Flexibility in curricula for personal study programmes in Finland
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Issue In Finland as in many other countries the upper secondary general and vocational education were traditionally strictly separated from each other until the late 1980´ies. At that time this division came visibly obsolete because of the changing demands of work and the educational needs of the young people. As a new mode of upper secondary education a merged "youth school" was introduced, but after a political debate rejected. Instead the problems of upper secondary education were to be solved by greater flexibility in academic and vocational education, personal study programmes and inter-institutional cooperation. Consequently the youth level pilot projects (also referred to as upper secondary education experiment) were launched in 1992 parallelly to the polytechnics experiment. The purpose of these pilot projects/experiments was to find alternative solutions for the development of post-compulsory education in Finland. (U.N. 29/10/99)  Throughout the Nordic region, the youth education/training systems are currently subject to sweeping reforms. In particular, a major effort is made to make “the systems” more pliant and flexible. In all Nordic countries the curricula have been amended and are no longer designed at centralised level; instead, framework programmes are drawn up allowing flexible adaptation or coordination of curricula between the various education and training institutions. Whilst the other Nordic countries have put into practice 12-year schooling for all – the “videregående skole” in Norway, “gymnasieskolan” in Sweden, “combination studies” in Finland, with increasing individualisation and flexibilisation within existing educational structures – it is notable that the differentiation of education and training has been systematised in Denmark. But this will now change (VET reform 2000), and the inspiration to build up a curricular structure which allows for composing individual study programmes has come from Finland. (S.N. 02/11/99) 
Measure The main issues in enhancing the inter-institutional cooperation were 1) increasing the optional parts in the curricula used in the pilot projects, 2) allow and encourage the students to construct personal study programmes combining general and vocational subjects from their own and other schools. The school networks in the pilot projects had 3) to develop practical solutions for cooperation in order to make the new curricular flexibility to work in practice. These changes can be called curricular toolbox (Pekka Kämäräinen).
    The main tools in local/regional school cooperation were: joint time scheduling and nongraded teaching arrangements, joint information and counselling, and joint planning of teaching and learning, especially joint study projects planned by academic and vocational teachers in cooperation. These can be called cooperation toolbox.
    The local and/or regional school networks consisted typically of 6-8 academic/vocational upper secondary schools (varying from 2 to 21); the distances between the schools varied from very close to 45 kilometres. As a result different models of joint scheduling were developed: from one afternoon´s joint cooperation time to one day per week studies in other school and up to alternating periods (5-6 weeks) or alternating years in different schools. The different models of joint schedules allowed inter-institutional studies varying from one study week to 20-30 study weeks in a three-year study programme according to the students choice. 
    In the pilot projects the demands of cooperation lead gradually to a model of nongraded vocational teaching and it was followed by new more developed models for nongradedness in upper secondary general schools as well. The nongradedness in this respect means in practice that the student can study one or more periods in another school and then come back to his/her own school. (U.N. 29/10/99) 
VET programmes in Finland have been amended so that a broader study structure with additional capacity and a core curriculum replaces the earlier, more specialised programmes. Students are offered many more alternatives and options and the curricula offer good opportunities for “composing your own education”, broader in range based on personal interests and motivation. The composition of specific courses can be a combination of vocational school subjects and general upper secondary subjects leading to a double qualification delivered in a non-graded provision structure allowing to study subjects in other schools. Thus, the basis for the traditional organising form in school education is suspended. 
However, the experience gained also reveals a number of system-related barriers which limit the students´ free choice; the various forms of  school, required to support increased flexibility and modulisation, appear to know too little about one another. It may be assumed that the new flexible system serves the interests of students with the highest levels of ability. The consequences of combination studies for the weaker students have not yet been identified; drop-out rates may increase. (S.N. 02/11/99)
Impact The results of the pilot projects can be seen both on student level, school level and inter-institutional level. 1) On student level personal study programmes combining studies from different areas and schools became possible. Consequently 36 per cent of upper secondary (gymnasium) students and 41 per cent vocational students who qualified in 1998 combined studies from several schools or other study areas, thus diversifying, deepening or expanding their study programmes in comparison to the conventional solutions. 2) On school level new and more flexible models of organising school work were developed. 3) On inter-institutional level the school networking became a new operation mode consisting of joint time scheduling, nongradedness, student counselling, teacher cooperation across the academic/vocational line and other fields of the practical school life. (U.N. 29/10/99)  The results of the pilot projects in Finland are quite impressive. Not only in Finland, however, but throughout the Nordic region there are also serious obstacles to change. Although we find in all Nordic countries a comprehensive pedagogical renewal enhancing democratisation, a shift in focus from the teacher to the learner and an extensive differentiation in educational programmes, with the focus on the single student, many ambiguities and conflicting processes can be observed. Difficult barriers appear to be the rigidity of the teacher role, the self-sufficiency of the institutions and the immutability of school structures and cultures. This is found in relation to the transfer of credits between the various forms of school, in the students´ freedom to choose among subjects, and in giving students responsibility for their own learning process. Further training programmes for teachers and development work at school (network) level is urgently needed, and will require considerable resources. (S.N. 02/11/99)
Reference Experiences and practical solutions of cooperation in the school networks are set out in Numminen & Blom 1998a (in Finnish); experiments in youth education and polytechnics experiments in Numminen, Lampinen et al 1999a (in Finnish); and development in youth education in Finland in Numminen & Virolainen (Eds.). 1995a (in English).  (U.N. 29/10/99)  A comparative analysis of the Finnish reform seen in a Nordic VET reform context is presented in Nielsen & Svendsen 1996a. A presentation of the essential features in the Danish VET reform 2000 directly based on the experience of the curricular toolbox experience in Finland is given in Christensen 1999a. (S.N. 02/11/99). 
Author Ulla Numminen Soeren P Nielsen

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