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Norway – the “Basic Skills” programme as an example of improving the quality of the adult education programme based on competences for lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is an important component and part of the adult education tradition in Norway. Adult education in Norway is currently focused on the acquisition of basic competences for lifelong learning and the development of a value system of previous formal and informal learning experiences as a result of unsatisfying results of the PIAAC survey and the economic crisis. Education is a key factor for developing the flexibility that allows individuals to adapt to the challenges caused by the current changes in the social and working environment. Adult education should be made available to everyone, since it allows individuals to improve their own capacity and acquire skills during their lifetime. This will improve the quality of life of individuals and allow flexibility in their working life.


Adults that require basic and complete secondary education (lower and higher levels of education) are entitled to free education, which includes free textbooks. These rights are governed by the Adult Education Act from 1976 and the Education Act from 1998. The Adult Education Act is an integral part of the general Education Act. All types of formal education are verified by public institutions, i.e. public schools, and are regulated by local self-government units, such as municipalities and counties (which also secure funds within their budgets), depending on the place of residence and level of knowledge. The new non-formal Learning of Adults Act from 2010 governs all forms of adult education outside the formal education sector and significant efforts have been made to establish a single system for assessing the quality of non-formal and informal forms of learning. Regarding the formal education of adults and education in general, primary education is governed by municipalities, while secondary education is governed by provinces. Formal education is under the jurisdiction of the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and its content is governed by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training.


The non-formal education of adults is popular in Norway and is mostly implemented by various associations. These associations are authorised to prepare formal education exams but are not authorised to carry out examinations or issue authentic instruments. Scandinavia as a whole has a long tradition of non-formal adult education and in Norway it can be traced back to the so-called Study circles, which have a century old tradition. Study circles are actually small groups of individuals that teach certain topics on the principle of “teaching by sharing”. They were established in Sweden and developed the practice of volunteering within the adult education system.


Several institutions that are not under the auspices the Ministry of Education and Research deal with adult education in Norway. The Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning (VOX) falls within the competence of the Ministry of Education and Research and its role is to promote active citizenship, increase employability and promote adult education within and outside the working environment. VOX ensures the quality of non-formal adult education programmes, and administers the co-financing of programmes by adult education associations (association unions) and education centres. VOX is developing Basic Skills (numeracy, language, digital and communication skills required for lifelong learning) programmes, develops the curricular integration of immigrants, and carries out the professional orientation and research necessary for improving the quality of adult education. It has also intensively fostered international cooperation in the context of improving the adult education policy and founded the European Basic Skills Network (EBSN) in 2009 as a network of institutions from various countries that actively include key competences for lifelong learning in their adult education curricula. Until 2016, VOX will be the host organisation for the Nordic Network for Adult Learning (NVL), which is a project supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers and implemented in 5 countries of the region. The Norwegian Association for Adult Learning (NAAL) is an association that gathers all publicly acknowledged associations that deal with adult education. These include public universities (Folkuniversitet) that, like other providers, provide educational services funded by the Ministry of Education and Research or a different public authority (e.g. Basic skills training for the unemployed, Basic skills and Norwegian language training for immigrants etc.), through public procurement. The Norwegian Association for Distance Education (NADE) is the umbrella organisation for all organisations dealing with flexible forms of non-formal learning ranging from traditional correspondence and consultative courses to e-learning, i.e. utilising web platforms and digital media. This type of learning has a long tradition in Norway and is still important today because of the great size and climate of the Kingdom of Norway and because of its small population. The NADA has extensively collaborated with American organisations on the development of e-learning principles.


Basic Literacy in Norway includes initial literacy programmes for immigrants, and has been included (by legislation) in primary and secondary school curricula for all adults, education programmes provided by employment services, companies and non-governmental organisations, prison education programmes and in the key part of the Basic Competence in Working Life Programme (BCWL). The latest project related to the development of basic literacy is ROADMAP - towards a basic skills qualification framework programme. The Adult Basic Skills Framework comprises defined competency goals (learning outcomes) of four basic competences: digital and numeracy competency, literacy and verbal communication in daily life, the working environment and education. Beside the competence framework, which serves as the basis for drafting individual adult education curricula for teachers (adult learning professionals), the framework includes guides for institutions, teaching materials and tests, sources for teachers and didactic models (training) for teacher education. The teacher education model was designed in cooperation with pedagogical experts and implemented in 2009 as a pilotproject in collaboration with the university's institute for the education of teachers.


An excellent example for the development of the Croatian competence model is the “Basic skills competence goals“ tools, which are set out as a simple schematic for each basic competence of the Norwegian model.


The purpose of the tool for the Adult Basic Skills programme is to establish national standards for reading and writing, numeracy competence, digital competence and verbal communication.


Competence outcomes are a tool that is used as the model for drawing up curricula that are or include Adult Basic skills programmes. They are based on the curriculum, which is the result of “Knowledge Based Reforms” and the “Basic Skills Framework” and prepared by the Norwegian Ministry for Education and Training and VOX. They can be used as a tool for adapting content for adult learning, regardless of the circumstances in which it occurs. For example, the individual curriculum of the Competence outcomes model for reading and writing as a basic skill was developed for the purpose of improving adult literacy, but it can also be utilised in certain secondary school programmes. The model also provides examples of basic skill use in everyday life and education. The examples are not detailed and should be adapted and amended with other examples and illustrations of relevance to participants during the programming of the study course. Competence outcomes are divided into four levels that describe the achieved progress in abilities and skills and the predicted learning outcomes for each of the basic skills.



    1. Reading and writing competence



Reading indicates the ability to form meaning in its broadest sense and gives insight into other people's experiences, thoughts and knowledge, regardless of time and space. Writing includes the ability to express oneself comprehensibly and appropriately with regard to various topics and communicate with others in a written form. It comprises strategies for reading and writing, reading and comprehending as well as writing and communicating with a special emphasis on the skills required for everyday life.


Reading and writing skills at level 1 – 2 include reading and writing short familiar texts with which one comes into contact frequently. It also includes support and assistance for adults when reading and writing in new situations. Reading and writing skills at level 3 include reading and writing comprehensible texts. An individual responds actively to written information and develops strategies for improving his or her writing skills. At this level, the individual utilises reading and writing in new situations and for learning and tackling certain challenges in everyday life.


Reading and writing skills at level 4 include advanced skills of deciphering various texts. An individual reads and writes independently, critically and flexibly and chooses different strategies for reading and writing where needed.



    1. Numeracy competence



Numeracy competence includes the application of mathematics in different situations and the ability to decipher numbers in everyday life, as well as the working environment and education. It comprises the following areas: Numbers, Measuring and Statistics.


Applying basic calculations at levels 1 – 2 means comprehending basic mathematical information in everyday situations and using basic calculations in familiar settings.


Calculating at level 3 means that an individual is able to actively process mathematical information and use calculations in different environments.


Calculating at level 4 means to be able to comprehend and use complex mathematical information and use that data for making decisions, communicating and presenting mathematical data.



    1. Digital competence



Digital competences include knowledge and skills required for the efficient and responsible utilisation of digital tools, media and sources for the purpose of solving practical problems, finding and processing information, designing digital products and on-line communication. It comprises the following areas: ICT utilisation, Finding and exchanging digital information and the Production and presentation of digital information.


Digital skills at levels 1 – 2 include an individual's ability to utilise digital data and tools where needed and familiarity with basic safety measures when using the Internet.


At level 3, an individual is able to actively utilise digital information in new environments and situations. He/she is familiar with and uses digital tools and services.


At level 4, an individual provides feedback when utilising complex digital tools or services.


Preparation of personal content by using ICT and adapts to the situation on the basis of previous experience.



    1. Verbal communication



Verbal communication refers to creating meaning and content by listening and speaking. It comprises the following areas: Communication and learning strategies, Listening and answering and Speech and communication.


Communicating at levels 1 – 2 means that an individual is able to engage in basic communication in a familiar environment. The main content of the message and instructions is comprehensible and basic communication strategies are applied.


At level 3, an individual is able to actively communicate in a familiar environment on topics that are of interest. Personal interests and needs in everyday life may be fulfilled and oral communication skills may be improved if required.


At level 4 an individual is able to communicate flexibly and efficiently in a familiar or unfamiliar environment. Adults may exchange opinions in a social and private environment and are able to accept responsibility for the communication process.


The summaries of each competence and learning outcome indicate that basic competences correlate, but are not equivalent to subjects at school. Competence outcomes are a tool for designing (VOX called them “local”) curricula based on competences for lifelong learning, i.e. basic competences that would allow an individual to develop skills and abilities for further learning. The Norwegian model opted for reading and writing, calculating, digital competence and communication as the basic abilities required for achieving this goal. The acquisition of these competences prepares individuals for social inclusion, the labour market and education. It should be noted that basic competences were included in the national primary and secondary school curriculum through the reform of the curriculum (“Knowledge Promotion Reform”) and this cohesive educational policy enabled the recognition of level 3 of the basic competences in the Norwegian qualification framework, i.e. the formal certificate for upper secondary education.