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close this bookSchool Enterprises: Combining Vocational Learning with Production (UNEVOC, 1998, 64 p.)
close this folder1. Key Issues and Hypotheses
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1.1 Economic, educational and social objectives of school enterprises
View the document1.2 Need for case studies
View the document1.3 The conceptual framework
View the document1.4 Methodology


Changing economic environment

The world is experiencing major changes in patterns of production and trade as well as dramatic innovations in technologies. Producers of goods and services are having to operate in a global context where opening economies to competition is the key to success. This competitive situation is affecting modes of production. In a more competitive economy, productivity, quality and flexibility are more important for the success of production systems than reduced wages. Firms are expected to allocate resources more efficiently to increase productivity. In order to compete internationally, they have to develop their technological and managerial systems. And, finally, they are expected to respond to a competitive environment by producing quality goods and to meet the demand for new products. These factors demand that labour be highly mobile and flexible in adopting new skills.

Both developed and developing countries alike are, however, unlikely to be able to adapt quickly enough to the demands of a more competitive global economy. This has resulted in the shortage of qualified workers for the new industries and modes of production as well as in the displacement of labour. An increasing proportion of the working population of the world is employed in micro-enterprises of the informal sector. This development is reinforced by a simultaneous cutback in state responsibility as a consequence of economic reform policies.

Implications for skill development

Changes in the nature of work, the technologies of production, and in standards for manufacturing and agriculture have pedagogical and educational prerequisites. The traditional workplace required teachers to convey knowledge emphasising factual information. It did not matter that learning was segmented from the economic and work context. With new and complex inputs to factor into a production equation, other operations become necessary (complex literacy skills, writing ability, and basic knowledge of mathematics, science, chemistry and biology). These so-called ‘hard skills’ are more important as the workplace seems to be profoundly changing.

Meanwhile mixes of general and technical skills are changing at all levels as new technologies penetrate not only the urban but also the rural sectors in the developing countries. There is evidence that many developing countries are facing the problem of lacking skills that are highly developed elsewhere. Even at the craft and artisan skill levels, they are lacking cadres of journeymen equipped to serve as masters to new apprentices.

While general education competencies play a greater part than ever before in facilitating skill acquisition, in the preparation of students for further learning over a lifetime, and adjustment to change at all levels in the economic structure, there needs to be a technical and vocational education system in place in which schools might provide specialised vocational training in traditional and newly-emerging skills needed for existing jobs and production practices, and which encourages self/wage employment and improves its productivity. With the increasing importance of the informal sector, processes of training aimed at providing employment deserve more attention. This includes the question of how technical and vocational training can be designed so as to be job-specific, vocationally specialised, and directly linked to employment. In other words: how can education and training contribute to people being better able to survive in the market and react better to changing market situations?

Shortcomings of technical and vocational education systems

These changes in skill requirements necessitate that technical and vocational education systems should ensure an adequate amount and quality of training. Overall trends, however, point to the fact that public technical and vocational education institutions often have not had a good record in efficiency and flexibility and sometimes are far removed from market realities. The majority of students are pursuing a vocational training that is unlikely to lead to the full-time wage employment they seek. This is especially the case for women. There is little or no attempt to cater for the needs of those who wish to continue living and working in rural areas or those who are compelled to join the urban informal sector. At the same time, the graduates are out of touch with the working conditions and technical possibilities in small and micro-enterprises.

Furthermore, budget allocations to technical and vocational education have often decreased so dramatically and, in view of the high costs associated with the latter, the time has come when developed and developing countries alike have to increasingly consider possibilities of generating alternative resources for the financing of technical and vocational education with minimum possible financial support from the government.

The notion of school enterprises

As a result of the above developments, new model schools have emerged - although entrenched within the conventional formats of institutional education and training - that are supposed to provide economically useful qualifications and facilitate their students’ transition into the employment system in which graduates are able to immediately apply their skills. The entities established under this perspective include the notion of combining market production with systematic vocational learning through the concept of school enterprises. The teaching personnel are compelled to undertake continuing educational courses to adapt to new market conditions and to introduce new curricular conceptions adapted to new technological processes. The introduction of production assumes to bring the school closer to the realities of life, particularly the world of work, and goes beyond the prevailing thinking that individual lives are divided into a span of time just to study and another just to work. It is also justified by the need to find new ways of teaching and learning so as to increase pupils’ interest and motivation in their studies. An important aspect of school enterprises is the factor of motivation for effective learning through combining learning with production, in that the training underlines the importance of visibility of future returns. Last, but not least, through the synthesis of education and production, technical and vocational education institutions are expected to exploit new financing options for meeting training costs.

The international discussion on school enterprises

During the 1980s, much attention was given to the combination of education with production at the level of international co-operation in the field of education. In November 1981, the 3 8th Session of the International Conference on Education adopted Recommendation No. 37 on ‘Interaction between Education and Productive Work’. It was recommended that member states should co-operate at various levels in the development of programmes and practices through exchange of information and experience, joint experiments and evaluation.1 In 1984, the Ninth Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was partly devoted to discussions on youth unemployment and in this context it was noted that the “criterion of production units within schools, and the integration of work experience with formal education” were among “a number of different ways of relating schools more closely to the world of work...

1 UNESCO, Paris, International Bureau of Education (IBE), 1982

UNESCO’s International Symposium on ‘Innovative Methods in Technical and Vocational Education’ held in 1989 in Hamburg, underlined further the international interest in production-oriented learning and teaching.2 One of the major objectives was to define elements of close co-operation between schools and enterprises both at the level of the educational system and at the level of the process of vocational learning. In 1990, the ‘Working Group on Production Schools’ organised an expert meeting with specific focus on the theory and practice of production schools.3 The aim was to gain information on the feasibility of such approaches, and to develop models of school enterprises and the specific conditions of their existence in less industrialised countries. The central motivation was to analyse reforms in didactic and vocational learning with special reference to school enterprises in industrialised countries and compare them with corresponding attempts in less industrialised countries.

2 Report of the UNESCO International Symposium, 1989

3 Arbeitsgemeinschaft ‘Produktionsschule’ (eds.), 1990

A major emphasis in much of World Bank’s lending for education has been on vocational education, primarily at secondary level. Initially these loans were concentrated on technical vocational schools and coincided with the World Bank’s emphasis generally on physical facilities. But, in the meantime, several factors such as increasing relevance of school education were pushing in the direction of pre-vocational training in many or most of the general secondary schools. Findings with respect to the effects of pre-vocational versus general programmes on subsequent jobs and incomes of graduates have shown a failure to provide a reasonable financial social return on the extra costs of the vocational components in the curricula of at least the technical bias programmes.4 Similarly, the strategy of combining general secondary education with production have begun to meet with disapproval among bilateral donor agencies on grounds of high costs, poor service infrastructure, and ineffective linkages with the labour market. Despite the present decrease in international recognition given to the idea of vocationalisation in the context of general secondary education, the principle of combining education with production continues to remain an important feature of education and training systems in less developed countries on account of several reasons which arise primarily from its potential contribution to the diversification of finance and relevance of learning for everyday life.

4 See the World Bank sponsored study on diversified secondary education in Tanzania and Colombia. Third World governments were strongly advised against the inclusion of vocational skills in the general education curriculum. Psacharopoulos, G. and Loxley, W., 1985

The assumption that somehow the pre-vocational programmes in the secondary schools would resolve the problem of unemployment among the young school leavers rested on the false assumption that schools could substitute for training linked directly to employment. Educational planners and administrators often relied solely on existing public training facilities, especially technical institutions, polytechnics, non-formal training centres and public secondary schools, to solve the gaps in formation of human resources for economic development instead of seeking alternative institutional solutions. Moreover, there was a failure to distinguish between the vocationally specialised and generally practical in technical and vocational education.

The main questions that many countries face are when and how to make the transition from subjects that have broad vocational relevance (language, mathematics, science and practical skills) to programmes that will prepare individuals for particular jobs or clusters of jobs. Although general education, which schools can provide, enhances the individual’s trainability, job-specific training is very important. International experience shows that such training is most efficiently provided after initial job decisions have been made and in institutions under, or strongly influenced, by the ultimate employer. This does not exclude the inclusion of practical subjects such as teaching of applied science, biology, chemistry or physics, or subjects such as electronics, nutrition, fundamental health practices and sanitation at both basic theoretical and immediate practical levels. General education and practical education are important foundations for change; but so is job-specific training. In so far as one enhances and complements the other, this is a real foundation for change. Practical education does not suffice to make school-leavers both willing and able to become productively self-employed. Job-specific training is most important for creating self-employment, especially in the growing informal sector, as well as to meet the new challenges in the world of work.