6.4 Validation of non-formal and informal learning
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As described in Eurydice database/Finland 8.2 Developments and Current Policy Priorities, the Vocational Qualifications Act enacted in 1994 created a new system of competence-based qualifications, where people may acquire vocational qualifications by demonstrating their vocational skills in competence tests irrespective of how they have acquired their skills. At the same time, a uniform quality assurance system was created for vocational adult education and training.
Eurydice database/Finland 6.4 Organisation of Vocational and Technical Upper Secondary Education also mentions, that one of the purposes for changing the law base of the vocational upper secondary education and training in 2014 was to strengthen the learning-outcome approach of vocational qualification requirements and the modular structure of qualifications which supports the building of flexible and individual learning paths and promotes the validation of prior learning. Upper secondary VET students are for example required to have completed the basic education syllabus or an equivalent previous syllabus. In addition, VET providers may ignore the order of scores in student admission for individual student-related reasons (‘flexible selection’): applicants deemed by the provider to have sufficient capabilities to complete education and training may also be admitted as students. VET applicants include young people and adults from different educational and working backgrounds, whose prior competencies must be recognised as part of their vocational qualifications. It is also possible for general upper secondary school graduates to apply for vocational education and training and complete vocational qualifications.
As pointed out in Eurydice database/Finland 8.5 Validation of Non-formal and informal learning, validation of non-formal and informal learning has relatively long and established roots in Finland and the legislation and policies are well developed and detailed. However, there is no one single law regarding validation of non-formal and informal learning, but rather laws and regulations for each field of education define validation separately. These fields include general upper secondary education, vocational education and training (including adult VET), and higher education. The core message of the legislation is that validation of non-formal and informal learning is a subjective right of the individual and the competences of an individual should be validated regardless of when and where they have been acquired.
According to '2018 update to the European inventory on validation of non-formal and informal learning: Country report Finland', the validation of non-formal and informal learning has gone through relatively profound changes since the 2016 Inventory. In 2015, the planning of a major VET reform commenced and was implemented from 1st January 2018. The biggest changes introduced by the reform are ia.:
- increasing flexibility of the VET system
- diminishing bureaucracy
- simplification of the system in terms of legislation (one law on VET - Act on Vocational Education - instead of two)
- reduction in the number of qualifications (164 qualifications instead of 351) • one uniform funding system (instead of several sources of funding)
- bipartite assessment procedures (instead of tripartite) and certification changes (VET provider instead of the independent body - Qualification Committee).
According to the same report, validation in the VET sector in Finland is working well and the numbers of participants are increasing. Validation has a central role in the new system, as the new Vocational Education Act (531/2017) stipulates, that a personal competence development plan (HOKS) has to be drafted for each individual, which includes the identification phase and can lead to documentation and assessment (and in certain cases, certification) of non-formal and informal learning.
In the General upper secondary education Act, it is stated that the student has a right to have their previously acquired non-formal, informal (and formal) competences, which are relevant to the general upper secondary curriculum of the general upper secondary school, assessed and recognised. The education provider is responsible for planning and organising the assessment procedures needed to verify competences, but this option is not widely used. The Universities of Applied Sciences Act and the Universities Act state that a student may - in accordance with the decision of the higher education institution - have their prior studies credited when studying for a degree or specialisation studies. In addition, a student may have prior non-formal or informal learning demonstrated in some other manner substituted for studies belonging to a degree or specialisation studies syllabus or counted towards a degree or specialisation studies. For more information, see 2018 update to the European inventory on validation of non-formal and informal learning: Country report Finland.
In Finland, the validation of non-formal and informal learning is tightly intertwined with the objectives and measures of the Government Programme 2020–2023 regarding education, employment, participation and well-being, and the National Strategy for Life Long Guidance by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. The Strategy aims to improve people’s abilities to make educational and career decisions for themselves and to ensure that they receive the necessary support through multi-channel information, advice and guidance services. The measures will be taken to make guidance more readily available, strengthen lifelong career management skills and make it easier to identify, acquire and plan careers in the world of work. The aim is also to create a well-functioning digital service for continuous learning that makes better use of shared information on education, the labour market and competence. In order to coordinate the development of the guidance provided, a permanent national structure will be created, which will support national, regional and local actors and gather information supporting the development of guidance. The long-term objective is that guidance advocates an equal, fair and diverse society in Finland. For more information, see Strategy: Lifelong guidance to support people on educational and career paths.
Quality and Equality in Vocational Education and Training 2020–2022 programme by the Finnish National Agency for Education aims to ensure, that all students in vocational education and training acquire solid occupational competence and good basic skills for work, life and lifelong learning. The programme promotes raising the level of competence, strengthening equality and non-discrimination in education, reducing learning gaps and realising objectives related to developing quality in vocational education and training, as outlined in the Government Programme.
As Karttunen points out in '2018 update to the European inventory on validation of non-formal and informal learning: Country report Finland': “In Finland there is no specific quality assurance framework concerning validation procedures but aspects related to quality are important in the activities of VET providers. As validation is embedded in the formal qualification system, the quality assurance mechanisms that apply to education and training with special emphasis on assessment are also applied to the validation procedures. As the non-formal education providers in Finland have less established and systematic validation systems, there are no established quality assurance systems in place either. In higher education, validation is assessed through external audits and there are quality assurance guidelines for validation.”
According to Karttunen (2019), “with the VET reform 2018, the main responsibility for quality assurance is within the provider organisations. The newly formed Working Life Committees have a role in the quality assurance of assessment and conducting skills’ demonstrations.” The same publication also includes more information for example about qualification requirements determining the learning outcomes, performing external audits, contracting and planning procedures and certifications of the assessors.
According to senior teacher Marjaana Mäkelä (2022), who has researched the validation conditions of non-formal and informal learning (VNFIL) in Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, there are undeniable challenges in the validation processes. She argues that the lecturers are eager and motivated to develop cooperation-based networks and design innovative pedagogical solutions with those networks, providing they have time and resources for this work. Functional validation of non- and informal learning should be understood as a competitive edge for a higher education institution, and not as a supplementary administrative burden. More thorough understanding of the objectives of VNFIL must be, according to Mäkelä, disseminated to the world of work, and moreover to present and future students.