Portfolios as an instrument to recognise non-formal learning and education

Though most of our learning is non-formal and informal, these forms of learning are usually given a back seat to formal learning that occurs in official learning institutions with official certification. I am right there with the OECD in thinking that learning needs to be perceived as encompassing the whole spectrum of formal, non-formal and informal learning for promoting personal fulfillment, active citizenship, social inclusion and employability. One initiative that is adressing this issue is the European portfolio for the recognition of learning and education of youth workers and leaders – that’s to say those people working with our youth from Scout leaders to human rights education. These people are doing « good work » in our societies which for the most part goes underecongnised and undervalued. The Directorate of Youth and Sport of the Council of Europe feels strongly enough about it to pass a resolution to tackle the « problem ». The youth leader and worker portfolio project fits within this resolution and the mini-compendium on non-formal education is part of the background work.

The project is to develop a portfolio with a common competence framework of what youth workers and leaders do as an instrument to provide a broad view of the area within which they are involved and heighten self awareness on the competences they are in the process of developing via this work.Imagine, all the various non-formal training sessions that youth work volunteers and leaders are involved in and now individuals may be provided with a tool with which they will be able to track their learning with a long-term, big picture approach. By documenting non-formal learning in such a structured way, it gives credit and clout to all that it is. Animators will be encouraged and enabled to

  1. Assess their own learning
  2. Set clear and achievable goals
  3. Identify, express and reflect on their own view of progress and development of new opportunities
  4. Summarise achievments and collate supporting evidence

This initiative is to be applauded. Of course there is a tension and preoccupation with this effort : non-formal areas of our society, such as youth animation and work, have their own non-formal culture and ways of functioning. Is it really possible to standardise and formalise this field without negatively impacting its non-formal essence? I believe so. By using their portfolio, workers will gather a larger perspective of the field within which they have made a committment and they will develop their awareness and value of the competences they develop through their non-formal learning and youth work. In so doing the positive impact should be two-fold, workers feeling good about themselves and their work, and workers becoming more professional in their work. In the end, the youth of our society deserve the best and the european portfolio initiative is a project towards that goal. We need only to look at a similar project on a smaller scale to see the potential impact of such a process.

A portfolio based model for validating informal learning gained during voluntary activity has been implemented for scouting groups in the Gelderland region of the Netherlands. The project study highlights how « having their skills validated had substantially increased the personal confidence of some volunteers. » One particpant pointed out that « having her learning validated had increased her motivation during her volunteering and other professional activities. She had been able to transfer the competence profiling technique to her other work as a social worker.  » Also, benefits are noted for the organisation: « The general profile of Scouting in the Netherlands has been raised, with wider recognition of the efforts made, and skills and knowledge of volunteers. The establishment of scouting groups as ‘learning firms’ has also given these groups a higher profile and greater recognition by educational institutions. »

The portfolio has the potential to make life skills and competencies in areas of non-formal and informal learning more visible, thereby contributing to the social and formal recognition of a field and its workers.

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