Keynotes and Presentations
Opening of the conference
Margrethe Hernes, Nordic Council of Ministers
It is both about manpower and democracy
The last couple of years Denmark has taken significant steps forward when it comes to assessment and recognition of prior learning, Villy Hovard Pedersen, Danish Ministry of Education, said in his presentation.
Increased global competition. Present labour shortage and a prospect of a deterioration of conditions because of an increasingly ageing population. And a large group of young people who are entering the labour market without vocational qualifications. These are some of the challenges Denmark faces these days, and this is the reason why there is an increased awareness of incentives to make adults take up the challenge of life long learning, Villy Hovard Pedersen explained, he is a general training manager at the Ministry’s department of vocational adult education.
Recognition of prior learning is an important incentive, he determined.
“We want to promote a holistic view of adult education just like what the folk high schools traditionally have been known for. Besides the vocational qualification, it is also about increasing people’s interest and possibility for democratic involvement.
He highlighted the last years’ cooperation with organisations and associations from the third sector that have been involved in developing the basis and the specific tools for assessment and recognition of prior learning. And the most important thing is that the efforts have been supported by the labour market parties.
A bill has now been introduced on recognition of prior learning. According to the bill all citizens are given access to assessment and they can get actively involved in the documentation. The offer is going to be provided free of charge for people with a low level of educational attainment. They are still working on the creation of internet-based tools for the process, and procedures for quality assurance are also to be developed.
Convergence and divergence in Nordic approaches
Even in the choice of words and terms you can observe the differences between the Nordic countries. “Realkompetence” (real competencies) is the central term in Denmark and Norway focusing on the process. In Sweden they emphasize the result by using the term ”validering” (validation).
Åsa Hult (Valideringsdelegation) and Per Andersson (Linköping University) presented their study for the NVL of the Nordic policies on validation and how these are expressed in practice. A central point was the big differences and the difficulties in comparing the different approaches.
“There is, though, one convergence,” Per Andersson said.
“All five countries share a big interest in valuing informal and non-formal learning.”
To analyse the differences and similarities Hult and Andersson have used two sets of concepts:
A. Convergent and divergent assessments
A convergent assessment tries to asses, if the person has a pre-defined knowledge. It has an element of control. While a divergent assessment is exploring, trying to asses what the person knows.
B. Formative and Summative validation
The purpose of a formative validation is to inform and change the learning process. A summative validation will only sum up what has been learnt.
Per Andersson referred to the presentation of Villy Hovard Pedersen from the Danish Ministry of Education, who had explained about a new legislation making recognition of prior learning free only for “low skilled people”. Hovard Pedersen defined low skilled as people with no more formal education than the obligatory 9 years in school.
“How do you know, that a person is low skilled before you assess his or her skills? This is a typical convergent assessment, based on the formal education system,” Per Andersson said.
Third sector calls out loud to be heard
Politicians, officials and traditional education institutions do not themselves notice the competences and qualifications that the participants acquire within the third sector. Associations and organisations have to be much more active in describing and documenting the results in order to validate them.
This is one of the outcries of Eeva-Inkeri Sirelius and Tiina Jäger from the Finnish adult education organisation and Tallinn University respectively. They are both partners in the JAVAL-project (Joint action in Validation of Learning), which among other things research and compare Nordic and Baltic experiences and methods of assessment and recognition of prior learning acquired e.g. in association activities or in other informal learning arenas.
Based on the work in the JAVAL-project for two years, they presented a series of recommendations for decision makers and others. Everybody should have the right to have their prior learning assessed and recognised, both in relation to the labour market and to all levels of the education systems. Besides, the individual should be actively involved in the process. It will both create the most accurate result possible, and generate new learning and motivate each individual, they pointed out.
In line with the spread of assessment and recognition of prior learning, adult vocational counselling will play a much more important role and maybe even get a different profile than presently. According to the partners in the JAVAL-project independent institutions should handle the assessment and validation.
“But it is both expensive and difficult to establish, so we shouldn’t count on it”, Eeva-Inkeri Sirelius and Tiina Jäger said.
Make the benefits of non-formal education visible
We need more research. We need to make the rationale of recognition of prior learning more visible for the stakeholders. And we need to learn from both good and bad cases.
That was the answer Patrick Werquin gave to his own rhetorical question: “Why do we need an OECD activity on recognition of non-formal and informal learning?” Dr. Patrick Werquin works for the OECD.
He added that because of its global membership the OECD is able to include experiences from countries outside of Europe.
The OECD is right now compiling reports and examples from its member countries, and the organisation is working together with CEDEFOP on a glossary, that can help actors in this field understanding each other.
On the basic needs for recognition of prior learning, Werquin said:
“Many nurses from Central Europe travel to England to work there. They have acquired formal learning in their own country and – while working as nurses – non-formal and informal learning. Arriving in England they often have to work in another field first – having more non-formal and informal learning.
And then the authorities demand a full British formal education before they can actually work as nurses in England.
This is a nightmare to them and recognition of prior learning could help solve the problem.”
A central point in the presentation was the so called Matthew-effect, based on a Biblical quote: “He, who has, to him more shall be given”. In adult education the point is that the least educated tends not to use adult education. Instead adult education is used by the already educated segments of society.
Patrick Werquin also tried to provoke the audience by raising these questions:
1) Are you sure that the non-formal sector is able to deliver as much as you claim? If you are, you better start making it visible.
2) Do we have to assess and codify all kinds of learning? In my view there must be a purpose, especially considering the costs.
European countries move at different speeds
In some countries the citizens have the right to recognition of prior learning, in other countries the issue is not even placed on the agenda yet. Professor Michel Feutrie, University of Lille, France, reported the current state of affairs and also indicated the development trends and challenges of this field in Europe.
If you visit the same modern factory building every 15 years, the impression will be striking. New and smart technology has replaced the old machinery and most job functions have changed to computerised surveillance. Often the employees will be the same. They have regularly acquired new qualifications in order to manage completely new job functions than earlier.
In his presentation, Michel Feutrie quoted his colleague: “The question is not whether the learning takes place, but rather how we assess the learning and how we use it…..People learn in any case!” But at the moment the level of attention drawn to learning, on the factory floor or in all other sorts of contexts in our society, is significantly different in the 27 EU member states, Feutrie determined. On the other hand at top-level, EU tends to be clear. The interest in the recognition of prior learning, which people acquire in their lifetime, has increased impressively the last couple of years. The change is a natural continuation of the policies on life long learning, and on the largest possible exploitation of human resources, if Europe is to preserve its favourable position in a growing global competition, the French professor stressed.
In addition, there is a heavy increase in mobility. As more and more employees search for jobs overseas, in each country it calls for a development of policies and systems of recognising prior learning which people bring along to the new country.
Feutrie headed up some of the interests and challenges which exist in this field at many levels – both among politicians and administrators of companies, established educational institutions and the third sector and not least the individual citizen.
The Nordic region, the Baltics and Europe:
Strong interest in recognition of prior learning
“We believed that it was in important issue to call a conference about. And we hoped that enough people would find it interesting to attend”, said Agnethe Nordentoft, Danish Adult Education Association, when she closed the Nordic-Baltic conference on behalf of the organisers. She continued: “The interest has turned out to be strong. And I’m sure it reflects that we succeeded in presenting highly qualified and respected speakers to share with us their knowledge and visions on this area”.
More than 100 participants from 13 countries shared their knowledge and experience on recognition of prior learning in lectures and workshops at the conference in Copenhagen, 7-8 March.
Presentations of a number of concrete projects illustrated the current effort on the area of recognition of prior learning in the Nordic region and the Baltic States. And also present research and overall EU trends and policies were presented and discussed.
The challenges of the third sector were an important debate topic during the two days. The sector should set out on an offensive to describe and document results in order to insure future influence on national policies on the recognition of prior learning, several participants said.
The conference was organised by, among others, Nordic Network for Adult Learning (NVL) financially supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
Agnethe Nordentoft noted that the participants received information; they heard a lot of aspects and raised a lot of questions:
“Hopefully the questions were answered”, she said and finished by a quotation of Niels Bohr, the Danish nuclear scientist who many years ago finished a symposium on theoretical physics with these words:
“I think, it’s fair to conclude that we are still confused, but now at a much higher level”.
Validation and recognition of prior learning is one of the 4 priority areas of Nordic adult education cooperation in 2007.
Margrethe Steen Hernes
Villy Hovard Pedersen
Eeva-Inkeri Sirelius and Tiina Jääger