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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



The Serbian national policy context for basic skills provision - Interview with colleagues of Adult Education Society

by Graciela Sbertoli
Language: EN

The Serbian Adult Education Society (AES) is an non-profit civil organisation aiming at affirming, supporting and developing adult learning and education, promoting the lifelong learning culture and supporting social inclusion and international cooperation in the field of adult learning and education. For more details, please visit the organisation's website. EBSN asked colleagues from AES to give an insight into the Serbian policy context. 


EBSN: What has changed since the publication of this report in 2011 regarding the Serbian national policy for the provision of basic skills for adults? To what extent have the recommendations been followed?

AES: Basic skills for adults belongs to the field of adult education in Serbia where most improvements have been made after 2011. The following factors led to the creation of a new concept of the basic skills development and the establishment of a new system of functional elementary education for adults:

  • High percentage of the population without formal education or uncompleted compulsory elementary education;
  • Lack of functionality of formal education and lack of efficiency of non-formal education in dealing with basic skills issues;
  • Lack of access to basic skills trainings for adults living outside major cities;
  • High percentage of functional illiteracy in the population among those aged between 15 and 26;
  • Cultural and linguistic barriers, especially for minority groups like the Roma.

The new approach and system was developed and established through the IPA project. It was implemented into the formal education system in Serbia in order to achieve its sustainability.

Additionally to the existing 12 schools for elementary education of adults (mostly located in the cities) that have introduced the new system, there were 5 new schools in each region in Serbia (i.e all together 80) that were trained for the implementation of the new concept of basic skills and functional basic education for adults.

Main strategic goals, especially the quality assurance of adult education in Serbian national policy for adult basic skills, were realized in 2013, when the newly created system was made accessible to all through the introduction of the so-called andragogical assistants. They are trained to deal with tasks to increase motivation and remove the participation barriers among the members of vulnerable groups (e.g. the Roma, mothers with small children, poor and socially invisible groups). Further on, in each school, teams of 15 teachers were trained to implement the new curriculum developed for adults, which helped these teachers to acquire fundamental andragogical competencies too.

Basic skills for adults (such as literacy, numeracy, digital skills, basic life skills, English language) are the outcomes of the first educational cycles, with clear orientation towards the second cycles, where key competences are being developed. Since this structure opens the perspective up for the continuation of education, participants feel prepared and motivated to enroll in the third cycle, where both basic skills and key competences are being functionalized through the training for simple jobs organized for the participants in the programme. Thus, participants get two certificates at the end of the programme, which enables them both continuation of education or entering the labour market.

Serbia has adopted the standards for the achievements in basic adult education (which include basic skills) and the Rulebook on plan and programme for basic adult education.

The current situation is marked by attempts to make further steps in the implementation of the programme and to overcome the challenges posed by the overall economic and social development of the country.

The main task nowadays is the quality improvement of the functional basic adult education through the specialized training of teachers working in the programme. The adequate training programmes are developed, and it is a legal requirement for the new teachers to pass through them. However, there are still many teachers who enter the programme and are not trained to teach adults. This problem will be addressed through the specialized trainings for the teachers working in the programmes of functional basic adult education, organized by the Ministry of Education, Erasmus + and EPALE. The increased number of participants of this programme made some schools hire new andragogic assitants.

The programme for the development of basic skills and functional basic education can be a powerful means in the process of reintegrating prisoners in Serbia. Therefore the programme has been implemented in the prisons since 2013. Currently there are two Erasmus+ projects of the Serbian Society of the Adragogues (DAS): a K1 and K2, focused on the mobility of the basic skills teachers working in prisons. These programmes should enable the exchange of teachers from different regions and the development of common programmes to improve competences of the participating teachers.

In 2013, Serbia has adopted The Act on Adult Education (“Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia” No. 55/2013), which recognizes the skills acquired through formal, non-formal and informal education, and introduces the recognition of prior learning.

The Act also defines that adults should, through education plans and programmes, acquire additional knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes with respect to 12 areas, including those not explicitly regarded as basic skills, but by definition belonging to them. These are linguistic literacy and mathematical competence; information and communication technology competence; social skills; etc.

The latest Strategy for the Development of Adult Education (third in the row) was adopted in 2012, with the focus on employment, labour market, professional mobility, etc, where various skills do play an important role.

The Action Plan for the implementation of the Strategy for the Development of Adult Education (2013) includes various issues that have to do with basic skills, such as the functionalization of adult education, a set of activities related to the quality of adult education, the development of e-learning in adult education and the establishment of the Universities for Third Age. Activities are also planned for the development of education for teachers, trainers, teachers’ assistants and instructors for adults.

In the broader frame, the Act on the National Qualifications Framework in the Republic of Serbia (NQFS) was adopted in 2018 aiming at the institutionalization of a system of qualifications acquired through formal and non-formal education. Further on, the government’s explicit focus on digitalization should also enable the development of the programmes for basic skills and their accessibility.

However, the mentioned regulatory mechanisms were not sufficiently implemented. Serbia is far better at following (or copying) European recommendations than at implementation. Except within the programme of functional basic adult education, adult education provision of basic skills is still not sufficient to match the needs of the country.

Among the implemented recommendations mentioned in the ETF publication, after the successful development and implementation of the functional basic adult education programmes, higher standards for adult education providers, and higher quality standards to trainers and teachers were introduced.

One of the biggest problem the programme is facing in the implementation, however, is the very weak link to the labour market and its needs, as not progress achieved in the development of vocational education and training (VET) curriculum was not significant. Recommendations for further development of programmes, vocational trainings and new teaching and learning materials are not sufficiently followed. Early school leavers and dropouts remain the most included beneficiaries in some schools, and the scope and variety of providers haven’t been increased enough. Prior learning assessment, especially for low achievers, is not in place inspite the adoption of legal regulation.

EBSN: How is Serbia preparing to follow up on the Upskilling Pathways (UP) recommendation? What are the main challenges and obstacles to the creation and implementation of policy that embraces the principles in the UP recommendation?

AES: The number of educational reforms, strategic documents and adopted laws, by-laws and rule books in Serbia is huge, as well as the number of bodies and institutions engaged in the reforms. Still, it is more up to the effort of professional community to continue to work on the improvement of the adult basic skills approach and practice, while the policy level lacks this focus very much. There are numeorus reasons for that. Some of them are clearly described in the European Commission’s “Serbia 2018 Report” and in the academic writings and analyses.

Above the programme of functional basic education for adults, there are no enough outreach efforts targeting vulnerable groups and increasing the access to basic skills programmes and their enrolment rate is still far below the needs.

The highly centralized education is also a hindering factor for the succseful implementation of the basic skills programmes that need to be contextualized to answer the needs of local target groups and local labour markets.

  • The Roma are the group most affected by the lack of basic skills and they still face barriers and lack adequate support in education. The programme of functional basic education for adults has developed mechanisms to overcome the barriers they are facing, but there is a significant lack of the support and engagement of other stakeholders. The progress achieved until 2014 to increase access of adult Roma, when all local stakeholders were actively involved, is now slowed down and there is a need for incentives and measures that would foster their motivation and remove the most blocking barriers. Also, the implementation of measures to reduce the Roma dropout and segregation should be strengthened, in particular on the local level.
  • Overall low level of participation in lifelong learning has to do with the delays in the implementation of the education strategy and its action plan. There is a drastic deterioration of the quality of education system in general, which has an indirect impact on the schools and classes of adults. Unstable and often shifted focus on education priorities and the lack of the continuity in adult education policy are aggravating factors to this process.
  • The functionality of the adult education programmes, which used to be their strong advantage enabling fast employment, is now replaced in the reality by the political criteria which tend to be the dominant determinant in the employment process.
  • Insufficient financial support influences basic skills provision mainly by the lack of comprehensive staff training which is required by law; the lack of materials, equipment and didactic resources; further development of curricula etc.
  • The current policy emphasis on the development of the dual system of education might lead to better functionalization of the education programme in terms of its capacity to match the labor market needs, but it does not guarantee an increasing basic skills provision for the low achievers and better quality of the provision and sustainability of its results.
  • In spite of the government’s orientation to the digitalization, digital and generic skills too, which are highlited in the Upskilling Pathways, are neglected. ICT is included into the currciulum of the programme of functional basic education for adults, and teachers have been trained in it, but for many social groups, especially for low achievers, digitalization is still not a reality.
  • Poor economic situation is a serious barrier to participation. For the same reason, ‘technology-rich environment’ is not a reality for a large part of the population, and thus digitalization cannot really be implemented while working with low-skilled achievers. Upskilling efforts should go hand-in-hand with the social and economic policy.
  • Early school leavers are a recognized target group, but other vulnerable groups are neglected, especially in terms of provision of basic skills, including generic, digital and soft skills (such as older workers, the rural population, etc.). As long as these groups lack visibility in strategic documents, financial schemes and professional practicies, they will be left behind.
  • Lifelong learning must become a reality, if we want to ensure that adults are able to develop and update their key competences throughout their lives. It means that the provision has to be accesible geographically, physically, financily, content-wise and methodically.
  • Serbian NQF and related measures should support the creation of flexible and permeable VET systems, including dual systems, but it must not reduce the chances of the low-skilled to move forward within the system. In the current policy discourse, this danger does exist.

EBSN: If a roadmap were to be written for the needed process that could lead to an adequate and sustainable national policy in this field, which would be the main steps in such a roadmap? Which national stakeholders would be invited to be part of such a process?

AES: The roadmap could rely on existing documents, especially on the Act on Adult Education which provides a good foundation for the development of further legal documents and for action; it’s the implementatin that is not on track. The existing documents and plans for action as a starting point for a roadmap need to be updated by:

  • thorough needs analysis, inlcuding extensive and complex statistical data;
  • research results and evidence (which require more research support in this field);
  • mutual learning with countries with best practices;
  • recommendations from the Agenda 2030 and Education 2030 process;
  • concrete partnerships – with the aim to bring together various ministries and other governmental bodies (through intensive intersectoral cooperation), civil society (as one of the important actors when it comes to education of vulnerable and marginalized groups), trade unions, private sector and other actors. Despite advances in certain areas, more needs to be done to accelerate progress. All stakeholders would have to refocus and intensify their efforts on basic skills areas where the need is still high.

The main recommendations and two steps for the roadmap i.e. skills  assessment;  and provision of a tailored, flexible and quality learning offer are given in Serbia through the project of functional basic education of adults. They are valid, but not considered enough in policy-making and implemented to a satisfactory extent. Concrete experiences and lessons learned are also available, and could be a good starting point for the roadmap. Validation and recognition of acquired skills need to be added in a more systematic and structural way. Decentraliztaion of education is of utmost importance in this process.

EBSN: How can the European Basic Skills Network contribute to the desired developments in this field in Serbia?

AES: Since Serbia will participate in Erasmus+ under the same conditions and opportunities as the EU Member States as of January 2019, European Basic Skills Network could provide support in developing projects (and finding partners) with a clear focus on developing basic skills (related to workplace learning and other facilitating approaches). It could also help in influencing the policy-makers through the European mechanisms to pay more attention to the groups lacking basic skills and to create tailor-made programmes for them and other initiatives that would increase both access and quality. EBSN could also provide support for the use of existing relevant competence frameworks, such as the European Digital Competence Framework for Citizens and other assessment tools.


[1] 1) language literacy and mathematical competence;

2) communication in native and foreign languages;

3) scientific competence in natural and social sciences;

4) information and communications technology competence;

5) competence in media;

6) professional work;

7) entrepreneurship and management;

8) creative expression and participation in cultural, art and sporting events;

9) responsible citizenship and respect of human and civil rights;

10) social skills, abilities in problem solving, communication and team work;

11) preservation and protection of the environment;

12) provision of safe and healthy working conditions for the purpose of achievement of physical, psychological and social wellbeing of employees;

13) other knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes.



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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