Strengthening occupational and vocational qualifications (Stephanie Allais and Yael Shalem)

The Centre for Researching Education and Labour is investigating the relationships between the nature of knowledge areas, their organisation into curricula, their use in workplaces, and the perceived needs and regulation of the labour market in different occupational areas. Initial work has been conducted to build criteria for evaluating and strengthening vocational, occupational, or professional curricula. To look for conceptual continuity between general, vocational and professional education, researchers go back to distinctions that have been purposefully eroded in educational thinking, such as the distinction between education and training; between knowledge for its own sake and instrumental knowledge; and between skills and knowledge. The researchers claim space for them and explore their implications. They then draw on recent research into professional and occupational curricula, and bring some of its theoretical insights back to debates about secondary level curricula. On the basis of a consideration of this literature, the researchers propose three key concepts through which to think about curricula, and an additional concept (concept three below) through which to think specifically about vocational or professional subjects and qualifications:

1.            Knowledge for its own sake;
2.            Powerful knowledge;
3.            Occupational formation; and
4.            Epistemic ascent.

The researchers have tested the criteria through a cursory application to a selection of vocational subjects in the South African secondary school curriculum, showing serious problems with some of the vocational subjects on offer. They will now attempt to apply them to curricula in nursing, teaching, law and economics.

Dr Stephanie Allais is a senior researcher at the Centre for Researching Education and Labour.
Yael Shalem is an associate professor at the School of Education, and a research associate of REAL.

For further information contact Dr Stephanie Allais at and Yael Shalem at