In another step to leverage access, quality, and relevance of education in the Arab region, and with the aim to explore and invest opportunities offered by non-formal education, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon, organized an international meeting regrouping regional and international Non-Formal Education experts and service providers.

 

The meeting "Towards policy frameworks for securing the recognition, regularization, and certification of Non-Formal Education" was held from Wednesday 27 to Friday 29 January 2016, at the UNESCO Office in Beirut, Bir Hassan, Cité Sportive Avenue.

More than 60 participants from Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Yemen, and Sudan, attended this meeting, including governments' officials; international experts and specialists in non-formal and lifelong learning; representatives of academia, NGOs, regional and international organizations, as well as UNESCO field offices in the region.

 

DAY 1

 

Following the national anthem, Education specialist at UNESCO Office in Beirut, Dr. Higazi Idriss, read the statement of UNESCO Beirut Office Director Dr. Hamed Al-Hammami, announcing the launch of this meeting. “Our world and our region are changing”, stated Dr, Higazi. “The Arab region is witnessing dangerous setbacks due to conflicts, amidst high aspirations to the full realization of human rights and human dignity. All these changes require us to rethink together our education in terms of objectives, teaching methods and learning models, as well as adopted processes and mechanisms related to achieving quality, social justice and equality”, he added.

Director-General of the Education Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon, Mr. Fadi Yarak, welcomed participants on behalf of Minister Elias Bou Saab. Reading the ministry’s statement for this occasion, Mr. Yarak stressed the exceptional circumstances that Lebanon is going through as a result of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, and the Ministry’s response to this crisis through NFE. "More than 6000 students benefited from this programme in 2015, through their participation in three-month sessions in Arabic, French and English, science and math," said Mr. Yarak, confirming the Ministry's keenness to fully implement this programme. "A week ago we had a level assessment and we will pursue this activity this weekend. The assessment included about 2,000 students, and will include next week 3000 students. The overall aim of this course is to reach 9000 students", stated Mr. Yarak.

The Minister of education’s representative stressed the importance to develop NFE programmes in Lebanon and the region, and the need to provide support, particularly financial, to complement existing ones, adding that "NFE is a pilot programme in the Arab region as well other countries affected by crisis. We hope to have continuous support so that we can carry out our humanitarian and ethical mission, despite our financial disadvantage".

Also speaking in the opening day, Director of "Educate A Child" Initiative, Dr. Mary Joy Pigozzi, highlighted the importance of providing learning opportunities for children and youth, and the major role of NFE in this field, especially in emergency situations. "50 percent of refugees are under 18 years of age," said Dr. Pigozzi. "In September 2015, UN member States adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all (Goal 4). We must keep our promise to the millions of children who continue to remain out of school. We must work together to invest in the new methods and technics throughout various educational domains, especially those offered by NFE, in order to reach as many children and young people as possible".

Following the opening statements, Dr. Higazi made a presentation on the key concepts, role, categories, and dynamics of NFE, while Mr. Ichiro MIYAZAWA, Programme Specialist in UNESCO Bangkok Office, discussed the NFE Policy and Planning Guidelines, showcasing the experience of countries from South-East Asia in this field.

“We are facing distress, but we are also in front of a real opportunity for change”, said UNESCO expert, stressing that “mixed and parallel educational schemes are the only solution to prevent from losing entire generations left without education, and vulnerable to extremism, so the loss of the national security of States and the region as a whole must therefore approve the issue of recognition and appropriate mechanisms, in addition to other educational issues in the framework of UNESCO calls to "rethink education in the region”, including curriculum, learning and teaching methods, as well as assessment technics”.

 

DAY 2

 

After a promising and an eventful first day, the first session of day-2 highlighted the role of NFE in times of crisis. Speakers and panellists from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and other countries affected by refugees’ crisis, shared their experiences within past and ongoing NFE programmes, underlining the main achievements and stressing the challenges encountered in the process.

During their presentations, experts focused on the ideal conditions of delivery, as well as other components considered to be vital for successful implementation, such as technology applications.

UNICEF Regional Education Advisor, Dina Craissati, shared the main features of the SAHABATI programme, a major initiative targeting children and adolescents affected by conflict, and aiming to provide them with the opportunity to continue education and receive certification for their learning.

Discussing NFE curriculum and learning competences, Education specialist in UNESCO Beirut Office; Dakmara Georgescu, confirmed that “key competences should fit dynamically within the needs of each country”. She also stressed the fact that “the curriculum has been reduced to text books”, which represents a burden on NFE programmes design and implementation. Georgescu emphasized the crucial importance of NFE in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On another hand, University professor in education, Dr. Sami Nassar, considered that “the barriers between formal and non-formal education are diminished”, calling governments to take advantage from the technological progress. Dr. Nassar also highlighted the importance of the recognition and certification in NFE settings, praising the role of the civil society in NFE applications, and encouraging the officials “to trust civil society facilities and organizations and making the values of all forms of learning equal”.

Director of NFE sector in Morocco, Dr. Hssain Oujour, shared the successful experience of merging NFE in the educational process in Morocco. “Formal and non-formal education are essential to ensure every citizen’s right to education”. NFE sector Director also discussed the economic as well as the psychosocial challenges faced to achieve this success. Dr. Oujour also highlighted the role of civil society and added that “there is no united form for NFE”.

These sessions included discussions in order to identify the main challenges and good practices in terms of integrating NFE disciplines in national educational plans and global strategies.

In the last session of the day participants were divided to work groups to intensify and result solutions to the challenges facing the recognition of NFE in each participating state.

 

DAY 3

 

On the last day, 29 January 2016, national working groups from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Sudan and Egypt resumed their discussions on how to pursue the recognition and better implementation of NFE policies in the national context.

The first session of the day included the working groups’ presentation on the outcomes of the discussions addressing the major aspects and challenges facing NFE, such as: 1) The national assessment level of understanding of formal, non-formal and informal learning; 2) The relevance of NFE to the needs of disadvantaged groups in each participating country; 3) National priorities and goals of NFE; and 4) Ongoing NFE programmes.

National experts also shared their views on the position of NFE in the education response to the refugees’ crisis in the region.

Furthermore, national groups explained their approach towards NFE, as they introduced their existing NFE National Policy Frameworks, including short and long term objectives, and challenges and opportunities in each country.

Sonia khoury, representative of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon, stressed the major role of the civil society organizations in NFE provision. “The support of Civil society organizations is crucial within the ministry’s policies, bearing in mind the importance of complying with the ministry’s standards”, said the ministry’s representative. Khoury also emphasized the Ministry’s willingness “to train civil society personnel on how to meet these standards”. Moreover, Khoury highlighted Accelerated Learning and language support programmes implemented currently by the Ministry, as examples of ongoing forms of NFE.

Mr. Ghanem Bibi, researcher and education expert, reflected on the outcomes of this meeting, stressing the significant role of stakeholders and supporting agencies, and the need for operative roles distribution. Mr. Bibi praised technology as an effective tool to facilitate the delivery of NFE. “A needs assessment focusing on out-of-school children and youth has to be completed in order to identify weaknesses and better understand how to integrate NFE in national and regional responses”.

Participants shared common challenges related to the identification of NFE in the case of each country, noting that the concept of NFE is still relatively vague due to the lack of recognition and legislations. Another main challenge revolves around setting common NFE standards and curriculum, which makes the official supervision of ministries of education inevitable.

Civil society organizations and international agencies all expressed their will to support NFE programmes by providing financial and technical support, institutional and staff capacity building, and facilitating knowledge sharing.

 

The meeting was a key step leading towards deepening conceptual understandings and learning about existing different perspectives and approaches applied in the field of NFE. The main outputs include:

Understanding the complexities of establishing a coherent system for the regularization and recognition of prior learning in the context of participating countries;
Providing a platform for policy makers and experts to share experiences and lessons learned on the recognition of learning outcomes and competences in the context of non-formal learning in different national and international settings;
Proposing road maps and processes for Member States relevant to their needs and context;
Highlighting the roles and responsibilities of governmental and non-governmental organizations and other agencies in recognizing non formal learning outcomes, with focus on the case of the Syrian Refugees in the region.

 

Follow-up meetings will be conducted in each of the participating countries in the upcoming months.

The Recognition of Non-Formal Education is a key lever in making lifelong learning a reality. This step will give value to the under-invested and unrecognized competences that individuals have obtained through various means and in different phases of their lives. Additionally, valuing and recognizing these learning outcomes will significantly improve individuals’ self-esteem and well-being, motivate them to further learning, and strengthen their labour market. At the same time, with the proven efficiency of Non-Formal Education trends in emergency situations, this meeting also served to discuss the possibility of launching educational interventions, at the regional and national levels, targeting the most vulnerable communities, namely refugees and internally displaced persons. In this same context, this experts' meeting complements UNESCO ongoing efforts of initiating and leading regional coordination schemes, and support governments and relevant partners in developing national policy frameworks on the regularization and recognition of Non-Formal Education.