Two policy documents addressing crucial adult learning segments were recently issued. Having read them, I fear there is a missing link.
The European Commission just released a Staff Working Document to accompany a Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament on new priorities for European cooperation in education and training.
The document very adequately highlights the challenge revealed by the OECD’s Adult Skills Survey, PIAAC: “Europe’s growth and competitiveness are at risk in a situation in which one in five Europeans surveyed have weak literacy and numeracy skills and one in four have difficulties in using ICT to solve problems. Although, on average, more than 50% of those with weak skills are in employment, they enjoy much less training than high-skilled people and are therefore stuck in a ‘low skills trap’.”
Another recent policy document, Cedefop’s Policy Handbook on “Access to and participation in continuous vocational education and training (CVET) in Europe” (2014), emphasises the important role of CVET both in increasing sustainable employability, personal development and life satisfaction for the individual, and in providing society and the economy with a key driver for smart and inclusive growth, and for social cohesion and equity. The handbook lists up a series of barriers for participation in CVET and includes a chapter on success criteria for policies that can ensure greater quality, participation and efficiency.
An important factor, however, seems to be lacking in both these valuable documents: the causal link between a lack of a functional level of basic skills and participation in CVET.
Literacy, numeracy, and digital competence, are the gateways to further learning in today’s Europe. This does not mean, however, that European adults cannot master skilled vocational work if their level of basic skills is inadequate. Many have done so, and many so-called low educated persons are both successful and fulfilled in their work. But it does mean that these workers are hindered in obtaining the formal qualifications they deserve to acquire, and stopped in their progress through a CVET path. A low level of basic skills can prevent them from acquiring new theoretical knowledge, which is increasingly part of CVET qualifications, and it has a significant impact on the learner’s self-confidence when faced with further learning.
The opposite is also true: evidence gathered through the Norwegian program for Basic Competence in Working Life (BCWL), for instance, shows that basic skills training can provide a firm stepping stone towards the acquisition of vocational qualifications. In many businesses participating in the BCWL program, the basic skills training has been specifically designed to contribute to the workers’ acquisition of a trade certificate. This is the case of the factory workers on a BCWL video which has previously been presented in Epale.
Relevance is an important success factor for all adult learning. Basic skills training aiming at facilitating the acquisition of vocational qualifications needs to be designed to perfectly fit the individual work context. The more the learning is based on the everyday needs of the worker/learner, the more motivating, efficient and persistent the learning process will be.
This principle was highlighted more than a decade ago by experts working on what was then called “blended learning”. A simple Google search shows an abundance of research results, resources, European project reports, and teacher training curricula focusing on this issue. Many lessons have been learnt, but too little is being implemented. The consequences of findings on the importance of a dual approach to CVET (both vocational and basic skills training), and the implications of this approach for a new type of teacher training, are still largely being ignored.
EPALE’s communities of practice are meant to encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience. On behalf of the European Basic Skills Network, EBSN, I would like to issue a call for comments on the issues presented in this blog entry. Do you know of further evidence of the causal link between lack of basic skills and lack of formal qualifications?
Do you know of other examples of successful integration of basic skills training and acquisition of vocational qualifications? Does your country provide adequate professional development of teachers to ensure that blended learning of this type can take place? How is such training of trainers organised? Can you share your curricula and materials with us? How is CVET at the work place organised in your country?
We look forward to hearing from you!
Graciela Sbertoli is chair of the Executive Committee of the European Basic Skills Network, EBSN, and Assistant Director for International Affairs at Vox, Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning.