The Paradox of Special Vocational Schools

Alicja Sadownik

Institute of Education

University of Gdansk

The Paradox of Special Vocational Schools:

An Empirical Example of Post-communist Fossils in the New Social Structure

Special Vocational Schools appeared in polish communist reality as natural consequence of the obligation of work and the segregation politics in education. The Special Vocational Schools aimed to prepare good workers for state-owned industries and factories.

Obligation of work and politics of segregation, made the world of work very clear (especially for people with disabilities). The medical or psychological diagnosis of special disability determined the special way of life and work of the person with disability, for ex. here, in Gdansk, the blinds were producing scrubbing-brushes, the mentally disabled women were sewing the second-quality clothes in the “FALA” factory, and the mentally disabled men were cleaning and keeping in order simple tools in the Shipyard.

After the social change the factories were closed, the integration in education has started and the obligation of work as well as the chance for employment in state-owned factories, collapsed. But the special vocational schools survived. Who and what are the teaching now? Are they fossils of communism? How do the teachers define their mission nowadays? What do the students think about their special vocational education and their future? What does “mental disability” mean in post-communist context?

In my article I will try to answer and discuss these questions, by showing the results of my research. The tentative results of my research, as well as, the main theses of my article, are:

  1. The Special Vocational Schools are teaching for the past, reproducing delusion of socialist structure of work and live. That is why, they gathered people, who are not adjusted to the new reality, students, whose families didn’t follow the transformation.

  2. Most of the students of Special Vocational Schools are from very poor, alcoholic and long-term unemployed families. The students, asked about the future, answers: “What future? I have no chance for job with a special school certificate!”

  3. The teachers exist in a schizophrenic logic. They claim they know, that their students have no chance for (well-paid) job and “normal live”, but they keep motivating them to learn and work.

  4. The students, understanding that they are excluded and deluded by the system at the same time, concern on “here and now”; claiming they have “nothing to lose”, they become aggressive (even to each other) and starts risky games with the teachers, law and the police.

  5. Slightly Mental Disability in post-communist context is strongly connected with poverty, long-term unemployment and felony.

  6. The social change in Poland (and in polish system of education) is still at the beginning. We adjust our social, political and mental structures to new reality, as well as we accept and reproduce “paradoxical monsters”, post-communist fossils, like Special Vocational Schools.

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