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Modularisation of Vocational Education in Europe
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Monographs in International Education

Modularisation of Vocational Education in Europe

NVQs and GNVQs as a model for the reform of initial training provisions for Germany?


2000 paperback 128 pages, £30.00, ISBN 978-1-873927-98-4

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About the book

This book examines modularisation in the German system of initial vocational education and training – an issue that is a matter of intense debate by educationists and politicians in Germany. After examining the underlying concept of modularisation, Hubert Ertl looks at approaches to it in Spain, Scotland, France and the Netherlands, before examining in detail the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) framework in England and Wales.

The author demonstrates how the strengths and weaknesses of NVQs (and their functional position within the education and training system) are particularly significant to the strategy of modularisation in German initial training that he goes on to propose.

This strategy recommends the evolutionary development of the elements of occupational profiles into self-contained modules, and identifies the ways in which these elements have to be transformed in order to fulfil the functions of modules in a modularised training system. The author hopes that the restructured system may incorporate modules developed in co-operation with European partners and so link to other national training systems.



Vocational Education and Training in Germany

The Concept of Modularisation

Modularisation of Vocational Education in a European Perspective

The Concept of Modularisation in NVQs and GNVQs

A Strategy of Modularisation in German Initial Training




Modularisation in vocational education and training (VET) provides matter for intense debate in Germany. The effects of this debate may be best illustrated by the decisively differing opinions within the Federal Institute for Vocational Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung – BIBB), sometimes referred to as the ‘Parliament of VET’, comprising the representatives of employers and trade unions as well as the federal and state governments. At its meeting in March 1997, the BIBB General Committee was not able to pass a declaration of principle concerning the future development of the Dual System of VET because an agreement on the question of modularisation could not be reached. Although there was agreement on all other major questions of initial and further training, the disagreement of employers and trade unions about modular structures could not be bridged (Kloas, 1997a, p. 18; Pütz, 1997, p. 67).

The major focus of the debate about modularisation in Germany, and in the European Union (EU), seems to be driven by educational policy rather than by arguments concerning pedagogical aspects or the teaching/learning process (Münk, 1995, p. 35ff.; Pütz, 1997, p. 63). The arguments put forward by supporters of modularisation seem to be unclear and sometimes dubious [1]; on the other hand, the opponents of modular structures simply put forward the ‘concept of the vocation’, which determines the main characteristics of VET in Germany and which is enshrined in law, and describe it as incompatible with any type of modularisation.[2] Both positions seem to be inappropriate starting points for a serious and unbiased analysis of the potential advantages modularisation has to offer for the German VET system. Because of this lack of consensus or the wholesale rejection of modularisation, it can be found only in comparatively small areas of VET, e.g. the qualification of specific target groups, further training and schemes for additional qualifications in initial training (Davids, 1996; Kloas, 1996; Reuling & Sauter, 1996, p. 6; Zedler, 1996, p. 20; Sloane, 1997a, p. 224).

As a member of the EU, there is an increasing pressure on training provisions in Germany, resulting from the ongoing process of economic integration and the competition that now exists between vocational training systems of the member states resulting from the mobility of labour within the EU. Commentators regard the Dual System of training as being potentially endangered by these European challenges if it is not reformed in the near future (Münk, 1997, p. 6ff.) Other commentators emphasise the rapid globalisation and changing industrial relations within and between countries as the main sources for reform pressure on the German training system (Kutscha, 1998, pp. 274–282). Irrespective of where the need for reform has arisen, modularisation of vocational education is one of the major proposals for such a reform process.

Against this background, this study aims to investigate the possibilities of modularisation in the German initial training sector. It is my opinion that the discussion about modularisation in German VET must take the developments in other European countries into account. In particular, the EU as an institution as well as a concept will increasingly determine broad areas of the societal development in its member states. Therefore, the strategies for the creation of modular structures in the German training system cannot develop in isolation from the approaches towards modularity in other European countries. With regard to the search for possible models for reform in Germany, the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) framework in England and Wales seems particularly interesting. Unlike the approaches in Spain, France and the Netherlands, which are also briefly illustrated in this study, the NVQ model has been created to reform an entire existing training system. This task is comparable to the role modularisation would play if used as a modernisation strategy for German provisions.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of vocational training in Germany at present. The emphasis lies on the Dual System as the main sector in which young people in Germany attain their initial vocational qualification. The ‘concept of the vocation’ as the underlying principle of the Dual System and its influence on the debate about the modernisation of the training sector are examined and form the basis for a conceptualisation of modularisation in the next chapter.

The detrimental effects of the unclear and ambiguous use of the terms ‘module’ and ‘modularisation’ on the debate in Germany are widely acknowledged (e.g. Wiegand, 1996a, p. 261ff.) Therefore, an attempt is made to clarify and conceptualise the relevant terminology in chapter 3. As a result, three concepts of modular structures are presented which are discussed in the German context. All examples of modularisation given in this study will be described in terms of the concepts derived in chapter 3.

Stimulated by the provisions of the EU in the field of vocational education and training and educational systems in other countries, the debate in Germany about modularisation seems to be gathering pace (Cleve, 1995, p. 12). The provisions of the EU as they unfold today, the influence of the EU on its member states’ systems of VET, and the different approaches of European countries towards modularisation will be illustrated in chapter 4. As to the wider implications of ‘European modules’ in VET, their potential to enhance the European dimension in education is examined.

The highly modularised NVQ model in England and Wales is regularly held up as an example for a European reference system of vocational qualifications for the future (Wiegand, 1996a, p. 271). The ideas behind the NVQ model, its structure and its formation of vocational qualifications, most prominently NVQs and GNVQs, are discussed in some detail in chapter 5.[3]

In conclusion, chapter 6 proposes a strategy for modularisation in the German initial training sector. It suggests the evolution of existing elements of occupational profiles into modules, as outlined in chapter 3. The strategy is developed on the basis of the conclusions from previous chapters and draws mainly on the experiences of NVQs and GNVQs in England and Wales. The European perspective is important in so far as the modular approaches and good practice in EU member states can provide a valuable knowledge base for the German context. The strategy is rooted in the existing legislative framework as described in chapter 2, as there seems to be a strong consensus across all social groups that the ‘concept of the vocation’ must not be endangered by modernisation developments of any kind. Suggestions are made for further debate about the proposal itself and the necessary changes to the current assessment and accreditation structures which follow from it.

The appendices provide additional materials to illustrate specific aspects of some of the issues discussed in the main text. The relevant appendices are referred to in the individual chapters.

The comparative elements of this study are informed by the conviction that the systems of education and training are deeply embedded in the cultural environments and traditions of the society they have developed in. Therefore, it is not possible to take over arbitrarily selected parts of an educational practice from a foreign system to improve the domestic one. Michael Sadler (1900, p. 49) has outlined this abuse of comparative education in a frequently quoted illustration:

We cannot wander at pleasure among the educational systems of the world, like a child strolling through a garden and pick off a flower from one bush and some leaves from another, and then expect that if we stick what we have gathered into the soil at home, we shall have a living plant.

Nevertheless, the study attempts to make best use of the property of the comparative approach in that it ‘enlarges the framework within which we can view the results obtained in a single country: by providing counterinstances, it challenges us to refine our theories and test their validity against the reality of different societies’ (Noah, 1984, p. 558). This critical aspect of the comparative approach seems to be particularly valuable for the development of a modular strategy in German VET.


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