Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

From Labour Market to Labour Process: Finding a Basis for Curriculum in TVET

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

From Labour Market to Labour Process: Finding a Basis for Curriculum in TVET

Article excerpt


The relation between education and work is both complex and contested, particularly when it comes to arguments about the extent to which education should have labour market entry as a main objective (Allais, 2014; Wolf, 2002). Technical and vocational education (TVET) is usually excluded from such debates, as its direct purpose of skilling the potential workforce is, after all, what distinguishes it from schooling (or 'general' education) and higher education. Similarly, educational critiques of standards-based or competence-based approaches to curriculum usually exclude TVET because it is considered to be the kind of teaching and learning to which such approaches are most appropriate.

This paper argues that critiques of competence as the basis of curriculum also need to extend to TVET. A relation to work undoubtedly distinguishes TVET from other forms of education but the basis of the TVET curriculum lies in the labour process itself. Work needs to be described not as what workers can do or should be able to do (competence) but in terms of objective features that emanate from design-production logic. It is this logic that tells us what kind of knowledge is built into different labour processes. In Bernstein's (1996, 2000) terms, the logic of work provides the 'recontextualising principle' for the TVET curriculum.

In this paper, a methodological framework that derives from the sociology of education sets up the relationality between education and work as the primary unit of analysis. Moving to the level of curriculum, different interpretations of 'competence' are discussed to show why competence is not suitable as a basis for curriculum. It is then argued that we need to look at work itself as a labour process to find a form of logic that allows work to connect with knowledge. The feasibility of such an approach is demonstrated through a discussion of a recent research study in four industry sectors in South Africa. The study, which looked at diagnostic and problem-solving practices in two medium-large and two small firms in each sector, was set up in a way that enabled inferences to be drawn between the logic internal to each labour process studied and the type of knowledge artisans and technicians draw on when diagnosing and solving production problems. The conclusion drawn is that such an approach has potential as a basis for designing work-related TVET curricula that avoid simple 'correspondence' relations and foreground knowledge as the crucial ingredient of technical systems complexity.

The education-work relation

It is useful to view education and the economy/the 'world of work' as distinctive domains operating at a number of levels.1 At a macro-systems level, analysis would refer to the ways in which global and national economic systems and labour markets impact upon and are impacted by regional and national education, systems, policies and reform initiatives. A middle-level analysis would investigate the relation (or not) between the 'world of work' and curricula offered by formal educational institutions. At a micro-level, analysis would focus on the relation between teaching, learning and assessment in educational institutions and teaching, learning and assessment in workplace contexts

How do these fields inter-relate at each level? Earlier debates in the sociology of education draw an analytical distinction between direct and indirect relations and their effects.2 At the time, the degree of insulation or permeation between education and work was a focal point in theory and research that investigated academic achievement patterns associated with education's function as a social class-reproducing device.3 Moore (1985, pp. 3-4) describes 'direct relations' as resting on an assumption that there is a fundamental, underlying continuity between education and work, with features of the former held to be intelligible in terms of requirements of the latter. A further assumption is that the requirements of work can be translated into effective educational forms. …

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