10.11.2016 - Education Sector

Promoting lifelong learning through the recognition of the outcomes of youth and adult basic education

© College of DuPage US: Adult Basic Education/General Education Development office awards graduates

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 757 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills. The availability of recognition and validation processes could be a key strategy to re-engage them in learning and to achieve the targets in Sustainable Development Goal 4.

How to ensure that young people and adults do not miss out on their right to basic education and re-engage with learning to enhance their life chances? During a meeting in UNESCO headquarters on 3-4th November, a group of experts discussed the findings of a study and a set of key messages for policy and for further research on the recognition, validation and accreditation (RVA) of basic competencies, regardless of the ways in which they were acquired.

UNESCO, through its various divisions and specialised institutes, like the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), advocates for the RVA of the outcomes of non-formal and informal learning as a building block towards the construction of lifelong learning policies and systems. In contribution to moving this agenda forward, UNESCO has developed Guidelines for the Recognition, Validation and Accreditation of the Outcomes of Non-formal and Informal Learning.

The attention of policy-makers to this topic has increased with the renewed focused on lifelong learning which has been given impetus by the Education 2030 agenda. This is the focus of a joint UNESCO-UIL research project, supported by an international group of experts on the recognition, validation and accreditation (RVA) of the outcomes of non-formal and informal learning. Initiated in 2015, the project examined trends, challenges and promising practices in the field of RVA with a particular focus on non-formal basic education for disadvantaged youth and adults.

Good practices

Following UNESCO’s humanistic tradition, this project is based on an inclusive approach that values prior learning and provides learners with the opportunity to acquire a basic education certificate. This certificate can mean a springboard into higher levels of education and training; yet, in many countries where young people and adults have attended literacy programmes, they often find there is no opportunity to continue their studies and to complete their basic education or to keep on learning.

However, there are many promising practices in this field. For example, in South Africa, millions of learners were reached by programmes aimed at recognising prior knowledge in the past decade by means of portfolio-building at community learning centres and with guidance provided by volunteers. Other countries, like Benin, Mali and Senegal, have chosen to validate competences based on dual apprenticeship schemes that combine literacy with vocational training. Others yet, have tried to link RVA with the development of their national qualifications frameworks or, like in the case of Indonesia where alternative educational pathways are offered in the form of formal, non-formal and informal tracks.

Analysing a plethora of different experiences, like the European Inventory on validation of non-formal and informal learning, the experiences in India’s National Institute of Open Schooling or the RVA programmes in Chile, Mexico and Brazil, the experts at the meeting concluded that this field of research will become increasingly relevant for Member States, who have asked for further guidance, to address increasing inequalities in their education systems. What national policy-makers need now is clear policy advice supported by practical experiences. This can only be developed through further research, which the experts vowed to continue.

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