EUCIS-LLL gathers 30 European networks working in the various fields of education and training in order to promote lifelong learning. We consider that the validation of non-formal and informal learning should be a top priority in the modernisation of our education and training systems. It is a concrete tool for lifelong learning. It contributes to offer more flexible learning pathways for European citizens and helps individuals, institutions and employers to identify and take into account individual progression and development in personal and professional pathways. We also see validation has a way to broaden access to education and qualifications, by offering a second chance or a relevant alternative to “non-traditional” learners... This magazine aims at providing key data on validation, examples of countries’ profiles, interviews of experts but also of learners to give an insight about recent developments in Europe linked to the validation of non-formal and informal learning. I hope you will enjoy the reading! Audrey Frith, EUCIS-LLL Director.
Before we start...
For the purposes of this “LLL-Mag”, we use the term validation of non-formal and informal learning (VNFIL). It encompasses different types of known processes: the recognition of prior learning (RPL), Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL); Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL); Accreditation of Prior Certificated Learning (APCL); Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL); Accreditation of Prior Learning and Achievement (APL&A); Recognition of Current Competencies (RCC); and, more recently Learning Outside Formal Teaching (LOFT). These various definitions already give an idea about the complexity of the processes under scrutiny as well as of the diversity of learning settings in Europe.
What’s the current situation in Europe?
The validation of non-formal and informal learning (VNFIL) is a fashionable topic attracting interests of stakeholders from different sectors of education and training. At the EU level, several initiatives have been taken in order to push forward the process of validation and build pathways between non-formal, informal and formal learning. Common European principles and guidelines have been established, peer learning and exchange of good practice have been promoted through a regularly updated inventory of policy and practice across Europe and through the provision of financial support for projects from EU lifelong learning and youth programmes. The Europe 2020 strategy explicitly calls for ‘the promotion of the recognition of non-formal and informal learning’ under its Youth on the Move flagship initiative. In this sense, by the beginning of 2012 the European Commission should launch a communication on this topic.
VNFIL is recognised as an important tool in the context of the current economic crisis as well as in the pursuit of economic and social goals at European level. However, in Europe VNFIL is organised differently across member states and consequently there are enormous differences within its development and implementation among European countries. In general, we can distinguish three groups of countries:
• The ones that have put in place national systems making validation an integral part of their education and training and employment policies (i.e. France, Portugal); when this is the case it is seen as another nationally endorsed route to recognition of learning outcomes and possibly to certification.
• The ones that have introduced validation partially, putting in place legal and institutional frameworks for future development in sub-sectors of education and training or in the employment sector;
• And a third group of countries where validation remains low on the political agenda and an overall strategy is lacking and there are few concrete initiatives.
This classification has been further extended in the 2010 CEDEFOP inventory to four categories (see table below). However, it is important to keep in mind that this categorisation provides only an overall assessment, because the situation on validation is multi-faceted, with different degrees of process and development in different sectors. Moreover, each country applies its own strategy. Sometimes we can observe a centralised approach, which leads to the implementation at national level, whereas some counties do not have any national or regional strategies and evidence ‘bottom-up’ approaches where local educational institutions and workplace initiatives have been developed. There are also different ministries, institutions and bodies responsible for the implementation, control and award of validation. For individuals, outcomes of validation are crucial. In some countries, an applicant can obtain a full diploma whereas in a majority of countries, an applicant can only benefit from access to education or from credit exemptions. To understand better the process of VNFIL and differences within the European Union, we prepared a short description of validation in four European countries.
With the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act (1999) steps towards the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) have been taken. The Act provides a framework for a life-wide approach to learning where qualifications are “that which are conferred, granted or given by an awarding body which records that a learner has acquired a standard of knowledge, skill or competence”. The Act itself did not legislate specifically for a detailed RPL system but rather brought into being a range of institutions which through their policies and procedures has ensured that RPL is now a key issue and one which is being addressed by all sectors of the educational system. The Act gave birth to the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) that has a responsibility to develop the use of RPL and to coordinate validation practices between awarding bodies and sectors and to ensure that the developments take place in a coherent manner across different educational sectors and awarding bodies. This agency is to become soon the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland, QQAAI. While RPL for access, and credit/exemptions, is generally practised, the concept of making full awards on the basis of RPL is a relatively new one for Ireland.
In therory, if an individual wants to get his/her qualifications recognised, he/she can contact a Professional Development Advisor via the competent authorities and complete a written application form to determine his/her suitability for the scheme. If the applicant is eligible, he/she will be registered to join the scheme, and a mentor will be appointed to guide and help her/him. The applicant prepares a Portfolio of Evidence based on the syllabus, which sets out the standards that must be met. The applicant attends an interview/exam/practical skills demonstration in front of a Committee. If the standard is met, the applicant will be awarded a National Certificate. However this process is not fully implemented yet. The list of awarding bodies can be found on the NQAI website (http://www.nqai.ie/).
Recognition practices have been fostered in the French educational landscape as a result of a law on validation of professional experience, passed in 1992. Since 2002, the validation system has enabled the validation of prior learning and full or partial acquisition of diplomas and qualifications. French regions have developed information centres, while validation procedures have been drawn up by Ministries and validated by the National Committee for Professional Certification (CNCP). Another tool for validation is the Skills Audit (bilan de compétences), which enables learners to reflect upon their career paths, achievements and available training opportunities. In 2006, the Committee for the Development of Validation of Experience was established to investigate new developments in validation. In higher education, practices have been institutionalised due to the Law of Social Modernisation of 2002, which enables full exemption from coursework through the recognition of three years of professional experience.
If an individual wants to validate his/her qualifications, he/she can directly contact the institution that awards the qualification or an information centre. Any public or private body can be considered as a legitimate awarding authority if it offers qualifications that are classified in the National Qualifications Directory (RNCP). The next step is to gather material in order to assess the eligibility of the candidate. If eligible, they will be asked to prepare an application to present their experience. If needed, a mentor will be appointed to guide the candidate. Finally, a jury will decide whether or not to award the diploma or qualification. In cases when the applicant does not receive a full validation, he or she can continue to receive individual guidance until full validation can be obtained. The total number of diplomas delivered via VAE (Validation des Acquis de l’Expérience [Accreditation of Prior Learning or APL]) by universities is approximately 4000, and has remained stable since 2007; over half of these (2200) are full diplomas. Information about validation can be found on the government website: http://www.vae.gouv.fr/.
In Portugal, the validation of non-formal and informal learning (VNFIL) has been taken up as a relevant political issue. The Recognition, Validation and Certification of Competences (RVCC) process was implemented in 2001. A main political shift occurred in 2006-2007 with the creation of a National Qualifications System (NQS) and a widened scope of the RVCC process that includes recognition of scholar competencies (basic and secondary level) and vocational education Within this context, the New Opportunities Centres were created to provide qualifications to the population, through the RVCC processes and through qualified training. One million adults enrolled into one of the 459 bodies across the territory to formalise their qualifications in 2010. The Centers are managed by the National Agency for Qualifications (NAQ) that also coordinates the National Qualifications Catalogue for lower qualifications equivalences. The National ANQ set up in 2007, is the body responsible for the coordination of the national system of validation. Several other bodies are involved into validation practices. 453 New Opportunities Centres all over the country by the year 2010.
Opportunities Centres are the main interlocutors for individuals; they contribute to make the efforts made in terms of recognition visible to the population and became central in the RVCC process. There, an applicant obtains information about his/her possibilities on VNFIL. The next step for the applicant is to make a portfolio under supervision of a mentor. After that, the applicant presents it in front of a team from the centre (in case of basic and secondary education level). The next stage is the validation by a Jury composed of persons from the centre and an external evaluator. The process ends with a full certification (the individuals achieve a qualification level) or a partial certification (some competences are certified but not enough to achieve a qualification level); in this last situation, individuals are enrolled in a training course in order to conclude the qualification pathway. But even when a full certification is awarded in the end of the RVCC process, the individuals are encouraged to continue their studies. Thousands of low-skilled adults therefore had their qualifications acknowledged thanks to the New Opportunities Centres but it seems that progress needs to be made in the field of higher education where practice remains very difficult, expensive and slow. Learn more on http://www.anqep.gov.pt/.
No national strategy in Lithuania is dedicated to validation of non-formal and informal learning – the practical implementation has been rather slow and so far based on ad-hoc initiatives. However several laws have been adopted such as the National Education Strategy 2003-2012 (2003) that proposes flexible structures for a holistic approach to education and a focus on learning outcomes via a recognition system for untraditional pathways. A new edition of the Law on Education passed in 2003 set out key elements to formally certify competences acquired through non-formal or informal learning. Several regional, national and European initiatives have also been implemented. Validation practices are managed in a partnership approach. The Ministry of Education is involved in confirming final qualification examinations and determining the equivalence of education levels attained abroad. Public bodies participate in the process and other actors play a decisive role such as vocational schools and training institutions (that give support to applicants), colleges or social partners. Furthermore, several universities have been developing their own validation systems and have used EU funding to experiment these systems during the last few years.
Individuals with at least one year’s work experience and who are over 18 can apply for the recognition of competences by registering in a licensed vocational school that examines the documents provided by the individual. The student and school agree on a timetable of courses, credit tests and consultations and when the results are positive, the student can take the final qualification exam together with those from formal education, meaning that informal outcomes can only be validated through formal procedures. Individuals who successfully pass the exam are awarded with the same qualification certificate or qualified worker diploma. Assessment and recognition services are paid by the student or by his/her employer (in some cases by the Labour Exchange for unemployed people). Although the Education Strategy aimed at reaching 15% of the adult population involved in education and training by 2012, the target may not be reached. Weak individual financial capacities and a lack of information have been identified as the main problems.
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