Early stages in building hybrid activity between school and work: The case of PénArt

By Sylvie Barma Professeure titulaire/Full professor, Université Laval (Quebec, Canada)

Since 2002, the International Labour Organization has viewed partnership between the education world and the world of work as one of the basic principles that should guide the education and training policies of all countries. UNESCO (2002) stressed that educational institutions have a vital role to play in facilitating career development. Meanwhile, Quebec (Canada) educational policy makers examined new ways to develop a variety of projects, and focused on student exploration of the working world to build their awareness of entrepreneurship (MELS 2002). Cooperative education models also began to develop in postsecondary education. However, at the secondary school level, only students with severe academic difficulties have had access to cooperative education through a special branch of vocational education (Hardy and Ménard 2008). Since 2006, three educational choices corresponding to three possible paths for students enrolling in 10th grade have been proposed to Quebec students: 1) a General Education Path; 2) an Applied General Education Path and 3) a Work-Oriented Training Path consisting of either pre-work training or training for a semiskilled trade. Each of them offers different sets of electives depending on students’ interest to broaden their range of choices (MELS, 2006).


The Centre of Research and Intervention for Student and School Success (CRI_SAS) documented the positive effects of entrepreneurship projects on students and the facilitation of career choices (Laferrière et al., 2014) and put together a grant proposal, namely  ‘The FAST project’ that was a response to a call made by the Quebec Government stressing joint action and collaboration between researchers and school partners to increase student school persistence and academic achievement. The project Formation en Alternance Science et Technologie (FAST) / Development and evaluation of an alternance education program in science and technology was designed for students with learning difficulties and from underprivileged homes (2011-2014). The design of the FAST project involved agreements between schools and businesses so young people can alternate between classroom time and some time spent in the workplace. Interestingly, university-school partnerships constitute a “move from within” that can be instrumental in exploring new ways of teaching and learning. Such partnerships may take a variety of forms and shapes, one of them being formative intervention (Engeström 1987).


In this context-bound study, we documented the early stages of a hybrid form of school-work activity meant to enable high school students with difficulties to start up their own business at school. It involved reaching agreements between a high school and a youth centre so that eleven high school students could engage in the production and selling of their branded t-shirt. Participating students were not freed from the school’s own code of living, rules and objectives. The project team and the student team sat together and thought about a way that social behaviour would remain within the school’s expectations when the group held its activities at the vocational centre – the place where they learned about technical aspects like printing, photography and software editing. Soon enough, students identified the division of labour between them as an important factor of success for their project. They gave a name to their school based business: Pénart. It is both a neologism and a pun based on the informal French word pénard – meaning easygoing, peaceful, but with a dash of art. Soon after, a logo was designed by some of the students and adopted by all of them: it became their trademark.The students ended enrolling in a regional entrepreneurship contest and won it. That was a significant event especially for students with low self-esteem linked with their performance at school. Through dialogue and negotiation between participants, a zone of proximal development was established, one that led to a successful first year.


At the frontiers of their respective activity system, students, youth workers, special education teachers and members of the school board took actions to cross boundaries and redefine their interrelations. CHAT framework and analysis were fruitful to document the development of a new object-oriented activity. Many key moments or turning points were necessary for PénArt to develop and contribute to the emergence of a hybrid activity between school and work: not only at actions taken by participants but also at their motives emphasizing that tensions and contradictions were key moments in the emergence of the hybrid school-work activity. Application of broader interpretive devices such as expansive learning adds to the understanding that, in a conflicting situation, a collective’s agentive actions create an expansive form of learning and, in the case of PénArt, lead to a successful entrepreneurship experience. FAST as an instrument was proving helpful in allowing the research team, the school team and the project team to foster vocational education for students with low motivation regarding their schooling.



Barma, S., Laferrière, T., Lemieux, B., Massé-Morneau, J., & Vincent, M. C. (2017). Early stages in building hybrid activity between school and work: the case of PénArt. Journal of Education and Work, 1-19.

Engeström, Y. (1987) 2015. Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki, FI: Orienta-Konsultit.

Gouvernement du Québec, Ministère de l’Éducation du Loisir et du Sport. 2002. “Projet personnel d’orientation: enseignement secondaire deuxième cycle.” Accessed July 20 2015. http://www.mels.gouv.qc.ca/sections/programmeformation/secondaire2/medias/10b-pfeq_pro.pdf

Laval, U., & Laferrière, T. Développement et évaluation d’un programme de formation en alternance en sciences et technologies (FAST) pour élèves en difficulté de milieux défavorisés.

Unesco. 2002. “Handbook on career counselling: A practical manual for developing implementing and assessing career counselling services in higher education settings.” Follow-up to the World Conference on Higher Education, October 9, Accessed July 20 2015. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001257/125740e.pdf