Faith and evidence
The panel gathered together Nordic, Baltic and European experts on validation, representing the governmental sector, the 3rd sector as well as research. The debate was not full of heated arguments. It rather consolidated several of the concepts discussed during the conference, and allowed the audience to reflect and probe deeper into concrete issues, like the issue of “ownership” and speed of the validation process.
The big why
Torild Nilsen from Vox, Norway, was the chair, and she opened the debate by asking if recognition of prior learning is needed at all.
Annelise Hauch, Danish Ministry of Education, was not in doubt:
“It is a tool to get people into formal education and to upgrade skills for low educated people,” she said.
Eeva-Inkeri Sirelius from the Finnish Adult Education Association pointed to a dilemma:
“We need to sell the idea of validation to the stakeholders by stressing that it may lower costs. But still we in the Third Sector must put learning in focus.”
Marin Gross from Tallin University in Estonia told the audience that her university at the moment had trouble recruiting enough students:
“One way to solve the problem is to be more flexible on admission. Recognition of prior learning may be a way of getting more students.”
Patrick Werquin, OECD, did his best to provoke a debate by stating:
“Most of what is said about validation is based on faith, not on data and evidence.”
From the audience Johanni Larjanko from the Finnish Adult Education Association, referred to the many comments during the conference about things going too slow because of lack of funding, hesitating politicians, hostile trade unions, sceptic universities and so on.
“It seems to be an uphill battle, but maybe there are benefits in going slow.”
At least two of the panellists tended to agree with Larjanko.
“Some of us became somewhat impatient two years ago when we thought we had everything ready for introducing a system for recognition of prior learning. Then we were told by the government to put things aside and wait for the results of a Tripartite Commission.
But in the end the Commission drafted a report stressing the need for validation. So the upcoming legislation now is supported by the social partners right from the start.
That is a positive result from not moving too fast.”
Michel Feutrie, University of Lille, France, stressed the same point in another way:
“You cannot walk alone. You have to progress step by step. First you have to convince a sufficient majority, just to get started. Then you can accelerate.”
Who should assess?
One of the recommendations from the JAVAL-project presented on the first day of the conference was to separate validation from the educational institutions and establish independent assessment bodies. The main argument is that schools, training centers and universities will tend to focus on the individuals need for exactly the learning offered by their own institution.
Eeva-Inkeri Sirelius added that it has been possible to establish independent counselling bodies, so why not the same in the field of validation.
But neither Michel Feutrie nor Annelise Hauch was convinced.
“Whatever independent bodies are created the universities will have to establish their own assessment institutions, because students leave and come back after some years and must be assessed. The result will be two parallel systems,” said Feutrie.
Hauch said that Denmark is too small a country to find the necessary experts outside the educational institutions.
As a solution of the last resort to the problem of biased assessments Hauch told that the Danish legislation includes the option of complaining to an independent body.
Torild Nielsen opened the debate by asking if recognition of prior learning is needed at all.
"It is a tool to get people into formal education", Annelise Hauch said.
Marin Gross told about trouble recruiting students: "One way to solve the problem is to be more flexible on admission", she said.
Eeva-Inkeri Sirelius added that it has been possible to establish independent counselling bodies, so why not the same in the field of validation. But neither Michel Futrie nor Annelise Hauch was convinced.