Capability Expansion in Upper Secondary Schools in Norway?

Werler, Tobias; Brekkhus, Åshild B (2016). 'Capability Expansion in Upper Secondary Schools in Norway?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract The purpose of this paper is to seek insight and evaluate capabilities and capability expansion among students in both vocational and academic education in upper secondary schools in Norway. More precisely, we investigate potentials and opportunities students are given, to develop skills and virtues as they may develop according to the intentions of the most recent major curriculum and structural reform encompassing upper secondary education (1994) (Volckmar & Werler 2015).   Capability asymmetry among Norwegian youth Initially, this research effort may surprise since Norway regularly achieved over the last decade top scores f. ex. measuring human development (UNDP 2015). These achievements seem to correlate quite well with the overarching principles for education in Norway or findings from the PISA-studies pointing out that Norway succeeds in de-coupling school performance from individual socio-economic background (OECD 2001).   According to Norwegian legislation, education has to be equitable, inclusive and student adapted. In general, schooling has to focus on student’s equal opportunities developing an inclusive learning environment (Ministry of Education, 2016). In order to make education more democratic, encourage social cohesion and to provide a common horizon of knowledge and culture for both vocational and academic upper secondary education a curriculum reform was implemented in 1994. To achieve the target, Norwegian upper secondary school was divided into academic and vocational programs, building concepts determined by academia. Today, students attending vocational programs having the opportunity to qualify for university and higher education.   Researchers argued that the reform implementation led over time to the contrary, and rather increased social inequalities (Trippestad, 2009). Others have point out, that the reform led to one of the most centrally accountability based school systems among Western democracies, at that the time (ibid.; Werler 2004). The outcomes of the reform is marked by several faults. The major evaluation of the reform showed that the school dropout rate remained high (Markussen, 2010). On average, 22% of the girls and 27,1% of the boys of an age group enrolled in vocational education have left upper secondary education without leaving certificate. This is true for 6% of the girls and 7% of the boys enrolled in academic programs. However, data from Eurostat (2016) reveals that about a third of the age group 16 - 24 is at risk of poverty or exclusion. Between 2000 and 2014 the numbers of employees with a BA or MA degree was rising from 27% to 37,2%. During the same period the number of employees holding only an certificate of upper secondary school fell from 60,7% to 41,5% (all numbers own calculation). The provided data suggests that high performance demands by an education system and its homogenous application on several school types seem to cause an asymmetric and rigid allocation of capabilities serving the empowerment of certain groups.   Capability expansion and equality among Norwegian students? Nussbaum argues, that it is mainly educations task to support the development of internal capabilities (Nussbaum, 2011: 21). As shown, even an apparently highly developed country as Norway limits by education doings and beings of certain groups of young people. Therefore, the paper will answer the question in what ways educational provision in a highly developed country inhibits or promotes capability expansion among students enrolled in vocational and academic upper secondary education. Moreover, we ask how students perceive what they are able to do, to be or become, and what future perspective they may have compared to this.   The approach will concentrate on a criticism towards the recent decade’s neoliberalism, which has led to an educational policy and instrument formulaic idea of the efficiency of schooling (Giroux, 2004; Nussbaum, 2010; Werler, 2011). It will also raise questions about the Norwegian welfare system relevance to human development, wellbeing and equality.   Data & Design The data comprise 31 semi-structured pre-categorized interviews with students enrolled in upper secondary school (VET, n: 18; ACAD, n: 13). We used a comparative case design where we compare students from different schools and different programs. Tarrow (2010: 244) argues that such pairwise comparison has similarities with an experimental design, in that both insulates some factors in order to better study how a single variable or mechanism affects the dependent variable. The interview gathered data on capabilities of pupils themselves expressed as important and valuable, as opposed to indicators of achievement and success that are set out in policy documents or via stakeholders. The interviews were conducted in spring 2016. Subsequently, interview transcripts have been prepared.   In the analytical work, qualitative content analysis (Mayring, 2014) was applied for all the national sub-projects. Qualitative content analysis (QCA) is part of procedures for systematically text analysis interpreting texts rule governed and comprehensible in order to evaluate (ibid.). The basic idea of qualitative content analysis is to systematically analyze texts by processing the empirical material gradually by a guiding theory (here: CA). Then, the resulting category system is based in both theory and empirical material (ibid.).  

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