02 SES 05 B, Crossing Boundaries and Bridging Divides in VET
Vocational education and training (VET) is at the core of educational and political debate both at European level and in national education contexts. This includes discussion of the role that compulsory education activities could have in supporting the students´ future occupational choice. Furthermore, the current economic and political climate seem to indicate that a long-sighted strategic development of vocational education and training is needed to secure employability and social cohesion. This need is also backed by research. A recent national inquiry in Sweden found problems attracting students into VET (SOU 2015:97). The Swedish debate and research findings echo concerns being found internationally where VET systems are being challenged to improve skills development, employability and social cohesion (c.f., EFA, 2012).
There are two key issues that inform the political and educational debate related to Swedish VET that is common to other European contexts: how to tackle low application rates to the programs and how to deal with the problem of dropouts. Why this is, and has been for a long time, an issue of societal importance is twofold. First, because it is important for individual employability and for the knowledge production that is vital to the successful trade and industry. Secondly: a successful, well-functioning VET, has a positive impact on social cohesion (Lundman 1979; SOU 2015:97). Both of these aspects are vital to a nation's capability to build social capital and remain competitive internationally (Winch, 2000).
However, Swedish research has predominantly focused on investigating various problems related to vocational education and training at the upper secondary level, such as, social stratification, the classroom activities and policy development (e.g., Henning Loeb, 2012; Panikan, 2014). Internationally, more attention has been given to the development of skills and knowledge of relevance for future vocational education and training as part of compulsory education activities (c.f., Cedefop 2014; Moreno Herrera, 2000; Westerhuis, 2008).
Findings from earlier studies suggest the convenience to look closer to the learning in non-academic subjects in compulsory education as this specific learning might provide knowledge and skills of relevance for VET.
Thus, for a deeper understanding of the challenges that VET faces, it is important to develop research that bridges the gap between policy studies and empirical studies . The proposed project will to both.
The research proposed here attempts to investigate how non-academic subjects in compulsory school have contributed to conceptions of VET and occupational paths both historically and in contemporary education. Equally, it will empirically investigate perceptions of how educational practices in non-academic subjects and activities could potentially prepare individuals for vocational education. Consequently there are two main areas of attention. First, an analysis of historical curriculum development. Second, empirical work in the form of a longitudinal study with focus on perceptions of how the present non-academic subjects foster knowledge, skills and attitudes of relevance for future VET.
Based on Swedish context the study presented in this paper intends to draw valuable learning for other contexts. The theoretical foundation of the research is curriculum theory. Curriculum theory applies to the development of understanding in both the past and the present and will therefor serve to link comprehensively the two aims with the study.
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