The principal branches of  study in Czech vocational education
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Issue The development of the system of branches of study in vocational education since 1990 has not proceeded according to a clear-cut concept. The schools, which felt to be constrained in their own initiatives especially in adaptation of qualifications for regional needs before 1990, were permitted by instructions of the Ministry of Education to change curriculum up to a given range (10% of the week training periods and/or 30% of the content) or  to supply their own curricula. 
    The permitted loosening of the curricula was utilized for the incorporation of new findings from the development of science and technology and the topical questions of the transformation of the national economy. Some, especially private schools tried to complete their own profile or to create specific orientations of education to be visible on the “education market”.  This process led to a weakening of the common conceptual principles and to an increase in the number of branches of study after 1990.
    Measures directed to support common rules for introducing general subjects and basic vocational subjects and to preserve a consistent system of qualifications have led to the design of the Secondary School VET Standard (SSVS) approved in 1997.  The SSVS gives common requirements on general education and key (generally applicable) skills for all vocational programmes  at secondary and upper secondary levels of education. These requirements are common for all educational programmes at the same level of education.  The SSVS gives also common aims and contents of basic vocational subjects for 23 different groups of vocational education.
    Due to the fact that the common rules for introducing general educational subjects and basic vocational subjects were more or less accepted even before the SSVS, the increasing number of branches of study did not lead to narrow qualifications as it could appear from the titles of the individual branches of study. There was not a quite clear context of the titles and the qualifications in question.  (P.V. 22/09/99)
The basic starting points and aims largely correspond to what has also in Finland been publicly articulated as the aims of and grounds for developing vocational education and training. The rapid change of working life demands flexible education and training; with a view to focusing this flexibility on the promotion of employment, it has been considered sensible to make the relevant decisions at local and regional level. 
    Another feature that unites our systems is the goal of producing both general and vocational competencies - young people are provided with basic vocational skills as broad-based as possible so that they will be able, in working life, to adjust to rapid change and, if needed, to return to education for retraining. This principle is also an essential aspect of the ideology of lifelong learning. (M.K. 08/05/01)
Measure The concept  of 'principal branches of study (PBS)' was introduced as the basic tool for the structuring, classification and differentiation of the branches of study.
    The term 'principal branch of study' refers to a group of branches of study, i.e. education programmes, which have the following characteristics: while they may differ in their titles, education plans, minor concept objectives, the arrangement of their education paths or their contents, they are conceived in such a way that their graduates are trained for the similar jobs or working positions in one and the same field of human activities.
    The Classification of the Principal Branches of Study (CPBS) has replaced the former Uniform Classification of Education Branches since September 1998. The CPBS presents the titles of the PBS and differentiates them into categories according to the acquired level of education. Some PBS, e.g. PBS providing dual qualifications, are included into two categories.
     The L category (complete secondary education with apprenticeship and a Maturita) includes the PBS which provide complete secondary vocational education achieved by the following routes: the Secondary Vocational School (SVS) education programmes with a Maturita, and the SVS or Secondary Technical Schools (STS) education programmes with a Maturita for those who successfully finished three-year apprenticeship (extension study).
    The M category (complete secondary vocational education with a Maturita - without apprenticeship) includes the PBS with Maturita graduation except for programmes included under the L category, i.e. the PBS which provide complete secondary vocational education with a Maturita (without apprenticeship). It involves  the graduation from the STS education programmes plus some other education programmes of the post-Maturita studies.
    The CPBS sets forth 78 PBS in the category L and 98 PBS in the category M, while 67 of the mentioned PBS can include education programmes of both categories.  (P.V. 22/09/99)
From an educational policy perspective, the central challenge is to find a balance between two aims that may sometimes conflict with each other. "The needs of working life" can comprise short-term needs that do not parallel the personal needs of an individual and the perspective of lifelong learning. 
    Specialisation of educational establishment is a clear trend in countries where education has traditionally been supervised on a relatively centralised basis. A wide-ranging education and training provision and specialisation do not always complement each other; specialisation carries the risk that learning becomes too narrowly focused.  
    The question of general and special skills is the subject of continuous discussion. There is no solution that would meet the needs and expectations of all the involved parties as regards striking a balance between general skills and special vocational skills. Not even the needs that working life has concerning special skills are clear-cut, being determined by the ways in which work is organised and by the size of each workplace. (M.K. 08/05/01)
Impact PBS are important for a new concept of a 'two stage curriculum' for all vocational education programmes. The concept presupposes an obligatory part of the curricula (1. stage guaranteed by the state - state curriculum) and a part of the curricula (2. stage) which is elaborated by schools according to their orientations, regional needs or changes on the labour market.
The state curriculum will cover characteristics, aims, goals, competencies and contents connected with general education and basic vocational education (SSVS) and the profile vocational education and training, which give a broad basis of  the PBS qualification.
    The part designed by a school can introduce some specialisation which respects the broad qualification given by PBS. The specialisation serves for increasing adaptability to some special activities or working functions in the broader framework of the respected qualification, but the main instructional task of  the school part curriculum is to give a background for training in application of knowledge, mental and/or manual skills acquired by means of the obligatory part of the curricula.  (P.V. 22/09/99)
On the basis of the review, the two-stage curriculum structure seems well-defined, making it possible, on the one hand, to set national vocational competence goals and providing, on the other hand, enough flexibility to make allowance for local and regional conditions. However, in these contexts it must always be asked what degree of confidence in the local agent any given delegation of decision-making powers by central administration implies. Delegation is actually about permitting variation. The interests of the student and the local employer do not always coincide, at least in the short term. The skills demanded today by the local employer do not necessarily guarantee that the young person will find employment in the future or with another employer. Accordingly, the objectives of a national educational policy should be defined unambiguously and in terms of longer-term needs.
    Given the rapid changes taking place in working life, initial vocational education must create, above all, competencies in constantly expanding one's knowledge and skills. The starting point can no longer be that vocational education and training produces finished workers. From a Finnish perspective, the Czech model seems to be aiming at the same production of competence as Finnish vocational education. The young person learns basic skills that will allow them to apply for a broad range of jobs, not just within their principal branch of study but even beyond it. At the same time, their competence is to be developed in ways that generate both a motivation and an ability to learn new things throughout their active working age.
    The model of work-based learning, such as that of the Czech Republic, that is a part of the Central European tradition emphasises hands-on skills more than does the Finnish school- centred system, only now expanding the workplace learning component of vocational training. However, workplace instruction always means instructing students in the vocational skills characteristic of the specific workplace; thus, there is the danger that it will restrict the young person's opportunities to learn those general aspects of their occupation that would expand their employment prospects.
(M.K. 08/05/01)
Reference The following aspects can be traced in the indicated sources: the methodology, construction, codes and full structure of  PBS in  (CPBS 1998); the framework of the SSVS, its aims and content covered by it in (SSVS 1997); the abstract of the SSVS (in English) in Vicenik, Lejckova  et al. 1999a, p. 23; the relationship of the general and vocational components of vocational education programmes in the Czech Republic in Vicenik, Lejckova et al. 1999a, p. 27, see also European comparison of dual qualifications online; the development of qualifications in the Czech Republic from the past to the present in Vicenik, Virolainen et al.1999a, p. 12, see also summary online. (P.V. 22/09/99)   
Author Petr Vicenik Matti Kyrö

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