The purpose of the thesis was to explore what students within vocational education are expected to learn and the practices that constitute vocational education in Swedish upper secondary school. The empirical basis for the thesis is two studies, both of which have been reported separately. In the first study, twelve vocational teachers were interviewed sequentially. Classroom observations were made of the tasks their students worked with and these supplemented the interviews. The second study consists of case studies of five teachers in academic subjects within vocational education. Here sequential interviews of the teachers and classroom observations of the tasks their students worked with were supplemented with group interviews of their students and, in two cases, of collaborating vocational teachers.
A social perspective on knowing and learning was used for analysing data. The results from the interviews with the vocational teachers show that what they wanted their students to learn in vocational education (their object) is related to vocational knowing but is not the same thing. Knowing in school can be regarded as preparation for work within the respective vocational area, as preparation for further learning and as preparation for citizenship. The first category relates to vocational knowing, whereas the latter two relate to a broader commission of education in late modernity – the risk and uncertainty of the future work situation that the students are likely to encounter. The tasks were analysed regarding their content, form, and the tools used for completing the tasks. Three categories of tasks were construed: school tasks, simulated tasks and vocational tasks. School tasks are characterised by that they employ the practice of school, whereas the vocational tasks employ the practice of the respective vocation. Simulated tasks are specific in that they allow a testing and correction of the result before the job is done. Through school tasks the students were introduced into a new content. Vocational tasks were used in bridging school and work. Besides the obvious tools of the respective vocation, texts were also used as tools in the work with the tasks. Most texts were vocational texts, i.e. texts that were used in similar ways in school as within the vocation.
The second study, case studies of five teachers in academic subjects within vocational education, focused the infused tasks their students worked with. These results showed that the teachers used three different steering documents for planning their work: the national curriculum for upper secondary school, the objectives of the respective programme, and the syllabuses for their subject. By using all three documents, they were able to construct infused tasks. These tasks made it possible for the students to see other aspects of their respective vocational area than within the vocational subjects, e.g. the environmental work, historical aspects etc. The texts the academic teachers used were not the same as those used by vocational teachers. These texts were texts ‘imposed by others’ (e.g. local authorities) but also used for work within the vocation.
The ‘theorisation’ of vocational education, that has been claimed to be a consequence of the academic subjects, can be seen rather as a change within the vocations from an oral to a literate culture. In completing many of the tasks observed, theoretical knowledge from different domains, as well as skills were needed. Vocational education as a purely ‘practical’ education is therefore a myth. A variety of texts were used within vocational education for the work, mostly as tools. The literate practices of vocational education are similar to the literate practices of the vocations rather than to those of school. New tools seem to change working life and vocational education as well. This implies that a different kind of vocational knowing is needed. When employers control or simulate production processes instead of doing the manual work, vocational knowing becomes something else. This new kind of work is dependent on a different kind of experience. Thus the theorisation of the vocational education is a theorisation – or rather an abstraction – on many levels. Some of them have been developed within the vocations, others are imposed from the outside.
Three social practices, vocational education, working life and academic education, formally have a joint responsibility for the vocational education. Depending on if and to what extent they collaborate, the learning practices offered to the students will differ. With collaboration, as in these two studies, the students encounter learning practices where the content from each of the three contexts can be experienced as reembedded into new contexts.
Stockholm: HLS Förlag, 2003. , 101 p.
2003-05-09, Aula Konradsberg, Lärarhögskolan i Stockholm, Konradsbergsgatan 7 A, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)