Responding to the European Commission’s invitation, Izabela Jurczik-Arnold from EFIL was a speaker at the Peer Learning Activity in Cork, Ireland, entitled “Writing of learning outcomes for assessment and validation”. The event gathered representatives of the EU Member States’ educational stakeholders, mainly from Higher Education and Vocational Training institutions. Its primary starting point was the European Council 2012 Recommendation stating:‘Qualifications, or parts of qualifications obtained by means of validation of non-formal and informal learning experiences comply with agreed standards that are either the same as, or equivalent to, the standards for qualifications obtained through education programmes’. The discussions focused on principles, processes and challenges related to formal validation of non-formal and informal learning outcomes, particularly in the context of the European Qualifications Framework.

EFIL presentation in Cork

How do AFS programmes fit into this picture? The EFIL presentation in one of the event sessions focused on our practices in describing and assessing educational outcomes in mobility programmes. The audience heard about the 16 AFS Educational Objectives and the past research projects showing our learning results. But the core of the discussion focused on practical tools and general principles we have been applying in order to assess competence development – in particular in the intercultural area. The following key points were made:

– there is no “one best way” for assessing intercultural/transversal competence, rather several complementary ones,

– there should be a strong focus on qualitative (not only quantitative) assessment,

– the efforts should be longitudinal (compared over time),

– the formative role of the assessment is as (if not more) important as summative one,

– involvement of many actors (including the learner) in the assessment is essential,

– a number of competences can only be assessed when interacting with diverse groups & situations (not individually)

– cultural differences in approaching self- & external assessment should not be forgotten,

– using assessment scales for competences involving personal values – like in the case of some AFS objectives – is at the very least controversial.

It was striking to see how little awareness of the world of non-formal educators there was among the representatives of national formal education institutions. It seemed that the main informal and non-formal learning environments they considered were the work places. Not enough value and recognition has been given to consciously designed non-formal education programmes provided by civil society organisations. Moreover, formal educators tend to focus on knowledge and hard skills, leaving behind transversal, behavioral competences, such as intercultural ones. They all agree these might be important, too, but their complexity and assessment challenges discourage proper focus in the validation processes.

Although this might be not new to the AFS and Non-Formal Education world, it is a good reminder that only by dialogue and cooperation with formal institutions could we have a chance to bring these issues on the national and international agendas.

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