02 SES 03 A, Analytical Lens on VET: Social Justice and Inequality
This study aims to develop knowledge regarding the role of vocational subjects in the civic education of upper secondary schools, on a curriculum level. Most research on civic education and critical thinking is in the general subjects, often focusing on social science. Research in vocational education and training (VET) programmes in upper secondary school is no exception, especially in a Swedish research context (cf. Ledman 2014, Norlund 2011). However, vocational subjects dominate VET-programmes and the VET-policy in Sweden, and many other countries, moves in a direction towards more workplace-like education (Baynall 2000, Nylund 2013). Without knowledge about the potential role of work-oriented subjects in developing the students’ critical thinking, we have only partial understanding of civic education in upper secondary VET.
A consequence of the organisation of education in class societies is that subordinate social groups tend to encounter a curriculum where knowledge is more context-bound (Bernstein 2000). This characterization is relevant to Sweden’s (cf. Lundahl and Olofsson 2014), and most other countries (cf. Bol et al. 2014, Ho 2012), upper-secondary vocational programmes, which primarily attract working-class students and socialize them for working-class jobs (Lauglo 2010). Another general pattern is that vocational routes are segregated in terms of gender (cf. Hjelmér, Lappalainen, Rosvall 2014, Lappalainen, Mietola & Lahelma 2013). In this study we acknowledge the variables social background and gender through the empirical sample and choice of theory (see below). The study presents an analysis of three different vocational programmes representing three distinct vocational contexts; The Care programme (female dominated), The Vehicle programme (male dominated) and The Restaurant programme (neutral).
The ambition is to shed light on the position of the vocational subjects in the curriculum, in relation to civic education. Hence, the purpose of the paper is to identify knowledge discourses in vocational subjects and to discuss what this implies for the social distribution of knowledge in relation to class (Bernstein 2000) and gender (Connell 1987). The main research question is: how is knowledge contextualized and what does this imply for what type of knowledge the students are offered?
The empirical data consists of policy documents, national curriculum and syllabuses.
Questions such as the following are addressed:
* What is the relation between goals on different levels of the curricula (overarching goals, exam goals, subject goals, course goals) and the vocational subjects?
* What relation does vocational subjects have to goals relating to civic education?
* What is the relation between general/academic subjects and vocational subjects in regard to the goals stated in the curricula?
* In relation to which contexts (political, technical, ethical, instrumental, etc.), and in what way (e.g. how strong), is the content in the vocational subjects bound?
* What are the similarities and differences between the different vocational programmes in relation to questions such as those stated above?
It is of great importance to generate knowledge of the possible role of vocational subjects in the schools civic education and to make possible a deeper understanding of the possibilities for VET students to access and acquire critical thinking in the work-oriented content that has come to increasingly dominate the curriculum for VET. So far this is largely unexplored. Without knowing how critical thinking is distributed through work-oriented subjects and practices, we have only partial understanding of civic education in upper secondary VET. The question is of particular interest in a Swedish context, and for countries going through a similar policy and curricula development in which goals such as employability and employer influence over the curricula is put at the fore (eg. Germany and England, c.f. Brockmann 2012).
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