System for validating informal and non-formal learning seeks credibility

Artigo para a INFONET
Carlos Ribeiro   | 15.05.2013 European Affairs - Articles [en] Para INFONET 
Mechelen welcomed 120 representatives of the various European Union countries to the seminar “On the validation of non-formal and informal learning,” organized by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) jointly with the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Portugal was represented by stakeholders of NGOs, public employment agencies, and public schools and universities, and made an active contribution to the establishment of quality standards highlighted in the discussions and considerations of the working groups.

Revision of guidelines 

“This seminar took place as part of the review of the 2009 European Guidelines on validating non-formal and informal learning, and was guided by the principles recently approved (in December 2012) by the Member States and directed toward increased and improved linkage between academic learning, on-the-job learning, and leisure-time learning, and the process of validation as such, with clear differentiation of the stages of identification, documentation, evaluation, and certification,” said the two Portuguese representatives.
In joint comments on the importance of this subject, they said that “the review that will be undertaken in 2014 is extremely important for all the Member States, in view of the potential for the empowerment of every citizen that is provided by validation of abilities acquired in the non-formal and informal context.” It is on this basis that Kerigma and the Agrupamento de Escolas Martinho Árias de Soure have undertaken to “meet the challenge of contributing actively to the development of an official document,” considering “the socioeconomic context and the current situation of the procedures for validation of competence in Portugal.”
They noted that “the revised document to be published seeks implementation of more standardized validation procedures and mechanisms, with assured quality-control strategies that are based on good practices already tried and proven in countries like Denmark and Portugal, two countries that were on several occasions singled out as examples of positive development of validation of competences acquired in non-formal and informal contexts.”  

The seminar was productive

In the discussions held in small break-out groups during the seminar, the two Portuguese participants had the opportunity to “discuss the expansion of procedures and their mainstreaming.” They noted that these activities had to be “implemented by professionals specifically trained for each of the validation areas already mentioned (identification, documentation, evaluation, and certification), but always using a variety of parties involved locally, and with attention being paid to the specific features of each country and region, as has already been happening in Portugal in the past 11 years. The discussion also revealed the need to strengthen local and regional cooperation networks, with allocation of specific funds for their operation and for dissemination activities and continuing training of professionals working in the field.
Another subject, also widely discussed in Portugal, “concerns the benchmarks existing or to be created, and their equivalence in the formal system.” The two participants wondered about “the continuing balance of the systems and their transparency in most countries.”

Raising levels of credibility

The Portuguese representatives agreed that the belief in “the importance of ensuring credibility for the validation process” was unanimous among all the participants. “The concern of all participants in the European seminar, a concern highlighted by the CEDEFOP, was the need to establish quality-control mechanisms to ensure that the principal parties concerned – the individual first of all, but also employers and civil society in general—recognize validation as a useful and effectively valid tool. This subject accounted for a major, and certainly the most controversial, part of the discussions.” They mentioned several questions featured in the discussion: “Should the validation system for formal and informal learning use standards, tools, and indicators similar to those of the formal system? Should the system for validation of non-formal and informal learning be governed by evaluation and quality certification tools similar to those of the professional training system, such as EQAVET (European Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training) or ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education), or even ISO (International Organization for Standardization)? How can we ensure quality among such a large variety of public and private stakeholders?” According to the two Portuguese participants, “these questions, for which no miracle solutions have been found,” indicate the need for “adaptation of these standards for use in non-formal and information competence validation systems.” And they asked bluntly, “will this change lead to the credibility that is so necessary and so widely discussed in Portugal as well as elsewhere?”
They concluded by praising the work done at the seminar. “Networking is extremely important, and we cannot ignore opportunities to express our opinons and beliefs, defend the values in which we believe, and increase the dynamism of advocacy actions,“ they noted. “This was the first initiative of the year on this subject. Another seminar is scheduled to be held during the most advanced phase of preparation of the revised document.” We’ll be there, if we have the opportunity.”