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Nonformal Education

Adult & Continuing Education: Adult education comprises at least three major sectors. One is the liberal adult education in folk high schools, in evening classes, and at university extensions. Today, the variety of forms in this sector consist of compromises and has been influenced by the traditions of the rural free school movement in the nineteenth century and the working class in the first half of the twentieth century. During the second half of the twentieth century, a generous and liberal State support enabled this sector to become an educational leisure culture of substantial size. The formats vary from evening classes once a week through the winter season, to block courses, to residential courses of a few days, to the 14-week residential course of folk high schools. Approximately three-fourths participants are women), and all age groups are represented. During the 1980s, an interesting innovation took place in the form of day folk high schools; inspired by the classical folk high schools, these schools provide day courses mainly for unemployed adults—predominantly unskilled women. The courses are usually full-time for at least eight weeks and comprise general subjects, arts, language, personal development, and citizenship training.

A second sector, begun in the 1950s, provides general schooling for adults in community colleges (voksenuddannelsescentre, or VUC—literally, "adult education centers"). The VUC attract people with very different backgrounds and goals; women make up approximately two-thirds of attendees. Students may attend full time or take only a single subject with a few lessons per week, which can be accumulated for a full examination diploma. The community colleges are still largely concerned with general adult education; however, there is a clear trend towards including these in a wider market of continuing education that embraces and partly merges with vocational and general education.

A third sector consists of training and education related to the labor market. In 1960, the State introduced a program to retrain workers for industry and construction to facilitate labor market mobility (arbejdsmarkedsuddannelserne, or AMU—literally, "labor market educations"). This has developed into programs that provide both complete professional education and supplementary upgrading programs converting unskilled workers into skilled workers. This education and training covers a wide range of branches of industry and services, including business services such as cleaning and catering, and new branches such as waste handling and personal services. In most branches, there is a strong male dominance; a few domains, however, are dominated by females, which reflects the gender division of the labor market at large. The courses consist of basic and specific skills, whereas the comprehensive programs comprise technical skills as well as basic technology and social and general knowledge. The AMU centers have provided additional training services for young unemployed people and disadvantaged groups with the specific purpose of enabling access to the labor market, at times including general and vocational education.

Since 1990, an enormous expansion has taken place in continuing education, not only among workers, but to a larger extent among professionals, managers, middle managers, and specialists. Well-researched information about the extent of this activity is sparse, but it can be assumed to engage 2 percent or more of the work force in terms of work time spent. Much of it is provided ad hoc in the form of private courses for a specific group, or for employees of a specific company. Recently, State and communal employees have taken up continuing education and training as part of their employment, from part-time evening classes to concentrated courses, often two to three days in residence. The cost is usually higher than similar courses provided by the State, and such market-based activity carries no formal recognition to the participants outside their workplace.

Reform of Continuing Education: In 2000, the Danish government launched a major reform of adult and continuing education, which contained three pivotal aims:

  • To re-orient the entire education system and its institutions to a more direct collaboration with industry and business enterprises, and to provide continuing education more extensively.
  • To create a coherent system of continuing education—parallel to the present basic system—that enables people to accumulate competencies throughout their lives through a sequence of programs, admission to each of which requires practical professional experience after successfully completing the previous program.
  • To reconstruct the funding of continuing education so that users (participants as well as their employers) pay more of the costs, and so that training and funding are offered in response to market needs.

For this purpose, a new "parallel system of competencies" has been established, comprising a sequence of programs at four levels: general adult education, advanced adult education, diploma, and master's degree. Part of the philosophy of this system is to allow for different ways of attaining these levels, including recognizing nonformal competencies. However, programs of study at each step are assumed to correspond to the level of teaching in the "ordinary" education system. They should largely cover the same content. In most cases, however, one step amounts to only one year of full-time ("ordinary") study; it is assumed that professional experience contributes to learning. Access to each level is defined by the completion of the previous level, plus at least two years of active relevant work based on the previous level of competence. The system is thus intended to enable a full "ladder climbing"—in principle even enabling someone to study at the Ph.D. level after the completing the master's level. This latter step is still controversial, however; bridging between the two ladders is possible, but not an ordinary path.

The system gives credit to relevant vocational and professional experience; it is also assumed, however—for better or worse—that the quality of the new levels is likely to be different from that of ordinary education.

The details of the system are still in the making, and it is, therefore, difficult to assess its future impact. Much will depend on funding mechanisms. The intention is to leave the burden to individual users and employers, depending on the type of education and training. In some domains, this may imply a substantial shift away from a system of public funding, and this is therefore subject to political discussion and organizational bargaining. However, there seems to be no doubt that the model represents a trend in the overall educational system in three ways: recognition of real competencies; modular programs and lifelong access routes; and more flexible and multiple uses of educational institutions and programs. There is thus no doubt that this trend will persist, with potentially great impact.


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—Henning Salling Olesen and Thomas W. Webb

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