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Reference Vocational streams in Norway
What works well in this scheme? Slightly above 50% of the cohort attend vocational streams (1998 statistics). 
    Students’ statuary right to a complete 2+2 or 3 years of vocational education seems to work quite well. More young students start and complete senior secondary vocational streams, including apprenticeship training. A quite large (growing?) number chooses the third year as a year qualifying for HE. Another path to matriculation is 2+2+½ year. So far we do not know how many will choose to do the matriculation part as grown-ups. 
    The common responsibility which school authorities and working life organisations have for offering apprenticeship placements proves quite successful but for a few streams. So as to ensure structural progress in vocational education, the structure and dimension (number of places) seem to function quite well for the 16–19 age group. If there is a shortage of apprenticeship places, the school has a responsibility to offer a third year as a work based year preparing for trade certification. 
    The evaluation reports found that most students felt comfortable with the class or school community and that most teachers were positive about the reform. Teachers’ commitment is of course essential for a successful development of the reform. In many ways the reform has been a top down and fast moving process. At present the pace has slowed down, but the reform is still in transition. Everyday work in classes and the pedagogy for new competencies are central. There are examples of successful learning and good teaching as well as schools showing good practice and good results. There is also an awareness of the role of assessment and the need to work on the problems around "dual culture" in school communities.
What are the problems with this scheme? Evaluation reports point to “The Content Reform” as a special problematic field. Other findings corroborate this, and teachers’ reported experiences and descriptions of the situation tend to point in the same direction. The problems are more obvious for some groups, and in some courses, and especially marked in some of the foundation courses.  But as a problem it has a general character. The reports emphasises that this fact makes the system less effective and also concerns the fulfilment of students’ statuary rights. 
    “The Content Reform” is about everyday classroom /workshop activities. According to the evaluation reports, lack of feeling of coherence and relevance are more often reported from students than the opposite. There is for instance good reason to assume that vocational theory is “delivered” in a more generalised “wrapping” than in the old structure, with lack of integration between theory and practice as a result. 
    The causes of the problems may be multiple, but as an outcome students' learning of subject matter is affected, which again has a negative influence on personal areas like motivation and feelings of relevance - also relevance as to their perception of  “role performance”. This situation  may be a hindrance for developing, integrating and "anchoring" qualifications into personal competencies. Which again may be assumed to hinder reflective learning and the development of  "reflective practitioners". 
    Lack of work-life experiences in foundation courses are obviously problematic for many and for different reasons. But lack of real work training is also problematic for students who get one year of training at school (the third year) instead of two years in working life (apprenticeship: one year as a learner, one as a worker). Students with problems or difficulties in the school situation or with problems of joining the job market would need both more time and more "real-work" or work-life training. 
    Some of the traditional industry and craft related streams are loosing applicants, and also in some of these streams the dropout rate is especially large. In 1998, four years after the start of the reform, about 70% of students in vocational streams (with entitlement for a place) had completed a full course (3 or 2+2 year). Nearly 30%  were outside the system without completing the course. In "Engineering and Mechanical Trades" and in "Hotel and Food-Processing Trades" only about 60% had completed. In the general streams close to 93% of this age group had completed. 
    Students may have different reasons, but not being motivated for learning, or not managing the quite heavy demand on theory, both general and vocational, seem to be central. This was foreseen, or a quite common ”prophesy”: a lack of motivation for theory and an increase in learning difficulties for those students who would benefit from integrating theory in practical work tasks. An atomistic organisation of knowledge may result in a lack of integration in the learning field that many students' perceive as impenetrable codes in a surrealistic world of signs and tasks. 
What can be learned from the reform and from other schemes? A white paper following the evaluation of R94 gives guidelines for further development of the reform. A main conclusion is that “the day to day” work in classrooms and workshops should be improved. Recommendations for improving everyday work methods include establishing cooperation with working life, adapting general subjects to vocational subjects, improving the integration of theoretical and practical knowledge, and integrating practice and theory in certification tests and exams. Also, evaluation boards and schools should consider developing problem based tasks for assessment. The broad concept of knowledge will be further developed.  Project work is still mandatory: Problem based tasks and project work, together with work place learning, are recommended for differentiation purposes according to students’ abilities. 
    As seen above, the guidelines have a distinct profile towards what might be called integrative learning methods. Studies indicate that students' perception of learning goals and the expected assessment regime influence and guide their perception of their own learning. When working with projects, students' feeling of ownership to the process tend to increase, and they report learning outcome in terms of  “learning to cooperate, plan, delegate, take responsibility, cope with the systems etc”. This indicates that processes of self-reliant learning are involved, which is seen as  important for developing personal competence and for promoting entrepreneurship and similar learning outcomes. Working methods like these may also advance cooperative relations between teachers and students or teacher and teacher. It may contribute to sort out some “qualitative spots” in the system  that motivate all partners. 
    Students in senior secondary school working with projects  reported "feelings of being in charge" and "learning about real work life" as positive outcome. Learning about oneself as a person in interaction with others in school, working life and society is a cultural process as well as a social and individual. For the age group we are talking about here this is a major task, related to growing into adult roles and responsibilities. 
    One intention of R94 was, and is, to develop an educational model accommodating integrated and self-directed learning processes. But experiences so far have shown that for a significant number of students this might not apply. A rigid structure of subject matters creates a contradictory learning situation were general subjects and generalised vocational theory are an obstacle to meaningful learning for groups of students. It is also worth considering that the majority of the "drop outs" start in traditional industrial and craft/trade related streams. To provide a relevant and qualifying vocational education for more students in this age group (16-19 years), most evidence points towards a need for a curriculum which is far more focused on practical and real-life work tasks as the basic (and motivating) arena for learning. 
    To offer a relevant and motivating vocational education for most students (who have a statuary right to a relevant education), the Norwegian system could be significantly improved by creating a more flexible system. The Norwegian system should capitalise from systems where practical work and work life learning and experiences are a base for theory-learning, and systems allowing more flexible planning of students' curriculum. Actual examples may be the Brandenburg (Germany) scheme (work life learning) and the Swedish scheme (more flexible), but also other schemes have special aspects or principles worth looking into. 
    The result should be combined into a flexible system where students can choose to concentrate on practical modules and working life experiences in a chosen period, which may empower and motivate them in their “role performances" and help them see the relevance of theory as well as understand the codes. In this environment they might be motivated to continue their learning, working with both theory and practical tasks as part of the ordinary curriculum - developing skills and core competencies as well as general qualifications.
Further reading > Analysis of scheme > topic study  > National conclusions
Author Lillian Larsen (March 2000)

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