Conference on Validation of Non Formal and Informal Learning: A Report by Nam Peri

Lifelong Learning, validation of non formal skills, migrant integration into education and labour markets, stakeholder dilemmas, funding and mechanisms to monitor employability: all these topics came together at a conference organized by CEDEFOP the European centre for vocational education and training, in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki on 28-29 November, 2016. With a wet, cold weather as a backdrop, over 200 delegates from over 30 countries discussed and debated the imperatives of non formal education pathways under the theme of “how to make learning visible”?

The conference stood out in two ways. The diversity of thought and anecdotes that seem to emerge through the working groups juxtaposed with individual country contexts and their limitations of funding and mechanisms; and secondly, the voices of policymakers, varied in their pace and extent of credentialising non formal learning outcomes, yet positioning the effort of validation as a desired direction across the EU. In short multiple contradictions jostling to move in a single direction.

At the Sessions

The opening sessions by Mara Brugia, Deputy Director of CEDEFOP emphasized the competencies, skills and knowledge becoming the currency of employment, and a re-engineered role of existing institutions that can play a role in validation of non formal skills. Mara also underlined the individual being put in the centre of the conversation, particularly when the formal systems are not completely equipped to absorb or interpret indigenous or tacit knowledge. This becomes problematic from multiple stakeholders’ viewpoint and requires a prioritization and convergence, the very idea for this kind of conference.

Ana Carla Pereira of the European Commission refreshed the European Council recommendations on Non-Formal and Informal Learning of 2012 and signposted the way forward for meeting the deadline of 2018, by which EU member states should have validated experience into qualifications. She posed 4 questions under the banner WHY should we make learning more visible?

  • Reaching the same or equivalent standards of qualifications for non formal learning, as obtained through formal education
  • An increased awareness through information and guidance available to individuals as well as organisations
  • Providing a currency value on the labour market for skills acquired through non formal means
  • A “focus” on disadvantaged groups and individuals, through skill audits that might expose mechanisms to improve, include and strengthen.

CEDEFOP’s research teams presented the two-decade history of validation in Europe, with an update on the 2016 European inventory of non formal and informal skills. The snapshot of the presentation shows the lag in the efforts required across almost all parameters seen in the pale pink bar graphs: Arrangements, Information and guidance, link to NQF, Standards equivalence, Quality Assurance, Professional Development, Credits and Skill Audits.

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You can find the guidelines and inventory here.

Four Parallel sessions engaged participants through a workshop mode, on validation of key user groups. For over three hours, two key questions from each individual bubbled up through discussions into several themes.

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On the second day, a non-European perspective on validation was presented by Canada and New Zealand. The latter highlighted the assimilation of indigenous learning mechanisms and a co-existence of such learning ecosystems with formal efforts. A panel representing stakeholder groups from policy, civil society and UNESCO’s Institute of Lifelong Learning, responded to categorized questions from groups of participants.

From the Sessions

There are, from my perspective, two key takeaways from the sessions. The first is an understanding of the international contours of Non Formal Education in the discourses of contemporary education. Secondly, from my current work in the vocational and non formal education, I raised the questions repeatedly in the discussions that gave me some clues, not answers. How much of the non formal mechanisms that have stayed strong in indigenous environments, should we validate or credentialise? Is a full credentialisation the only path to offering a respectful livelihood existence to practitioners who may not be current beneficiaries of the skill regimes? Are these “south skills”?

Beyond the Sessions

Thessaloniki: A city that is steeped in history, all the way to the years of Aristotle. The Philosopher lived not far from here, and was mentor to, amongst others, Alexander the Great. The city with its seafront promenade would have been great on a good-weather day. But alas, it was not to be! The 4degrees was just a tad better than Bristol! So much for the Greek sunshine.

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A colleague at the conference and I braved the rain in the evening to go look for an Indian dinner. The only restaurant, in the vicinity of the Hagia Sofia (yes, there is one in Thessaloniki too) took us on a journey of strangering – the art of asking directions from passing strangers. But we soon gave up and reluctantly allowed google maps to come to our rescue. The colourful restaurant tucked away deep in an alley off the main street did not disappoint on the gastronomic scale. It was named Nargis, after a famous actress of yesteryears’ Bollywood.

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Thessaloniki at night, with its iconic Tower seen on the far left.


Editor’s note: Narasimham (Nam) Peri is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, where he is researching frameworks relating to knowledge production in traditional industries, work-based and workplace learning, TVET and livelihood alternatives to post-compulsory education. Email: np14127@bristol.ac.uk