Staying in the comfort zones – Low expectations in vocational education and training mathematics teaching in Sweden and Finland

Per-Åke Rosvall, Carina Hjelmér, Sirpa Lappalainen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Vocational education has a historical legacy of being low-status and aimed at producing skilled workers. Students with low marks in comprehensive school are still often guided to the vocational educational track. In this article we examine how mathematics teaching in a vocational educational context is framed (henceforth VET). Therefore, our aim with this article is to explore how teacher responses come into play in school mathematics classes, and the teacher–student interactions within those practices. The empirical material is based on educational ethnographic research, i.e. classroom observations and interviews, conducted in three upper secondary institutions, two in Sweden and one in Finland. The results indicate that both teachers and students seem to remain in what might be called their ‘comfort zones’, i.e. that pedagogic practices tend to strengthen the idea of a vocational learner as being practically oriented; using their hands instead of their heads and in need of care and surveillance. The analysis focuses on mathematics teaching rather than on the content and was chosen because it is associated with general qualifications and the notion of lifelong learning. In this respect it exemplifies the growing tension in VET between workplace and academic knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Educational Research Journal
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)425-439
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 516 Educational sciences
  • Mathematics education
  • vocational education
  • teacher response
  • educational sociology

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