Article by Claire Marie O'Neill PhD
Provincial Centres for Adult Education (CPIAs) were born in the wake of and regulated by a national law emanated in 2012. They were given the specific challenge of reducing the literacy and numeracy lacunae of the Italian adult population outlined in the OECD’s Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, as well as the task of meeting the new demands for knowledge, skills and abilities outlined in the EU White Paper Teaching and Learning: Towards the Learning Society. In the same year, the so-called Fornero Law was passed which, for the first time in Italy, recognised the individual/universal right of citizens to have their learning and skills, acquired in formal, non formal and informal contexts, recognised and validated. In this new vision of learning as lifelong and life-wide, the CPIA in La Spezia was specifically set up with a regional resolution in 2015 and began operating on 1 September of the same year equipped with autonomy from mainstream secondary schools and its own teaching and administrative staff as well as its own executive director. The target population of the CPIA La Spezia can be divided as follows:
- NEETs (not in Employment, Education or Training) or early school leavers;
- immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who need to learn Italian and acquire a basic diploma;
- the local adult population requiring, inter alia, linguistic and IT skills.
After its first year of operation, in September 2016 the CPIA in La Spezia began looking at the training opportunities provided by the ERASMUS project Key Action 1 in terms of staff mobility for adult education. To formulate a project, a team of teachers undertook a SWOT analysis of the CPIA to identify where improvements could be made by tackling training needs. The main weaknesses and threats identified were:
- The difficulty of organising Italian courses for foreigners due to enrolments occurring constantly during the school year and erratic attendance;
- The image of the CPIA as a “school for foreigners” and thus not appealing to early school leavers or other citizens seeking learning opportunities (most of the enrolled leaners - 60% - avail of basic literacy courses and are foreigners, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants);
- The linguistic skills of both teaching and administrative staff in a lingua franca (such as English) were poor and thus an encumbrance to dealing with non-Italian speakers.
The main strengths and opportunities identified were:
- As a centre of permanent education, the CPIA is an ideal vehicle for implementing life long learning and is ideally placed to reorient adults to training and education courses and to become a permanent civic centre of cultural training and education to enable integration and learning;
- The increased flexibility made possible by tailored, distance and semi-distance learning could be a way of reaching the target population of early school leavers and thus combat exclusion by providing a second chance for young people who failed to make it through the conventional school system.
In order to ensure that the CPIA combatted its weaknesses and built on its strengths, the following training needs were identified:
1. Teaching methodology
a) Workshop teaching methodology - In the Italian education system workshop teaching is well-developed for younger students in the primary school. However, in secondary schools and adult education this methodology is not well-developed and is not easy to adapt to an adult target. Yet, the need for innovative methodology of this type to stimulate motivation and learning outcomes is paramount.
b) Module teaching - The CPIA does not have a long-established tradition of organising teaching blocks into well-organised modules of learning units. This type of organisation is a requirement of CPIA guidelines but teachers have no formal training in this sense. Other European countries that have a longstanding tradition may have much to teach.
d) Teaching with technology - Nowadays the opportunities that technological devices provide in terms of teaching and learning cannot be ignored. Yet training of teaching staff is lacking in this regard.
2. Translation of informal and non-formal competencies into training credits
The recent emphasis on the importance of informal and non-formal competencies for overall learning has generated the need for methods for their evaluation and subsequent translation into training credits. This is especially the case in the adult education sector in which adults bring significant previous experience in the workplace and in various unrecognised training centres to the classroom (Scotland).
3. Language training
In Italy generally only foreign language teachers possess a level of English compatible with communication (B1/B2). Maths-Science and History-Geography-Literature teachers have not been trained in foreign language training and have difficulties understanding and meeting the needs of migrant adult learners. Basic English language training is a necessity also for CLIL methodology.
4. Formal qualification recognition
Given the origin of the target population of the CPIA who often possess formal qualifications, procedures for understanding and recognising these qualifications are necessary in the administrative side of the school.
Contents of training
To meet these training needs a two-year KA1 Erasmus project, called “Diversifying teaching, teaching for diversity”, was drafted and submitted with two main foci:
|Focus 1 - Linguistic lacunae and workshop methodology||Focus 2 - Early school leavers, workshop methodology, course organisation, distance and semi-distance learning, recognising informal and non formal skills|
|STRUCUTURED COURSES ABROAD||JOBSHADOWING|
|4 members of the administrative staff and 13 members of the teaching staff attended English language courses at different levels in the Language Centre of University College Cork Ireland||3 members of (teaching and administrative) staff spent 12 days in VUXENUTBILDNINGEN TIMRÅ, Sweden|
|1 member of staff attended the University of the Arts London to learn about practical workshop methodology in language teaching||6 members of (teaching and administrative) staff spent 6 days in JELGAVA CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL, Latvia|
|6 members of (teaching and administrative) staff will spend 6 days in INSTITUTO PROVINCIAL DE EDUCACIÓN DE ADULTOS, GRANADA, Spain|
Jobshadowing, which provides an opportunity for adult education staff to spend a period abroad in any relevant organisation active in the adult education field, is a particularly interesting way to witness firsthand how other schools in different countries manage similar issues. With the help of the EPALE platform on which the CPIA posted its training needs, three adult education institutions in Sweden, Latvia and Spain (see table) were identified and contacted to request that they host staff from the CPIA at different periods of the project. Jobshadowing needs to be well organised with the hosting partner and it is best to utilise a formal agreement on roles and responsibilities. Moreover, it is essential to exchange ideas and information beforehand so that when you get to the schools you know what to look for. We did this by email, Skype and a working group on LINKEDIN. In two of the three cases, Sweden and Spain, staff from the school abroad came to La Spezia to undertake a period of jobshadowing and thus the exchange of best practices and mutual understanding was further enhanced.
The selection of staff for Jobshadowing is also of paramount importance and in the CPIA this was done according to level of English, interest in working on distance and semi-distance education, ability to collaborate and work together and punctuality in terms of administrative requirements and work in general. These requirements are fundamental for a successful working experience because during the jobshadowing period the team has to spend a lot of time together. The CPIA also provided English language lessons over the duration of the project to ensure staff would be able to communicate. Staff participating in jobshadowing were also required to present their work and themselves in a presentation at the hosting school. Given the importance of this training opportunity, a Europass mobility document was used to recognise the skills that participants acquired.
What we learned
Sweden: VUXENUTBILDNINGEN TIMRÅ
In Sweden staff from the CPIA had the opportunity to explore different ways of teaching a second language and new ways of organising teaching so as to better diversify learning opportunities for adult learners. Swedish adult education has had 30 years of experience of teaching SFI - Swedish for Immigrants. The staff members of the CPIA La Spezia were very impressed by the following aspects of adult education in Sweden:
- the individualisation of study and career paths facilitated by guidance counsellors who are permanent members of staff;
- the clear presentation of rules and procedures in different languages at the beginning of each course with the help of interpreters;
- the separation into different groups for SFI based on prior education and learning ability;
- the possibility to change classes according to ability and application to language learning;
- the use of ready-made Swedish as a second language computer software available to students also remotely from home;
- the modularisation of teaching setting out extremely clear objectives to be reached and necessary milestones to be attained in order to proceed to the next level;
- the availability of resources such as study areas and computers for adult learners;
- the dedication and enthusiasm of staff.
Latvia: JELGAVA CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL
In Latvia staff from the CPIA had the opportunity to explore how distant and semi-distant education was organised on the Moodle platform. Staff were particularly impressed with the following:
- the individualisation of study and career paths online and through personal face-to-face contacts;
- the flexibility of courses for early school leavers - organised in a concentrated fashion for two days a week;
- the use of other existing school structures when necessary to extend the coverage of available courses geographically;
- the use of consultation points for students to avoid travelling long distances;
- the annual ceremony to award students and teachers who have performed well in terms of improvement for the former and dedication of the latter;
- the dedication and enthusiasm of staff.
Spain: INSTITUTO PROVINCIAL DE EDUCACIÓN DE ADULTOS, GRANADA
Before going to Granada, staff in the CPIA had the opportunity to meet the principal, the director of studies as well as another teacher as they came to undertake a period of jobshadowing in La Spezia. Their approach to adult learning proved very interesting especially due to the different kinds of distance and semi-distance education. In Granada staff were particularly impressed with the following:
- the flexibility of courses in terms of attendance requirements and online support;
- the choice of courses - semi-distance and distance courses;
- semi-distance courses facilitate reaching early school leavers who, for reasons related to work etc, are unable to attend courses regularly;
- members of staff dedicated to orientation and study choices to build individualised learning paths;
- online meetings with students;
- well-organised spaces dedicated to study (library) and lessons for students and offices with up-to-date equipment for teachers;
- the regional junta publishes online material in several subjects available free of charge to teachers who can adapt it for their courses online;
- the teachers’ working hours include time for individual tutoring;
- the provincial centre coordinates other centres in the city that facilitate life-long learning in subjects like photography, English and IT;
- students can contact teachers in person or online via webcam and have the possibility of taking tests online and sending homework online;
- the dedication and enthusiasm of staff.
Proposals for change…
The jobshadowing periods undertaken by staff in the CPIA provided a unique opportunity to reflect on and evaluate working methods. This reflection was facilitated by keeping a daily diary during the jobshadowing experience and by contributing to a blog to document the most significant moments which was posted on the Padlet platform and publicly visible to students, teachers and staff in the host country and from the CPIA. On return from the jobshadowing experiences, presenting the lessons learned facilitated dialogue among staff and different ideas to improve how the CPIA works were floated and discussed during school meetings. The participation of administrative staff as well as teaching staff ensured that reflection on working methods affected the entire school.
Almost immediately staff examined the school and course presentation done by the adult school in Sweden and for the academic year 2018-2019 adapted it to its needs because they felt that lack of (sometimes linguistic) clarity about issues such as punctuality and attendance had often led to equivocal situations. Another aspect of the Swedish school that the CPIA incorporated was Italian L2 classes scheduled at parallel times to facilitate the movement of learners to classes that were more suitable to their learning needs. The modularisation of Italian L2 lessons and gearing of learners to achieve a formal certification of the level they have reached was another aspect incorporated into the school organisation. During 2018-2019 several students took the PLIDA (Progetto Lingua Italiana Dante Alighieri) Italian language certification recognised worldwide.
The CPIA is currently examining ways of responding to the needs of early school leavers and adults that are falling out of the system by designing more flexible courses in terms of concentrated hours or semi-distance characteristics for the first two-year period of upper secondary school. Semi-distance courses could also be useful for refugees but access to technology, which is not always easy to organise, is important for students to be able to access online courses. For distance and semi-distance courses staff are currently examining two different platforms to decide on the best one for distance learning (Moodle and Chamilo) to organise learning paths in collaboration with the other Ligurian CPIAs, possibly for 2019-2020. Before going jobshadowing to Granada, participants had to prepare a distance module for the Moodle platform and present it to their peers in Granada. This opportunity was fundamental to learning the “dos and don’ts” of online teaching which will subsequently be shared with other members of staff. The idea of consultation points for learners in different locations could also be a part of this new organisation to avoid travelling hundreds of kilometres.
The notions of rigidity and flexibility in teaching and evaluating often emerge during meetings about improving methods and making changes. There is sometimes a danger of being too flexible when rigidity is required. For example, evaluation needs to be rigid and strict so as not to undermine the value of qualifications. The same applies to punctuality and respect for rules. On the other hand, there is a risk of being overly rigid when flexibility is required. For example flexibility is what should characterise approaches to teaching and opportunities for learners. Also in terms of semi-distance courses, imposing rigid attendance rules makes it difficult for learners to reach the required milestones while they are working. In the Spanish adult school in Granada, lessons were available to students to attend in school and summaries of these lessons were then posted on the teaching platform and no attendance was taken at the lessons. Rather, their progress online was monitored as different milestones were attained through online tests.
In conclusion, having the opportunity to share working methods with colleagues from different countries with the ERASMUS plus project undoubtedly unleashed a certain dynamism and innovative drive in the CPIA. The project had several positive impacts on the staff of the CPIA, namely better linguistic skills; improved cultural competencies; the ability to reflect on personal work method and organisation; the incorporation of new approaches to teaching; an improved professional approach and increased enthusiasm for and enhancement of work. The CPIA and its students benefitted from the staff training indirectly and directly due to improved first contact in English, improved administrative organisation and teaching; increased learning opportunities with CLIL and more practical approaches to L2; better international contacts; an enhanced intercultural and European dimension and an enhanced image for the school locally and internationally.
Claire Marie O'Neill PhD
Centro Provinciale per l'Istruzione degli Adulti
La Spezia Centre for Adult Education
- CPIA La Spezia home page
- Basic information on project
- Local news reporting Spanish jobshadowing: video
- Latvian blog || Swedish blog