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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



Basic skills policies in the light of Upskilling Pathways - Interview with Gonçalo Xufre Silva

by Graciela Sbertoli
Language: EN

Since 1998, Gonçalo Xufre Silva has been a professor at the Lisbon Higher Education Institute of Engineering (ISEL) of the Lisbon Polytechnic Institute (IPL). From October 2011, he was the Director of Portugal's National Agency for Qualification and VET (ANQEP), whose mission is to coordinate the implementation of policies regarding vocational education and training for young people and adults, as well as to ensure the development and management of the Portuguese National System for the Recognition, Validation and Certification of Competences. He was the national coordinator for the implementation of the 'Qualifica' Programme, a national strategy for the low-qualified adult population.

Gonçalo has also been the Portuguese representative in several international and European groups including the OECD Group of National Experts on VET; European Commission (EC) Directors-General for VET; EC Advisory Committee on Vocational Training; EC European Qualifications Framework Advisory Group; EC ECVET Users’ Group and the EC National Coordinators for the Implementation of the European Agenda for Adult Learning. Since September 2018 he has been working as an advisory and policy analyst in the OECD’s Education and Skills Directorate.


EBSN: Research shows that in most European countries there is an urgent need for basic skills learning provision for adults. In the context of the Upskilling Pathways recommendation, EU Member States are currently working to establish efficient, sustainable and adequately funded national policies to meet that need. Due to the importance of this issue for many sectors of government (e.g. education, employment, health and social service, etc.), such policies need to be created in cooperation with many different stakeholders. How should this be achieved? What are in your experience the main success criteria to ensure that this cooperation is real, robust and efficient?

Gonçalo Xufre Silva: Stakeholders should be involved both at the design of policies level as well as at the implementation level.  To achieve a real and efficient cooperation, there should be a public entity representing the government in the formation of national policies who should also have coordinating responsibilities at the implementation level. This public entity should be the main interlocutor with the different stakeholders at both levels of intervention (i.e. policy creation and implementation). It is also necessary to dynamize specialized forums of intervention where different types of stakeholders are able to contribute and be engaged in the process. Some examples of possible engagement activities with stakeholders are: creation of a formal body involving different types of stakeholders in the education and employment sector (namely services and public bodies, social partners, other entities with attributions in education addressed both to young people and adults, and independent experts); participation of regional representatives in networks responsible for designing the basic skills training provision by engaging social partners in the supply of such skills. However, the main criteria to ensure the success of the cooperation is the existence of a true belief in the importance of the authentic involvement of the stakeholders and the creation of trust bounds among them, decision-makers and actors responsible for implementation.

EBSN: Learning at work and for work has become an important political priority, also in the field of basic skills. The education sector, however, is keen on ensuring that this priority is not promoted at the expense of “learning for life” (for the individual’s own objectives, to ensure social participation and welfare, to safeguard democracy, etc.). What are in your opinion the main success criteria for basic skills policies that can adequately balance all these objectives?

Gonçalo Xufre Silva: In 2006, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted the Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning. Member States were challenged "to develop the provision of key competences for all as part of their lifelong learning strategies, including their strategies for achieving universal literacy, and use the ‘Key Competences for Lifelong Learning — A European Reference Framework”. Since its adoption, the Recommendation has become a key reference document for the development of competence-oriented education, training and learning. However, an unstoppable transformation is taking place generated by digital acceleration and globalization, with serious implications for how we learn, work, compete, collaborate and even how we live in the society. Competence requirements have changed and each day more and more jobs are being subject to automation with technology playing a bigger role in all areas of work and life. Entrepreneurial, social and civic competences have become more relevant in order to ensure resilience and the ability to adapt to change. Literacy and numeracy, as well as the competence of knowing facts and procedures, are very important, but skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, teamwork and self-regulation are fundamental in today’s rapidly changing societies. Competences “for work” are increasingly regarded as competences “for life”. The question is whether our education and training systems are working together to provide approrpiate skills today? Are we being able to adjust to this changing world of work and employment? The education sector and the world of work must rapidly converge in the vision that lifelong learning for all is a basic need in modern societies, including all levels of life intervention.

EBSN: The Upskilling Pathways recommendation emphasizes the need to integrate lifelong career counselling and adequate systems for accreditation of prior learning in all national initiatives. What challenges should policy makers be aware of when trying to implement such an approach? What elements need to be present for national programs to be efficient in reaching the Upskilling Pathways objectives?

Gonçalo Xufre Silva: Validation of non-formal and informal learning (VNFIL) is crucial for the development of lifelong learning strategies, insofar as it values the competences acquired throughout life in non-formal, informal and formal contexts and contributes to making lifelong learning a reality. Besides having a VNFIL system that helps overcoming the challenges faced by low-educated adults and promotes their return to the education and training system, it is decisive to provide lifelong guidance to these adults and support them in the identification of career projects and an upskilling pathway. The biggest challenge is the integration of the recognition and validation of competences in education and training systems. It should be a pathway that allows for certification (total or partial) of qualifications produced by national education and training systems referenced to the National Qualifications Frameworks and the European Qualifications Framework. This implies the existence of qualification standards that are based on competences and learning outcomes, as well as tools that are necessary for the recognition and validation of those competences and learning outcomes. Solid quality assurance tools and systems are also very important to ensure a fully integrated set of learning and certification pathways with the flexibility necessary for the implementation of a lifelong learning system.

EBSN: Sustainable financing of the learning provision is a main concern, as is ensuring the continuity of the programs. Are there any adaptable models you can suggest to countries that are working to set up new structures to meet the need for adequate basic skills provision?

Gonçalo Xufre Silva: I do not know any specific adaptable financial model that guarantees an adequate basic skills provision. I think the most important principle is to consider adult education in general, and basic skills acquisition in particular, as an important and integrated part of any education and training system. The reality is that we cannot evolve into a society where everybody is included in the pursuit for happiness without providing basic skills within this new lifelong learning paradigm. Combination of efforts between education systems and the world of work are necessary. Financial models combining the contribution of public funds with the participation of companies seems to be the best way to design a sustainable system that allows the continuous development of individuals aligned with the development of companies and society as a whole.


The Capacity Building Series of EBSN provides free open educational resources (OERs) and massive online courses (MOOCs) through EPALE, to help the implementation of the European Commission recommendations on Upskilling pathways in EU Member States. EPALE is funded by the Erasmus+ programme, as part the European Commission’s ongoing commitment to improving the quality of adult learning provision in Europe. The project is implemented with the support of the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA).
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