If European citizens’ knowledge, skills and attitudes are to be described and assessed, it must happen in a way that is understood across borders. This should be the offer to all EU-citizens, suggests the Commission.
It is not only what we were taught in schools that is to be written down. Everything counts. A scout leader in Napoli may have management experience that may be just as valuable as a course at the Aston Business School. Or the editor of a school magazine in Riga may have skills equivalent to a certified journalist from The Danish School of Journalism. This all has to become visible.
The tool is the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning that was presented by the EU-Commission in September.
Skepticism within European organisations
The suggestion has caused skepticism in many organisations that, just like the scouts or the school magazine, stand outside the formal educational system, even if still involved in learning. They are the ‘non-formal sector’ in Brussels lingo.
The European Civil Society Platform (EUCIS) speaks for a number of European organisations. Chairman Jean-Marc Roirand doubts whether competences the EU consider key can be standardised:
”The Platform is reluctant to introduce standardisation of these competences”, says the EUCIS-communication of August 28th. It would be social skills and the ability to navigate within different cultures in particular that EUCIS will find difficult to describe and assess.
An anonymous manager explains there is skepticism within larger European youth organisations as well.
”Whenever young people get involved in an organisation like ours, they do so voluntarily. Indeed, they do learn a lot about democracy and organisation development in practice. If it can be described, what they learn, it is fine. But if it is to be assessed as well, and by somebody from outside the organisation, we are afraid of the consequences. We are afraid of attracting young people chasing in fact only a certificate.”
A power struggle about values
An aspect many youth organisations find crucial is who will assess them? If assessors are externals, then other values and another measure are competition to the values and measures of the organisations themselves. In addition, there are doubts whether it is really possible to describe and assess everything:
”We organise exchanges of young people between the countries, and we do know it leads to enhanced cross-cultural understanding. But can you measure the benefit of young peoples’ learning, living and working in a foreign country?” asks the manager. ”Probably only they themselves can say?”
Peter Torp Madsen is a member of the Bureau of the European Youth Forum (YFJ), the voice of youth organisations in Brussels. He is concerned with the prospect of measuring learning in the non-formal sector on the same scale as the formal sector. He believes they will have to recognize the sector on its own merits and prefers that:
”Such recognition would not entail substituting qualifications received in the formal process, but could rather act as a sister accompaniment.”
A basic principle for the Commission’s Qualifications Framework is to stress the attitude, knowledge and skills of the individual citizen, no matter where it has been obtained. This point of departure is implicitly recognition of what goes on outside the formal sector. The YFJ is satisfied with the approach, but Peter Torp Madsen still stick to the principle that, the ”YFJ is trying to keep the balance right. Recognition of what we do is good, as long as that is all. It puts a damper on things to introduce standards and bureaucracy. It simply goes against the nature of most youth work”.
Is European co-citizenship of any value?
The measure employed in assessing what what has been achieved or learned within non-formal courses is sometimes developed during that very course. This scale on measuring quality is simply part of the result. In those cases, only participants know how it works.
This is why the concept of self-assessment has become interesting in the past few years. Participants are asked to evaluate courses on the basis of qualities they have agreed upon themselves.
This is certainly true for the European co-citizenship courses organized by the association ACC. ACC, an abbreviation of Association for Community Colleges, is a European association providing tools for a European public sphere to emerge. It has an office in Denmark and residential school courses throughout Europe.
Last September ACC called together participants from all previous courses. They were asked to describe what they would consider competences obtained through their courses.
During the work, participants discovered that a European co-citizenship education would not be left space within the European Qualifications Framework anyway. The purpose of the Framework is only to make visible and comparable what already exists within the EU-states. In EU-states European co-citizenship education is an unfamiliar idea.
The constructive criticism approach allowed participants to invent their own framework. The result, an alternative Qualifications Framework for a European co-citizenship education, can be seen at the website www.co-citizenship.eu [not online anymore, ed]
Visibility and comparability
The drive for a European Qualifications Framework on Lifelong Learning comes from the heads of states and governments of the EU. They have called for the EU-Commissions’ suggestion.
The purpose is in line with the Lisbon agenda in making the EU economy fit for further competition in the knowledge sector. One safeguard could be that citizens’ competences are visible and comparable across borders.
The resources of citizens should not be wasted and the citizens should have the possibility – with accreditations in hand – to apply for jobs and education throughout the Union.
It is still uncertain who is going to be the authority to grade the competences of the citizens into the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning. However, each state will have to create an authority within its own borders to implement this initiative.
COM(2005) 548 final. Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on key competences for lifelong learning. Brussels 10/11 2005
COM(2006) 479 final. Establishing the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning. Brussels 5/9 2006
Coyote magazine Issue 11, May 2006. Peter Torp Madsen, Bureau member of the European Youth Forum.
Contribution EUCIS-LLL sur le Rapport Trüpel. August 28th 2006
Interviews with Arne Carlsen (DPU), an anonymous source in Brussels, Peter Høier, head of office at the Danish Ministry of Education and consultant Mogens Berg, Danish Ministry of Science.
The author of this article was leader of ACC in 2006.