The 3rd Regional EPALE Conference "Research Practice in Adult Education" was held in Budva (Montenegro) from 5 to 7 March 2018. The conference examined the current problems in adult education in the region: Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The conference provided an opportunity for regional researchers to present the results of their research. The special attention of the third day of the conference was devoted to the consideration of possibilities of development and implementation of new concepts and models of regional cooperation in the field of adult education. The exchange of ideas and experiences, as well as examples of good practice from researchers from different countries in the region, has contributed to the improvement of existing ones and the establishment of new forms of cooperation in this domain, which will be further discussed below, through the review of five workshops that took place during the conference.
1. Models of regional cooperation for the purpose of increasing the involvement of adult citizens in lifelong learning activities.
Participants in the workshop came up with several key points from which to develop a regional model of cooperation in order to increase the inclusion of adults in lifelong learning.
Firstly, the development of such a model should be based on a continuous exchange of experiences that can take place through various forms of general and educational social linking. These forms include:
- Organization of seminars, both in traditional as well as in contemporary (online) educational settings;
- Actualization of study visits on various relevant topics;
- Coordination and partnerships in Erasmus+ projects;
- The exchange of staff and employees from institutions whose orientation is in some way directed towards adult education with the aim of "job shadowing", which would enable familiarization with and comparisons of, the ways the specific activity is carried out in different countries in the region;
- Realization of online meetings in synchronous (webinars, audio and video conferencing, use of private and institutional chat rooms, etc.) or asynchronous (forums, blogs, common areas for notification and information about relevant events on online platforms, where EPALE stands out as the leading resource) virtual communication environments.
Secondly, the model that supports an increase in adult involvement in lifelong learning and education activities in the region should be focused on changing qualifications and additional qualification of adults. In that sense, the emphasis should be on developing strategies for motivating adults to engage in lifelong learning and education, in which following elements play a significant role:
- Creating new and better jobs;
- Providing better monetary income;
- Creating conditions for increasing regional labor mobility;
-Designing a "unique" regional qualifications framework with an accompanying database of relevant data (referring work, work activities, job, existing, desired and required qualifications, requirements and needs of the labor market, etc.), on the basis of which employers from different countries in the region would know "what is being offered" and would be in a position to define their own expectations from their employees - an example and inspiration is the German "Competency Passport" that has become a part of andragogical-business practice in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Third, the supporting model concerning the involvement of adults in lifelong learning and education in the region should focus specifically on the spheres of non-formal and informal education and learning of adults. There are many examples of good practice that will not be listed here, but in short, these refer to:
- Organizing promotional activities related to lifelong learning of adults, especially those who are classified in the vulnerable groups (adults with disabilities, adults living in rural areas, etc.);
- Current non-formal adult education programs from a wide range of spheres that have a local and national, but because of their "universality", regional significance as well;
- Organization and realization of seminars for quality assessment in non-formal learning and education of adults;
- Establishing regional networking with the goal of sharing experiences and learning from examples of good practice in the fields of non-formal and informal learning and education, through various organizational forms (seminars, conferences, meetings in online environments and creation of general and educational virtual communities). The possibilities of the EPALE platform are infinite, because it is a precious resource that opens up possibilities of organizing, realizing, thinking through, informing and discussion of different domains of non-formal and informal learning and education of adults. These EPALE platform capabilities are largely reflected in the availability and transparency of relevant documents, publications, knowledge resources, databases and the identification of potential partners (individuals and organizations) on Erasmus+ projects.
2. Models of regional cooperation in order to improve the quality of adult education.
Discussion on potential models of regional cooperation in the field of improving the quality of adult education was mainly focused on current and existing tools in the quality assurance systems of particular countries in the region. The main prerequisites for quality assurance in adult education are research practice in the field of education quality (finding and applying relevant research methodology, creating adequate research design and obtaining useful research results), quality evaluation practices (specifying general quality indicators and indicators of quality of education, definition of frequency and level of assessment, establishing official bodies that will evaluate the quality of adult education, etc.) and, finally, on the basis of research and evaluation results, ensuring the quality of adult education.
Research practice. The science is not very fleshed out in the “world of adult education”. The general conclusion of the discussion is that scientific and research practice in the field of quality of adult education is not sufficiently developed, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. Practical research endeavors, results and implications last and are relevant only while concrete research or innovative projects are being carried out, and upon their completion practical contribution to the quality of adult education ceases (this is especially noticeable in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia - a concrete example is the project "Second chance"). Shifts occur only on the level of individual examples (concrete projects, specific research projects), and rarely, almost never, do research efforts have implications for the adult education system.
Quality evaluation practice. The practice of assessing the quality of adult education is quite diverse in different countries of the region. For example, in Slovenia and Serbia, quality in adult education is assessed through self-evaluation based on the accreditation of institutional adult education programs carried out, after which periodic re-evaluation of the work of the educational institution is taking place.
Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina are faced with the problem of identity of the methodology and mechanisms of internal and external evaluation in the formal education system and the adult education system – evaluation in adult education is founded on the methodology and evaluation mechanisms that are applied within the formal education system in the country. In order to overcome this "artificial" transmission of evaluation methods and mechanisms, efforts are made in Montenegro toward a creation of new methodology of internal and external evaluation, which will be applied exclusively in the adult education system.
In Montenegro, evaluation of the work of employees in the field of adult education is done based on licensed examiners’ reports. After a final exam, aforementioned employees are awarded national certificates of acquired professional qualifications for educational work with adults. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, such assessment is conducted by the eleven “Pedagogical Institutes” due to the evident decentralization of federal governance (there are several levels of governance within the particular administrative units, each of which has its own administration and a pedagogical institute). Also, continuous verification and assessment of teachers and providers engaged in vocational education and training for adults (VET) is carried out, as well as the creation of trainings and design of appropriate self-evaluation manuals in this field of adult education. In Croatia, "Quality Label Certificates" are awarded.
During the discussion on the question: "Is andragogical training necessary to obtain a public document/license for educational work with adults or not?", the group acknowledged the existence of a common problem related to the whole region, regarding the lack of an official elaborated system of informing competent state authorities on the implementation of andragogical training by relevant institutions, which is reflected in the absence of a complementary process of self-evaluation whose results would be generally recognized and accepted as authoritative in each country. This has a direct impact on the design and implementation levels of external evaluation, which is still dominant, regardless of which country in the region is in question.
Ensuring quality. As a consequence of inadequate research and evaluation practices in adult education in all countries in the region, common problems emerge related to the assurance of quality in adult education. It is most important to emphasize that under-trained teaching staff is engaged in adult education, and that insufficient attention is paid to maintaining the quality of adult education.
Finally, it was concluded that all countries in the region are working hard at trying to change the general mentality so that it will be more sensitive to the need for research, evaluation and quality assurance in adult education, both nationally and internationally. However, these attempts are still most often directed towards providers in adult education, and rarely, to a small extent, towards current or future adult learners in the process of education, something that is particularly noticeable in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
3. Models of regional cooperation for the purpose of strengthening the professionalization of adult education experts (andragogical training of andragogical staff).
Terminology. While thinking through the model of regional cooperation when it comes to strengthening the professionalization of adult education experts, the discussion began with a reexamination of the relationship between pedagogy and andragogy, which slowly shifted to the context of the relationship between an “andragogue” and a “person performing andragogical engagement”. The main question was: “Can the terms and the corresponding notions >>andragogue<< and >>andragogic worker<< be observed and understood as the same?” More precisely, the question was: "Can a person who has been working in adult education for years be called an “andragogue” (regardless of his or her andragogic competencies and the way he or she has acquired them)? The conclusion was that it is necessary to make a distinction between the terms and notions they designate, so a division between “andragogues" and “andragogic workers” came up as a terminological-conceptual solution.
Andragogical training. Participants in the workshop agreed on the existence of a need for andragogical training for those people who will engage in adult education in any way. Countries in the region regulate the issue of andragogical training of educational staff working with adults in different ways. There was a general impression that there is compliance in countries from the region with the model which is applied in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where more hours of andragogical training are foreseen for people who work (or will work) exclusively in adult education full-time, while fewer hours of andragogical training is foreseen for those people who will occasionally be engaged in the field of adult education (these are usually external professional associates, etc.). In-service training is not intended only for direct implementers of the adult education program (teachers) but also other employees in the field of adult education. Thus, it was concluded that coordinators of various activities in adult education institutions must have adequate andragogical knowledge, experience and competencies, which they will acquire through attending andragogical training (if they have not done so through formal education). Such training should include teachers and associates at faculties that are part of the formal educational system of all the countries in the region, who did not acquire pedagogical and andragogical didactical-methodical competencies necessary for educational work with adults through their initial education. Participants in the workshop agreed that these trainings should be organized through short-term and flexible forms and that their mandatory stats should be legally regulated.
Further questions. After the workshop, some issues remained open. In particular, a question that remained unanswered was related to the type of training and the organizational forms of activities (conferences, seminars, symposia etc.) that should be taken into account when evaluating and licensing employees in adult education (teachers in the first place as direct implementers of educational programs for adults).
4. Models of regional cooperation in order to raise the level of key competencies of citizens.
Despite varying experiences in the practice, methodology and approaches to the issue of raising the level of key competencies in adults of participants who entered into the workshop, there was general agreement on the need of analyzing the topic of adult lifelong learning in a regional context. The dominant impression from the discussion was that membership in the European Union has improved the practice of adult education in general. In countries that are not members of the European Union, individual institutional attempts are being made to raise the level of key competencies of adults (emphasis is put on the performance of individuals, NGOs, ministries, etc.). In general, individual and institutional entities that have managed to launch programs or projects to improve the level of key competencies in adults, have ended their activities and impacts as soon as these programs were implemented and the projects were completed. So, in our region we are faced with a short duration and unsustainability of results and impacts aimed at improving the level of key competences of citizens.
Besides the mentioned problem, examples of good practices are evident. One of these is the permanent organization of UNESCO's “Lifelong Learning Week” campaign in Slovenia and Croatia. Participants in the workshop expressed hope that this UNESCO initiative (which is recognized as extremely stimulating and motivating) will take on wider proportions and settle in the whole region.
The general conclusion of the discussion within the workshop is that regional cooperation should focus on creating regional models for motivating adults for lifelong learning, bearing in mind the diversity of motives and the reasons according to which adults decide to become involved in the formal education system and the non-formal education system. There are many factors that influence these differences in the domain of educational motivation of adults. In particular, the individual needs of adults and their demands arising from an ever-changing sphere of work in the modern world, stand out.
5. Models of regional cooperation for the purpose of strengthening the professional development of teachers in adult education.
The discussion within the workshop was mainly based on identifying examples of good practices and the exchange of experiences of representatives from countries in the region regarding the issues of strengthening the professional development of teachers in adult education. Montenegro is the only country in the region where teachers are awarded an adult education working license, which is renewed every five years. In other countries of the region, teachers have the opportunity to obtain a license to work in adult education by passing a professional exam and this license is permanent - the teacher does not have the obligation to renew this license.
There are a large number of official documents that commit to continuing professional vocational education and training of teachers in adult education, but they are not sufficiently interconnected, there is no satisfactory degree of compliance among these and these are largely focused on the individual activities and roles of teachers, rather than the comprehensive encompassing of all envisaged teaching roles and activities in adult education. During the discussion, there was general agreement on the need to create a unique system of vocational training and professional development of teachers in adult education which would recognize and address all teaching roles and relevant activities in which they participate as adult educators. This would contribute to the establishment of standards of vocational education and professional development of teachers in adult education, which would be the starting points for designing national, but also international and regional models. Group work has resulted in defining several imperatives:
- Vocational training of teachers in adult education should be in accordance with the teachers' expressed needs. Professional development of teachers should not be “randomly” imposed without this development being formed from an examination of the needs of the teachers. Thus, the emerging imperative is to examine the needs of these teachers.
- It is necessary to define the obligations of all actors in adult education engaged in different state sectors in order to increase the quality of training and improvement of the competencies of teachers in adult education.
- It is necessary to create a unique instrument for evaluating the work of teachers in adult education.
Participants in the workshop unanimously emphasized the importance of the 3rd Regional EPALE Conference and described it as a good example of joint organized work on designing regional cooperation in the field of vocational education and professional development of teachers in adult education, but also in other domains scrutinized within the remaining four workshops. The participants emphasized the necessity to use the opportunities offered by the EPALE platform in terms of creating a virtual social network or online discussion group that will deal with issues of creating a model of vocational education and professional development of teachers in adult education.
Lastly, it should be noted that participants in this group pointed out the problem of (un)sustainability of projects aimed at vocational education and professional development of teachers in adult education. The proposal for improving the sustainability of the results and outcomes of projects in this domain refers to the systematic regulation of the issues of vocational education and professional development of teachers in adult education. When it becomes part of the formal education system, sustainability should be at a significantly higher level.