10.4 Quality and innovation in youth work
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The quality of youth work is assessed depending on the exact mechanism and context, a project or programme, local or state level etc. In following, two examples are highlighted to illustrate some approaches to quality assurance in youth sector in Estonia.
Competences of youth workers
Occupational standard of youth workers exists for levels 4, 6 and 7, integrating a diverse set of competencesthat vary slightly on different levels. For example, the focus on the level 4 is on organizing youth work, interacting and cooperation with the public, providing a safe environment and other tasks related to practical organisation of youth work and its services. In levels 6 and 7 additional competences like management, youth field development etc are integrated.
Until 31.07.2020 the structure responsible for awarding the youth worker professional certificates was the Estonian Youth Work Centre. Starting from 01.08.2020, the Estonian Youth Work Centre was reorganised into an organization called Education and Youth Board that has taken over the responsibilities related to awarding professional occupational certificates in youth sector.
In order to apply for a professional oocupational standard certificate, youth workers have to go through a self-assessment process by filling in a portfolio based on the occupational standard. After that, an interview is conducted with an expert panel, which is the basis for the decision if the qualification would be awarded or not (in justified cases). Besides a professional qualification of youth workers, there is also a partial qualification certificate for youth personnel, which is mandatory for working in a youth camp. Such competences are assessed through a written exam. In the end of 2020, there were more than 300 valid youth worker certificates and more than 2 600 partial professional certificates awarded for camp counsellors or camp directors.
Quality assessment model for local municipalities
A specific tool has been developed for local municipalities to support them in maping the strengths and weaknesses of youth work on local level as basis for planning the future developments. There are four main indicators that have sub-indicators:
- there are versatile possibilities for non-formal learning for young people;
- there are possibilities of gaining participation experience;
- there are conditions created of receiving youth information, prevention and counseling activities;
- the environment needed for quality youth work has been created.
First, the local municipality conducts a self-assessment after which external evaluation is carried out. During the assessments, different youth work stakeholders have to be involved. The outcomes are based on the self- and external assessment results and shows the municipality their weak and strong points. After that, the municipality can plan future developments in order to reach their goals. The assessment process is not mandatory for the local municipalities, but helps the municipality to improve the quality of youth work done in their area. By the end of 2019, 62 local municipalities out of 79 had gone through the assessment process.
Support to better knowledge and understanding of youth and measuring the effectiveness of related services is one of the priorities in youth sector in Estonia. The national youth strategy, the Youth Sector Development Plan 2021-2035, sets out that a broad-based knowledge, based on the outcomes of analyses and scientific researcas well as the practical knowhow acquired in daily work and the input and contribution of young people as the experts of their lives, forms an important focus for development and implementation of youth sector activities. It emphasises that comprehensive and reliable knowledge must form the basis of decision-making on all levels and in all areas of the youth sector, highlighting the important parts of the youth monitoring and analysis system such as:
- data management of the sector, i.e. data creation and collection, data availability and analysis of the status of young people and the services provided to them;
- monitoring the execution of youth services and activities; analysis of quality, outcomes and impact;
- youth sector research and development activity for the development of youth-oriented services and policies.
Such systematic approach is operated through a variety of implementation measures. On state level, for example, in the ESF-funded programme “Inclusion of young people at risk of exclusion and improvement of youth employability” (“Tõrjutusriskis noorte kaasamine ja noorte tööhõivevalmiduse parandamine”), an activityarea called “Increasing knowledge of young people and the impact of activities aimed to young people” has been defined with the aim to get better knowledge of the reasons why young people are at the risk of exclusion and assessing the impact of activities targeted to young people (including young people at the risk of exclusion). The budget for 2020 was more than 2.3 million euros.
In the frame of that budgetary measure there are data collected regarding the current situation of young people; disseminated via youth monitoring tools like Noorteseire and Juhtimislauad. In addition, there are different analyses conducted yearly, also seminars on data awareness and usage in youth sector organised for youth workers etc.
During the years 2016-2018, Estonia participated in an international project “Developing and Communicating the Impact of Youth Work in Europe”, which aimed to identify the impact of open youth work in the UK (England), Finland, Estonian, Italy, and France. The results of the projects show that participation in open youth work in Estonia has enabled to broaden the developmental possibilities of young people and it affects significantly the development of social skills of young people. After the end of the project, Estonia has used this method of measuring impact as one of the official measures to measure and show the impact of youth work.
Read more regarding evidence-based youth policy and youth work from Chapter 1.6.
In Estonia, the participation of youth is one of the fundamental principles of youth sector. In the national youth sector development plan for 2021-2035, the youth participation is also defined as one of the strategic goals, aiming to guarantee that the protection of youth rights in the state is consistent and active youth participation is supported. In youth work practice, the participation is mostly implemented through local youth councils, youth organisations and other youth representative structures on local and state level. Read more in Chapter 10.3 and 5.4
The current national youth sector development plan of Estonia - Youth Sector Development Plan 2021-2035 (Noortevaldkonna arengukava 2021-2035) – recognises that the young people are the creative momentum driving the society onwards – the drivers and leaders in the fields of education, culture, economy, the environment etc. In order to take young people and the solutions offered by them seriously, the strategy highlights that in service development, consistent innovation and the development of smart solutions based on the needs and challenges of young people has to be ensured. Smart youth work is also seen to have great potential in diversifying the formats and methods of youth work (including hobby education for young people)as well as for their impact on economy and regional development.
Estonia was the first country in the world to develop a national concept on youth sector innovation with regards to the tech and digital developments, known as the Concept of Smart Youth Work. In 2016, the Ministry of Education and Research commissioned a study “The use and possibilities of using digital solutions in youth work” and later during the same year, the national concept paper on Smart Youth Work was adopted as a result of the national working group. The concept paper was further supported by the respective action plan until 2020, which translated the ambition for the development of smart youth work into specific activities on the national level.
In 2017, Estonia held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union with smart youth work as one of its working priorities in the youth field, resulting in the adoption of the Council conclusions on smart youth work in November 2017.
The concept of smart youth work describes the main principles and strategic objectives in three key areas:
- activities aimed at young people;
- development needs of youth workers for implementing smart youth work;
- developing quality of youth work and a better knowledge of youth using digital means.
All of these three key areas are respectively supported via relevant trainings, various measures aimed at further development of digital and technological infrastructure as well as facilitating diverse cross-sectoral cooperation and partnerships.
Examples include a:
- Specific call for tenders with the aim to inspire and support the development of smart youth work, especially the new practices and digi-technological solutions in youth work practice. Such specific funds are allocated to support smart solutions for example in open youth centers as well as in hobby education, and the results show increased opportunities for youth for digital content creation (e.g., programming and gaming), communication and collaboration as well as raising their competences in information and data literacy, safety and problem solving, etc. In all of these projects, also the cooperation with technology field experts on the local level is required.
- In order to support the competence development of youth workers, specific competencies related to smart youth work are addressed both in the youth work curricula as well as through non-formal education targeted at youth workers on various levels, on national level specifically by the Education and Youth Board (both through the activities that have previously been managed by the Estonian Youth Work Centre and the Foundation Archimedes youth agency, the National Agency for Erasmus+). Some examples of topics include new digital tools and the use of these in youth work settings; digital behavior of young people and communication trends in the digital era, development of the network of digital ambassadors in the youth field, etc.
- Compilation of educational materials in the field of smart youth work is also under attention, for example, a publication “Digitalization and youth work” has been developed in cooperation between Estonian Youth Work Centre (since 01 August 2020 the Education and Youth Board) and Verke, an e-course on digital youth work by Tartu University Narva College, etc.
- Estonia is dedicated to continually developing new approaches and tools to support the further quality of youth field and as one of the innovative tools, a youth statistics dashboard (Noorteseire juhtimislaud) has been launched to support data evident and informed youth policy decisions on all levels.