This is the way to preserve the values of non-formal education inside a national qualifications framework, one speaker after another said after listening to the key-note speech of Niamh O’Reilly. If non-formal education meets problems, the reason is not the qualifications frameworks, she adds in this supplementary interview.
Niamh O’Reilly succeeded in making Ireland the beacon of the conference (link to article on her presentation). All through the rest of the conference key note speakers and participants referred to the Irish example: In my country the independence, values and methods of non-formal adult education will come under attack if we want to become part of the national qualifications framework – but the Irish has overcome those problems, was the message of many interventions.
Niamh O’Reilly, who is head of Membership Services in the Irish adult education association AONTAS, does not regard the system of validation and the Irish national framework as the seventh wonder of the world.
“We have not solved all problems of validation, but the reason for our problems is not the qualifications framework. You need to be imaginative of how to use the framework.
In that way you can keep your own ethos and learning methods while adhering to a qualifications framework. It is all up to you,” she says.
Making our voice heard
As a representative of non-formal adult education AONTAS did make a big effort to influence the Irish validation system:
“We did not even have an official position in the process of establishing the framework. But it was an open process and we used all available opportunities to make our voice heard and to influence the outcome,” Niahm O’Reilly tells.
Correcting a misunderstanding among some participants of the conference she explains that students do not pay for being accredited in the Irish system:
“Usually it will be the provider organization that pays whatever expenses there are,” she says.
Bachelor from the non-formal sector
To many participants it came as a surprise that theoretically participants in non-formal adult education through validation can obtain a Level 6 in the Irish 10-level qualifications framework, equal to a higher level certificate from a university. Did the universities really accept that?
“I don’t think they saw what was coming. It is an intended, yet interesting, outcome from having a framework of qualifications.”
Niamh O’Reilly explains while adding:
“In my opinion challenges are posed by having two different authorities, one cohesive authority could act as a bridge across the entire education sector, from basic to higher level education.”