Educational choices

Preparing teachers for "Educational choices"

- a new subject in upper primary school

A brand new subject was introduced to upper primary school in the Norwegian public school system in the first semester of 2008. Something like this does not happen very often. The goal of this subject is also quite extraordinary because the subject "Educational choices" focuses on the pupil's own life. The pupil is supposed to learn more about his/her own wishes and possibilities and to develop competence and confidence in making choices. The subject provides the pupil with one hundred and thirteen hours allocated in a period of three years to explore him/herself and his/her future. The work is divided into three parts: The pupil will work with his/her own choices, get an introduction to college and working life, and do practical exercises preparing for college.

Two key words for this subject are "relevance" and "participation". The success of this subject is totally depending on the pupil being able to feel that this is relevant to his/her situation and life. It is necessary for the pupil to ask himself/herself if this subject is actually relevant for their life and future. This subject can definitely not be served on a silver plate. The pupil's own active participation is absolutely required. The subject can become relevant as a result of the cooperation between the teacher and the pupil. This practically means that the teacher's role will mainly consist of guidance. The teacher will guide and structure working processes that highlight the pupils needs, interests, wishes and dreams for the future. The pupil must be seen, taken seriously and challenged through conversation, reflection and action. He/she should learn to know his future landscape of possibilities.

However, it is important not to exaggerate the desire of results in a subject like this. Some knowledge, perspective, reflection, some challenges and starting to make a few choices should be sufficient. The main idea is to move from "unconsciousness" to a more conscious state. As most adults will know, you must have been granted some very extraordinary abilities if your education and career were completely defined already at the age of sixteen!

The goal of this subject is a challenge both for the teacher and the pupils. It may be difficult for young people to know exactly what to demonstrate and reflect upon. To explore ones inner life is very much about having outward perspectives. Therefore ne of the teacher's tasks will also be to contribute to explore the college system as well as working life and to help create reflection processes both before and after the pupil has tried out an educational program. This might very well feel overwhelming and complicated for the teacher and so far our experience with this subject demonstrates a need of special competence.

Developing the subject "Educational choices" for teacher students

Since "Educational choices" was implemented in primary school in 2008 there have been different approaches to the subject. Since there are no marks given in this subject it has been difficult to achieve a high status. Subjects that "count" are given higher priority (both among pupils as well as teachers). At the moment we work both in a local and national level in order to find solutions on this problem.

In the city of Drammen there is a proactive cooperation network that has taken this challenge! A career centre has been established. This centre works as a meeting point between councellors/advisors from upper primary school and representatives from college, work life and the local education authorities. In August (?) 2010 these parties agreed to develop a new subject to be implemented in college for teacher students working with the subject "Educational choices". According to the values of the subject "Educational choices" we wished to develop this college subject in a cooperation with as many parties involved as possible. The idea was to develop this subject through participation, so that the result would be as relevant as possible for the different parties this subject is meant for. So we invited a lot of people - and could have invited even more. For instance we would have been very happy to involve more pupils from upper primary school. Unfortunately this was not possible due to financial and practical reasons. Instead we ended up with representatives from the Papirbredden Karrieresenter, councellors/advisors from upper primary schools in Drammen, one representative from Ungt Entreprenørskap (Young Entrepreneurship) and one person from the Teacher Education at the Høgskolen (College) of Buskerud.

Inspired by future workshop strategies, action research and systematic pedagogical research we managed to cooperate in an organized and well proved way. What we mainly did was to describe the current situation of the subject. We discussed what is working well and what is not so good. Furthermore we described our hopes and wishes for the subject. There was plenty of space for big dreams. We also tried to outline possible ways to make our visions and dreams come true. We analyzed and defined priorities. These priorities have later been transformed into a curriculum that has been adjusted and accepted. And the result is a very unique curriculum that is relevant for the teachers: The curriculum says:

This program focuses on the tasks of teachers who work with the subject "Educational choices" in upper primary school. The program will contribute to the students' developing knowledge and skills for executing this subject. In particular it is regarded highly valuable to help the pupil to define, reflect and make qualified choices for his/her own life, further education and future work situation. A good place to start is to make a survey in order to get an overview over every pupil's interests and situation. At the same time we find it important to consider the fact that we as human beings are developing and changing continuously. For this reason we wish to highlight the need of cautiousness when surveying and interpreting. We acknowledge that the final choice of education and work will usually not take place during primary school years. We therefore need to have a realistic approach to what results are actually possible to achieve in this subject. The main goal is to help the pupil to see all the different possibilities in our educational system and to start a reflecting process around their own interests, needs, wishes and dreams for their future work and life. To get to know does not necessarily mean to get a full overview, but being able to explore and give things a try. The goal is that the students will be able to facilitate the pupils develop their ability to make qualified choices about direction and their next life step. The dimensions in such processes will also include existential questions like "What do I want with my life?" and "What is a good life?"

The curriculum is organized within a continuing education offer for teachers who wish to develop their knowledge and skills in this subject. We also hope that this will become an option for ordinary Teacher Students in the college of Buskerud in the future.

International relevance

Both the upper primary school subject "Educational choices" and the way we have created this college subject seem to have similarities with school systems that acknowledge and include the persons in question (?) The idea of the teacher and pupil interacting as a team on the same level attracts interest internationally. There is great attention given to subjects where the pupil's interests, needs, wishes and dreams are taken seriously. It is also regarded rather unusual that university and college employees actually involve the people in question for this matter when developing a new subject. Which, however, does not mean that you cannot find this anywhere else in Norway or other countries. It only means that this should not be taken for granted and that there is a potential for further development. Democracy, participation and education are not always appearing hand in hand. The college subject "Educational choices" is an example that such development is possible, and the primary school subject "Educational choices" is an example of a subject that in its basic structure emphasizes relevance and participation. This is a fact of great significance when education and democracy are discussed in international arenas.

Litterature

Dewey, John (1985 [1916]). Democracy and Education. New York: Southern Illinois University Press

Grenstad, Nils Magnar (1986). Å lære er å oppdage. Oslo: Didakta Norsk Forlag

Hartviksen, Marit og Kversøy, Kjartan Skogly (2008). Samarbeid og konflikt: to sider av samme sak. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget

Johnsen, Bjørg (1984). Yrkespedagogisk utviklingsarbeid. Fremgangsmåter og forutsetninger. S.Y.H. Publikasjoner serie B. Oslo: Statens Yrkespedagogiske Høgskole

Jungk, Robert og Müllert, Norbert R. (1989). Håndbog i fremtidsværksteder. København: Politisk Revy

McNiff, Jean og Whitehead, Jack (2009). Doing and writing action research. Los Angeles: Sage