Inter-school cooperation and personal study programmes in the youth education experiment 
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Issue The purpose of the youth education experiment was to study how inter-institutional co-operation could be used to improve upper secondary education, to meet changing demands for knowledge and qualifications, to join general and vocational education and to make flexible, individual study-choices possible. 
    However, the initiative was strongly influenced by functional problems within the educational system, especially those related to status differences between vocational and academic tracks in post-compulsory education. The number of comprehensive school graduates entering general upper secondary school was continuously increasing (up to 60 %). The expansion of university sector was clearly behind the number of students taking the Matriculation Examination, which traditionally provided the eligibility for higher education. As a consequence, the matriculated students were flooding in front of the doors of universities. Finally, approximately two thirds of them ended up in vocational education (often on the upper secondary level). There were problems like interruption of studies, prolonged education and lack of motivation. Further, the students were going through overlapping syllabuses without being credited for their previous studies. The barriers between vocational and academic education were fairly high. (P.V. 26/8/1999) 
The problems of academic drift and (to a lesser extent) waiting loops are shared with other European countries. Almost all countries are pursuing greater flexibility. Other countries therefore have an interest in learning from the Finnish experiment. (D.R. 31/07/00)
Measure The youth education experiment was introduced in 1992. The key word of the experiment was systematic cooperation between vocational and academic upper secondary schools. Local groups of vocational and general education institutions agreed to form sixteen experimental units. At the local level, each educational establishment was allowed to decide for itself whether to participate in the experiment or not. 
    The aim of cooperation was to offer the students more flexibility to choose studies from their own school as well as from the other schools and to combine academic and vocational studies in their study programmes. As a general rule, the students could complete the conventional final qualifications - the Matriculation Examination in the academic upper secondary school and vocational certificates in vocational schools - including studies from other schools, too. In addition, it was possible to study for the Matriculation Examination and a vocational diploma concurrently or earn so-called combination certificate consisting of both vocational and general subjects. No special curriculum was designed for the experiment; the students could individually decide whether to utilize the increased options or not. (P.V. 26/8/1999) 
There are at least three possible strategies which the reform may have pursued:
(i) extending the curriculum of each track by broadening choice 
(ii) pathways engineering (OECD 1998a) - influencing participation in the different tracks, or subsequent progression, by changing incentives and opportunities
(iii) reducing the cultural and other barriers between general and vocational education. 
At one level the reform appears modest in relation to the deep-seated structural issues described above. At another level it appears to be a much longer-term strategy, concerned with reducing cultural divisions through institutional linkages. (D.R. 31/07/00)
Impact The second age group participating in the experiment was followed up (1993-1998) in order to examine how and to what extent the students utilize the flexibility for study choices (what kind of course choices they make, what kind of study programmes they construct and how vocational and general studies are combined in the study programmes). Moreover, the students' motives and reasons for their study choices were of primary interest.
    The experiment significantly increased the students' opportunities to select studies from different schools as well as utilizing of these opportunities. For example, about 25 % of students selected studies from a school other than their own. 
    Separate interest-based and skill oriented courses were most popular. More extensive studies combining academic and vocational subjects and the parallel completion of a vocational qualification and the Matriculation Examination were not that common choice. About a tenth of the vocational students and a tenth of general secondary school students selected some studies across the line between vocational and academic education. 
    Vocational students chose general upper secondary school courses in order to improve their readiness and qualifications for further education, especially for studies at AMK institutions (polytechnics). Foreign languages were chosen with a view to acquire language skills useful also in working life. General upper secondary school students chose vocational studies as a part of their plans for further studies or in order to acquire practical skills needed in everyday life. Vocational studies, like interest-based or skill-oriented studies, were chosen because the students found them interesting and to give variety to studying, too. All in all, the students made their choices after careful consideration and with a view to achieving special goals. Thus, increased freedom of choice did not lead the students to look for the easiest option. 
    The increased flexibility meant for the students a meaningful opportunity to follow their personal interest in constructing study programmes. The possibility to have a say in the contents of one's own studies was found motivating. For some of the students the youth education experiment meant a "third way" between traditional general and vocational education tracks.  (P.V. 26/8/1999) 
The reform appears to have achieved strategy (i) but not (ii) or (iii), but (iii) would take longer. The reform enhanced the curriculum within each track but did less to bridge the two tracks - although there is a suggestion of a ‘third way‘. Relatively few students mixed general and vocational courses, and even when they did the orientations of general and vocational students were different, and few attempted dual qualifications. Were the demands too great? Or were there other countervailing incentives? 
    Our analysis of the Scottish 1980s reforms suggested that the ‘intrinsic logic’ of a flexible modular system had less influence on student decisions than the ‘institutional logic’ of the institutional, social and labour-market context. Flexibility may increase opportunities but does not itself supply the incentives to take advantages of these opportunities. (D.R. 31/07/00)
Reference An  overview of the youth education experiment and its background is available in Numminen 1995a. A model of inter-school co-operation in which the students studied for the double qualification (the Matriculation Examination and a vocational diploma concurrently) is profiled in Vuorinen & Mäkinen 1999a. Detailed evidence of students' motives for making study choices is investigated in Mäkinen & Vuorinen 1997a and in Finnish in Vuorinen 1997a. The results of the follow-up study on the youth education experiment students are summarized (in Finnish) by Vuorinen and Valkonen 1999a (with English abstract). In addition, the changes and challenges in study councelling influenced for instance by inter-school co-operation are analysed in a research project by Lairio 1999a. (P.V. 29/10/1999)  On the concept of flexibility and some of the issues arising from the Scottish reforms see Raffe, Croxford and Howieson (1994a) and Raffe (1994a). (D.R. 31/07/00) 
Author Paivi Vuorinen David Raffe

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