Education Policy Outlook: Vocational Pathways in Denmark, France, Germany and Spain

by Andreas Schleicher
Acting Director and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General

As Helen Keller said “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”. In classrooms around the world, teachers encourage peer-to-peer learning in order to enhance student learning outcomes.  In the same way, fellow peers learn from each other on how to improve their educational systems.

Since early 2012, the OECD Education Policy Outlook series has produced profiles for Australia, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, and Turkey. Today, four new country profiles are being added to the roundtable discussion: Denmark, Germany, Spain and France. While each of these countries face specific educational challenges, they each have successes that can serve as a lesson for others.

Every country assessed is concerned with similar reform domains. Vocational education and training programmes (VET) is a common area to all four countries that could stand to see improvements. According to the Education Policy Outlook on Denmark, for example, VET programmes see high enrolment rates, but also high dropout rates. In 2012, only 52% of VET students completed their programmes. Denmark responded with recent reforms that improved flexibility and attractiveness so that students can tailor the programmes to fit their needs. Further educational reforms will enter into force in 2015, which aim to improve the quality and attractiveness of current programmes through increased apprenticeships and professional development.

Germany also faces challenges to their long-established VET programmes. The dual functioning system consists of 3-4 days a week spent in hands-on training in a firm and 1-2 days a week spent in the classroom. Contrary to Denmark, where the challenge lies in students’ completion of programmes, the challenge in Germany lies in the transition from compulsory education to VET programmes. Germany has already implemented a few initiatives to address this challenge. A vocational orientation programme has been implemented early on in a students’ education path as preventative support. The goal is to facilitate job creation prospects, avoid early dropout and ensure a smooth transition into VET programmes.

Education in Spain has also been faced with some challenges regarding enrolment. Spain, similar to Denmark, is seeing high student dropout rates. In order to tackle this challenge, policy makers in Spain are proposing to introduce a new reform that will allow for greater flexibility in students’ educational path. At age 15 and 16, students could be able to choose to continue with general academic courses or pursue more vocationally oriented courses. At the end of the school year, the student, again, could have the choice to take an exam to earn a traditional diploma or choose to take an exam that would allow transitions into a VET programme.

France has also implemented educational reforms geared towards VET programmes. Social inequalities are a reality that France has been faced with and in order to level the playing field somewhat, these reforms aim for increased individualism in education. Accompanying the learning experience better prepares students for higher education, ensures academic success and allows for a better understanding of the appropriate career choice after school. France, similar to Denmark, Germany and Spain, also struggles with students’ transition from education to the labour market.

Denmark, Germany, Spain and France all face challenges to transitions in different ways. Among other hurdles discussed in the reports, each country is faced with challenges to their vocational education and training programmes, such as transitions to and from VET programmes, high dropout rates, or inflexible paths.  Each country has implemented note-worthy reforms, but would be well-served to make additional improvements. The Education Policy Outlook series are valuable because they  enable countries to learn from each other. But, more importantly, recognition from peers is a positive way in which we can congratulate others on their achievements, and encourage future progress.

Education Policy Outlook
Country profiles
OECD Work on Vocational Education and Training (VET)
Image credit: © Copyright Sasha Chebotarev

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