ERG SES E 07, Policies in Education
In most education systems students have to choose between vocational and general upper secondary education after compulsory education. Countries differ in regard how strong the separation into different tracks is. Finnish upper secondary education is an example of strongly dualistic system. The main goal of general upper secondary education is to prepare students for studies in higher education. In the end of the studies students carry out the matriculation examination which tests students’ level of knowledge, skills, and maturity. Vocational upper secondary education prepares students for working life. Formally both give full eligibility for higher education. (Ministry of Education and Culture 2017.) In reality, only few from vocational education enter university, and no more than 23 % of the new students in universities of applied sciences has a vocational degree (Official Statistics of Finland 2017).
However, a student has a right to carry out also two degrees: vocational degree and matriculation examination diploma, and if she wishes full syllabus of general upper secondary education (Gyldén et al. 2009). This special study route is the interest of this study, and will be referred as “double degree studies”. The research question is
- What is the role of double degree studies in Finnish education system and policy, and how has this role changed since the 1980s?
The results will be contrasted with upper secondary education policy of Sweden. However, the focus of the research is in the Finnish system.
The conflict on tracking in upper secondary education is a persistent issue in education systems. On the one hand, how to provide everybody with equal opportunities in life, and, on the other hand, how to prepare students for differentiated and specialized labor markets? (Shavit & Müller 2000; Blossfield et al. 2016.) In order that education system could provide everybody with equal opportunities in life, student should be taught with the same curriculum and in the same classrooms and education settings. However, in order to prepare students for the specialised labor markets, the education experience has to be differentiated. Labor markets demand multiple vocational skills and the curriculum should be able to answer these demands. The inevitable consequence is division of the age cohort into two education paths that direct students towards different social destinations. (Shavit & Müller 2000; see also Bourdieu 1984; Billet 2011.)
In Finland the issue of educational tracking in upper secondary education was tackled in the early 1990’s in response to the new requirements of working life and decreased interest in vocational studies. The current model was a compromise solution after years of polemic political discussion. The left-wing parties proposed for more unified upper secondary education in order to make education system more equal, and conservative parties wanted to preserve the old tracked system. Finally the cooperation was enabled but the two schools remained both administratively and content wise separate (Varjo 2007). Sweden chose a different route, and have only one upper secondary school that provides both general and vocational education. However, vocational and general studies differ substantially content wise, and in recent years dualism within the system has been strengthened. (Lundahl et al 2010). The case of Sweden is interesting from the point of view of Finland because “the failure” of Swedish upper secondary education reform was one key argument of the opponents of the more unified upper secondary education (Varjo 2007). Also the reform of comprehensive compulsory education was strongly opposed based on the experiences in Sweden (Okkonen 2017). Studying Swedish education policy helps to understand the political decisions that has been made in Finnish education policy.
The material for this study comprises action plans, status, committee, and evaluation reports of Ministry of Education and Culture and Finnish National Agency for Education on double degree studies, upper secondary education and its development since the 1980s until this day. The orientation of the research is critical policy analysis or sociology of policy. The data will be analysed with discourse analysis. In discourse analysis language or text does not reflect the reality neutrally but the text is at the same time a product and the producer of social reality. Thus text and speech do not only describe the reality but also construct the social life. Therefore they both describe their targets and construct different kinds of interpretations of them. (Husa 1999, 93). The changes in the education policy will be analysed applying the theoretical framework of Lundahl et al (2010). In their study they analyse the reform of upper secondary education in Sweden in 2009 and relate it to previous reforms during 40-year period in terms of continuity and break. In their analysis they discuss: 1) Major functions of education. Researchers make a distinction between economic and social functions of education at the societal and actor / individual levels based on Hudson and Lidström (2002). 2) The framing of the curriculum and the structure and classification of curriculum (Bernstein 2000). In the former actors become central in interpreting and implementing the reform, and what forms of knowledge are regarded as important. The latter refers to the separation of students into different tracks, and the degree of integration/separation of educational contents. Foremost, the goal of using this theoretical framework is to conceptualise the change in education policy. The model also enables analyzing the contradictions typical for education policy and education reforms. According to Rata (2014) one of the most essential questions in critical policy analysis is that how nations balance between the ideals guiding the national democracy policy and inequalities produced by global capitalism. Education has pivotal role in this. On the other hand, it is expected to create citizens for the democratic equal society, and on the other hand, workers and consumers for the global capitalist economy. Because education is foremost expected to improve the national ideal of equality, policy research is a useful way to study how this contradiction has been solved.
Most in Finland chooses between vocational and general upper secondary education, and the emphasis in education policy is in keeping these tracks separate (Brunila et al. 2011). Double degree studies are expected to have a minor role in the policy documents. Therefore, the analysis will be dominated by the question on how dualism within the education system is constructed, i.e. how the separation of general and vocational upper secondary education is justified based on their differentiated functions for the individual and society. The role of double degree studies has to be sought between the lines. The dominance of dualism discourse can be seen as a way to keep double degree studies in a minor role. In discourse analysis, one should not only focus on what is said, but also what is left unsaid (Simola 1998). Although, the focus of this research is not in comparing Finnish and Swedish education systems and their development, the research is taking part in the discussion on the similarities and differences in Nordic education systems. Nordic model is widely used concept in comparative education literature. The education systems in all five Nordic countries have their roots in welfare society. However, the concept of Nordic model has been questioned in recent years (Antikainen 2006; Lundahl 2016). According to Antikainen (2006) the national education systems in Nordic countries have differed in many aspects, and instead of one model, there are models or just patterns. Education systems have also become more similar in the global context. Global economic crises since the 1970’s have eroded welfare society and welfare policy, and neoliberalism, which has strengthened since the 1990s, and European integration have shaped education systems. One goal of contrasting the results with Swedish education policy is to study the different responses to these global trends in education.
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