On 9-10 of July I had the awesome opportunity to represent the umbrella organisation for secondary student’s in Europe, OBESSU, at “The future of VET”- expert conference in Vienna. The conference featured Austrian ministers, Comission- and Directorate General-officials as well as stakeholders from the vocational field all over Europe and was an official event of the Austrian precidency of the European Council. Makes me incredibly excited to know that so many countries have started taking VET so seriously. I was invited as a speaker on a panel titled Reality check, my absolute favorite topic to speak about! Here’s a summary of what I said.
“I want to adress something from yesterday and make a bit of a connection. There was a lot of talk about flexibility, and also a lot about time and how fast the world needs results, as well as how slow education works. I think that word, flexibility, is the one we should hold onto. And it’s something we can take from VET and transfer into other sorts of educational paths, as well as the rest of our lives. It’s something we already know how to do in the VET-sector.
For me, as a student who really have no patience, even if I’m an academic student in the traditional sense that I like reading etc, VET was the perfect choice BECAUSE of that flexibility. I got to go back and forth between learning theoretically and improving, upskilling and just letting new information and knowledge sink in while working. And I think the reason we’re seeing a bigger division between young people, but also between adults in different paths in life, is that some people can handle 3, 6 or 9 years of theoretical learning every day and still remember and be able to use it when they get out into the rest of the life, while others would really need for those two to happen simultaneously.
I always get frustrated when people put student’s wellbeing and the interest of companies or the economy in general up towards eachother, as if we as stakeholders and politicians somehow had to choose? The student’s, or young person’s right, is to be skilled, to be well, to have knowledge about everything in life from personal stuff on how to rent an apartment to how to start your own business and/or apply for a job. A democratic, well being, active citizen. And you know what? I would argue that that’s the kind of person the economy and or any big or small company wants and needs and benefits from. So investments in student wellbeing, like great facilities, a vocational education that is about much more than hard skills and also covers personal development and francly growing as a person, student democracy and student welfare services, are investments into companies and the overall economy of the whole city, region, country or in this case the EU.
So when the companies are asking for faster upskilling, or getting many more people educated in a field in a short time, we shouldn’t be afraid but instead involve student’s in creating a system that responds to the needs of the learner and the potential employer. Let’s also not forget that not every employer will be a company, but also the public and third sector are stakeholders in this discussion, together with providers of further education, that might have an interest in including more VET-students in academic or university education etc. A functioning education system is one that evolves and changes and adapts every single day, instead of needing huge reforms every three years. And this is knowledge that the VET-sector kind of already has, teachers and trainers already implement this flexibility and strives to create a perfect path for each individual, so that when they graduate, they have the skills to survive in life- And more importantly, the skills needed to learn more, continuously throughout life.
This is an investment, not only in the future of the individual student, or in VET, but in society and in the EU and even globally, in general.
That’s also my message for all sorts of stakeholders, because the problem with my thesis is that nothing of this comes free or even cheap. This is an investment, not only in the future of the individual student, or in VET, but in society and in the EU and even globally, in general. And investments can be made on every level.
It means for a teacher to take 5 mins at the end of the lesson to talk to the students about what they learned, what they thought was interesting, what they lacked and to take that time to plan lessons with the learners. Use the skills and potential that they already have.
It’s for the principal to have a dialogue with the teachers and student representative on how to use the school budget efficiently, so that democracy can blossom and the whole day and environment in school provides learning opportunities. It might be as easy as creating an open classroom or working space in the dining area, or allocating 100 € for a seminar or event that the students arrange.
It’s for the local officials and elected politicians to plan new schools in co-operation with other municipalities, to arrange small exchanges and projects like events or competitions, to increase the purpose and interest in the education and school among the students, as well as the sense of belonging which is one of the key factors in learning itself.
This is for members of parliament and ministers to formulate legislation together with students, teachers and employers of all sizes and to put more money into education instead of taking it out. And this is for EU-level officials and politicians to give policy recommendations and even put resources into VET in countries where the development has been slower, and promoting exchanges and real learning possibilities for the individual student and teacher, so that there are more of us who can sit here in conferences like this and influence our own future.
Education is the biggest investment you can make in the future, and right now we should turn our eyes to VET, empower VET and take the best practices, the flexibility and the learner centered approach we find in there and implement into the rest of the school system. “