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Mathematics and Science Competencies in Vocational Education and Training

Funded by the Leibniz Association


The question about the importance of mathematical and scientific competencies acquired in school for the successful transition into vocational training is of great relevance – especially since the growing popularity of large-scale assessments (e.g., PISA). National and international studies indicate a decrease in competency gains in higher grades of secondary level school. However, considering the learning opportunities in vocational training and practical work environments, the extent to which these competencies change over the course of vocational training programs remains unclear.


The aim of the project has been the examination of the development of mathematical and scientific competencies in vocational training in consideration of corresponding competencies acquired in school. The focus has been on dual vocational training programs that systematically promote career-related learning processes in mathematical and scientific domains in applied work contexts and in vocational schools. First, we examined to what extent students acquired basic educational competencies – as defined by the educational standards (intermediate level secondary school certificate) for mathematics and science – in the course of their education in school. Second, we analyzed the development of students’ occupational competencies in mathematical and science domains in the course of their vocational training. Thus, we were able to show the predictive power of mathematical and scientific competencies acquired in school for success in vocational training (by means of the acquisition of occupational competencies and educational certificates). Furthermore, we were able to analyze the relationship between academic and vocational measures of mathematical and scientific competencies.

Project design

The longitudinal study with four points of measurement covered the entire course of the vocational training. The focus has been on vocational trainings programs in which mathematical and scientific competencies are of central importance (technical, commercial and laboratory assistant trainings). To this end, a sample of a total of over N = 3000 trainees – from two cohorts – has been examined. By surveying learning opportunities in vocational schools, as well as in the work place, we were able to examine the differential impacts of either learning environment for competency development.

As can be seen in Figure 1, the first point of measurement has been conducted at the beginning of vocational training in the autumn of 2012. The second and third surveys have been held shortly before the intermediate and final examination of the participants (spring 2014 and spring 2015, respectively). The last point of measurement (autumn 2016) has been administered after completion of the training programs. In addition, the results of the final examination have been surveyed separately via postal follow-up.

Researchers involved at the IPN

Biology Education
Ute Harms

Chemistry Education
Sascha Bernholt, Ilka Parchmann,

Mathematics Education
Aiso Heinze, Robert von Hering

Physics Education
Knut Neumann

Educational Research
Dennis Föste, Olaf KöllerChristoph Lindner, Jan Retelsdorf

Educational Measurement
Jakob Bergmann, Julian Etzel, Gabriel Nagy

External Co-Operation Partners

German Institute for Adult Education – Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE), Bonn
Institute for Educational Quality Improvement, Berlin
University of Duisburg-Essen
University of Stuttgart
University of Wuppertal


Selected Publications

Frank, C., Härtig, H., & Neumann, K. (in press). Schulisch erworbene Kompetenzen als Voraussetzung für berufliches Wissen gewerblich-technischer Auszubildender [Competencies acquired in General Education as a precondition for occupation-related knowledge of industrial-technical trainees]. Unterrichtswissenschaft.

Frank, C., Bernholt, S., & Parchmann, I. (in press). Modellierung des Zusammenhangs allgemeiner und beruflicher Kompetenz für die Domäne Chemie [Modelling the Relation Between General and Vocational Education in the Domain of Chemistry]. Zeitschrift für die Didaktik der Naturwissenschaften.

Gantner, S., Großschedl, J., Chakraverty, D., & Harms, U. (2016). Assessing what prospective laboratory assistants in biochemistry and cell biology know: Development and validation of the test instrument PROKLAS. Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training, 8(3).

Retelsdorf, J., Nagy, G. & Köller, O. (in press). Lernausganslagen Auszubildender in Berufen mit hohen mathematisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Anforderungen [Initial achievement of trainees in vocations with high requirements in mathematics and science]. Unterrichtswissenschaft.

Volodina, A., Nagy, G., & Köller, O. (2015). Success in the first phase of the vocational career: The role of cognitive and scholastic abilities, personality factors, and vocational interests. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 91, 11-22.