How other countries perform on lifelong learning;;The future of post 16 education

21st November 1997 at 00:00

COMPULSORY schooling ends at 16 in over half the states, but most young people continue their education to high-school diploma stage. Since 1990, between 71 and 73 per cent of 17-year-olds have graduated from high school. However, since many complete their education through alternative programmes, such as the General Educational Development programme, the proportion of young adults having completed high school is considerably higher.

Most states have some form of testing programme to assess individual student performance against state-established standards. Twenty states also have mandatory promotiongraduation tests.

The most widely represented subject areas for testing are reading, mathematics and language arts. The latter typically include, in addition to reading, other elements of language development such as spelling, vocabulary, grammar and composition. The tests are administered at a variety of levels, and are used to monitor student progress, as a criterion for grade promotion, for curriculum improvement, to influence policy and as a means of holding schools accountable.

The schools use either norm-referenced tests, criterion-referenced tests, or a combination of both. The most frequent type of testing is teacher-developed examinations.

At a national level, the US department of education administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which provides information on selected basic skills for a sample of students at three grade levels. Results are reported for the nation as a whole, by region, gender, racialethnic group, parental education, community type and, on a voluntary basis, by state.

There are nearly 1,500 public and 2,000 private HE institutions. Community colleges offer vocational education andor the first two years of training at college level. Universities offer a full undergraduate course of study, as well as first-professional and graduate programmes. Vocational and technical institutions offer training programmes to prepare students for specific careers.

Institutions of HE enrol 14 million students, with about 5.5 million in two-year institutions and just under nine million in four-year institutions. Most two-year college students attend public institutions, while enrolments in four-year institutions are about two-thirds public and one-third private. An additional 1 million students are enrolled in non-collegiate post-secondary institutions.

* Information from Education at a Glance, OECD Indicators, Paris, OECD 1996 IRELAND

IRELAND HAS been expanding its vocational and technical education to cope with the rapid development of its industrial capacity. This has been accompanied by a drive to widen access to post-compulsory schooling: the aim is to increase the percentage of 16 to 18-year-olds completing the senior cycle to at least 90 per cent by the year 2000. Today, over 91 per cent of 16-year-olds, 82 per cent of 17-year-olds and 64 per cent of 18-year-olds are in full-time education or training.

The Junior Certificate examination is taken after the first three years of secondary education. In the senior cycle (from age 15) there is an optional one-year Transition Year Programme, followed by a choice of three two-year Leaving Certificate programmes. The Leaving Certificate exam is held at the end of the senior cycle.

The second-level sector comprises secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools. There are almost 370,000 students in this sector, attending 768 publicly-aided schools. There are also 19 other state-aided educational institutions and 15 non-aided schools.

Secondary schools, educating 60 per cent of second-level students, are privately owned and managed, mostly by religious communities, a few by boards of governors or individuals. Community and comprehensive schools, educating 14 per cent of second-level students, are administered by boards of management. There is little provision of vocational education in these schools. Vocational schools, educating 26 per cent of all second-level students, are administered by Vocational Education Committees, sub-committees of local authorities.

There has been an expansion in Post-Leaving-Certificate courses in recent years. This area is evolving within an emerging national certificate framework, which will provide alternative routes for students and aim for high-quality vocational competencies, formally validated and certified to meet national and international standards.

Off-the-job training for designated craft apprentices is provided in colleges and training centres.

Enrolments in tertiary education have increased from 20,700 in 196566 to 96,700 in 19945 (full-time figures only). In 1995, almost half the students who completed their Leaving Certificate entered an aided tertiary institution.

The HE sector comprises universities, technological and teacher training colleges, and some non-state-aided private HE colleges. There are about 122,000 students enrolled in 32 publicly-aided HE institutions, as well as 23 other non-aided colleges and institutions.


EDUCATIONAL opportunities are divided into vocational or "general", the latter leading to the baccalaureat and university. The first cycle of secondary education (from age 11 to 15) is provided in colleges, and the second cycle (from 15 to 19) in vocational, general or technical lycees. This leads to the baccalaureat, which is divided into general (56 per cent of successful candidates in 1996), technical (29 per cent) and vocational (15 per cent). The introduction of the vocational option in 1965 led to a sharp increase in access to the bac by making it possible for holders of one of two initial vocational certificates ( a CAP or a BEP) to continue their studies.

Yet the vocational track is still seen as inferior, as Patrick Werquin, of the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur les Qualifications, acknowledges: "General education is seen as the 'best' way, keeping the best pupils, and vocational preparation is second best, receiving the 'drop outs'. We are very far from true equality of esteem.' Today, 70 per cent of young people try to obtain the bac, with its university-place entitlement. As a result, there has been a massive increase in enrolment at higher education - 2.1 million university students today compared with just over a million in 1980.

Those students who choose the vocational certificate - around 15 per cent of their age group - also stay on at school to at least 17, either within regular secondary education or a training centre for apprentices. They learn a trade partly in employment under an apprenticeship trainer and partly at the centre. More than three-quarters are enrolled at centres run by trade chambers, chambers of commerce and industry, and professional associations of joint bodies. The rest are run by vocational lycees or regional authorities. Since 1987, apprenticeship training can lead to all secondary or higher education diplomas.

Young people may still do some kind of vocational training within one of France's numerous youth schemes after they have left school. Although officially trainees, they earn a wage and have a labour contract.

Ten years ago the "vocational baccalaureate" was introduced to allow young people in the vocational track provided by CAP and BEP to stay in the education system, get a bac and enter university.


COMPULSORY schooling lasts for 12 years, from age six to16. There are nine or 10 years (depending on the state) offull-time compulsory education and the rest is compulsory part or full time. Part-time education takes place in vocational schools within the framework of the dual vocational training system; vocational training is not seen as second-best to academic achievement.

There are four general secondary school types: Hauptschule: Takes about 30 per cent of children for abasic general education from grades 5 to 9 or 10 before entry to vocational education.

Realschule: Gives pupils an enhanced general educationand ends with a school certificate, entitling holders to continue in full-time vocational or advanced vocational schools.

Gymnasium: (usually grades 5 to 13) takes in about 30 percent of the relevant age group. Grades 11-13 comprise the upper level of secondary education where traditional classes give way to a course system. The Abitur (secondary school-leavingcertificate) is obtained at the end of grade 13, entitling the student to enter university-level tertiary education.

Gesamtschule (comprehensive school): provides a general education in a setting where children of all abilities are mixed. The grade levels are the same as in the Gymnasium.

After general compulsory education, students transfer to the second level of secondary education, according to their first-level leaving certificates. The system combines practical, enterprise-based training with academic education in a part-time vocational school, so studies are shared by the private andpublic sectors. The federal government is responsible fornon-school vocational education, and individual states are in charge of vocational schools. In 1994, about 1.6 million young people underwent training for one of the 450 recognisedtraining occupations.

Other routes to vocational training include the full-timevocational school (Berufsfachschule), and the advanced vocational school (Fachoberschule), which admits students from the Real-schule. Students can obtain the Fachhochschulreife (entrance qualification for technical and vocational highereducation). There are also vocational grammar schools and trade and technical schools.


EDUCATION is compulsory up to the age of 15, but only5 per cent of students then drop out; the rest advance to senior high schools for both advanced general education and specialised education. More than half choose the general study option only to prepare for higher education. The rest study aspecialised course such as agriculture, industry, commerce, home economics or nursing, as well as a general course.

Keiichi Yoshimoto, an educationalist at Kyushu University, says: "Parents and secondary school teachers have traditionally placed more emphasis on preparation for entrance examinations for universities and colleges than on specific education and training, because of the belief in 'meritocracy' or 'a myth of credentials'."

As a result, vocational high schools have gradually beenlosing popularity: just under a quarter of high-school students attend them today, as opposed to 40 per cent 40 years ago.

Yet surveys show that graduates of vocational high schoolsexperience a smoother transition from school to work than those of general high schools. The general graduates experience more non-regular employment and more job turnover.

Says Mr Yoshimoto: "Lack of career awareness leads tovocational indifference and the decline of work competence. Thus, one of the main problems the education system has isover-education without career awareness."

To overcome the limitations of the "too diversified" general vocational high-school structure, an "integrated course" has recently been established. Students choose from a wide range of optional subjects, as well as studying minimum core subjects such as "industrial society and human", intended to foster career awareness.

Higher-education institutions include universities, offering four-and five-year courses; junior colleges, offering two orthree-year programmes; and colleges of technology, offeringfive-year programmes to those who have completed lower secondary schooling. There are also special training collegesand "miscellaneous schools", offering practical vocational and technical programmes.

The standard nationwide test is conducted by the National Centre for University Entrance Examinations.


ALTHOUGH there is no national education system as such - states and territories administer their own schools and technical and further education - there are few significant differences among the state systems in Australia.

The tertiary sector comprises TAFE colleges, privatevocational education providers and universities. Vocational education and training is mainly delivered through the TAFEcollege system, although private providers, senior secondary schools and universities also play a role. About 300 TAFEcolleges provide a variety of courses, including pre-employment programmes, apprenticeships, off-the-job training and retraining programmes. TAFE enrols more than a million students - out ofa total population of 18 million - although most of these are enrolled part time and on short courses.

Vocational education and training is being reorganisedthrough the Modern Australian Apprenticeship TraineeshipSystem.

School certificates gained at upper secondary level normallycombine external and school-based assessment and studentshave scope to specialise. A recent survey indicated that around a quarter of Year 12 students specialise in mathematics andscience courses, a quarter in humanities and arts, and a tenth in commerce; the remainder study subjects from a diverse range of fields.

About half of Year 12 graduates enter university within a yearor two of secondary school. Entry to higher education is normally based on academic results. About one in seven undergraduates are now admitted on the basis of special entry provisions, rather than on the basis of school performance.

The higher education system went through substantialchange during the late Eighties. There used to be a "binary system": universities, which were seen as centres of scholarship and research, and colleges of advanced education, which seenas more vocational. But this was replaced by a Unified National System consisting of only universities. Many colleges amalgamated with universities to become more cost-efficient.This resulted in a decrease in the number of institutions which are now part of the UNS - from 78 in 1982 to 36 in 1995, and an increase in the average student population from 4,000 in 1982 to 17, 000 in 1995.

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