NFE values versus the need of official certification

I have to say that the work of the youth worker is not an easy one, and the more we move forward the more traps we can find on our way. Just imagine the situation related to the recognition of NFE (non formal education), that is becoming very popular and hot topic among the youth work practitioners.
The ¨imaginary¨ situation:
The group of 5 European organizations is preparing the project to innovate the topic of recognition of the learning in the European mobility projects (btw. the next blog post should be about the innovation, since it is very funny in the youth work as well). As each good practice to start the project preparation, they discuss what are the real needs they observe in their local communities. One partner explains that learning in European mobility is not considered as an added value by employers since those types of projects are associated mainly with drinking etc. Other partner refers to youthpass, that is still not recognized, and it is too long for the possible employers to actually have a look on that, besides many young people have several youthpass documents and presenting all of them is too much. Other partners express their observations that what is the most valued by employers are the formal certificates – like the certificates from the universities, official language exam certificates, etc. In this moment other partners react positively that in their countries there is very similar situation.
This excitement among partners that finally they have found something in common quickly leads to development of the first draft of the project – creation of the certification system, that is preferably recognized by some institutions (here you can mention National Agencies, Governments, Local Authorities and if nothing would work hosting organizations). There might appear as well ideas as creating the standardized programmes, common evaluation systems (if not something that might look like exam, but will not be an exam because we talk about NFE), procedures, online platforms, competences frameworks etc…
Sounds familiar?
And then imagine that one partner is late for this meeting. This person comes when all the others are already getting into the details how to create the evaluation system and who will sign the certificates. Looking on what is happening around ask a very simple question to others: HOW WE CAN DO ALL OF THIS IN THE ACTIVITY THAT SHOULD BE BASED ON THE NFE PRINCIPLES LIKE BEING LEARNER CENTERED – MEANING ADJUSTING THE CONTENT TO THE SPECIFIC NEEDS OF THE LEARNER AND SELF EVALUATION – EXACTLY WHAT IT MEANS, THAT THERE ARE NO GRADES, LEARNERS ARE NOT BEING COMPARED AND ONLY THE LEARNER IS EVALUATING OWN RESULTS. In this moment the previous excitement that all partners had disappears as a soup bubble leaving the question what next….
For me the above-described situation is nothing new and I have observed it already several times. It presents very big dilemma that we as youth workers have. Since youth workers usually believe in the NFE principles (or they would like to believe, but still needs to internalize it a bit more), they try to follow them in the everyday youth work, that that´s great. On the other side recognition as well as employability are hot topics, and we are pushed by the local needs as well as the funding opportunities that put it as a priority, to work with that, innovate, improve and do something to make it work. Unfortunately quite often our innovation ends up exactly like our imaginary story – we end up producing something that is not fully in line with the NFE principles (although is fully desired by the employers) and something that is a simple multiplication of the things that has been already done – like youthpass. As youth workers we usually have very good ideas, but the truth is not easy to do something better then youthpass, with maybe 1% of the money that has been invested in the tool, and with much smaller network of stakeholders and promotion capacities.
But the life doesn’t have to be so sad and negative as it might seem from the last paragraph. I do believe that there are several things that we can do, and even more important are super necessary! So let´s start with the list:
Improve the image of European Learning Mobility – we need to promote more and more that all the European Mobilities within ERASMUS+ are learning mobilities, and the participants are learning; what is even more important they are getting new competences, not only getting to know the theories, but being able to use them in the real life situations… saying with the simple words they learn practical things.
Embrace self-evaluation as valid type of evaluation – I have heard it many times that is the evaluation is not standardized, and does not finish with the sigh and stamped certificate (yes some people are crazy about stamps, and is come countries they even doesn’t exist) it is not real, and doesn´t serve anything. IT IS NOT TRUE, and until we start believing in this we will not change much. Self evaluation it is very helpful to improve the self-esteem of the learner, since they start believing that they actually can do things, start believing in themselves. Secondly self-evaluation helps to name the competences that they have learned, so it brings added value to the CV learners are doing, or their self-presentation during the job interview. And there are for sure much more examples how useful the self-evaluation is (if you have some you can comment this blog post). Our responsibility as people who want to promote the recognition is to believe in and to spread the world that the real-evaluation really make sense.
Stop producing new recognition tools – in this point maybe my pragmatic point of view is getting too dominant, and maybe one of the tools that will be produced would really make sense. Although based on my observation for now I see that the organizations try to develop something new, quite often it really make a lot of sense and might be really useful, but due to the lack of funding, promotion and time it slowly dies. It is very difficult to compete with the youthpass in terms of the recognition, since already a lot of money has been invested in that, a lot of time dedicated (10 years or something), and it is becoming well known. Within the 2 years project that cost 150 000€ it is simply impossible to have the outreach that youthpass has, and then comes the question what next? How can I sustain my tool when the funding ends…
Train youth workers on how to use youthpass – yes, I said it, many manuals and trainings has been developed on that and still the quality (in my opinion based on what I see) of support on youthpass is very limited. It is very simple to improve, just find the time in the project to really implement the youthpass process – which we can call self-evaluation, and ensure the time that learners really can reflect. It can be very helpful to introduce the Learning to Learn competence better and develop it within the project. Finally we need to support learners to use the language that is relevant for the employers, so whenever learner went through the self-evaluation, we can help them to give a from, to translate what they have learnt into the employers language.

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