Overview of topics
Concept of qualifications
CZ + FI
Summary (> Workshop)
The concept of vocational qualifications 
Changes in the scope of individual VET qualifications considered against the background of different features and educational concepts underlying national VET schemes

Petr Vicenik & Maarit Virolainen

Summary of the topic study - November 1999
(Topic study of 1999 in DUOQUAL folder)

Context
Finland
Czech Republic
Comparison 
Conclusions

Reference to national case studies on dual qualifications in the Czech Republic and in Finland.



Context

Increasingly rapid changes in working life affect qualification needs and conceptions of vocational education and training (VET) programmes. VET programmes must go beyond the requirements currently set for occupational qualification. Accordingly, VET institutions have become a significant partner influencing the structure of existing occupations alongside those institutions, which play an established role in the division of labour (technical and organisational aspects of vocational qualifications) and on the national labour market (social and economic aspects of vocational qualifications). 
The role of VET has changed from copying the qualifications demanded in working life to designing qualifications based on competencies applicable in a broad range of job tasks and functions. The topic study discusses three conceptions of VET reflecting this change and describes important features relevant to the scope of vocational qualifications in national environments, including recognition and transparency of qualifications, the character of the labour market, and the various types of educational system involved. This background serves as a framework for analysing how the scope of vocational qualifications has changed. The analyses follow the development of vocational education programmes providing dual qualifications in the Czech Republic, starting some 30 years ago, and vocational programmes involved in experiments to provide dual qualifications in Finland in the 1990s. 

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Finland

In Finland the quantitative provision of general studies within vocational education programmes has been increased parallel to moving from job-specific qualifications towards qualifications preparing students for a group or family of occupations within an individual occupational field. Between the 1970s and the 1980s the number of different school- and college-level qualifications fell from 600-700 to 250. Attempts have been made to use systematic empirical analyses to ensure that the demands of vocational preparation are taken into account in the process of curriculum design, for instance in the 1990s. After the 1995 reform there are 77 school-level vocational qualifications. However, in accordance with the aims of a new curriculum reform being implemented in 1998-2001, their number is to be increased to 100. As regards vocational upper secondary education, job-specific vocational content has been given more room while the amount of general education will not be further increased. However, an experimental scheme in which vocational and academic schools co-operate to provide vocational students with an enhanced general education component reveals a greater emphasis on general education. Within the same scheme, students who have chosen to focus on academic upper secondary education may include in their study programmes vocational modules from vocational education establishments. This experimental scheme, allowing completion of dual qualifications, became nationwide in 1999. 

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Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic upper secondary technical education programmes with a dual orientation have a long tradition. They emerged as an established sector of the national educational system in the 1970s. Two large reform measures in 1967 and 1984 led to a certain decrease in the number of study branches (thus, the number of industrial branches of study fell from 95 to 54 in 1967, while in 1984 the number of all the branches of study covered by the analysis (excluding those preparing students for the arts) fell from 88 to 70). Some new occupations involving new types of qualification requirements (e.g. data processing) appeared between these dates. Before the mid-1980s, increasing general education and basic vocational education components were incorporated into study programmes in response to analyses of the requirements of authentic job activities.

Paradoxically, the decrease in the proportion of specific vocational subject matter made schools choose the specific educational content from narrower or specialised fields that allowed the in-depth application of broader theoretical knowledge and basic vocational skills. This process, together with the maintenance of common general education and basic vocational standards in keeping with an appropriate level of vocational education, led to the construction of a shared framework setting out the most important, indispensable components of the given qualification within the context of the principal branches of study. Such principal study branches cover slightly varying vocational programmes constructed individually by different schools to prepare students for very similar job positions, functions or professions. 

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A comparison between the development in Finland and in the Czech Republic

Despite the two countries having different historical backgrounds and types of educational schemes, a similar tendency may be recorded in Finland and in the Czech Republic. In the 1990s, strict differentiation between types of educational institution began to break down in Finland as a result of a reform that made use of the modular structures introduced as an aspect of the co-operation between general and vocational schools within experimental schemes providing dual qualifications. In the Czech Republic, vocational programmes giving dual qualifications, hitherto taught exclusively at secondary technical schools, were introduced also at secondary vocational schools at the end of the 1970s. Both decisions had the same aim of abolishing strict differentiation between the institutions formerly offering different levels of (vocational) education. A second reason in both countries was a wish to improve the quality of teaching on the vocational programmes. 
The scope for job-specific vocational education and training is becoming limited due to a rising need of general education and common (basic, core) vocational education within the framework of vocational programmes. This need leads to modifications not only in educational programmes but also in conceptions of the nature of vocational education programmes as such. In the 1980s and 1990s educational programmes were designed on the basis of more in-depth analytical studies. This is one of reasons for the decrease in the number of vocational qualifications offered in initial vocational education. 
In order to avoid a deterioration in the level of skills acquired during the process of education and training, the teaching and training processes must concentrate on the most important knowledge and skills. Such knowledge and skills are connected with a broadly conceived qualifications framework. The application of knowledge and of intellectual and/or manual skills of this kind is linked with the acquisition of some special knowledge and skills that are (or could be) used as a background to the application processes. Such limited specialisation can help students adapt to broader qualifications based on regional labour market needs and promote the emergence of educational programmes based on continually changing qualifications.
A constantly changing system of educational qualifications constructed according to the above principle could provide a valid and credible framework for VET. The most important pillar of such a framework is a standard of vocational education generally accepted as credible. Such a generally respected standard of vocational (and/or technical) education can be achieved and maintained when the qualifications offered also include eligibility for higher education.

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Conclusions

The analytic framework applied here proved useful for identifying some common tendencies in the changes taking place in the scope of vocational qualifications in the different educational systems of Finland and the Czech Republic. It enables an analysis of the relation between national structures and educational processes and of the problems involved in their relations at the same time as the national data provided a basis for considering the framework itself empirically. The framework reveals relations between general/academic and vocational components of the educational contents of vocational programmes intended to provide more broadly applicable vocational qualifications that also include an appropriate level of personal development, that is, qualify students for higher education. Besides the results mentioned above, one important additional feature was noticed. A shift was evident from conceptions of VET based on spontaneously designed VET programmes to more sophisticated schemes taking into account the different functions of general education, basic and specific vocational components of the educational contents. This involves not only subject matter or contents but also the instruction and the teaching methods, which as regards the conceptional framework provide students with broader competencies and qualifications better capable of being adapted in the specific fields or branches of study. This change results from a shift to a more active role of VET in the process of building national qualification structures. 

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Latest update: 08/12/1999
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