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Vocational Students’ Ways of Handling the Academic/Vocational Divide
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Education and Sociology. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
2021 (English)In: International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, ISSN 2197-8638, E-ISSN 2197-8646, International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, Vol. 8, no 1Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: The focus of this article is on Swedish vocational students’ own thoughts about different types of knowledge and how these thoughts relate to the forming of their vocational identities. The article reports on a study which investigates how vocational students handle the division between theoretical and practical knowledge as they learn to become skilled industrial workers. Theoretical and practical knowledge are often presented as dichotomies in a hierarchy, where theoretical knowledge is more highly valued than practical knowledge. The division between theoretical and practical knowledge is known in research as "the academic/vocational divide". This divide is particularly relevant to vocational students, as they need to deal with both types of knowledge as they navigate between the contexts of school and work.

Methods: This study is part of a research project on vocational students’ learning and identity formation. The empirical material is based on qualitative interviews with 44 students enrolled on the industrial programme at Swedish upper secondary schools.

Findings: The study revealed three different ways in which vocational students handled the academic/vocational divide: Placing higher value on practical knowledge than on theoretical knowledge, reinforcing the separation between school and work, and selecting theoretical subjects as useful tools for the future. 

Conclusions: Two conclusions drawn from the study are that students are aware of the status differences and divisions between practical and theoretical knowledge, and that they handle the academic/vocational divide in an active manner. Students make choices that will help them form a vocational identity or that will give them opportunities for further education and alternative careers. This article challenges and contradicts the image of vocational students as unmotivated and unintellectual, instead portraying them as knowledgeable actors who make strategic choices for their future and are active in forming vocational identities within vocations that require deep and advanced knowledge. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
VETNET , 2021. Vol. 8, no 1
Keywords [en]
Vocational Identity, Industrial Programme, Academic/Vocational Divide, VET, Vocational Education and Training
National Category
Pedagogy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-175176DOI: 10.13152/IJRVET.8.1.1Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85101416579OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-175176DiVA, id: diva2:1546822
Conference
2021/04/23
Available from: 2021-04-23 Created: 2021-04-23 Last updated: 2021-04-28Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Vocational Students’ Agency in Identity Formation as Industrial Workers
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Vocational Students’ Agency in Identity Formation as Industrial Workers
2021 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Yrkeselevers agens i identitetsformering som industriarbetare
Abstract [en]

The overall aim of this thesis is to contribute knowledge about vocational identity formation among students within the industrial programme in Swedish upper secondary education, with a particular focus on their workplace-based learning. To break down the aim, three research questions have been formulated and each is addressed in one or two specific articles. These questions are: (1) What learning strategies do vocational students use to become part of a work community, and how do these strategies relate to the formation of a vocational identity at the workplace? (2) How do vocational students experience their identity formation in relation to a vocation within the industrial sector? (3) How do vocational students handle the division between theoretical and practical knowledge as they learn to become skilled industrial workers? 

The thesis builds on 53 semi-structured qualitative interviews with Swedish upper secondary vocational students enrolled on the industrial programme. The interviews revolve around the students’ vocational identity formation, with a focus on their workplace-based learning. The students are between 18 and 20 years old and the majority are boys. The findings are analysed through the theoretical lens of situated learning, where identity formation is viewed as a social learning process that takes place through participation in communities of practice. In addition, the concepts of habitus, gender and social categorisation are used as analytical tools to provide a deeper understanding of issues concerning status, power and exclusion in relation to vocational identity formation. 

The findings reveal that the students’ vocational identity formation is closely connected to the social aspects of participating in workplace communities. Knowledge about the jargon and social norms of the workplace seem to be of more importance for vocational identity formation than knowledge about the concrete working tasks. The study follows the students’ vocational identity formation throughout their vocational learning trajectories, which reveal that vocational identities are formed in heterogenic ways. 

The students may adopt a committed, flexible or ambivalent approach towards industrial work. Aspects concerning agency and status seem to be crucial for the vocational identification process. The forming of a vocational identity also implies positioning oneself in the hierarchy and division between theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as between masculinity and femininity. The students appear as knowledgeable actors who are aware of the generally low status of industrial work, while simultaneously expressing a great deal of pride in relation to their intended vocations. 

In the discussion, a model of the students’ vocational identity formation is proposed to capture the interplay between collective and structural dimensions (e.g. social background, class and status hierarchies at school) and students’ agency and strategies in becoming industrial workers. 

From the findings of this thesis, three main conclusions are drawn: (1) The students form vocational identities through using vocational agency in actively developing strategies for becoming accepted in the workplace community; (2) Workplace-based learning is central for the students’ vocational identity formation, in spite of the relatively short time that the students spend there, compared to the time spent at school; (3) The students’ vocational image awareness, expressed through awareness of, and reactions to, other people’s images of their vocation, constitutes an important part of their vocational identity formation. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2021. p. 127
Series
Linköping Studies in Arts and Sciences, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 807
Series
Linköping Studies in Behavioural Science, ISSN 1654-2029 ; 228
Keywords
Vocational education, Vocational identity, Industrial programme, Workplace- based learning, Yrkesidentitet, Yrkesutbildning, Industriprogrammet, Arbetsplatsförlagt lärande
National Category
Pedagogy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-175179 (URN)10.3384/diss.diva-175179 (DOI)9789179296537 (ISBN)
Public defence
2021-05-21, TEMCAS, T-Building, Campus Valla, Linköping, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2021-04-23 Created: 2021-04-23 Last updated: 2022-04-04Bibliographically approved

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