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Vocational streams 
Conclusions (> Konklusjoner)
National conclusions: Norway

Lillian Larsen
HIAK, Akershus College

April 2000

Leonardo project frame
Reform update 
Main conclusions
Reflections

Reference to national case study on NO: Vocational streams and to topic study DE/NO/SE on integrated learning processes.


Leonardo project frame 

In the INTEQUAL phase of the Leonardo partnership an upper secondary education reform, referred to as “Reform 94 (R-94)”, was the object of the Norwegian study. In the first phase major features of the reform were studied. A summary update of main issues is recapitulated in the DUOQUAL Base. In the second INTEQUAL phase Norway took part in the “Integrated Learning Processes” topic team. In the Norwegian topic conclusions one summon up on R-94 was: ”The integrated human being' is heralded as the ultimate aim. 'Integrated learning processes' is advocated through students' self-reliant learning, problem based learning methods and cross-disciplinary project work and studies”. 
    This is quite an ambiguous aim for changing a rather traditional institution like the comprehensive vocational school into a dual system  where all young people of 16 - 19 years have a statuary right to a place. So how has it worked out so far? 
 

Reform update 

n the work. A Norwegian White Paper  came as a follow up of the evaluation results. Conclusions and results from these documents are presented elsewhere in the DUOQUAL Base, too. 
    The focus here is on results and actions concerning what White Paper refers to as the ”Content Reform” and explains as “everyday classroom and workshop learning”. This is seen as essential to students’ learning processes – and to our topic here. One common conclusion has been that the ”Content Reform” is special problematic. The White Paper states that when it comes to the “Content Reform” there is a lot more to do. Initiatives for further actions are recommended – to improve “the day to day” work in classrooms and workshops. 
    The White Paper points to areas seen as important to develop integrative learning and working methods at school:

  • To teach general subjects contextual to vocational subjects
  • Improve the integration of theoretical and practical knowledge in vocational subjects
  • Develop evaluation systems that to a greater extent integrate practice and theory in certification tests and exams 
  • Evaluation boards and schools should consider /developed problem based tasks for assessment 
  • Differentiation according to students’ abilities and work place learning should be furthered
Establishing cooperation with working life, work place learning for differentiation purposes, problem based learning methods and vocational relevance are seen as important achievements. There is a distinct profile towards what might be called integrative learning methods and some specific strategies intended to counteract fragmentation of learning processes in a system designed to develop dual qualifications. 
    As a central learning method project work and project organised learning tasks may imply many, or most, of the above qualities. The White Paper states that project works are still mandatory and that the broad concept of knowledge will be further developed. Processes of self-reliant learning are seen as important to develop action competence, entrepreneurship and similar learning outcomes. 
    In some respect the White Paper itself contributes to the development of the “broad concept of knowledge”. “Competence” is launched as being about “the will and power to use your knowledge: to employ it in specific situations as the base of action, creativity, intuition, ethical based considerations, and for best judgement”.  Developing this kind of competence asks for learning arenas also supposed to generate the “integrated human being” (Norwegian Core Curriculum). Holistic learning processes through multidisciplinary and project-organised learning methods is seen as central for obtaining such objectives.
    Students working project organised have proved themselves able to assess own learning processes and needs as working self-reliant. Feelings of ownership to own learning tend to increase and they report learning outcomes like “learning to co-operate, plan, delegate, take responsibility, cope with the systems, etc”. Perception of learning goals and expected assessment regime seem to influence how they perceive own learning. Reflecting on learning goals and own learning processes seem to give direction to how they develop and assess of own learning. Learning about self as a person is also basic for the kind of competence sought for here. 
    These perspectives change the focus from an academic based knowledge tradition to a broader concept of knowledge and skills where experiential and self-reliant learning methods are the basic arena for competence development. In order to develop relevant core skills and the broad competencies sought for, work and society relevance should be the core of this arena. The White Paper’s request for change of learning methods is said to be a ”challenge for the upper secondary school”. But still project organised, experiential and self-reliant learning methods seem to be in a stage of infancy. It is obviously a way to go before the "Content reform" can be declared successful according to intentions. But things are moving. 
    Concepts like  "action competence", "social competence",  "learn to learn", "the integrated human being” and others related to a broader concept of knowledge and personality development are discussed and more or less adopted in school communities. As project work is mandatory and self-reliant learning was launched already before the reform, schools try to meet these challenges, many in very interesting ways. There is a growing awareness about the importance both of learning methods and assessment systems, practice and work-life experiences and relevance, also connected to general and vocational theories. Part of the problem seems to be that even if most teachers and students reported themselves (evaluation reports) to be positive to the intentions of the reform, they found it difficult to make into practice.  Main conclusions 
 
  1. More students choose vocational streams and pathways leading to double qualifications. On the other hand there seems to be a growing schism between streams where students choose to qualify for matriculation and where they don’t. In more traditional streams of industry and trade so far few choose the third matriculation year. The numbers of apprenticeship places are good in these streams, but numbers of applicants are dropping in particular streams and there is a substantial problem of dropout in those. So problems of motivation represent a formidable challenge here. 
  2. The opportunity for double qualification benefit many students, but the integration of subjects and topics (practice and theory) into a qualification of general skills and holistic competence is still loose. We have seen that several strategies are recommended to overcome this problem. 
  3. Integrative methods and systems of education conducive for promoting integrated learning processes is focused on, i.e. teaching and learning methods, curricular integration and contextual relevance, synoptic modes of assessment etc.  Mandatory project work provides opportunity of multidisciplinary work tasks and self-reliant learning periods. Project works also provide opportunities to integrate general subjects into vocational practice and theory, and for working life contact. This is intended to provide an arena for developing broad competence, but is not made the most of, maybe least when it comes to vocational production projects and working life knowledge. 
  4. Learning theory through practical work tasks is a traditional way of learning vocational trades. Authoritative documents points to that this learning culture and tradition is meant to be the foundation of the new vocational curriculum, and state the necessity of cooperation with working life to achieve this objective. The sequential system of 2 years in school + 2 years apprenticeship has so far not been effective for generating cooperation between schools and working life. 
  5.  “Parity of esteem” is a problematic unit. In some ways and for some streams the attractiveness of vocational education apparently have been enhanced, in other respects and for other streams it is still to be seen. A greater problem may be students reporting lack of feeling of coherence and relevance more often than the opposite (evaluation reports).
  6. School leaders and teachers are called for to initiate and implement changes. Schools are invited to take part in reciprocal innovation works with KUF (endnote 3) where differentiation and contextual teaching of general subjects to vocational subjects are seen as a core to achieve student-participation and to accomplish other objectives. 
  7. The evaluation system is central in the “Content Reform”. Department of Education (KUF) has provided evaluation guides with examples for all streams. But the evaluation reports state the formal evaluation work to be pretty much the same as before. An interesting aspect is that new assessment systems is thought to generate other positive results like influencing school organisation and school culture. There is a growing awareness about evaluation as a pedagogical tool among teachers. 
  8. The timetable, with specific numbers of subjects and periods create a system with a rigid structure. This kind of organisational and curriculum structures appear to be incompatible with the objective of facilitating integrated and self-reliant learning processes. The White Paper removes the percentile timetable distribution between vocational theory and practice.

Reflections on national innovative schemes and international networking and cooperation

In our INTEQUAL Conclusions (endnote 1), we said that “In an international perspective Reform 94 has been successful in enhancing the attractiveness of vocational education and in paving the way for dual qualifications, but the intended aims of changing educational practices has only marginally been achieved. There appear to be contradictions in terms between the rigidity inherent in the curricular and organisational structure and the flexibility required for accommodating integrated and self-directed learning processes. Consequently, there are good reasons for reviewing organisational and curricular frames and established teaching practices in upper secondary education in Norway”.
    This is a valid statement also today. But the reform is still moving, and we don’t know if the chosen solutions and the strategies implied give the wanted results, but there are successes. One main reform goal was to “create a flexible system that provides a general education and a wide range of skills and prepares the pupils for a society in constant change” . The answer was a curriculum including basic modules preparing for matriculation (general academic subjects) and for skilled trades and working life (vocational subjects). Self-reliant learning methods ask for another teacher role and a great flexibility in the school as an organisation. We saw above that the challenge is given the upper secondary school, will they succseed?
    Different innovative schemas and models of vocational education are important to study and learn from. In this Leonardo Partnership we have perceived and studied both different and common ideas and problems in the European vocational education. International cooperation is important to continue and to develop further. 
 
__________
(1) INTEQUAL Report II, chapter 12, November 97. (Bergli, Frøyland, Larsen)
(2) Preparing for work and higher education
(3) Initiated and partly paid for by KUF (Ministry of Church, Education and Research)
(4) St  meld nr 32 (1998-99)  Videregående opplæring, translations from Norwegian to English by L. Larsen
(5) Ministry of Church, Education and Research, 1994
 

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