Narrow-mindedness of Dual Education

Photo: Milovan Milenković / Kamerades

Draft Law on Dual Education faces criticism of professionals, trade unions and leftist organizations. This proposed regulation would in effect legalise child labour, make it extremely difficult for students of vocational schools to enroll in higher education institutions, cause additional deterioration of labour rights and generally worsen the position of workers in the labour market. Instead of being provided with quality education, students will be trained for the role of cheap and obedient labour force.

When I once asked second-year high school students why they enrolled in Medical School, a few of them told me they believe that the Medical School Diploma will enable them to get jobs in Germany or Sweden.

Not only do the younger generations think that salvation is to be sought in emigration: a large number of people are moving abroad searching for jobs. But since unemployment has the highest rate among youth, the politicians – aside from exaggerating the numbers and the quality of new job positions – gladly speak about the reform of the educational system and especially dual education as a wind of change.

Education and job market demand

Dual education means the increase of vocational training in curriculum and its displacement from schools to companies if that is possible (to workshops, factories or centres providing services – depending on what you are being educated for). In dominant economic relations, this model makes much more sense if there is a stable demand for qualified workers that the existing schooling system does not supply.

However, the growth of unemployment, especially among youth – that neither the countries with strong economies are exempt from – led many policy makers to advocate dual education model, often providing dubious arguments for its effectiveness. Moreover, the wind at their back is the decision of the European Commission to “promote work-based learning, such as dual approaches”, as a strategic reform of vocational education in order to decrease unemployment.

Of course, there are countries, such as Germany, Austria or Switzerland, having a long history of dual education and strong economies – in addition, but the connection of these two phenomena (successful economy and dual education) remains debatable. Nevertheless, these countries have shown remarkable enthusiasm for exporting this model, especially Germany and Switzerland, whereas countries with lower standards demonstrate an inclination towards its import, together with co-financing and mentorship from the economically superior countries proud of its tradition and results.

So did in Serbia – overnight and in spite of the existing national strategy on the development of education and without a serious debate – dual education become a priority number one and a panacea in the educational reform process. According to the Prime Minister: “Dual education is necessary for the employment, growth of GDP, standard, European integration, i.e. for all the most important questions”.

Obviously do the economic success of the mentioned countries and the attitude of the European Commission make strong arguments for dual education, but in the case of such expensive political decisions with long-term consequences, one could note that more caution is necessary.

First of all, there are obvious problems with the basic idea that submitting education to the labour market demands will bring to the increase in employment. Namely, in order for that to happen, the labour market demand has to be stable. Since the country is facing deindustrialisation, debts and its economy depends on the import, chances for the production – and thus the demand for new labour force – to increase are debatable in the least. To this testifies the number of people leaving the country in search for jobs. According to the data published by RTS, the public broadcaster, 32,000 people leave Serbia in a year.1

Experts and their studies on dual education models also warn us against the arguments that support them. Ivan Ivić, one of the authors of the current National Strategy on the Development of Education, holds that long-term implementation of dual education will inevitably lead to increasing unemployment. The comparative study of the Australian National Centre for Vocational Education Research observes that ‘almost all the countries face the problem of limited demand’, while in the German Bertelsmann Stiftung study we can read that the projects implementing dual or collaborative education mostly turn out unsustainable.

But why would Germany, for instance, who has so far been Serbia’s main partner in the implementation of vocational education reform, invest its resources in this project? The aforementioned Bertelsmann study points out one probable reason – the interest of German industry, since, for example, export of car and machine products can be more profitable if there are qualified specialists in the country that imports them.2The facts that most imported goods in Serbia come from Germany, that there are 400 German companies registered on its territory, the existence of detachment for Serbian workers seeking work-permits in Germany, issued by the Chamber of Commerce3, all implicate the existence of such interest. Therefore, German economy can expect access to the adequate and cheap labour force in Serbia and also, if needed, in Germany, as a compensation for its support to the reform. It all testifies to the premise that dual education is a way to provide investors with highly qualified and cheap labour force at the expense of taxpayers.

Lean production

Apart from the arguments supporting the implementation of dual education being obviously problematic, we must not omit the question of the position of labour in the current phase of capitalist production.

Namely, one of the key characteristics of today’s production – due to which it is called lean – is the uncompromising focus on efficacy and thus elimination of all factors that diminish it (‘excesses’, such as the coffee break, for example). Therefore, management uses all the legal and often illegal means in order to achieve this goal, to locate the weakest links and push them harder, by using inhumane speeding up the production process, increasing amount of working time, etc.

Those that cannot follow will eventually lose their jobs. (Let us remember the situation in Geox or the cessation of the labour contract for the worker who was on sick leave for cancer treatment – the weak link disturbs production, so it has to be disposed of.) Lean production has its extra-economic protector in the neoliberal state. Serbia, being one of them, legalised exploitation by introducing flexible labour through the reform of the Labour Law. (For example, changes to the Labour Law from 2014 enable your employer to force you to sign a termination of employment contract.)

The world needs to be changed

Therefore, if we add the characteristics of contemporary production and the ruling tendency of labour flexibilisation to the equation, we get to the conclusion that the model of dual education subordinates education to the current needs of capitalism: the institutionalisation of the impoverished in the framework of highly mobile production and precarious labour relations. By institutionalisation, I refer to a complex process that ends up with the current state of insecurity (precarity) and exploitation being accepted as what is economically, socially and psychologically normal.

When political establishment claims that people cannot accept and understand contemporary world because their heads are still filled with socialist self-management, we have to retort that (young) people are more than adapted to this contemporaneity: they are not even thinking about self-management (which represents an alternative way of production to the aforementioned), because they are impeded in conceiving alternatives and they know very well that the little production that will start up in Serbia will only be able to provide them with a living standard suitable for periphery – low wages and long, exhausting working hours. This understandably spurs the need for emigration.

We could have already read about how the curricular reform mitigates the ability to critically address reality. Dual model additionally reduces knowledge gained through education to the mere needs of commodity production, meaning that the future generations will have even fewer means (be them just symbolical) to face the inhumane state of affairs – not to subjugate, but to change the world.

Translation from Serbian: Ivana Anđelković

  1. By the way, employability of such a vast number of people from Serbia in other countries questions the claim that one of the main causes of unemployment in Serbia is poor quality of education.
  2. To this we could add the practice of luxury products being assembled in the peripheral countries, which are latter sold under the label of the EU countries, which is the case of Geox shoes, for example.
  3. In addition, the legalisation of agencies for labour lease should be more carefully considered.
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