Non-formal education is not automatically included in the national qualifications frameworks in the Nordic countries. Resistance is seen from both government, other stakeholders and from the non-formal sector itself.
When people from adult education meet at conferences, they are used to regard the Nordic countries as frontrunners and examples to follow. Mostly the Nordic countries are at top of the “hit lists” of adult education.
But when it comes to the question of including non-formal adult education in the national qualifications frameworks, these countries are not in front anymore. That was the clear impression that the conference had from the presentation made by Flemming Gjedde.
A Nordic-Baltic survey
Flemming Gjedde presented “A survey on the EQF/NQF work in the Nordic and Baltic countries with special focus on non-formal learing”.
The survey was produced by Agnethe Nordentoft from the Danish Adult Education Association (DFS/DAEA) and Tina Jääger from the Estonian Adult Education Association (ENAEA) on the basis of reports from the educational ministries and the associations of non-formal adult education in each country.
Due to Agnethe Nordentoft falling ill, Flemming Gjedde of DAEA finished the report and presented it to the conference.
Ready for implementation
Country by country Flemming Gjedde briefly gave the basic facts on the processes and results: organization, stakeholders, consultation, in favour/with reservations, number of levels, final proposal, legislation, references to the European Qualifications Framework and the status of the non-formal sector.
In all Nordic countries the process has been ongoing for some years. In Denmark the final proposal for a national qualifications framework was ready in 2008. In Sweden the government will decide on a draft in a few months, and in Finland a final proposal has been ready since May 2010 and is now debated in the parliament.
In Norway a proposal is soon to be ready, while Iceland expects to have a final proposal some time in 2011.
“But these processes have also met reservations. For example the stakeholders in Finland see little added value in establishing a framework,” Flemming Gjedde said.
He also told that the VET-sector in Norway fears European harmonization into a kind of “Euro-vocations”, and in Denmark the representatives of higher education has reservations.
While the non-formal sector was either part of the official national working groups or consulted somehow, apart from Sweden the sector was not included in the frameworks. According to the report this reflects doubts about the sector from other stakeholders and skepticism towards frameworks from the non-formal sector itself.
The processes in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been very different and consequently they were hard to summarize.
Legislation was carried in Estonia in 2008 and in Lithuania in May 2010, while Latvia will be ready in December 2010.
As stakeholders in the Baltic countries the report mentioned representatives of the labour market in Estonia, the social partners and higher education in Latvia and employers and higher education in Lithuania.
Both in Estonia and Lithuania non-formal adult education is included in the frameworks through recognition of prior learning, while in Latvia the survey-report did not carry any answer to this question.
Trust and quality
Summarizing the situation of non-formal learning in relation to the frameworks Flemming Gjedde said that the NQF’s are an option for the non-formal sector.
“Because the frameworks are based on learning outcome, the non-formal sector can and must be included. Validation and recognition of prior learning becomes very important,” he said, but he also stressed:
“There are problems and dilemmas. For example, who will decide levels and criteria. We will need tools and methods to approve knowledge, skills and competences gained in the non-formal sector.”
Flemming Gjedde also pointed to the problem of getting the formal education system to accept non-formal and informal learning:
“We need the other stakeholders to trust us. To obtain this it will be necessary to create a system of quality control,” he said.
Tradition and conservatism
Finally Flemming Gjedde addressed the question of reservations in the non-formal sector itself:
“Do we want to relate the activities of the sector to a system which aims at standardizing? Is it relevant at all for the non-formal sector to be compatible with the formal sector? Will it bring any added value,” he asked.
“Non-formal adult education in the Nordic countries has a long tradition. That is good. But focusing too much on the tradition has also bred a kind of conservatism.
In the globalised world of today we cannot carry on doing business as usual. The qualifications frameworks is a reality we cannot avoid. It is a challenge for the non-formal sector, but we must find a way to deal with it. And Ireland has shown us that is possible to do that without sacrificing our values,” Flemming Gjedde concluded.