Til en socialkonstruktionistisk læringsforståelse: Et teoretisk eksperiment

Fravalg på VUC: En analyse af 11 kursisters fravalgshistorier Ulla Milner Drewsen & Lea Holst Spenceley DK 610 K

This thesis concerns the incidence of students who terminate their participation in one or more educational practises at adult education centres: 'Voksenuddannelsescenter' (VUC). At VUC it is possible to obtain training equivalent to 9th and 10th grade secondary school or high school. The thesis is based on a report we made during our employment at the Danish University of Education in 2001-2002. The report was made at the request of the Ministry of Education as statistics had shown that approximately one third of the students chose to terminate their participation in educational practices at VUC. The aim of the report was to expose reasons for the students' termination and indicate possible solutions to prevent this. Our project leader was in charge of a statistical research, while our part of the assignment consisted of conducting qualitative interviews both with students who had terminated their participation and with teachers at VUC.

In the thesis we build on interview data collected during our employment. Towards the end we became aware of a particular factor that seemed to prevail in all the otherwise unique experiences of the students. The students interviewed all seemed to stress a continuous feeling of not being able to navigate competently in the educational practices they took part in. This feeling of inadequacy is the focus of attention in the analysis, where the aim is to study the dynamics of such educational practices.
An important political, as well as theoretical, assumption in the thesis is to avoid explanations where students' termination is connected to their social background or mental capacity, and rather to focus specifically on the actual experiences in the practice they chose not to participate in.

In order to do this we introduce and use Etienne Wengers (1998) social theory of learning, which entails a concept of (in)competence that we find relevant to pursue the issue of how participants in an educational practice can develop feelings of inadequacy. In this respect Wenger introduces the term non-participation to indicate a participants position in practice as one where the opportunities for significant learning and development of competency are slim and can have a negative impact on the understanding of self.
In the analysis we endeavour to show how different elements in practice seem to regulate students' opportunities for meaningful participation and competent action. Some students pointed towards structural conditions that in practice are being exercised in such a way that they limit their opportunities. For example, they pointed at a high level or difficult subject matter that did not correspond with their prerequisites. Also the formalised curricula seemed sometimes to be implemented in such a way that the speed and concentration of the activities prevented them from gaining a meaningful understanding thereof. The problem showed itself by the different ways students expressed that it did not seem legitimate to be slower or in more need of help than other participants.

In other examples it was not so much a matter of the students' difficulties in following the educational content, but more a matter of not being able to understand or accept the content they were presented with. The teacher here has an important role as the one having the authority to define the agenda and sanction the students who objected to this, either by concretely correcting and dismissing the students, or by simply determining who could speak and who could not, thereby regulating the students' opportunities for significant learning and competence.

The view we obtain through the students' eyes is one that does not leave much room for differences in students' prerequisites or personal opinions of relevance and competence. Instead there seems to be placed a reliance on the educational design, which implies that it is possible to transfer knowledge without problem to a relatively large number of students, as well as it seems to be expected that students understand and accept what they are presented with. When this is not the case the destabilisation of practice seems to create different ways of sanctioning and exclusion of the 'disturbing elements', thereby producing feelings of inadequacy and non-participation.

Our claim is not that all students who experience this will terminate their participation - on the contrary, we claim that the marginalizing of students and the creation of competence hierarchies is inevitable in a system where one function is to place and value the students on the basis of tests and examinations. In conclusion, we therefore wish to place the discussion of students' termination of participation in educational practices in the well-known discussion that the educational system is one of society's ways of sorting people and reproducing a social hierarchy.