Determining factors in the performance of integrated vocational education schools.

AutorUemura, Marise Regina Barbosa
  1. Introduction

    Technical and vocational education has been the object of national and international studies, showing its importance in the economic and social context of several countries around the world, especially for the access of young people to the labor market. UNESCO considers technical and vocational education one of its priorities, alongside literacy and higher education, seeking to foster equitable, inclusive and quality education, as well as learning opportunities for all (Marope, Chakroune, & Holmes, 2015).

    Young people, especially from low-income classes, have less prospects for employment and income, so vocational education becomes a necessity, as highlighted by Ciavatta and Ramos (2011). Furthermore, when considering the integration of vocational education into high school, the value of this modality stands out, preparing young people who articulate science, culture and work, giving them the possibility to choose to pursue their studies in higher education or, if necessary, join the labor market (Frigotto, 2007).

    Although there is no system that assesses vocational education, students in the modality integrated to high school can take the National High School Examination--ENEM, in the Portuguese acronym, created in 1998, with the purpose of assessing the performance of students at the end of basic education (INEP, 2015b).

    When looking at the average grades in ENEM 2014, the top performing mainstream public schools in the state of Sao Paulo, in addition to some federal schools, are the so-called ETECs (state technical schools), managed by the State Center for Technological Education Paula Souza, known as Centro Paula Souza (CPS), an entity associated to the Department of Economic Development, Science, Technology and Innovation (SDECTI). ETECs offer vocational education integrated to high school, in addition to regular high school, so their students also take ENEM exams.

    In 2014, 46 ETECs were among the 60 best state schools across Brazil, considering the average grades of objective tests published by INEP (2015b). When considering the 2,000 first schools in Brazil, using the same criteria, 192 are public schools (federal, state or municipal administration), 65 located in the state of Sao Paulo. Out of these 65 public schools in the state of Sao Paulo, 54 are ETECs.

    This situation gave rise to the motivation to better understand these schools, leading to the following question: what characteristics and specificities of management provide these schools with such results? To answer this research question, it will be necessary to identify the determining factors in the performance of vocational education schools integrated to high school, which characterizes the main objective of this study. As specific objectives, we seek to (1) identify the characteristics and specificities of management used in vocational education schools integrated to high school, which can be attributes for obtaining a better relative performance from their students; and (2) compare and analyze any differences and similarities among schools in different cities based on the surveyed factors.

    To achieve these goals, we start from a theoretical framework that initially encompasses the contextualization of vocational education in Brazil, followed by assessment methods of this type of education, especially at high-school level, ending with school management and the factors pointed out by the literature that seek to explain how the school interferes with school performance.

  2. Theoretical framework

    2.1 Vocational education

    Given its historical trajectory, technical and vocational education in Brazil is seen from different perspectives. From an assistance policy, marked by its origin in the 19th century, when it served the less favored population, as mentioned by Moura (2007), to other perspectives described by Manfredi (2002), as preparation to meet the needs of the production sector, and the idea of technological education for preparing workers, integrating preparation for work with high school. The author mentions vocational education, as a social right, as something to be incorporated into primary and secondary education projects, aimed at young people and adults. Ciavatta and Ramos (2011) point out vocational education as a need for young people, especially from the lower classes, who lack employment and income prospects.

    Vocational education at high-school level is presented in Brazil in three ways: subsequent, which consists of high-school technical courses offered to those who have already completed high school; concomitant, for students who are attending high school, but with independent enrollments; and integrated, in which there is an integration of vocational education with high school (Moura, 2010). According to the author, in the latter, there is the "integration of work, science, technology, and culture, which are also integrated into a specific vocational education" (Moura, 2010, p. 883). Vocational education integrated to high school is seen positively, especially by the layers of the population that most depend on the public offer of this level of education, which can allegedly make it "easier to join the labor market" (Ciavatta & Ramos, 2011, p. 35).

    The network that offers vocational education at high-school level in the country is made up of educational institutions from the public sector (federal, state and municipal) and the private sector. This includes civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), workers unions, business unions (Manfredi, 2002), as well as organizations of the S system (Senai, Sesi, Senac, Sesc, Senar, Senat, Sest, Sebrae, Sescoop), considered by the author as "a parastatal Vocational Education network, organized and managed by trade union bodies representing businesses" (Manfredi, 2002, p. 179).

    In Brazil, in 2014, there were 27,743 high school establishments, including those offering integrated vocational education, according to the 2014 School Census (INEP, 2015b). Out of these, 5,995 offer vocational education in one or more of the three modalities (integrated, concomitant or subsequent), 8% at the federal level, 33% at the state level, 2% at municipal level and 57% private.

    The federal network has 482 establishments that offer vocational education at high-school level (8% of the total), including one or more modalities, accounting for 35% of enrollments in integrated vocational education. The state network, on the other hand, corresponds to 33% of the total educational establishments that offer vocational education, with 2,006 institutions in the country, accounting for 54% of enrollments in the modality integrated to high school.

    Although less expressive, vocational education establishments in the integrated modality managed by the municipal government are also present in some regions of the country. In 2014, 9% of the enrollments in this modality were in establishments managed by the municipal government, with 17% in the state of Sao Paulo, exceeding the participation of the federal network in this region, which was 5% (INEP, 2015c).

    2.2 Evaluation of vocational education at high school level

    Brazilian high school is assessed in two ways, the Basic Education Assessment System (SAEB) and the ENEM. The main purpose of SAEB is to evaluate basic education encompassing three external assessments, but only one involves secondary education: the National Basic Education Assessment--ANEB. It has proficiency grades in Portuguese and Mathematics, as part of the SAEB results made available by INEP, Institute of Educational Studies Anisio Teixeira, since 1995 (INEP, 2015d).

    In 2007, INEP created the Brazilian Education Development Index, the IDEB, calculated from information on school approval obtained by the School Census (INEP, 2015a), and performance averages in the assessments carried out by SAEB and Prova Brasil. ENEM was created in 1998 to assess the performance of students graduating high school (INEP, 2015b). Despite having its effectiveness questioned by some specialists, the ENEM ranking, published annually since 2004, is the only performance indicator with national coverage that makes it possible to at least assess the quality of basic education offered by secondary schools (Andrade & Soida, 2015). As there is no national system for assessing vocational education at the high-school level, schools that offer the integrated modality are assessed based on the participation of their students in ENEM, therefore, by the content related to high school itself and not to the technical course.

    2.3 School management and performance-related factors

    National and international studies present factors that contribute to the good performance of basic education schools. As Brooke and Soares (2008) point out in their collection of research studies on school effectiveness, after educational studies carried out in 1960 [1], concluded that school did not make much difference (but the social background of students), new studies began to investigate the factors associated with academic success.

    Sammons, Hillman, and Mortimore (1995) presented 11 key factors for effective schools, identified from a literature review of studies on school effectiveness conducted in several countries. The authors emphasize that the factors may contribute to a better understanding of the effectiveness mechanisms, but they should not be considered independent of each other. They are: (1) professional leadership, (2) shared goals and visions, (3) learning environment, (4) concentration on teaching and learning, (5) clear teaching and objectives, (6) high expectations, (7) positive incentive, (8) progress monitoring, (9) student rights and responsibilities, (10) home-school partnership and (11) learning-oriented organization. Although they emphasize that they are interrelated, professional leadership is highlighted as a factor that strongly impacts others and appears in almost all studies...

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