When mountain climbing gives merit
Is the university selling out its soul – or is the folk high school? This was some of the considerations in a workshop on a cooperation established between a Norwegian folk high school and a university in the Midwest, USA. But maybe the two very different educational institutions have something very important to offer each other.
One of the most important objectives of the cooperation is to acknowledge and stimulate the personal development and interpersonal skills which the folk high schools have a strong reputation for, explained Odd Haddal who presented the Norwegian-American cooperation. For a period of years he taught at university level in the USA, but has now returned to the folk high school environment in Norway, and he could testify that a comprehensive process took place, before cooperation between these two quite different types of educational institutions could be established.
Parts of the tuition of the folk high school – e.g. kayaking and mountain climbing - have now been documented and from next year they qualify Norwegian students that apply for the university department of Physical Education and Recreation, and also American students that want to supplement the university studies with a folk high school education.
The cooperation is full of challenges and dilemmas, Odd Haddal stressed. “We are really talking about a contact between two very different cultures. A grassroots organisation with approx. 100 participant and a top-down university with 8000 students. An open and including non-examination teaching tradition opposite a selective and exclusive university culture which is constantly assessing and evaluating”.
“How do the university stand up to this, doesn’t it sell out of its academic soul?”, one of the participants in the workshop asked. Odd Haddal believed you could rightly ask the same question about the integrity of the folk high school. He also pointed out that many other folk high schools would be very sceptical of a similar cooperation. Other participant took the view that students could benefit from a meeting between two widely different institutions. Under established circumstances they will be able to stay in a foreign country, learn a new language, a new culture and develop their interpersonal skills while they take an education.
They still remain to find out how the students receive the offer. Previously American students have shown interest in folk high schools in the Nordic countries, but without much luck to talk their parents into the project, exactly because it did not give qualifications, Odd Haddal pointed out.
Validation is a tool against uniformity
”Everybody is a treasure. The learning society needs every single person. We cannot allow drop-outs. But standard requirements in the educational system create drop-outs.”
The central point in the presentation of professor Tatjana Koke from Riga, Latvia, was: Validation is a tool against uniformity. Professor Koke structured her presentation in one of the workshops around a number of learning society paradoxes.
One of them was: “The growing share of investments in education does not support inclusion, even though there is a need for paying attention to the problems of illiteracy and lack of basic skills.”
She told that in Latvia requirements for entering the formal education system are very uniform. This creates barriers for including all kinds of people.
She argued that recognition of prior learning could be a tool against this uniformity.
Another of her paradoxes was that effective lifelong learning alienates learning from traditional education: “We learn more outside than inside schools,” she said.
Finland’s competence based qualifications for adults
52.000 participating adults in a year and 358 different qualifications available. That are the impressing figures of Finland’s comprehensive vocational adult education system. And the entry requirements are flexible.
In a workshop Carola Lindholm told about the Finnish qualification system. Lindholm is at the same time working for the Finnish Adult Education Association and involved in organising the education for some of these qualifications relating to management.
“Qualifications may be completed irrespective of how the vocational skills and competences have been obtained. You just go there,” Carola Lindholm said, and she added that it is not very expensive for the participant.
Based on a formal procedure the applicants’ skills and competences are assessed, and an individual study plan is then drawn. After finishing the study plan the qualification obtained is recognized through competence tests.
But this Finnish programme only covers vocational skills and specialist vocational skills, not higher education. That was the theme of Ulf Wikström’s (Åbo Akademi University) presentation in the same workshop.
Wikström presented the 25 recommendations, made by a working group, on a recognition system for the Finnish universities.
On my way to my digital me
Students, participants and teachers at ten widely different educational institutions have been working with documentation of their vocational skills and learning processes in an electronic file. Ulf Wallin from "Folkuniversitetet”, a Swedish adult educational association, presented their experiences in a workshop.
“The e-file is my digital clone – my e-me!” said one of the participants in the joint Nordic project which started a year ago. But far from all the involved participants have drawn the same conclusion, Ulf Wallin pointed out when he presented the results of the Nordport-project, which is financially supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The ten involved educational institutions contain traditional universities, general and vocational youth and adult educational institutions and adult education activities. The ambition was to cooperate on the development of methods to visualise day-to-day learning processes and professional returns which each individual could present in his or her personal e-file. The file works both as a presentation of the individual in connection with e.g. a job search and as a tool for self-assessment.
There is a difference in the levels of experience within the educational sector in this type of electronic documentation, and one of the objectives of Nordport has been to show specific steps and tools to get started and to write manuals for students and teachers.
“Some of the participants quickly ventured into photographing and video documenting processes of producing arts and crafts at e.g. an evening school. Others were reluctant to use visualisation to describe and document their learning processes. Furthermore some of the teachers considered the project inconvenient extra work not the least due to problems with the technical equipment”, Ulf Wallin said.
First and foremost the Nordport has started reflections on learning processes both among teachers and participants and students, Wallin estimated. Especially the students are interested in an improved dialogue about this, he believed, and one of the teachers who participated in the workshop agreed:
“Middle-aged teachers like me are not used to reflecting openly in the class room. Therefore some of us will find it difficult to accept tools and methods like the e-file”, she estimated.
Validation is a dating process
Validation and career guidance is really a question of dating. The purpose is to match the individual’s competences with the needs of the labour market. Rie Thomsen said in her workshop presentation.
Ph.d. student Rie Thomsen is the project manager at the Guidance Research Unit of the Danish University of Education. Working with her doctoral thesis she has developed a structured model of the validation process. She describes it as a circular process in which the individual can enter at any point:
A central point in her presentation was the necessity of combining identification and clarification, but at the same time to see these elements as separate phases in the process.
“In the identification phase you must identify as many competences as possible. Then you narrow it down to the valued competences in the area of education or employment, where you wish to go. That is clarification,” Rie Thomsen said and she stressed:
“If you have identified all sorts of competences relevant to many areas, the person will not fail, if the clarification area fails. There will still be other options.”
Professionalism at the school desk
According to Andreas Fejes, recognition of prior learning is the key to improve education and skills development courses which increase the self confidence and professionalism of the participants. Andreas Fejes is a senior lecturer at the University of Linköping and he has observed a programme for healthcare workers.
”They really examine your experience. Then you can move on faster during the teaching – it doesn’t have to drag on. In formal education you have to start from scratch.”
Statements like this, from one of the participants of a programme for healthcare workers at six nursing homes in southern Sweden, pay testimony to Andreas Fejes in relation to the value of including prior learning in the organisation of education with the purpose to increase the supply of skilled labour, like for example in this case.
Despite an increased focus on the recognition of prior learning in Sweden the last decade, there are still examples of workplace related upgrading of skills which does not take account of the experience of the participants. “You sit there and sleep – it doesn’t bring anything” or “This type of teaching is most of all one-way communication” - this is some of the feed-back from the participants, Andreas Fejes said.
Assessment of prior learning could be considered a ritual which increases self awareness and makes it possible to begin a new procedure, he believed.
“The participants will have the opportunity to see themselves as the professional employees that they are, and they will be ready to take part in a program which is based on dialogue, debate and reflection”, Andreas Fejes estimated.
Sector Clarification tool - for documenting non-formal and informal learning in third sector
Methodology and practice work in a lifelong learning centre in Örebro
Prior learning authorises nursing assistants to skilled nursing assistants
Results from Norwegian study on recognition of prior learning in the third sector and working life
by Sigrun Røstad and Torild Nilsen Mohn, Vox
The Norwegian approach to validation of non-formal and informal learning
Not a ”one-size-fits-all” strategy:
A plural system based on
• shared laws
• a common procedure with different assessment methods and tools
Presentation, det norska caset (pdf)
See more best practises examples