Our institution has been organising international work placements since 2006. In the past 10 years, the VET framework curriculum, as well as the composition of the generations of pupils have changed significantly. Initially, we established a cooperation with a German institution, primarily for our students participating in economy-related programmes. Later on, the social situation of our pupils have deteriorated gradually, and the interest in our school has diminished. The institution has tried to take every opportunity to innovate, which could contribute to maintaining its competitivity on the market of education. We have looked for traineeships in English-speaking areas so that the compulsory contiguous summer work placements could simultaneously be an experience for the whole life to the students participating in it. Until the framework curriculum had prescribed the compulsory work placement, there were not many receiving companies employing apprentices. Therefore, there was a need for traineeships abroad.
Context of good practice
The Apáczai Csere János Vocational Grammar School, Secondary Vocational School and Boarding School of the Szekszárd VET Centre are in Dombóvár. More specifically, at the border of Tolna, Somogy and Baranya counties, in the region of Southern Transdanubia. Our school has a long history as a vocational education institution, we are currently providing training to the pupils in the field of information technology, transport, economy, trade and police, both within the framework of secondary education and within the framework of NQR-based post-secondary non-tertiary education. Nowadays, the number of pupils attending our institutions is 505, 103 of them participate in NQR-based training programmes. The number of disadvantaged pupils is above 140. In our town, the unemployment rate exceeds the national average, which is also a reason for the parents to go abroad to work. Our pupils whose parents work abroad, remain alone, or maybe they move to their grandparents. Most of our students grow up under difficult conditions.
Next to our institution a renewed and well-equipped boarding school and kitchen can be found. Boarding schools and personal mentoring programmes try to help disadvantaged pupils in catching up. Our institution participates in the programme for the prevention of early school leaving. We aim to reduce the drop-out rate under 7%. Unfortunately, the school population started to decrease in the past years. With all the financial resources, we have been seeking to modernise and to enhance the technical equipment of the school. The pupils of our school received possession of the new laboratory of natural sciences, which we have been using together with 10 schools of the micro-region.
Currently, we are providing post-secondary non-tertiary education in 7 trade groups of the National Qualifications Register: in the field of railway engineering, pedagogy-family support, finances, logistics, railway operation and information technology. 39 full-time specialised teachers and 40 external lecturers provide a safe background to the education process. We have been maintaining a long-lasting relationship with domestic large companies, part of the field practices are organised at their premises. Our biggest corporate partners are: the members of the MÁV Group, Rail Cargo and Hungarian Post Ltd. 30% of our students have been enrolled into our vocational grammar school upon parental choice. The parents did not want to send them to another region, our institution was the closest located to them, they were admitted to our institution, but would not have been admitted into a grammar school. It can be felt that they are not motivated and not interested in their vocational field, especially when it comes to learning vocational subjects.
Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group
In several trade fields, we have not found appropriate field practice sites in our region for the contiguous summer field practice. For instance, in the field of information technology. Another problem arose because even if we could organise an external field practice, the students did not get any appropriate work tasks. They felt useless, they did not get any positive feedback and did not experience any success. This is how the next school year started. Without any momentum...
The school leadership sought help from the specialised teachers and the head of practical training. The team in charge of writing and managing international applications was operational already at that time. The team was joined by the English language instructors, but we also sought advice from the professionals of our company-based contacts. In the field of information technology, the specialised teachers of our school sought specific knowledge which was worth transferring from international practice, because it was not part of the curriculum, or because we were still lagging in a given filed (e.g. special programming languages, preparing mobile applications, etc.).
Success factors and processes
After having seen that certain domestic contiguous field practices do not create the expected motivation towards the trades, the school leadership and the team responsible for international relations have decided that we should be more courageous to seek contacts abroad. Making the summer field practice an experience package is an obvious goal. Since the families in our region do not have financial resources for that, we could only rely on the success of the ERASMUS+ application. Each language instructor was involved in finding filed practice sites, we participated in Tempus preparatory events and online seminars dedicated to international partner search. We were aware of the fact that we cannot bring everybody abroad and that everybody was not suitable for it, but we were expecting that its impact would go beyond the development of the participants. The seminars made it possible for accompanying persons and specialised teachers to gather ideas and methodological solutions. We had to provide diversity and momentum both to our exhausted colleagues and to our students.
We were working in teams. While we were preparing the applications we learned to make plans and to think together, at the same time we thought over the implementation already at the time of creation. We shared the task, the acquired knowledge was significantly stepped up. During the time and work spent together high-quality implementation became a common interest for the team.
For domestic field practices, we use assessment sheets and employment logbooks as well. We have borrowed these in international mobility. The selection from the number of applicants was not very easy. In particular, a 3-week field practice in Malta was attractive for many students. At the selection, besides the submitted written documents we considered the students’ social situation, the peers’ suggestions, the form teachers’ and the specialised teachers’ opinion, and we tried to bring onboard our vulnerable pupils living in hard conditions. At the outset, preliminary community building was only possible through linguistic and vocation-related preparation, but later on, we tried to organise extra-curricular weekends with the participation of the management and the accompanying person as well. It was very interesting to see how our students were managing their weekly subsistence funds. Most of them experienced the tasks of planning, management, budget assignment and saving for the first time.
Most of our accompanying persons were language instructors who could familiarise themselves with the specialities of trades, new technologies and ICT tools. They passed on their acquired knowledge in linguistic and VET teams. The parents (if they showed up at all) were watching the events worryingly. We asked for their written consent and engaged in personal discussions before the journeys. From the Malta group, nobody had travelled by air before, and some students had spent a maximum of two days away from their families until then. An accompanying person of such a group is a mother, a psychologist, a teacher, a mentor and a linguistic help all at once. This person is on duty 24 hours a day. The students prepared their job logbook on computers and shared their logbook on a drive with the project management. Behavioural transgressions or failing to fill in the job logbook were sanctioned by their weekly subsistence funds. This is in general efficient.
We have planned to maintain our international relations for the long term. 30 to 40% of those students who have received such an opportunity during their years at secondary school, tried to go abroad to work later on as well. Their work experience as part of the training programme covers the entire consolidated field practice, therefore it can be considered as forming part of the training programme. In our school, it can help not only in reducing the drop-out rate, but it can also increase the enrolment numbers.
Impact of measures taken
First of all, the development of vocational, linguistic, ICT and social competences of the students during their work experience in a foreign language working and cultural environment. In our country, we can ensure all this to our students only partly, due to the deficiencies of vocational training. At the same time, it is important that the accompanying teacher staying abroad during the field practice period progresses in the above-listed competence fields: this person has to be familiar with the technical language corresponding to each job profile, he or she has to keep contacts with the responsible persons, in case of new field practice sites he or she has to acquire a technical language field which has been unknown so far, he or she has to build good contacts with foreign colleagues, all these circumstances affect the successful implementation of the project. During the international field practice the professional competences of our students undergo a qualitative improvement. The value of vocation-related and linguistic knowledge increases in our pupils’ mind. We can only hope that they perceive learning as an investment in their future.
Impact on target groups: beneficiaries coming home with positive experiences and higher-level vocational and linguistic skills may constitute good examples for the target groups to be able to try out their abilities in a subsequent project and to cope easily with the ever stricter requirements of the labour market, relying on their competitive knowledge both in vocational and linguistic terms. We expect that those positive impacts will show up globally in numerical terms as well. And also in the reduction of early drop-out, and the increase in the number of enrolled pupils and of pupils participating in post-secondary vocational education.
However, our plans include risks. If the application is unsuccessful, the opportunity to travel abroad is lost. The remaining option is domestic field practice, whose qualitative improvement is also our task on a long term, together with the businesses. There have been conflicts in almost every field practices, among students, among students and teachers or students and international peers. We have been trying to get prepared for this with long discussions, moderation from Hungary (skype),but unfortunately, disputes may always arise during a relatively long time spent together. This is one of the reasons why we provide the right to make suggestions to the group as well concerning the inclusion of an applicant among those who will travel abroad.
The costs of travelling abroad, travel insurance, accommodation, commuting to work, subsistence, dissemination and management have been financed from the Erasmus+ application.
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