Jorge F.V. Viapiano
Universidad Nacional de Moreno
Abstract – Young people and adults in Argentina gather at centres and schools in search of training. They need answers to the challenges that are constantly posed by their social environment. This article looks at how adult education faces up to the challenge of designing the tools leading to a job, and to a better life.
“What has been learned is not enough: Second careers, complementary stages and skills improvement are some of the terms that are closely linked to this” (Caranci 2015). Education becomes more concrete as it becomes “continuous” and “for all”. Education reduces the likelihood of unemployment and increases the chances of getting a better job. This will give you improved social security and a better salary. Studies in Argentina have proven that 12 years of schooling reduces the risk of falling into poverty. This insight led to the inclusion of compulsory secondary education in the National Education Law of 2006.
Organised, public adult education emerged in Argentina in 1884. Ever since then, it has incorporated literacy and some simple skills seeking to meet labour requirements. This objective, almost a century and a half old, still remains valid in the imagination of a large number of instructors, as well as of those who plan and manage educational policies. What they fail to recognise is that this approach has lost effectiveness and quality over time, as the economic and political social context has moved on.
The tools used in youth and adult education continue to mimic the formal education services provided for children and adolescents, configured as provisional methods. The sector remains intrinsically complex, and lacks self-confidence. This is due in part to the lack of both legislative clarity, and of regulations that control its conformity and function. Youth and adult education also suffers from a permanent lack of specific resources (didactic and instructional), and from the provisional manner with which it continues to be treated.
Educational authorities have made huge efforts from time to time in order to reverse this trend. They have tried to raise awareness. They have understood that the task of educational policy in this field is not only to overcome educational underdevelopment, but also to provide solid offers in order to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. The return to democracy in 1983 intensified the commitment to political and social freedom. The new Government wanted a majority of people to be able to exercise their new-found freedoms, and youth and adult education had a role to play in this process. In addition, it was to support personal development and offer professional upskilling. Consequently, policies for the permanent education of young people and adults were announced, which began to garner interest in the business sector, since the certifications that students acquired as a result of their education could be the key to their integration into the labour market as well as into society.
A new educational policy took shape, aiming to enhance citizens’ participation in civil, non-governmental organisations with a special focus on the trade unions, which had always exercised a fundamental role with regard to the training of workers. But the new policy clashed with the traditional administration of the State. The educational services continued to be reduced to taking care of educational backwardness only, without even trying to address the problem of how education can provide the skills needed in real-life work situations, for the development of the community, and for the exercise of all types of rights, that is to say: for social inclusion.
The provisional governments from 2001 onwards, and the democratically-elected ones that were in power from 2003, decided to massively increase the rate of education. Programmes for young people and adults emerged which showed significant changes in the relationship between education and work, thus leading to better job placement. Education was thought of as a distinctive feature of Argentine society. The State proposed policies that guaranteed educational rights. This would have made youth and adult education a relevant stakeholder in the transformation process. Unfortunately, it failed to gather sufficient pace to develop the progression from an imitation of primary and middle schools to something more substantial. That was because most politicians continued to think of youth and adult education as something provisional, only filling the gaps of the formal system, and not as a distinctive educational sector with its own complexities, thus clearly conditioning the development of the activities.
The programme entitled “Secondary education and job training for young people” was launched in 2008, aiming to “favour the inclusion of those young people and adults who for one reason or another have not started their secondary education” (Sileoni 2013). With assistance from the European Union, it surfaced as a pilot programme in some municipalities. The programme included vocational training to form part of secondary education for young people and adults. The youth and adult education services incorporated in the programme had to be organised in such a way that they overcame their own limitations and were able to meet the needs of the public. Many participants had failed in school, either dropping out or performing poorly.
The job market demands formal qualifications or proof of skills for people to enter and remain in the labour market, and to advance within it. At the same time, this training must pay attention to cultural motivations and issues relating to the personal fulfilment of young people and adults. Such motivations and issues are, in themselves, highly heterogeneous. It is not a question of filling in gaps in education. Education must open up other channels for satisfying interests and aspirations. This cannot be achieved simply by adding new content to the curricula. It is also necessary to foster learning situation that utilise the true potential of the learners. These learners understand that “knowledge” is a fundamental prerequisite of employability.
The programme proposes the abolition of traditional, repetitive, encyclopaedic education, given that such education scarcely reflects reality. It proposes that it be replaced by, and provides an outline of, education that is based not only on trades or production, but that is linked to social, political and economic situations. This challenge, referred to as “articulated learning”, has to do with “work, not as a synonym for employment, but as a process of personal fulfilment, as a project of human life” (Viapiano 2015), because, as Esther Levy says, “work is a broader and more comprehensive category of employment” (Levy 2012).
According to the Youth and Adult Education and Vocational Training Module, “offers of education and vocational training options need to be rooted in the reality of the local, regional and/or territorial contexts of their recipients and, fundamentally, to emphasise the development of capacities that allow subjects to act reflectively, individually and collectively, in the present and the future” (Graizer 2007).
Articulated learning was introduced at the vocational training centre (Centro de Formación Profesional – CFP) in Corrientes that is annexed to the Fray Luis Beltrán Technical School, as well as at the No. 8 Secondary Education Centre for Adults (Centro de Educación Secundaria para Adultos - CESPA). The studies last for approximately three years, and the dual-centre timetable entails students spending four days a week in the CESPA, complemented by one day’s training at the vocational training centre quite some distance away. The organisation turned to a CESPA tutor to accompany and guide the students at the vocational training centre and mediate between the two institutions, thus lending fundamental form to articulated learning and overcoming the difficulties arising from the distance needing to be travelled between the centres.
The programme met with resistance at the beginning. Youth and adult education teachers perceived the changes as threats to their positions and working conditions. These changes lead to different forms of learning and trajectories than normally encountered in schools. To this “initial barrier” we must add the prejudices that exist between the two institutions. “We took sideways glances at one other”, both directors confirmed during a meeting held in Buenos Aires.
However, the same directors state that the previous training undertaken by the national and provincial authorities with the participation of national universities helped to overcome this difficulty of “generating a culture of encounter”.
The teams that were responsible for implementing the task became better at dealing with change over time, but the difficulty still persists among those who teach young people and adults. “It’s difficult to approach change with teachers who are stuck in obsolete structures because they only want to work according to their plan and finish it come what may. They do not prioritise learning, previous knowledge or incidental learning”, says a regional secondary TVET coordinator.
The situation of youth and adult education teachers deserves special attention, since at present they fulfil the same function as that developed in secondary education for adolescents. The methods that these teachers learn during their basic or further education hinder and impoverish the entire teaching-learning process, and need to be changed. The current situation leads to a lack of motivation among teachers, and among students in particular.
James Lynch has said that “the teacher must have the gift of knowing how to stimulate the learning of others, so that they achieve success, and by controlling their own progress attest to its effectiveness. Their background will consist of motivation, methods and sources of learning, and their motto will be diversity and flexibility. The adult education teacher has to enter this new educational dynamic with understanding. But he/she has to prepare for it.” (Lynch 1997). This programme and its teachers need more training in the preparation of differentiated content, linked to professional/vocational training. They also need to learn to give credit to previous knowledge obtained outside the educational system. This also holds true for the creation of materials – in modular format – that are of interest to young people and adults, and which help learners direct their own learning.
It is also necessary to coordinate with other institutions such as the Ministries of Labour and of Social Development, trade unions and civil society organisations. The city of Corrientes, through its experience, managed to coordinate learning times and spaces that allow for simultaneous courses. They are now committed to trying to develop a learning agreement between the instructor and his or her students in order to ensure that a greater number of CESPA students attend the vocational training centre. Attendance is not compulsory at present. Another challenge is the distance between the centres.
A vocational training instructor comments: “I have a student who works in a plant nursery, and if an unloading job comes up, he’s gone for a month or month and a half – and later he wants to know if he can come back, so we say ‘Yes’, and then we see that he wants to learn, and that the other thing is just to earn a living.”
This shows that there is an individual decision regarding vocational training that reveals an understanding of the context and of the particularities of adult life, but that is not consistent with CESPA. It is however resolved in the vocational training centre itself.
Today the entire programme is under evaluation by the authorities. Results on whether the process that has been implemented is effective have not yet been publicised. The question to be answered is whether permanent education for young people and adults is relevant in general terms, or whether even more needs to be done to prevent it becoming disconnected from the concrete and daily needs and concerns of these groups of individuals.
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About the author
Jorge F. V. Viapiano taught Basic Education for Young People and Adults for 39 years, and was the supervisor of these educational services in the city of Buenos Aires. His areas of interest in research and counselling include the processes of teaching and learning in the vocational training centre, the preparation of relevant policy and legislation, and the training of teachers.
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