Work-based learning: practical assignments in  Finnish vocational institutions 
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Issue Traditional full-time school-based vocational education is able neither to ensure the best possible preparation for the workforce and employment nor to meet the demands of industry, commerce and services. In Finland, the youth unemployment rate (37% in 1994 and 28% in 1998) has been about twice as high as that of adults (21% in 1994 and 10% in 1998). The recent focus of  Finnish educational policy is an endeavour to train young people for more learning-intensive work,  meaning among other things that they must be provided with core competencies, and to promote a smooth transition from school to work. Work-based learning projects organised as bridges between school and work are also designed to situate learning in the workplace so as to enable students to make contextual, meaningful and relevant use of their knowledge. This undertaking also affects the way in which curricula are reformed to promote work-based learning. (J.L. 20/11/99) The review refers to a reform which originated following a similar pattern to that of many countries: the problems to which the reforms intend to react are the crisis in full time school based education (due to the prolongation of school years as well as to the lack of change in most school-like educational patterns) as well as the high rates of youth unemployment rates (thus, misunderstanding the problem, which has to do with the economic system rather than with the educational one, though solutions are sought with more emphasis in the field of education and less changes are provided at the productive system level). (F.M. 30/11/99)
Measure The Finnish reform of  (general and vocational) secondary and adult education legislation was launched in January 1999. The earlier fragmented collection of laws, based on types of institution, was replaced by more concise and integrated regulations. The framework for these work-based learning experiments and pilots was established in the Finnish Government’s Development Plan for Education and University Research for the Period 1995-2000. This long-term plan specified the details of a reform of the qualifications offered in  vocational upper secondary education. By 2001, training for all occupational fields will be extended to last three years, including work-based learning periods of at least six months. 
    However, what is known as work practice,  provided in workplaces or school enterprises,  is not a new endeavour in  Finnish vocational education. The Vocational Education Act of 1998 specified that work-based learning periods in companies were to be included in all study fields. The wording of the act emphasises the learning component of workplace experience. The trainees are called on-the-job learners, and workplace practice is called on-the-job learning or work-based learning. 
    In 1998  the Finnish Ministry of Education and the National Board of Education launched pilot projects,  funded by the European Social Fund (ESF),  under the title Bridge from Vocational Education to Work.  As a result, 16 regional pilot projects were carried out in 1998-1999 with a view to developing school-workplace cooperation as an aspect of promoting work-based learning within the framework of the Bridge project. (J.L. 20/11/99)
Despite being the review based upon a reform, we can trace the series of reforms, changes, preparatory measures and others which have been implemented prior to the reform, around it, or even further aims planned in advance. This means that the reform cannot be found in a single regulation or document, but it is disseminated - and therefore ‘hidden’ to a certain extent - in a sequence of documents and implementations which not always seem to have the same impact and actors. 
    Measure in the review makes reference to at least 4 phases plus an evaluation programme: The Finnish Government’s Development Plan for Education and University Research for the Period 1995-2000; the Vocational Education Act of 1998; the ESF funded ‘pilot projects’ launched in 1998 under the title ‘Bridge from Vocational Education to Work’; and the Finnish reform of secondary and adult education legislation launched in January 1999. Only a single measure has been established - or at least is mentioned in the review - in the series of initiatives taken on the issue under consideration: the national follow-up study of the Bridge Project, started in February 1999.
    Furthermore, despite being educational initiatives it seems that the emphasis is put upon learning rather than teaching, while learning cannot be regulated as opposed to teaching, which is in fact the object of all these series of measures. The assumption that the relationship between teaching and learning is a casual one is far too much an assumption, as Fenstermacher (1986) has shown. However, this is the assumption upon which most educators work and upon which all introducers of reforms base their proposals. These, whenever those proposals are imposed from above (the ‘professionally’ political level) rather than raised from below (the practice level) only help that assumption become false rather than true.
(F.M. 30/11/99) 
Impact The national follow-up study of the Bridge project started in February 1999. In the students’ opinion, the on-the-job learning period had fostered most profoundly their ability to understand and accept different people, the growth of their occupational competencies, their ability to solve problems and make decisions in authentic situations, their mastering the rhythm of their job, their learning to work under pressure, the growth of their self-confidence and self-esteem, and their learning to integrate theory and practice at the workplace. However, they thought that the theoretical modules taught at school between the assignment periods could be improved as regards supporting work-based learning. 
    While the workplaces and the jobs they did there provided the students with opportunities to grasp by experience situation-specific dimensions of the work for which they were preparing themselves, the educational establishments enabled them to gain a broader understanding of their future occupation (e.g. its social function, aesthetics, and ergonomics). Work-based learning entails the assumption that students will learn in a community of experienced practitioners,  rrepresenting an attempt to situate learning in the context of its utilisation. Making use of authentic learning environments and the real-life problems that they generate is expected to improve the quality of learning. Establishing work-basedb learning opportunities requires the creation of mutually agreed networks between local enterprises and vocational education institutions. In such a context, educational and training organisations are engaged in learning through co-operation with each other rather than operating as single units or  as  individuals. As regards students, work-based learning experiences may enable them to find out where to look for employment once they have completed their vocational qualifications. (J.L. 20/11/99 - abbr. S.M.)
The findings of the evaluation of the Bridge project show, as many studies of on the job learning, that all those involved in the schemes (employers, trainers, teachers and students are usually satisfied with the experience and value it positively). Something else is the extent to which they are able to provide satisfactory explanations about the virtues of work experience, the different quality of work experience (let me assume that maybe all of them are good, but some of them must be better than others), the conditions which make it a valuable experience, its integration in the curriculum framework of the scheme, and the difference it makes with regard to those schemes in which work experience is absent (the added value of work experience), among other ‘tacit’ issues underlying the claims for on the job training. (F.M. 30/11/99) 
Reference For more details of the follow-up study discussed in this review see Lasonen 1999b. The interim results of the follow-up study on the  Bridge project are set out (Finnish) in Lasonen 1999d  and (English) in Lasonen 1999c. Further publications are available relating to the vocational education and training act (Ranta 1999a), to legistlation on vocational education and higher occupational studies (Luhtanen 1999a) and to the etseem of vocational education (Parikka 1999a). (J.L. 20/11/99 - S.M. ed.)  A critical review of work experience in different schemes in Spain (and in Spanish) is provided by Cros (the functions of work experience and its insertion into curriculum), Ros (the management of work experience and the planning of the formative placement), Montoliu (didactic processes behind training upon work experience) and Navas (assessing learning from work experience) (1999) - see Spanish homepage of the project SPES-NET.
    A classical explanation on the assumptions and relations of teaching and learning is shown in Fenstermacher 1989a. (F.M. 30/11/99 - S.M. ed.)
Author Johanna Lasonen Fernando Marhuenda

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