly just what is a graduate job. The definition appears to stem from Reasearch by the Institute for Employment Research at warwick Univeristy which led to the division of jobs in the Standard Ocuaptional Classification system used int he Uk into 5 different categories.
The Prospects web site summarises them as follows:
1. Traditional graduate occupations
These are the established professions for which a degree has historically been required.
Solicitors, research scientists, architects and medical practitioners are all examples. They typically require the post-holder to be an expert in a very specific area.
2. Modern graduate occupations
The expansion of higher education in the 1960s, and the development of new professional fields in areas such as IT, have resulted in the development of a range of newer professions requiring graduate-level qualifications.
Software programmers, journalists, primary school teachers and chief executives are all examples of modern graduate occupations. They require the post-holders to be ‘experts’, but also often to have more strategic or interactive responsibility than a traditional graduate job.
3. New graduate occupations
These are areas of employment that are often rapidly expanding in today’s labour market. The nature of these jobs has changed relatively recently to mean that the most accepted route into them is via a graduate-level qualification.
Marketing, management accountancy, therapists and many forms of engineer are examples of new graduate occupations. They typically require a higher level of strategic responsibility or of ability to interact with others, and less need for them to be an expert in a topic.
4. Niche graduate occupations
This area is expanding. Many occupations do not require graduate-level qualifications, but contain within them specialist niches that do require degrees to enter.
Nursing, retail managers, specialist electrical engineers and graphic designers all fall into this category. Often they require a combination of skills, such as managerial and expert skills, but equally often the need is for an ‘all-rounder’ with a range of abilities.
5. Non-graduate occupations
All jobs that do not fall into the previous four categories are considered ‘non-graduate occupations’.
Obviously there are questions as to whether objectively a university degree is a necessary or best qualification to be say a physiotherapist or a marketing manager. And does university really teach students to take on “strategic or interactive responsibility”?
Is the expansion in university education in the UK driven by  the need for graduates in employment or is the high number of graduates leading to qualification inflation?
At a more macro level it appears that as CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese says there was an “assumption that we will transition to a more productive, higher-value, higher-skilled economy just by increasing the conveyor belt of graduates”, a policy he believes to be  flawed. The UK government policy of labour market deregulation may have been successful in creating jobs, but many of these are low paid and part time. Productivity in the UK is stubbornly low.
In a paper published on the Social Europe web site entitled “How ‘structural reforms’ oflabour markets harm innovation“, Alfred Kleinknecht, Professor of Economics of Innovation at  Delft University of Technology argues that easier hire and fire and higher labour turnover will, in various ways, damage learning
and knowledge management in the ‘creative accumulation’ innovation model that is based on accumulation of firm-specific knowledge. Besides, lower wage cost pressure will lead to an ageing capital stock, owing to a slow adoption of labour-saving technologies.”
With low productivity and a slow adoption of new technologies, there is simply limited demand for graduate employment. But at the same time university graduation has become almost a rite of passage in the UK. Much has been made of the higher wages that graduates earn during their careers. This is supposed to more that offset the now very substantial university fees in the UK and the resultant high levels of debt on graduating. But of course this represents a historical figure and it is easy to see that such premiums may no longer apply in the future, especially as companies like Ernst and Young announce they will remove a degree from the job recruitment requirements. And despite the rhetoric of developing and promoting apprenticeship routes to skilled work, the reality remains that many of the so called apprenticeships in the UK remain on the low skilled spectrum of employment. And funding cutbacks are particular savage in the Further education (vocational college) sector.
All in all it is hard to see any joined up policy here, apart from a blind belief in austerity and that the markets will sort it out. But it does point to the need for integrated policy making linking education, labour market and innovation policies. That seems to have been absent in any recent Government, Labour, Coalition or Conservative.

Open Education and Libraries

August 19th, 2015 by Graham Attwell
The NMC, the University of Applied Sciences (HTW) Chur, the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB), Hannover, and ETH-Bibliothek Zürich have jointly released the NMC Horizon Report  2015 Library Edition. They identify six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in technology  across three adoption horizons over the next one to five years, providing, they say, a valuable guide for strategic technology planning  for library leaders and staff.
“The trends identified by the expert panel indicate that libraries are doing a better job of making their content more accessible and adapting library spaces to meet the needs of the contemporary, connected academic community,” says Rudolf Mumenthaler, Professor of Library Science at HTW Chur and co-principal investigator of the report.
Interestingly, amongst other trends, the report identifies “Makerspaces” and “Online Learning” as technologies and digital strategies that are expected to enter mainstream use in the first horizon of one year or less. “Information Visualization” along with “Semantic Web and Linked Data” are seen in the second horizon of two to three years; “Location Intelligence” as well as “Machine Learning” are seen emerging in the third horizon of four to five years.
The focus of the NMC report, which sees libraries as increasingly important toteaching, learning, and creative inquiry, is academic and research libraries.
Yet with the rising recognition of the importance of access to knowledge and data and with renewed interest in ideas such at the smart city, it would appear possible that the same themes might be important for libraries open to the public, outside the more closed academic sphere. Indeed with the growth of Open Education and MOOCs libraries could be seen as playing a key role in supporting more open forms of learning. Therefore it is ironic that even whilst organisations like the European Commission champion the slogan of Open Education, the policy of austerity is leading to drastic cutbacks in library provision in many country including the UK, leading to closures of libraries, cutbacks ins staffing and freezes in new stock acquisition. And libraries, along with community and adult education are regarded as something the state should no longer provide, something provided by voluntary organisations or not at all. And whereas m,mainstream school and university education can be prepared for the market as a prelude to full privatisation, few corporate bodies see a profit to be made from libraries.

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 …

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