The Finnish curriculum reform of vocational education in 1995 
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Issue The challenges of vocational education reform have been the rapid changes  in society, working life and technology, and the high unemployment rates. The 90s have been marked by a sharp rise in unemployment, especially among young people. Thus, education must provide young people with the abilities needed to face up to an increasingly demanding labour market. The need for efficiency and productivity has demanded not only economy and cost awareness but also employees with many skills appropriate for several fields. 
    Furthermore, the reform of curricula was also affected by a number of coincident educational experiments and the need to remodel the structure. The entrance requirement for the temporary polytechnics was a completion of a vocational qualification or of upper secondary school. It was more practicable to make post-comprehensive vocational education a successive process in which the students first complete their upper-secondary studies, and then try for a place in tertiary education. (M-L.S. 24/08/99) 
The review recapitulates first general arguments that have been mentioned as background issues for many European reforms in vocational education and training (VET). Then, the review states issues that are specific to the Finnish reform concerned. The following questions may be raised:
# How can this particular curriculum reform (or curriculum revision) of the mid-1990s be related to the previous structural reform measures of the early 1990?
# How can the curriculum revision of the mid-1990s be related to the subsequent reform of the late 1990s (with a major emphasis on the enhancement of work-based learning)? (P.K. 21/11/99 - abbr. S.M.) 
Measure The structure of and the qualifications delivered in Finnish vocational education were reformed  in autumn 1995 on the upper secondary level. Major structural changes were the consecutive structure of education and dissolution of the basic programme structure replaced by about 70 upper secondary level initial qualifications. A modular qualification structure expected to be  more flexible, to increase students' range of options and to make it easier to credit them for previous studies. Cooperation with other educational establishments, working life and other interest groups was also expected to intensify further, particularly as regards developing practical training. Further, one aim of the reform was to create a new learning culture, make study methods more versatile and provide stimulus for the internal development of individual educational establishments. 
    The structural reform was complemented by a reform of the national principles on which the curricula of the various qualifications were based. The reformed programmes (renewable natural sources; technology and transport; administration and commerce; hotel, catering and home economics; social and health care services; humanities and education)  provide both a broad-based qualification and a job-specific competence (2-3 years of full-time study).  (M-L.S. 24/08/99)
The section ‘measure’ makes use of some concepts that are specific to Finnish reform concepts or have a specific interpretation in the Finnish context. In particular the following ones can be noted:
# The transition from a basic programme structure to a consecutive structure marked the official abolishment of the previous ‘joint foundation period’ that was intended to be organised as a joint provision for students and trainees that aim at different qualification levels.
# The notion ‘modular qualification structure’ refers to modularization within a holistic framework. Thus, modules are introduced as internal elements of ‘whole curriculum’ constructs, not as atomistic constituents of an open modular universe. (P.K. 21/11/99 - abbr. S.M.)
Impact To find out how the curriculum reform has been implemented in practice, the National Board of Education commissioned a follow-up study by the Institute for Educational Research in 1996-1997. The purpose of the study was to examine how the curriculum reform has been carried out in different training sectors and how successfully, in the opinion of principals, teachers and students, the reformed curricula have worked within individual vocational education institutions. 
    The reform was intended to increase flexibility and extend student choice as well as to make credit transfer easier. It  seemed that establishments were offering flexible studies and giving students a range of options. Further, students seemed able to make use of such opportunities even if there were still practical obstacles hindering the concrete extension of student choice. Students felt that educational institutions still had difficulties with awarding them credits for their previous studies. Experiences of the first year suggested that informing students about the qualifications and studies available was one of the biggest problems involved in the implementation of the reform. The flow of information seemed to be a central factor in the reform's implementation within an establishment.  The experiences gained during the first year of the reform showed that collaboration on designing and implementing the curriculum has mainly involved the teachers of each individual educational establishment. Cooperation with other educational institutions, representatives of working life and students has received less attention. Results from the first year of the experiment do not allow us to draw very far-reaching conclusions about whether or how things are changing.
    The objectives of the curriculum reform include considering curriculum design as a continuous process of interaction and collaboration between teachers, students and representatives of working life. Curricula of vocational education and training are again under reform. Curricula will be revised with a view to enable students to conduct personally designed studies. Students will be allowed to incorporate studies completed in other establishments into their final qualifications. A new law (639/98) of vocational education and training comprises also a half year's period of work-based learning for improving co-operation between educational establishments and enterprises.. (M-L.S. 24/08/99) 
The final section describes how research activities have been used to get feedback of the reform implementation. The approach that was chosen was to launch a short-cycled project that studied the implementation during the first year. The research design was closer to ‘implementation research’ or to ‘evaluation research’ than to ‘accompanying research’. Thus, the research project analysed whether some of the reform goals had an actual impact on the actual practice. 
    The review gives some insights what can be concluded on the basis of student behaviour (perception of the new flexibility) and on teachers’ cooperation (experiences on new kind of cooperation). The general impression is that the time was very short to introduce major changes and have a manifest impact. (P.K. 21/11/99 - abbr. S.M.)
Reference The results of the study of curriculum reform -95 in vocational education and training has been described in the report by Stenström 1997b (in Finnish). A summary of the students’ experiences of the reform has been included in the IVETA presentation Stenström 1997a (in English). (M-L.S. 30/09/99)  The full text of the comment is provided by Kämäräinen 1999a. (S.M. 21/11/99)
Author Marja-Leena Stenström  

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