02 SES 11 A, Transitions and Guidance
The interest in marginalised youth’s educational and professional aspirations and choices has gained prominence in academic debates and policy agendas targeted at widening participation to education (OECD, 2017; UNESCO, 2018; Stahl et al., 2019). In neoliberal and capitalist societies, the massification of tertiary education (TE) has been explained through core assumptions of Human Capital Theory (HCT), as a crucial economic move to create globally competitive economies and for poverty alleviation (Olssen and Peters, 2005). Structurally, consistent with reproduction theories, low aspirations have been associated with an incapacity to aspire of lower-class young people (Spohrer et al. 2018). This deficit of aspirations has been used as a neoliberal tool to justify policy interventions, including those emphasising Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), to raise aspirations. These interventions have heavily drawn on HCT’s narrow assumptions of rationalistic individual decision-making when making transitions (Valiente, Zancajo and Jacovkis, 2019). This paper argues against this narrow productivist rhetoric and deterministic views of working-class TVET learners which have resulted in inaccurate theoretical explanations and in inadequate policy interventions. It contends that understanding aspirations is key to reimagine TVET’s roles and purposes at individual, institutional and national levels towards fairer opportunities for human flourishing and social justice (Powell and McGrath, 2019), particularly significant in the current neoliberal policy trends spreading in Europe and globally. Despite the academic relevance and the policy implications of such research, little is known about how vocational, working-class young people conceptualise their aspirations in their transitions to adulthood, and the meanings and motivations they attach to these (Gale and Parker, 2015; Baker, 2017; Grant, 2017). This paper addresses this gap by delving into aspirations and choices of upper-secondary vocational students in Chile and aims to address the following questions: What meanings do upper-secondary TVET students ascribe to their educational and professional aspirations? How has the transition process transformed their aspirations and why? To answer these, the study draws on Margaret Archer’s (2003) critical realism. This approach understands aspirational complexities of transitions in late modernity as results of a dynamic dialectical interaction of structure and agency through the mediation processes of individual reflexivity. By placing the students’ voice at the centre of the investigation, it allows to both analyse the opportunity structure within which individuals make decisions and take actions and how individuals perceive (fallibly) and respond to their opportunity structures, forming and transforming their aspirations accordingly. Chile is an ideal example for examining both the structured and agential elements of aspiration (trans)formation to mitigate existing tensions between policy rhetoric and the realities of vocational young-people in neoliberal, post-industrial, market-regulated societies. The legacy of the radical neoliberal model of economic development started under the 1980s dictatorship has led Chile to be the most unequal country in the OECD (OECD, 2017), dominated by extreme neoliberal HCT assumptions and resplendent with structural constraints For its capitalist economy, modern society and deeply ingrained neoliberal principles Chile can be compared to other contexts of the northern metropole, such as the UK. For being paradigm of the neo-market model of skill supply and demand and for having reached levels of upper-secondary education completion and access to TE higher than the average of OECD countries in the last few years (Zancajo and Valiente, 2018), Chile can also be looked at as precursor of the consequences that rampant neoliberal ideologies have at individual and institutional levels. In Chile, secondary TVET offer was designed as an exit route to the labour market for low-class and marginalised youth, but more and more TVET students have been transitioning to TE programmes, in some cases not directly aligned to their previous studies (Sepúlveda, 2016).
This paper aims to shed light on these apparent paradoxes by interrogating the aspirations of upper-secondary vocational students in transition to post-school educational or professional routes. It is part of a broader longitudinal qualitative research that draws on a differentiated theoretical approach (critical realism and capability approach) to explore aspirations, factors explaining aspirations, strategies to achieve them and what changes in the process of transition and why. The fieldwork consisted in two rounds of interviews with a purposive sample of 30 students (12 female and 18 male) from the same upper-secondary public vocational school, all belonging to the most vulnerable socioeconomic groups and with experiences of poverty beyond economic deprivation. The school was located in an urban municipality of Santiago, which was socioeconomically heterogenous but segregated in five areas with high levels of vulnerability, as well new developments and richer sectors. Both rounds occurred in liminal moments of respondents’ life. During the first round, students had just completed their upper-secondary vocational education and were about to start the process of transition to TE/HE or labour market. The second round took place six months after the end of upper-secondary vocational studies. In this timespan, participants should have completed the 480-hour-workplacement compulsory to obtain the Middle-Level Technician Certificate and those who had made the transition to TE/HE were at the beginning of their third month of studies. For reasons of space, the findings presented here focus exclusively on meanings of aspirations (leaving aside factors and strategies) and how these were transformed by the process of transition, e.g, through adapting preferences (settling aspirations), through increased self-confidence (expanding aspirations), through transformation of preferences (aspiring to different things) or through maintaining the same aspirations.). Interview transcripts were coded in NVivo. A thematic analysis was conducted to identify what type of educational and professional aspirations students had and the meanings ascribed to these (in the first fieldwork), and how these had changed in six months (in the second fieldwork). Participants’ aspirations were classified according to their perception of the highest and most ambitious educational or work trajectory available for them that they aimed to follow within one year from obtaining the secondary TVET certificate. Findings have been organised in a typological and longitudinal analysis of aspirations.
Findings show that in neoliberal societies, such as the Chilean one, aspirations have to be understood and interpreted against the backdrop of market-oriented systems and neoliberal rhetoric that offer the illusion of endless opportunities to all who work hard enough to achieve these. In this context, a sense of agency and control over life and the belief in choices are important subjective dimensions encouraged by institutional circumstances of the neoliberal meritocratic culture. Meanings and motivations behind educational and professional aspirations go beyond structuralist and rational explanations. They are strictly connected to the construction of self-worth and ambitions for escaping poverty and leading a dignified life and have to be understood against the multidimensional level of poverty experienced by young people. ‘Becoming someone’ was a shared goal among all participants, which meant the aspiration to be and feel valued by their society and their families. This was mainly associated to ambitions for TE (both for the unconventional path of HE and for the more familiar transition to tertiary TVET institutions) and, in a much smaller proportion, to aspiration to access the labour market after compulsory education. Differently from other European/international studies, secondary TVET students had high and risky aspirations, not necessarily linked to their vocational sector. These need to be understood as a reflexive response to the large social inequalities in the country, the precarity of working conditions in a highly liberalized labour market, the high level of marketization of the education system, and a deeply ingrained neoliberal meritocratic discourse of ladder of opportunities and individualisation of failures and successes. Finally, preliminary findings reveal that for the majority, the lived experiences of transition uncovered the illusion of endless opportunities to all who work hard enough to achieve these which resulted in transformed and adapted aspirations.
Archer, M. (2003) Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation. Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9781139087315. Baker, W. (2017) ‘Aspirations: the moral of the story’, British Journal of Sociology of Education. Routledge, 38(8), pp. 1203–1216. doi: 10.1080/01425692.2016.1254540. Gale, T. and Parker, S. (2015) ‘To aspire: a systematic reflection on understanding aspirations in higher education’, Australian Educational Researcher, 42(2), pp. 139–153. doi: 10.1007/s13384-014-0165-9. Grant, T. (2017) ‘The complexity of aspiration: the role of hope and habitus in shaping working-class young people’s aspirations to higher education’, Children’s Geographies. Taylor & Francis, 15(3), pp. 289–303. doi: 10.1080/14733285.2016.1221057. OECD (2017), Reviews of National Policies for Education. Education in Chile. Available at https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/_/Ks5ADwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&pg=PP1. Olssen, M. and Peters, M. A. (2005) ‘Neoliberalism, higher education and the knowledge economy: From the free market to knowledge capitalism’, Journal of Education Policy, 20(3), pp. 313–345. doi: 10.1080/02680930500108718. Powell, L. and McGrath, S. (2019) ‘Skills for human development: Transforming vocational education and training’, Skills for Human Development: Transforming Vocational Education and Training. Routledge, 00(00), pp. 1–190. doi: 10.4324/9781315657592. Rudd, P. and Evans, K. (1998) ‘Structure and Agency in Youth Transitions: Student Experiences of Vocational Further Education’, Journal of Youth Studies, 1(1), pp. 39–62. doi: 10.1080/13676261.1998.10592994. Sepúlveda, L. (2016) ‘Trayectorias educativo-laborales de jóvenes estudiantes de educación técnica en Chile: ¿Tiene sentido un sistema de formación para el trabajo en la educación secundaria?’, Páginas de Educación, 9(2), pp. 49–84. Sthal, G. et al. (2019), International Perspectives on Theorizing Aspirations: Applying Bourdieu’s Tools, London: Bloomsbury Academic. Spohrer, K., et al. (2018) ‘Constituting neoliberal subjects? “Aspiration” as technology of government in UK policy discourse’, Journal of Education Policy, Routledge, 33(3), pp. 327–342. UNESCO (2018), Pathways of progression. Linking technical and vocational education and training with post-secondary education, Paris: UNESCO. Valiente, O., Zancajo, A. and Jacovkis, J. (2019) ‘The coordination of skill supply and demand in the market model of skill formation: testing the assumptions for the case of Chile’, International Journal of Lifelong Education. Routledge, 00(00), pp. 1–14. doi: 10.1080/02601370.2019.1678692. Zancajo, A. and Valiente, O. (2018) ‘TVET policy reforms in Chile 2006–2018: between human capital and the right to education’, Journal of Vocational Education and Training. Routledge, 00(00), pp. 1–21. doi: 10.1080/13636820.2018.1548500.
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