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Development of a Quality Assurance System in Adult Education

An important step towards building and improving the quality assurance system in adult education is the ESF project Development of a QA System in Adult Education. This project is conducted by the Agency for Vocational Education and Training and Adult Education (AVETAE) with the goal to develop a quality assurance system through the development of a model of self-assessment and external evaluation of adult education institutions in order to improve adult education based on relevant research data.

Croatian Strategy of Education, Science and Technology (OG 124/14) in the chapter on adult education emphasizes the need to improve the quality and relevance of adult education in the context of maladaptation of the educational structure of the population to the labor market requirements and the context of insufficient participation of adults in lifelong learning.

According to the Country Report for Croatia within the European Semester 2018, the world of work and education in Croatia is characterized by a mismatch of labor skills with the labor market needs, slower rate of acquiring higher education, low level of basic skills and insufficient participation in lifelong learning and training. The report highlights the lag in skills development and re-skilling of the working population. In order to improve the employability of low-skilled adults, Croatia is working to better assess existing and missing skills, offer adequate forms of education and evaluate acquired new skills. The reason for this lies in the shortcomings of the adult education system that affect its relevance on the labor market. For example, there are 10,600 programs offered by more than 600 adult education institutions, some of which were established without following high quality criteria (from: State of play and perspectives of adult education in the Republic of Croatia, 2016).

Furthermore, the New Skills Program for Europe points out that approximately a quarter of Europe’s adult population has low basic skills such as mathematics, literacy and basic digital skills. In line with the European average, 55% of the Croatian population had at least basic digital skills in 2016 (Digital Economy and Society Index 2018, Country Report Croatia). According to the international survey of PISA students in 2015, Croatian 15-year-olds achieved below-average results in mathematics (32%), natural and technical subjects (24.6%) and reading literacy (19.9%). While students’ skills in secondary education are regularly measured through the PISA test, a comprehensive examination of adult skills in Croatia is currently not conducted and there are no reliable assessments of adult skills and their implications for the labor market and economic competitiveness.

Lack of basic skills among students gradually lead to a gap between the supply and demand of skills on the labor market. The lack of necessary competencies and qualifications has a particularly negative effect on the most vulnerable groups on the labor market – older workers, the low-skilled and the long-term unemployed – who are twice as likely to experience long-term unemployment than the more skilled workers.

In 2017, the employment rate according to the level of education of persons aged between 20 and 34, who acquired a qualification in the previous three years in Croatia, was 71.6% of highly qualified persons (ISCED 5-8) or 59.1% of moderately qualified persons (ISCED 3-4) (Education and Training Review 2018 for Croatia). Participation in vocational training in Croatia is also below the EU average: in 2015, only 28.7% of employees participated in vocational training organized by the employer, compared to 40.8% of employees in the EU-28 (Continuing Vocational Training Survey).

Although the key role of lifelong learning is to bridge the gap between the existing educational structure of the population and labor market demands, due to the limited supply of quality and relevant education programs, adults in Croatia are not motivated to engage in lifelong learning (Education, Science and Technology Strategy, 2014). The average participation of adults in education is extremely low and is regularly well below the EU average. Despite the need to strengthen the competencies of the working population, in Croatia there is no confidence in the quality of adult education institutions, the cost-effectiveness of investment in lifelong learning and positive evaluation by employers. According to the Bruges Declaration on Enhanced European Cooperation in Vocational Education and Training, the provision of high-quality vocational education and training – both initial and continuing – is a prerequisite for its attractiveness.

Currently in Croatia there is no firmly structured system that would systematically monitor the quality of work of adult education institutions and introduce the necessary development measures and improvements based existing and required competencies of the working population. The Agency for Vocational Education and Training and Adult Education is responsible for professional supervision in adult education institutions, which primarily refers to the insight into the work of institutions. Since they implement vocational education programs for adult learners, many institutions in the system of vocational education and adult education are involved in the self-assessment process.

Although professional and advisory assistance to institutions, as well as previous experiences in self-assessment, are the basis for building a quality system in adult education, a comprehensive quality assurance system is not set by existing regulations, nor is it implemented in practice.

In this context, Croatian Strategy of Education, Science and Technology foresees the establishment of a system for ensuring the quality of adult education, which will improve the quality and relevance of the provision of adult education institutions. The VET system development programme (2016-2020) envisages the development of a unique quality assurance system for vocational education and training and adult education in accordance with the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for VET (EQAVET). The draft proposal of the new Law on Adult Education provides framework guidelines for the development of a comprehensive quality assurance system that would evaluate students, adult education institutions and educational processes through self-assessment and external evaluation of adult education institutions, evaluation of educational programs through accreditation and re-accreditation, external evaluation learning outcomes of participants, inspection and professional supervision and monitoring the work of adult education institutions. At the same time, the development of indicators, standards, procedures and tools for self-assessment of institutions is foreseen. The self-assessment process would be carried out by adult education institutions, while the external evaluation of institutions would be carried out by the AVETAE.

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is an international survey of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that measures reading and mathematical literacy and the ability to solve problems in technologically rich adult environments. In this way, PIAAC measures the key cognitive and work skills of adults as a prerequisite for the development of innovation and employment, social inclusion and economic progress. The test has been conducted since 2008, and in 2018, the second cycle of testing began, which will be conducted until 2023. The Ministry of Science and Education has expressed to the OECD its intention to be included in the 2018 PIAAC trial and has appointed the AVETAE as the competent authority for national testing.

In order to achieve the stated strategic goals, this project establishes a quality assurance system in adult education through the introduction of the National Adult Competence Survey (PIAAC), development of a model for quality assurance in adult education, introduction of self-assessment of institutions and external evaluation of adult education institutions as well as strengthening the capacity of experts for the implementation of the new quality assurance model.

In accordance with OECD technical standards and guidelines for the preparation and implementation of PIAAC, preparation for pilot testing and for main testing includes translation, editing and printing of test materials and questionnaires for test takers, procurement of test equipment, adaptation of test information system, technical preparation of equipment and testing of the national computer system for conducting tests and training of examiners. To conduct the PIAAC pilot and main test, it is necessary to upgrade and adapt the information system used by the international consortium for the preparation and implementation of PIAAC, in accordance with the consortium’s instructions. For the purpose of quality preparation for the main test, a pilot field test of about 2,000 persons per household in Croatia, evaluation of test materials and processing of test data will be conducted. The main survey includes field testing of about 5,000 people per household, as well as evaluation of test materials and processing of test data.

Activities for the development of quality assurance systems in adult education in the Republic of Croatia will begin with the analysis of examples of good quality assurance practices in other countries. Following the analysis, which will include an analysis of conceptual approaches to quality assurance at the system level and an analysis of existing practices in the application of quality assurance instruments in adult education institutions, consultations with key stakeholders in adult education on a possible quality assurance model are planned. Based on the conducted analyzes and consultations, a model for ensuring the quality of adult education will be developed, which will include quality areas, criteria and quality indicators. Also, it is planned to establish mechanisms for monitoring the quality of the adult education system and reporting, which includes ways of collecting qualitative and quantitative data based on self-assessment and external evaluation and ways of reporting on the quality of the system based on collected data. Furthermore, a model of self-assessment of adult education institutions will be developed. The self-assessment model is part of the quality assurance system, and the starting point for the development of the model will be the self-assessment that is carried out in vocational education institutions that also implement adult education programs. The model will include the selection of quality areas and quality criteria relevant to monitoring and improving quality in adult education. After the development of the self-assessment model, self-assessment tools will be developed (e-tool for self-assessment of adult education institutions, manuals and tools for self-assessment). The self-assessment model will include support to adult education institutions in the implementation of the self-assessment process, which includes the development of professional development programs for institutions as well as the design of other forms of support to the institutions. A self-assessment model will be piloted. After the pilot phase, the self-assessment model will be evaluated and the model will be improved as needed. In addition to the self-assessment model, a model of external evaluation of adult education institutions will be developed, which includes a description of the external evaluation procedure and evaluation system and the manner of making decisions based on the conducted evaluation. A network of external evaluators of adult education institutions will also be established, which will include the selection of external evaluators, the development of training programs and the training of external evaluators, and the development of a follow-up model.

It is also planned to strengthen the capacity of educational professionals working in public institutions responsible for the development and implementation of education policy, adult education institutions and decision makers (MZO, ASOO, etc.) to plan, manage, implement and monitor the new model, including self-assessment and external evaluation, which is planned to be carried out in the pilot phase of implementation and continuously, through professional development, conferences, workshops, training, study visits and other forms of support to institutions in conducting self-assessment and external evaluation.

Participation in the largest survey of adult competencies in the world – PIAAC, is of strategic importance for strengthening the quality of education in Croatia, which for the first time will have the opportunity to reliably determine the level of adult competencies in the business and wider social environment. The results of the PIAAC test, directions and recommendations, will enable a comparative analysis of adult competencies in Croatia and insight into the relevance of acquired competencies during education in relation to the needs of the labor market. Finally, as part of the external evaluation of adult respondents’ competencies, the results of the PIAAC survey will enable an international comparison of adult competencies and thus serve as an indicator of the quality and relevance of the Croatian education system at all levels and the effectiveness of education policies. The identified insufficient competencies of adults in relation to the requirements of the labor market will provide clear guidelines for strengthening the quality of adult education and encouraging lifelong learning in Croatia. This operation will enable educational professionals working in public institutions responsible for the development and implementation of education policy to define, based on the results, policies and guidelines for the development of adult education and lifelong learning at national, regional and local levels, shape educational offerings and design models, approaches. Teaching methods and contents in accordance with the real needs of adults in Croatia, especially in the context of their employability. Information on the individual’s educational path (as a result of the accompanying questionnaire) and data on the actual skill level (as a result of the assessment) combined with data on the individual’s labor market position and identified skills gaps (also based on the accompanying questionnaire) will provide at the aggregate level increasing quality by designing the educational offer and the way of implementation that will best respond to the perceived shortcomings of adult learners.

Through this project, the necessary mechanisms and instruments of the quality system will be developed and the capacities of decision makers, andragogy workers, educational professionals working in public institutions, who are responsible for the development and implementation of education policy at our macro and micro level system will be strengthened. By implementing self-assessment and external evaluation procedures, adult education institutions will gain fact-based insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the institution on the basis of which they will be able to plan measures to improve the quality of the institution’s work. For employers and educational institutions, a coherent quality assurance system will provide a guarantee for the competencies behind the acquired qualifications and strengthen the credibility of the acquired skills and qualifications in the labor market. A comprehensive quality assurance system will increase access to high-quality opportunities for adult education and the structuring, accreditation and systematic evaluation of so far a very diverse offer in adult education. The quality cycle implies a phase of assessment and evaluation, where future quality improvement activities are based on reliable information about the identified shortcomings and room for improvement. The quality areas themselves will be defined through the project activities, but the results of the PIAAC research will certainly, due to its comprehensiveness and breadth, provide relevant information that will enable institutions and staff to direct their work. For example, data on which type of teaching (longer, shorter, more structured, freer, etc.) performed better (in terms of employability).

In the case of trainees, a structured and comprehensive quality assurance system will strengthen confidence in quality and encourage greater participation in adult education and ultimately increase the competencies and employability of the workforce in Croatia.