Giving better recognition to non-formal and informal learning in Europe
At least since the time when the concept of “life-long learning” has served to define European education policy, skills and abilities that can be acquired outside the formal education systems have assumed increasing importance. At the European level, there are already several schemes with this objective in mind: the Europass, Youthpass and, not least, the European Qualifications Framework.
As part of the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Commission presented in 2010 seven flagship initiatives for implementation, one of which was “Youth on the Move”. Here, the European Commission announced a proposal for a Council Recommendation on the promotion and validation of non-formal and informal learning. This was designed as a response to the demands of the labour market for new key skills and as a way of improving career opportunities for young people. It was especially important to create better access to learning opportunities, and to promote the acquisition of qualifications through non-formal education programmes.
After postponing publication of the document several times, the European Commission finally presented in early September its proposal for the validation of non-formal and informal learning. This calls on the Member States to make it possible, by 2015, for all citizens to obtain validation of skills which they have acquired outside the formal education system. For this purpose, national systems are to be set up to validate non-formal and informal learning, by means of which learning results will be identified, documented, evaluated and certified. The Commission’s proposal not only considers young people as a target group – as originally announced – but particularly takes into consideration people who are threatened with unemployment. Hence, it can be stated at the outset that what had been announced as a youth policy proposal has evolved primarily into an employment policy initiative. Whereas “Youth on the Move” referred to the “promotion, recognition and validation of non-formal and informal learning”, the proposal is now limited to validation, i.e. certification of skills and abilities acquired in open contexts outside formal education.
In order to evaluate the Commission’s proposal, however, a question needs to be raised as to the fundamental need for recognition and validation of non-formal and informal learning. Moreover, different and sometimes opposing positions can be found within the Church organisations and associations that are active in these areas. The main argument for the recognition of non-formal learning is usually its relevance for employment policy and its importance for certain target groups that face particular difficulties in accessing the labour market: school-leavers without formal qualifications or women looking for work after a long career break and who want to be able to demonstrate the skills they have acquired in the meantime. It is often argued that the recognition and validation of non-formal and informal learning represents for particular groups an important step towards employability.
Against the recognition of non-formal learning it is argued that this would require the creation of a formal framework. It is feared that standardisation and over-formalisation could lead to non-formal learning losing its special nature, which primarily involves the strengthening of personal development and satisfaction. In contrast to formal education, non-formal education programmes are based on the voluntary participation of learners. It should therefore also be pointed out that there is a risk that increasing recognition could have a restrictive effect on the voluntary nature of such programmes in the long term.
The Member States are responsible for implementation of this initiative. The question of the nature and extent of validation of non-formal learning will therefore need to be answered at national level. The question of the promotion of non-formal education and how this relates to youth policy also needs to be answered in this context – the Commission’s proposal leaves it up to the Member States to decide how the specified objectives are to be achieved. To start with, the competent Ministers will take a decision on the Commission’s proposal at their next meeting at the end of November.
European Office for Catholic Youth and Adult Education
Translated from the original text in German