Recognition of non-formal and informal learning is a national objective to encourage lifelong learning of adults at all levels of the educational system.
Challenges and opportunities
Adult education in Finland is provided to ensure the competencies of the labour force, provide educational opportunities for the entire adult population, and strengthen social cohesion and equality. A characteristic of the Finnish system is that validation of non-formal and informal learning is mostly linked to the competence-based vocational qualifications (CBQs) which offer adults a flexible method for gaining new skills. The aim of this system is to upskill the adult population, promote employment, equip adults to become self-employed, develop working life, and support lifelong learning (Lilama, 2011).
National standards, policy and framework activity
Finland has a well-developed national legislative framework in place regarding the validation of non-formal and informal learning for all levels of education. Steps towards the implementation of validation practices have been taken by further specifying the policies for each educational sector. There is no comprehensive legislation covering the entire education and training sectors. Instead each educational sector (higher education, general upper-secondary education, non-formal education, VET, and CVET) are regulated by different laws with regards to validation. A commonality of the different legislations is that they all state that validation is an individual right which can be claimed regardless of where and how the competencies were acquired. A systematic validation procedure has been developed where students’ competencies are compared against national standards (the learning outcome objectives of the National Qualification Requirements) which were introduced in the 1990s. The Finnish national qualifications framework is clearly linked to the European Qualifications Framework. The legislation governing the national qualifications framework entered into force March 2017 (Finnish National Agency for Education, 2017).
The CBQ system (Näyttötutkinto) was established in 1994 through the implementation of the Vocational Qualifications Act 306/1994. The system is now included in the Act on Vocational Adult Education from 1998, and the framework was created in close co-operation between stakeholders – the Finnish National Agency for Education, the main labour market organizations, and educators.
Validation of non-formal and informal learning in the CBQ system is integrated into the national qualifications system, and adults have the possibility of undertaking a competence based qualification in order to gain a certificate for vocational skills obtained at work (Ministry of Education, 2009).
Three levels of CBQs for adults are in place: vocational qualifications which indicate the competencies required to enter employment in the field; further vocational qualifications which indicate the vocational skills required of skilled workers in the field; and specialist vocational qualifications which indicate a command of the most demanding tasks in the field (Ministry of Education, 2009a).
In the CBQ system, stakeholders – both from the world of work and educational authorities – work in close cooperation to describe the learning outcomes and include assessment targets, criteria, and methods. The Finnish National Agency for Education which functions under the Ministry of Education and Culture, decides which qualifications belong to the national qualification structure and sets the requirements for each competence-based qualification. Vocational modules are defined in collaboration with representatives from the world of work and are based on real-life work tasks. Adults demonstrate their vocational skills in an officially approved competence test (Finnish National Agency for Education).
The validation process begins with an application phase where information and initial guidance is provided by education providers which ensures that each candidate receives adequate information on possible options of training programmes and qualifications, validation procedures, and learning methods. Together with the education providers’ advisors and counsellors, a plan is developed identifying the candidate’s prior learning and his/her need for preparatory training and need for guidance and support during the entire process.
The plan specifies which competence test modules the candidate has to take as part of the qualification. The competence test depends on the evidence provided. The plan indicates whether or not the candidate’s vocational skills have to be supplemented through e.g. on-the-job training or participation in preparatory training. In case the candidate requires preparatory training in order to carry out the CBQ, the education provider is responsible for identifying the learning needs of the applicant as well as providing the necessary training. A record of each phase in the validation process is maintained by the education provider for follow-up purposes and to maintain quality of the process.
The competence tests leading to a CBQ are carried out with close collaboration between social partners and representatives from education providers who are all obligatory participants in the assessment process of the CBQs. The competence tests require the candidate to demonstrate the required skills in authentic work assignments and it often takes place in the individuals' own workplace (CEDEFOP, 2014). When all the required modules have been completed, certificates are awarded by Qualification Committees. These committees are sector specific tripartite bodies, whose responsibility is to oversee the quality of the provision of CBQs. The Committees evaluate the documentation provided by the candidate regarding prior learning and monitor that the competence test is carried out according to the qualification requirements. In the CBQ system the candidate can at request also receive a certificate of a qualification module.
Finland. Ministry of Education. 2009 National Framework for Qualifications and other Learning.
Finnish National Board of Education: Competence-based qualifications for adults. http://www.oph.fi/english/curricula_and_qualifications/competence_based_qualifications_for_adults
Finnish National Board of Education: Competence-based Qualifications Guide. http://oph.fi/download/156393_Competence-based_qualification_guide_2.pdf
Finnish national Agency for Education
Finnish National Agency for Education.