Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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 …

Thoughts on the Day of German Unity – Part 1: The chain of events 1989-1990

October 3rd, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

Today Germany is celebrating the Day of German Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit). As we are having a day off from work, I found it appropriate to refresh my memories on the historical events in the years 1989-1990. In the first blog I try to summarise the chain of events that led to the end of the division of Germany into two states and to the rapid unification. To me this national holiday also brings back memories of me first two visits to Germany that coincided with these remarkable days in the German history. Therefore, in the second blog I have a look at my own journeys in Germany and try to memorise, what I could observe at that time. (And since I was both times travelling on working missions, I feel that it is appropriate to post these under the heading “Working & Learning”.)

 1. DDR 40 years – the unpopular regime and its unpopular anniversary

The first thing that comes back to my mind was the preparation for the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (DDR). The old regime wanted to have a celebration that goes “by the book” – as it has been scripted and without anything that scratches the image. Yet, the atmosphere was getting bad, the economic circumstances  did not confirm the optimistic picture given by the official statistics. And, furthermore, the dissatisfaction of ordinary people becomes manifest in many ways. Finally, the celebrations take place with all the military parades and processions of the youth organisations. BUT, the youngsters do not celebrate the old guard of the regime – the praise the guest of honour: the reform communist Mikhail Gorbatshov. And he had a message to his hosts: “Those who come too late (to carry out necessary reforms) will be punished by real life.(“Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben!”)

2. The refugees vote with their feet

The most striking news of the autumn were the stories of people escaping DDR in masses. First Hungary had opened its borders to Austria and a great number of citizens of DDR had used that route to West. When the old regime tried to prevent people travelling to Hungary, the new waves of refugees took the course Prag and Warsaw and climbed over the fences to the embassies of the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD). The situation was inconvenient since the number of these refugees grew, the circumstances in those ‘refugee camps’ on embassy grounds became unbearable and the diplomatic tensions grew. Finally, a compromise was found to send these refugees to West-Germany via East-German territory with special trains. The West-German foreign Minister Genscher came to the balcony of the West-German embassy in Prag to announce this: Ich bin hier angekommen um Ihnen mitzuteilen, dass morgen Ihre Ausreise …” (He never had the chance to finish his sentence once he had spoken out the German word for permission  to travel out. The cry of joy from masses gathered on the embassy grounds was tremendous.

3. The citizens’ protests grow into peaceful revolution

But not all dissatisfied people were ready to leave their home country – as they still felt like that for the GDR. New forms of citizens’ protest and opposition had grown up. Already during the municipal elections there had been activists networks that had managed to monitor the count of the votes and to reveal the manipulation of the results. In a similar way the Monday demonstrations started to demand that the state should respect the civil rights that had been written into the constitution. When the demonstrations started to grow bigger, the participants felt empowered and made clear their commitment to their claims: Wir sind das Volk! Wir bleiben hier!.”

During the 40th anniversary the secret service (Stasi) and the police tried to get an upper hand by using violence, but it was already too late. Soon the demonstrations became integral parts of the daily life and the old regime had to find other answers. All of a sudden, when the peaceful demonstrations had grown over any expectations, there was no authority to order violent measures when the demonstrations shouted: “Keine Gewalt!”

4. Collapse of the old regime and the final concessions

It had already become clear that the days of the old regime were numbered. The country was experiencing an economic  collaps that was aggravated by the masses escaping to West. The government had lost its legitimacy and couldn’t keep itself in power. As its final efforts the old regime tried to survive with the help of facelifts and concessions. Firstly, the most prominent representatives of the old guard were forced to step down and their ‘crown princes’ were brought into the lead. Secondly, some major concessions were announced. The most important was the reform of the laws on travelling abroad. Shortly after the changes in the leadership, the Central Committee of the ruling party had a meeting in which the new law had been outlined – which would enable free travelling to West Germany for the citizens of DDR. A rapid press conference was announced and the  party official authorised for making such announcements was called to chair it. He had rushed from another meeting and had just got a short briefing note. In the press conference he was asked, when this reform will come into force. He had to guess and he assumed that it will come into force immediately, without any delay: “Nach meiner Kenntnis ab sofort, unverzüglich!” Again, this was a statement that turned out to be historical.

5. Tor auf! Tor auf! – Mauerfall!

The news of this press conference and of the statement of the authorised official spread throughout the country. All over the country and in particular in Berlin the border controll checkpoints were surrounded by exited people who demanded the right to visit the West. The border control officials had no information and no instructions. And – what was even worse – they did not find their superiors or the supreme authorities to give them guidance. There was no one left to answer, what to do with crowds who demand them more and more impatiently to open the gate: Tor auf! Tor auf!

The original plan of the old regime was to let people travel out freely but to stamp their DDR passport with a stamp that declares their passports invalid. Freedom to go, but not to return back. However, no one had thought that the events would take such course as they did. After few people had been fet go via border control with their passports stamped invalid from now on, there was no way to control the masses. The gates were opened and the masses were free to visit the West. West-Berlin got crowded by huge masses from the East – using public transport or driving their Trabant cars – the Trabis. And the West-Berliners join the celebrations – from both sides of the wall, people climb up on the wall to dance and celebrate – in the very places that had been the symbol of the divide. It was the collapse of the Berlin wall – Mauerfall.

 6. Big wheels start rolling – towards the German unification

After these events there was no coming back to ‘normal business’ any more. The old party structure, the secret service and the government apparatus had all lost their legitimacy. The hardliners of the old regime were moved away, whilst the realists sought dialogue with the opposition to enable the political transformation. New elections for the parliament were arranged under new legislation that brought new parties into picture. The new parliament and the new government took the course towards unification – firstly the currency reform brought the D-Mark into DDR. Then , the political processes were preparing for the unification of the two states by integrating the DDR region as new federal states to the Federal Republic of Germany.

Bigger wheels were of course rolling at the international level. The allies of West Germany had to convinced that the unification will happen and they have to accept the growth of weight of Germany in the EC and in the NATO. Also, after the collapse of the eastern military and economic block – there were concessions to be made to the Soviet Union. The retreat of the Soviet troops from DDR had to be rewarded. Altogether, the way to unification was paved by the treaty of the old allies of the World War II who gave up their role as patrons of the post-war Germany.

7. The Day of German Unification

When all the preparatory measures had been taken, the date for the unification was set. It was a matter of importance for the citizens of DDR that the unification will take place before the 41st anniversary of DDR. They didn’t want to witness any more anniversary of the division of Germany into two states. Thus, the unification took place on the 3rd of October 1990. And the parliament of the unified Germany celebrated this event in a special session in Berlin in the traditional Reichstag building – there, where the dividing wall had been torn down and no more signs of division were to be left visible.

The unification was celebrated but the return to new normality was not an easy ride. However, now that 25 or 24 years have passed of those days it is easier to look at what all has been achieved. Yet, the Germans do not forget that easily the memories of the divide, of the revolutionary transition and of the hard years of growing together. These are the issues that come up when the Day of Unification is celebrated – now the 25th time.

The story will be continued …

A good day for English education?

July 15th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

govetweet

The departure of Michael Gove as English education minister will be greeted with celebration and relief by most teachers and educationalists in the UK. But although his pronouncements and policies appeared as arrogant, narrow minded, reactionary and sometimes just bizarre, there was a direction and theme which underpinned such policies: privatisation. Gove and his policy advisers, not to mention friends and lobbyists, wanted to privatise schools in the UK. In a time when profits are hard to come by, public services represent a huge untapped market for capital. And the removal of Gove alone does not mean that the dream of giving education to the private sector has gone away.

Nicky Morgan will probably be less abrasive in pursuing such a dream. But she also comes from the right wing of the conservative party. As the Guardian reports:

Morgan, a trustee of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, voted against same-sex marriage partly because she could not reconcile it with her faith. This is likely to be the reason that Cameron split the women and equalities brief, handing the latter to Sajid Javid, the culture secretary, and leading to accusations that she was the “minister for straight women”.

She was privately educated at a girls’ day school before reading law at Oxford University and going on to become a corporate lawyer.

What is the discourse behind the Open Education Challenge

January 23rd, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I don’t know quite what to think about the Open Education Challenge. It is good that the European Commission is working to support start up companies in education and especially interesting to note the impressive list of people available to help mentor new start ups. However, 20 companies hardly represents a critical mass and secondly I am not sure that the trudging successful applicants for twelve weeks around “successive European cities: Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin and Helsinki| is the best way to do things.

And although the project is running under the new EU Open Education strap line, it is a bit hard to see just what is open about it (apart from anyone can apply). Worrying is the language of the web site: Europe will be the leading education market for years to come. Is this just another step to using technology to privatise and marketise education? True the talk is of transforming education, not disrupting it. But i am not quite sure what they mean by “All projects are welcome; the only condition is that they must contribute to transforming education.”

I am much impressed with Martin Weller’s blog on the The dangerous appeal of the Silicon Valley narrative. He argues that the popular discourse around MOOCs  conforms to the silicon valley narrative, proposing a revolution and disruption. He quotes Clay Shirky as saying  “Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC)”. It also suggests that the commercial, external provider will be the force of change, stating that “and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup”. Martin Weller goes on to say MOOCs “were established as separate companies outside of higher education, thus providing interest around business models and potential profits by disrupting the sector. This heady mix proved too irresistible for many technology or education journalists.”

So where does the EU Open Education initiative fit in terms of different discourses. Is it a project aiming at opening up education and developing new pedagogies or is it a market orientated initiative aiming to develop the Silicon Valley discourse in Europe?

 

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    Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE from the Online EDUCA Berlin 2014

    We will broadcast from Berlin on the 4th and the 5th of December. Both times it will start at 11.15 CET and will go on for about 30 minutes.

    Go here to listen to the radio stream: SoB Online EDUCA 2014 LIVE Radio.

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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.


    Consultation

    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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