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EPALE - Plateforme électronique pour l'éducation et la formation des adultes en Europe


Lifelong guidance, an essential factor in basic skills policies

par Graciela Sbertoli
Langue: EN

Lifelong guidance, an essential factor in basic skills policies

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash


  • Guidance measures are a vital part of successful basic skills policies because they enable learners access, choose, engage and persist in the type of learning provision that is most adequate to their needs.
  • Adults with basic skills needs present a very diverse competence profile and they are likely to have less than positive experience from learning. Guidance is therefore important to ensure motivation and to create a clear picture of the type of training they need.

Both in terms of employability or permanence in the labour market and in terms of avoiding exclusion in times of swift societal change it is an imperative to provide optimal support measures to this specific target group.

Lifelong Guidance is an important factor in current European policy regarding basic skills for adults, and is very specifically mentioned in the Upskilling Pathways strategy.

According to Cedefop, “lifelong guidance aims to provide career development support for individuals of all ages, at all career stages. It includes careers information, advice, counselling, assessment of skills and mentoring. Quality guidance services should be available to all individuals, regardless of their employment situation, socioeconomic status, ethnicity or gender”.

Lifelong guidance is of particular importance when addressing the needs of adults with low levels of qualification and can be the most essential element in the task of providing efficient outreach strategies for this target group. Guidance and professional referral are an important part of the Upskilling Pathways recommendation.

In Finland, the one-stop-shop guidance centres (Ohjaamo) work across administrations to provide tailored and personal advice and guidance with regard to various dimensions including life management, career planning, social skills, and education and employment support. This network of partner organisations is available both physically and digitally and avoids a duplication of services.

Assessment of the learner’s specific needs regarding basic skills is an important element of the guidance process. Several European countries have created different tools for screening, self-assessment, general evaluation, diagnostic assessment, etc. The aim of such measures must be solely to identify the need of the learner without ever giving an impression that he or she is “taking an exam”.
Attitudes are as important as knowledge in this type of processes. The same principles that ensure the adequacy of adult learning in general need to be applied to the processes of evaluation and guidance for the target group: respect for the individual, understanding of the different personality profiles, a learner-centered approach, flexibility, a focus on relevance and contextualization, etc.

The example below, from Ireland, provides a solid model which can be adapted to design national Guiding Principles and a handbook which can be used to train professionals for evaluation (and even accreditation) of basic skills levels. It is also important to realize that the acquisition of particularly literacy and numeracy are specific cognitive processes, and that evaluators should have solid knowledge about what the different levels of learning outcomes presented in the frameworks really entail, and not, as it sadly often is the case, relate merely to the adult learner’s knowledge of basic education curricula.

In Ireland, SOLAS/ETBI published in 2019 a handbook containing National Guidelines for adult literacy and numeracy assessment at NFQ levels 1-3. The handbook presents national assessment guidelines including six Guiding Principles which define the ethos underpinning literacy and numeracy assessment.

Guiding Principles

All assessment procedures and support materials are based on established principles of adult education and good practice in literacy work with adults. Assessment needs to be:

  • Learner centred: based on the individual’s knowledge, skills, goals and aspirations; any dimension of literacy or numeracy the person needs in order to achieve their goal should be assessed.
  • Voluntary: learner’s informed choice is central to all stages of assessment process.
  • Confidential: information is stored securely and the learner’s personal data, including information on progress and achievements, may only be distributed to professional colleagues on a need-to-know basis.
  • Constructive: supports the learner in developing an awareness of their potential.
  • Accurate: generates verifiable evidence of progress and achievements.
  • Purposeful: leads to action that support learners’ progress.

The handbook describes a standard, national approach to methodology used to assess literacy and numeracy in adult literacy centres as well as making provision for flexibility in key areas of implementation. Regional authorities (Education and Training Boards, ETBs) and providers are expected to produce and record an Individual Learner Plan (ILP); an Individual Progress Tracking Form; and a Group Progress Tracking Form.

Guidance processes, including screening, identification of need, must lead to a discussion about which type of specific learning provision is most adequate for the learner in question. An important factor to keep and increase the learner’s original motivation is to facilitate a swift transition from guidance to access to a concrete learning offer. This is especially important in the cases where the learner’s motivation has been awakened by a media campaign or by taking a self-test for identification of needs. Such measures must always be accompanied of a clear indication of where the learner can go to proceed in his learning path. Efficient policy measures are those that never leave the learner alone, but guide him or her further.

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