Research illustrates that the student population in vocational education and training (VET) are diverse, in terms of achievement, learning disability and age for example. The diversity is prominent especially when compared to higher education preparatory programmes, which tend to be more homogenous. Policy research and classroom observations, indicate that recent educational policy reforms and pedagogical practices focus first and foremost on lower achieving students. This is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of the VET students and the aim of the presentation will be to look at how teachers discuss and describe their students and how student diversity is addressed in pedagogical practices.
Interviews with 12 VET teachers in Iceland and Sweden (6 in each country) were conducted in the period of 2009 to 2014 in the course of larger studies on teaching practices in upper secondary schools and VET programmes. In the current analysis we extracted themes related to student characterization from the interviews. The resulting themes include discussion on dealing with diverse student groups, variations in age of students, and learning disabilities of students. Field notes from 41 classroom observations from the same two research projects were also analysed thematically, i.e. how VET teachers address diversity.
The results highlight paradoxes related to the characterization of VET students and the reality facing VET teachers as well the consequences, i.e. consequences in pedagogical practices and the status of the vocational student and education. The teachers describe having students with learning disabilities and difficult educational history, but also students who are high-achieving and ambitious. This description of the VET students is in contrast with how the VET students tend to be portrayed in policy documents – where the emphasis has been on VET being for lower achieving students, emphasizing the secondary status VET often holds in the educational system. The results also reveal that in dealing with the diversity in the classroom, teachers often revert to individualisation in their pedagogical practices: the students then move through the courses on their own speed separately and rarely work or reflect collectively on the issues at hand.
Drawing on research data from VET programmes in Iceland and Sweden, even though having diverse educational structures, shows similar patterns when addressing diversity. Our findings seem relevant for all Nordic countries since policy reforms and pedagogical practices foremost address the low achieving student. When policy and pedagogic practices addressing the low achieving student the status of the VET education might “push” high achieving students away from VET as well as future employers with high demands of skilled labour. Still our conclusion is not to instead address the high achieving but rather emphasize that vocational teachers need knowledge in how to arrange challenging pedagogical practices for diverse groups of students, without too much individualisation. This could be done through improvements of in vocational teacher programmes, but also and probably more importantly, through the organization of VET. One suggestion might be closer and more extensive collaborations between VET subject teachers and special pedagogues.
2017. 575-576 p.