02 SES 08 B, Looking Back in VET History to Shape the Future
Around the turn of the century 1800-1900 the industrial revolution and dismantling of guild systems had affected structurers for vocational learning in the Nordic countries to the point where the need for reforms were generating state interventions in new ways (Michelsen & Stenström ed. 2018) Representatives of interest groups used their international contacts to gather information, exchange ideas and experiences to bring back to their respective countries as part of creating new structures for vocational learning.
In Sweden as well as in other European countries international experiences was used to argue for different action (Philips & Ochs 2004). International comparations played an important roll in the works preceding the 1918 government reform of vocational education and training in which Sweden got its first state regulated and state funded VET system.
In particular, stakeholders in the Nordic countries kept a close eye on each other’s VET developments and in 1923 the practice of exchanging ideas and experiences was formalised in the founding of the Nordiska Yrkesskolmötet [Nordic vocational education congress]. The first congress was held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1924. Every fifth year with few exceptions these gatherings took place until late 1970s.
The Nordic countries although organising their vocational education in different ways had similar organizations of stakeholders. In Sweden the interest organization Svenska yrkesskolföreningen (SYF) [Swedish vocational education association] was founded 1924 and hosted the first Nordic congress.
This paper explores the first five meetings from 1924 to 1945 and aims to contribute to international comparative studies of VET from a historical perspective. The questions guiding the investigation are explorative: What was the themes of the conferences and how do they relate to the development of Nordic VET and the historical context? How was differences and similarities described and discussed?
As this article is part of a more extensive project on international VET meetings it is designed as a pilot study of the first five Nordic congresses. The time period is 1923 when the constituting meeting of the congress was held to 1946 when the fifth meeting was held in Stockholm after World War II. The paper starts with describing the background of the congress in terms of initiative, aim and actors involved. The congresses from 1924-1945 are then explored in terms of their form and scope. In analysing what is presented about and from the congresses, the research questions will be answered. Based on the result the importacne of the meetings for the development of Nordic VET is discussed.
The investigation is positioned in relation to research fields such as history of international comparative education and policy studies, in particular policy borrowing. The fields merge in the fact that exchanges of ideas and the depiction of other nations VET system is an important aspect of developing strategies and educational policies. Curriculum studies indicate an increasing international influence on national curricula and education policies (c.f. Nordin & Sundberg, 2018). However thi study of early VET-conferences indicate that the influence in present day is a development with traditions rather than a new phenomenon.
There are also fields of research focusing more particular phenomenon such as international school meetings and the Scandinavianism of the decades around the 20th century, that are important for this study. The congress as a VET contribution to the reinforcement of a “Nordic spirit” has not been studied before but the idea of commonality through differences is still prevailing in political areas as well as in the VET research field (Jörgensen, Olsen & Person Thunqvist 2018 ed.) A study of VET meetings as an expression of something “Nordic” will contribute to the historiographic of this notion.
The empirical material is the journal Tidskrift för praktiska ungdomsskolor [Journal of vocational youth schools], published from 1924 by the Swedish organization SYF. This means the perspective is predominantly Swedish and the study is therefore designed as a case study with potential to extend the range of the aim to include comparation of the results to results made from studies with the same research questions put to the same type of material from the other Nordic countries. As the organization SYF and the journal TPU has its equivalent counterparts in each of the Nordic countries these will subsequently be incorporated in the extended project. The many lengthy accounts of the key speakers (always representatives from each country) that are published will enable a more balanced perspective. Although not equal enough to let this study speak on behalf of Norway, Denmark and Finland it will provide clues to follow up in the national accounts where there are possibilities for comparation in the respective journals of each three other countries. The empirical material comprises the total amount of articles in the journal TPU concerning the congresses during 1924-1945 including articles on the constituting meeting in 1923, in total 28 articles. The sampling follows a narrative timeline beginning with articles published prior to each congress presenting the program and important participants and speakers. The following articles published to summon up the congress and later articles referring to opinions or information presented at the congress are also included. By qualitative content analysis of the texts the congresses are described in categories such as financing, expectations, what was perceived as important issues, agendas, stakeholders. Another category is statements on what was perceived as particularly Nordic an in what way this was described as an asset for VET development.
The investigation will result in a better understanding of conferences as international arena for VET and forming potential influences for policy changes and national development of VET. From preliminary results it can also be expected to develop the understanding of VET as a Nordic cooperation. An initial overview of the material reveals the conferences to be not only of importance to the trade and industry but also attracting attention from politicians not primarily connected to education (ministers of foreign affairs and royalties). This indicate that the events importance may also relate to the Nordic idea in general. Another important finding is that the position taken in the constituting meeting in 1923 about the exclusion of women’s vocational education and the subsequent changing of this rule can contribute to a gender perspective in the history of vocational education that has so far been lacking in the research field. For Sweden the period studied was the for runner of a golden era of VET gaining momentum in the 1950s and it can be assumed that the congresses played an important part in that development. Preliminary findings indicate the conferences was supported by national governments both financially and in other ways. A reasonable conclusion is therefore that the conferences played a role in the expansion of at least the Swedish VET development during the mid-1900s. SYF ceased in 1981 and today there is no similar organization dedicated to looking after the wellbeing of Swedish VET in general. It can be argued that the sort of congress that the Nordic VET constituted has now been divided among different organisations and forums – the international research conferences being one type. How the features of support for VET has developed throughout history and in different countries will be a question of continuing interest in this project.
Jørgensen, C.H., Olsen, O.J & Persson Thunqvist, D. (eds.) (2018). Vocational education in the Nordic countries: learning from diversity. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge) Michelsen S. & Stenström M-L. (eds) (2018) Vocational education in the Nordic countries: the historical evolution. London: Routledge Nordin, A. & Sundberg, D. (2018) Exploring curriculum change using discursive institutionalism – a conceptual framework, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 50:6, 820-835. Philips, D. & Ochs, K. (eds) (2004) Educational policy borrowing: historical perspectives. Oxford: Symposium Books.
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