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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon

Youth and Vocational Education in Post-industrial Norway. The integration & alienation of vocational learners in a youth culture perspective

Awarded: NOK 2.9 mill.

The objective of the study is to give an ethnographic account of the interplay between learning biographies, pupil cultures and structured learning environments within one particular education program, i.e. Technology and Industrial Production (TIP). The study has identified critical stages in the differentiation of learning careers, and one important research question is in what ways a theorization and computerization of the program will transform students' vocational identities, and what new forms of inclusion, exclusion and prestige this imply. A main finding is that mechanical students appreciate the distinct sociality of the workshop. In the school workshop they are allowed to play the music, and students walk around quite freely and engage in one another's work. Furthermore, the study shows that some characteristic organizational features of the workshop itself instigate certain forms of sociability, bodily sensations and ways of knowing. Pupils' involvement in various local and translocal youth cultures (e.g. motorbike tinkering and skating) also mediate the shaping and differentiation of learning cultures and vocational identities at school. While some student groups develop distinct resistance practices (sometimes as extensions of local folk cultures like motorsport and handicraft), other groups orient themselves toward acquiring new vocational skills and learning new production technologies. A great deal of my research has therefore focused on the transition from manual to computerized machinery (CNC) and to analyze some of their implications for educational practices. A competent handling of computerized machines require, in addition to a practical and multi-sensorial acquaintance with tools and materials, a range of literacy practices, including interpreting machine drawings, program codes, mathematical formulas, and technical English. While some students experience the new technology as a barrier, other students regard it as an opportunity to developing one's skills at a more advanced level as well as avoiding some of the stigma that still attaches to the mechanic trade.

The project examines the nature of the drop-out problem from vocational learners' point of view and through a rigorous ethnographic study of mechanisms of inclusion and excl. at the level of particular training programs. Following an 'empowerment' perspec tive, it identifies students' ways of knowing and learning to recognize their resources and capacities for action. One empirical question is how pupil cultures mediate vocational learning processes, incl. relations between individual learners and learni ng situations. The problem is approached by comparing the interweaving of learning biographies, pupil cultures, and institutional selection at technical vocational progr. at one rural school with a low drop-out rate and an urban school with serious discip linary problems. The study focuses how the students in these two locations perceive of the organization of the program, their perceptions of possibilities for and barriers to learning. What happens when a student succeed in learning a vocation, when he/ s he masters the trade and feels included? I will investigate the formation of pupil cultures over time and across learning arenas. Under which conditions may students enter into positive circuits of vocational learning and commitment? What is the conditi on for developing oneself as a skilled worker at school when fellow students lack motivation and interest? The research thus looks at the interplay between peer group dynamics and institutional conditions. How do students themselves talk about the knowled ge base of their vocation? I am also eager to explore what students' narratives may reveal about system 'failure' at various levels of scale. The project will refine field techniques associated with the 'extended case' method to a study of actual course s of learning. Interactional data will be supplemented by a gathering of interview and life story data.

Funding scheme:

VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon