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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Integrated Education and Training: Making Sense of a New Form of Vocationalism Impacting Adult ESL Learners

  • Author(s): Vafai, Maliheh Mansuripur
  • Advisor(s): Leonardo, Zeus
  • et al.

Discussions of English language access and instruction continue to be framed by human capital perspectives that view English as a set of linguistic skills tied to employment opportunities. Integrated Education and Training (IET) is an example of the latest curricular approach to the ‘mainstream' English as a second Language instruction at Adult Education agencies. It strives to complement the English curriculum with the so-called ‘employability’ skills to help learners adapt to the new language and culture of work in the United States. This dissertation examines IET’s underpinning assumptions and its implications for adult immigrants of color from marginalized backgrounds, who comprise the majority of learners at these agencies.

First, it situates the IET development as an example of a vocational approach within the broader context of school-to-work reform efforts and explores its connections to the neoliberal ideological thinking. With close attention to the new job categories and the 21st century skills landscape, and drawing on historical parallels, it then examines the rise of IET in light of the realities of class, race, and the asymmetrical power relations that characterize the modern nation state. The analysis is based on an intersectional approach centering the way both race and class relations manifest in the educational experiences of people of color. Second, using a mixed method approach, the study analyzes data to illuminate students’ uptake of the vocational discourse. While limited research on IET and similar models of curriculum and instruction has focused on the assessment of outcomes and effectiveness, there has been little scrutiny about the relevance to students’ aspirations and pre-established goals. Specifically, research has not addressed the possibility of constraining impacts on students’ aspirations.

Findings indicate that the learning module, implemented within an experimental framework, impacted IET participants differently and that the practices of ‘realistic goal setting’ along with the phenomena of ‘social mirroring’ were central to students’ sense making. Analysis reveals that learners with greater educational capital in their country of origin seemed to have higher aspirations but were more readily influenced by the promise of IET. For these learners, IET succeeded in promoting minimal training and subsequent lower- grade employment options. Data further suggest that concepts such as ‘stress and time management’, ‘prioritizing’ and ‘multi-tasking’ took center stage, and once invoked by the teacher, were reified by students through engagement in typical classroom practices. This is consequential for learning, in that the deployment of such narratives in social interaction frames students’ opportunities to build identities as neoliberal subjects. It highlights critical issues that need to be taken into account in the design of ESL learning environments, especially for students of color from persistently marginalized backgrounds.

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