Quality in Estonian non-formal education


The principles of quality measurement

What then should be the basis for evaluating the quality of an education centre? We state that it is the level of satisfaction of the learner, educator, financial supporter, employer, the local community as well of the whole society. We have investigated whether the education offered by our education centre reaches the expectations of these interest groups. We did not try to find out which education centres teach more comprehensively and which ones superficially – we based our research completely on the content levels of the different interest groups.
The model for evaluation of non-formal education centres was developed by long-term members of the Estonian Non-formal Education Association, many of whom have a degree in educational sciences: Reet Valgmaa, Piret Tamme, Merle Lõhmus, Tiina Jääger, Ene Lukka-Jegikjan, Eha Korkus, Maire Breede, Heli Kaldas, Eda Mikk and myself, Ivo Eesmaa.
Technically speaking, the procedure we chose was that every educational centre evaluated the satisfaction levels of their learners, educators and partners. We were hoping to get an overview of the whole system of non-formal education based on these results. By now this process has been completed, and a summary has been made from the acquired data. This summary will soon also be published and made available.
Talking of quality, it is appropriate to mention that one of our partners is the University of Tartu, well-known for its high quality requirements. And never-the-less the university has given study credits for language courses in our non-formal education centres. The only exception is the philology department. What matters is that the university is considering the expectations of its partners and if those partners find the level of our education centres sufficient, the study credits can be transferred. It is relatively easy for the university to evaluate the language levels as they use the European Union standards A, B and C.
But skills and knowledge is not all that there is to non-formal education. Learning handicraft for instance: a part of it will be to be able to embroider but this skill is only a part of all the benefits that one can get from the education. Non-formal education is about learning from other people. But that what we learn through doing and discussing with other people – that is rather impossible to measure and evaluate.

Voluntary participation

We directed the self-evaluation in our education centres from our own free will and interest. According to the law only formal education schools are obliged to self-evaluation. But we have realized that feed-back is a very important component of leadership, thus we self-initiated the evaluation also in non-formal education centres. And as a result we got to know to which extent our non-formal education networks function and besides that a big amount of useful statistical data.
This kind of self-evaluation is important also because it helps to observe developments and processes in the non-formal education as a whole. If self-evaluation becomes systematic and regular it can give a clearer overview of the directions non-formal education is developing, in what speed and mass. We will also be able to see whether the steps we have taken have real impact on these developments. We can see how changes in state funding have affected the situation etc.

The course of actions when evaluating quality

Taking a look back in the history, the first evaluation of quality of educational centres of Estonian Non-Formal Adult Education Association was made in 2002. A new and more extensive one began in May 2006 with 45 educational centres taking part in it. The project was supported by the European Social Fund (ESF). At first a pilot project was launched for four educational centres, after that all the remaining centres got evaluated. The adequacy of self-evaluation was then evaluated by outside experts. The outside evaluation by experts started in 2006. An expert (usually a director or a teacher of a non-formal education centre or someone actively participating in the field) was also creating the evaluation model. Conclusions to these evaluations were published in December 2006. As to the results we can say that learners, educators, employers, local self-governments as well as other collaboration partners are in general satisfied with our education centres. The increasing popularity of some of our courses is a telling example of these results. Cultural subjects such as arts, crafts, cultural history etc and the so called new skills (entrepreneurship, languages, computer and communication skills) are at the moment equally popular amongst the learners. What we can conclude is that these subjects are taught in good quality – that is, according to the needs of the learner.

The quality of the system

Besides evaluating the quality of the teaching of single disciplines it is important not to forget to question whether non-formal education as a whole is meeting the needs and expectations of the Estonian society. Unfortunately we have found out that for the most part the Estonian non-formal education system is still far from meeting these ends.
For example 16 per cent of all non-formal learning in Estonia is professional training. This is a high level in the field of non-formal education. What we see is that there are far less participants with basic and secondary education in these courses than people with higher education (and higher incomes). The problem here is not that the quality of courses offered for people with basic and secondary education is not good enough but rather that these people usually cannot afford to take part in these professional training because of the high costs.
In order to improve the situation the Ministry of Education has agreed to support the professional training courses for people with basic and secondary education from 2008. The Ministry for Economic Affairs will join offering project-based support for companies that organize courses for their employees with basic and secondary education. The Ministry for Social Affairs will support the learning of the unemployed.