ISSUES OF VULNERABILITIES AND BARRIERS OF VULNERABILITIES AND BARRIERS REGARDING THE LIFELONG LEARNING IN ... main barriers towards lifelong learning, ... teachers for higher education is ...

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  • ISSUES OF VULNERABILITIES AND BARRIERS REGARDING THE LIFELONG LEARNING IN ROMANIA

    Elena DOVAL, Spiru Haret University, Romania

    Summary This paper presents the results of a personal research regarding lifelong learning process barriers and vulnerabilities. The purpose of this research is to bring signals and to determine the responsible officials and institutions to think deeper in order to decide improvements about constrains and disadvantages that some groups of people face. Analysis and observation, documentation, statistics based on questionnaires and references are used in this research. In this respect the paper is focused on:

    Investigations regarding the understanding of the lifelong learning concept;

    Analyzing the resources of the lifelong learning process. Based on the Romanian environment and considering the aspects that may give advance to vulnerabilities in the lifelong learning programs, the main resources are analyzed;

    Identification of barriers considering lifelong learning. Approaches are focused on the main barriers towards lifelong learning, considering the groups with high risk of social exclusion;.

    Highlighting the main vulnerabilities identified in Romania, such as: legal framework, investments in the educational system, support for adults, rigid culture and others.

    The paper is ended with a selection of actions regarding the changes that must be initiated for the lifelong learning becoming a real practice in Romania. 1. Introduction The concept of lifelong learning covers all forms of education, including non formal education (Aitchison, 2003). The equal access to the basic and continuing education, including training programmes, may be extended only if exists an integrated system of lifelong learning that should comprise basic education and vocational education and that should satisfy social and cultural needs of learning and re-learning. It is required a systematic approach of evaluation and accreditation of the values resulted from the learning, from the diversity of non-formal education (Duke and Hinzen, 2006, p.138). The non-formal education and the context of recognition of the results obtained allow adults to come forth traditional learning system and in this respect to learn what they want, when they want, where they want and as long as they want (Rogers, 2004, p11). The lifelong learning framework offers the formal context for specific content and pedagogic style of the programmes addressed to specific segments of learners.

  • Starting from the aims set forth by UNESCO (Dakar, Framework for Action, 2000) regarding youth and adults continuing education that briefly refer to all young people must have the opportunity to study and adults continuing learning must be developed and diversified and integrated into the national education system and strategies for reducing poverty, the paper summarises researches done in the last two years with the scope of identifying the issues of lifelong learning vulnerabilities in Romania. The research comprises analysis, investigations and studies that are materialized into the followings:

    Investigations regarding the understanding of the lifelong learning concept, based on an online questionnaire launched in March 2007 and ended in August 2007 with 1281 respondents;

    Analyzing the resources of the lifelong learning process, based on direct investigation realized on a group of 15 institutions and specialized companies that deliver higher education programmes and post-university short training programs;

    Identification of barriers and highlighting the main vulnerabilities considering lifelong learning, using an interview-based questionnaire during a week in June 2008 in five counties belonging to the Central area addressed to 249 individuals as responders of different categories;

    Selection of the proposals resulted from the research regarding the changes necessary to be done for the lifelong learning in Romania become a real practice.

    The limits of this research come from the lack of official data regarding disadvantage groups of people in the sense used in the research. 2. Investigations regarding the understanding of the lifelong learning concept Using an online questionnaire the restrictions for having an overall image of what the people understand about lifelong learning are evident, because only those having computers and using the Internet could access the questionnaire with five simple questions. The statistics (Romanian Statistical Year Book, 2007) show that the number of Internet users in Romania in 2005 is 208 against 1,000 inhabitants. The results emphasise that 58% of the responders have heard about lifelong learning or continuing education, and only 34% of the responders know what is it about, but 78% of the responders think that it is important and useful to continue the study. Other two questions highlight that 63% would like to continue their study and 89% of these responders would like to study online. 3. Analyzing the resources of the lifelong learning process The process of lifelong learning has the final aim the students success measured by his or her satisfaction regarding the reaching out of the level of aimed at labour market segment or educational scope or others. The institutions offering lifelong learning programmes seek for satisfying their students by assuring the necessary resources. These resources could be grouped into five categories: management resources, human resources, financial resources, technological resources and material resources.

  • The analyse points out that generally speaking the resources needed for lifelong learning programmes exist and they are mostly effective, having in view that some of them needs to be adapted to the specificity of the lifelong learning programmes. Management resources: good institutional management and strategies for assuring the quality of education. Human resources:

    Well trained and skilled personnel for traditional education;

    Even the number of teachers per country has a constant tendency of decrease, the higher education, though, has registered slight increase. Nevertheless, the number of teachers for higher education is still insufficient, as in table 1;

    Teachers not trained enough for flexible lifelong learning programmes; they need to learn new methods of teaching to accomplish their tasks with disadvantaged people and with online mode;

    Lack of teachers prepared for handling with students with different disabilities and other categories of disadvantaged people.

    Financial resources: most of the higher education and post-university programmes are financed by the students by paying tuition, because the public expenditures for education dont cover the needs. It represented 3.9% in Gross National Income in 2005-2006, having in view a gross enrolment of 106 % in the primary education, 84% in the secondary education and 48 % in the tertiary education. Technological resources: computers and e-platforms, devises for courses presentation, printing houses and others. For example, Spiru Haret University has done investments of 118.6 million euros within 1993-2008 in educational buildings, educational and cultural national broadcast television and radio, printing house, Blackboard platform, over 10,000 computers and others, representing around 30% of its incomes. Material resources: good support materials for higher education and Master degree programmes and short term programmes, such as: manuals, books, libraries and others. Table 1

    Indicator 2004- 2005

    2005- 2006

    2006- 2007

    2007-2008

    Country average academic staff/ higher education unit

    264 295 294 302

    Average number of students/teacher in the country 21 23 26 28

    Source: Romanian Statistical Year Book, 2007; processed data 4. Barriers in the lifelong learning The questionnaire used for interviews covered with 15 questions, out of which: 13 closed questions and two open ones in addition (one for each group of questions) the main aspects regarding seven barriers in the lifelong learning and eight vulnerabilities. The questions regarded the following barriers: the location of the institutions; the tuition fees; informational and counselling support; special means for persons with handicap; motivation; abilities and basic knowledge; IT and computer access and others and comments.

  • The participation to the continuing learning is reduced where: location at too much distance, high tuition fees, schedule not flexible, courses not fit table, informational support is weak (McGivney 1993; Park 1994). Other barriers resulted from the study underline the lack of IT skills, the lack of computers, and the lack of institutional understanding for personal problems. 5. Lifelong learning vulnerabilities Learning in its large sense appears like being a means of enriching the life, bringing satisfactions and interesting experiences and increase the trust in him or her self. In this respect a system without vulnerabilities is an ideal fact. According to the study based on the other eight questions in Romania may be considered the following vulnerabilities concerning lifelong learning: legal framework, tangible investments, employees investments in training, disadvantaged people, support for adults, the institutional culture and others and comments. a) Legal framework In the way sheet for Romanias integration in EU (November 2002) the recommendations aimed at the development of structured system for professional formation on medium term, mostly regarding the continuing education to sustain the improvement of the labour force quality and the adaptation to the new requirements of the changing labour market for the development and modernization of the society. Since 2008 have been done progresses in some harmonisation of the Romanian educational system to the European requirements, so that aspects as lifelong learning, discrimination and inclusion (gypsy groups) or teachers training have been considered for the first and second levels of education. The legal framework regarding the procedure of evaluation and certification of professional competences obtained by non-formal and informal ways (2004) regulates the secondary level of education. However the study emphasised the lack of recognition of the non-formal tertiary level and the fact that the development of professional carrier is not clearly linked to the lifelong learning system. b) Tangible investments Investments have had a good pace in the last years, mainly in the first and secondary levels by acquisition of computers and servers and transportation means for rural schools, implementing the e-learning platform AeL, modernization of buildings and others. The majority of higher education institutions dont have platforms or elevators for people with physical disabilities or techniques for inclusion people with verbal or audio disabilities. They also dont have systems to disseminate the information about lifelong learning programmes to everybody. c) Employees investments in training Investments as an instrument for the increasing the companies competitiveness of is generally low in Romania. The employees are not ready to invest in training, except the multinational companies, despite the accepted theory that the training is important, because it is seen as an expense and not as an investment and training is seen as an individual responsibility and not the companys one.

  • In this respect it is essential that the employees should change their attitude, but the change management needs to belong to the government and social partners, as well. c) Disadvantaged people Disadvantaged people are usually excluded from the social life. The most important aspect is that the social exclusion is a process that is not controlled by the individual. The group of social excluders comprises disadvantaged people by gender (woman with children), age (after 45 years old and retired people), ethnic group (gypsy), religion belonging, unemployed, illiterate, rural belonging. Also belong to the group of disadvantaged people immobilized persons- with disabilities, crippled, lasting sick, shy being afraid of public or going out in the night or during the day time..unemployed or uneducated, unskilledthose that cannot face the daily life obligations; those without shelter or improper house, demoralized, unmotivatedbrutes wishing to destroy. All these have in common the confusion, frustration, disillusion, low or lack self esteem and alienation (Jones, 1997, p.14-15). In Romania the most disadvantaged people are the poor ones. The social exclusion is sometimes used as a synonym to being poor, having a low income, being unemployed or having a poor job. But, the concept includes the lack of access to work or education, the lack of system to offer information about jobs or educational programmes, and the vulnerability of committing a criminal act or being the victim of a criminal act (Mulgan in Lloyd, 1997, p.14-16) . People wishing to re-start studying need help in analyzing the opportunities offered and costs of the programmes. d) Support for adults The management and other resources of educational institutions are not enough for adults willing to continue their education or training to adapt to the labour market requirements or to satisfy their skills in a field that bring them satisfaction; they need guidance. The process of counselling promotes experiences of learning that permits to clients to accumulate knowledge, skills and competences in the sense of deciding alone about their carrier and educational needs (Clark, 1999, p. 10). The National Institute of Education realized two studies as results of its staff researches in 2006-2007 that regard lifelong learning people needs for counselling and other, but they are not well disseminated or effective used yet. The centres for offering free guidance for adults to continue their study and for the disadvantaged people mentioned above may exist, but the information is not disseminated to be known by the mass. Other vulnerability is the lack of short programmes for minorities that studied the first and secondary levels of education in their maternal language and have difficulties of understanding or writing in the official language. Also, employees, educational institutions or specialized firms and local councils are not linked into integrated systems to help and offer guidance to adults. e) National and institutional culture

  • The majority of the educational institutions and training schools are engaged to satisfy qualitatively and quantitatively the programmes offered, but they are designed for students without problems. These institutions personnel are not special trained to face the challenges brought by exceptional situations of the type of the disadvantaged people. Also, the voluntary works and donations are not really encouraged through a national system in correlation with the fiscal system to help the development of the lifelong system. Nevertheless, there is not culture of voluntariate and the same factors that lead to the inhibition of a long time unemployed individual lead to the inhibition of implication into voluntariate or community activities, as well (Macfarlane, 1997, p. 65). 6. Conclusions and recommendations This research emphasises the main barriers and vulnerabilities in what is concern the lifelong learning system in Romania. It states that there are not enough efforts and progresses in examination of different perspective and expectations of youth and adults with different levels of study. The information regarding lifelong learning and its opportunities is not much disseminated. Also, people belonging to disadvantaged groups are not supported within a real framework. In order that the national politics regarding the lifelong learning system to become real and viable some ample actions are necessary, among the followings:

    Cooperation and communication intra and inter ministries from the fields of family, labour, youth, education, social assurance, finance and others;

    State budget financing the programmes dedicated to disadvantaged people and for the dissemination of the lifelong learning programmes;

    Dissemination of the information regarding the right to learn, accessibility and flexibility of the lifelong learning programmes;

    Setting up guiding centres for providing counselling to adults regarding lifelong learning to promote free services regarding: - Information dissemination; - Help to interpret the information and to make choices; - Support in finding what the individuals want, to make choices from the programmes offered, to correlate the educational offer with the personal necessities and possibilities; - Dissemination of the positive experiences to help individuals to take the best decisions; - Support to contact the institutions providing programmes within lifelong learning system;

    Setting up communities/foundations for lifelong learning financing support by donations and partial government help that could bring together academic people, managers, entrepreneurs and individuals interested in helping the lifelong learning system;

    It is imperative necessary to be taken into consideration the founding of lifelong learning territorial centres for adults, linked into a national network, in partnership among local Councils, professional associations, multinational corporations, entrepreneurs, unions and universities for the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the processes of the cooperation among these entities and lifelong learning students/potential students. The final conclusion is that the lifelong learning appears like good official intentions and progresses have been done for youth, but that is not real priority for the adults (including disadvantaged people) that need institutionalized support through integrated programmes

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