Project “YOUth Ambassadors of Non-Formal Learning”
Interviewer: Association for Developing Voluntary Work Novo mesto
Interviewee: Nada Žagar, Institute of Education and Culture Črnomelj
Nada Žagar. Almost every citizen of Črnomelj knows her, if they did not knock on the door of the Institute of Education and Culture Črnomelj (Zavod za izobraževanje in kulturo Črnomelj– ZIK) and wanted to enroll in one of the offered programs or courses, they know her for her charisma, kind smile and excellent style of dressing. Nada Žagar is a woman who has done a lot for Črnomelj in the cultural field and in the field of non-formal learning development. She has many years of experience as the director of ZIK Črnomelj, and is a Master of Science and professor of sociology.
As mentioned, you are the director of the Institute for Education and Culture Črnomelj, which last year celebrated an important jubilee, 60 years of its existence. Much credit for the fact that despite these difficult times and constant recessions, ZIK Črnomelj still exists on the map of Slovenia as an institution where for many years you conduct various workshops, courses and programs, goes to you and your colleagues and ZIK’s mission is lifelong learning for everyone.
Therefore, I would first like to ask you to say a few words about ZIK Črnomelj itself and about your work.
The Institute for Education and Culture Črnomelj (ZIK) was founded by the Municipality of Črnomelj in 1959, and since its establishment it has been providing adult education as its main activity, and it is also registered for carrying out activities in the field of culture. It has two organizational units, the People’s University and the Cultural Center, which operate in two different locations, at Kolodvorska cesta 32 c and Ulica Otona Župančiča 1. At the latter address, ZIK has its official seat and manages the cultural center building, which is enlisted as a cultural heritage of the state of Slovenia.
At ZIK organized adult education has a tradition of more than sixty years with a diverse range of adult education programs. It ensures an even distribution of the offer throughout Bela krajina, and consequently also access to education for the widest possible circle of users.
I have been employed at ZIK for 33 years, all the time as a director, and I am the only one in Slovenia with such a long tenure as a director at a people’s university. My work makes me as happy as it did in the beginning of my career because it is dynamic, creative and is for the benefit of the whole community.
As I already mentioned you are the leading organization in the field of non-formal or lifelong learning in Bela krajina. Namely, you offer many different programs and courses, from elementary school for adults, computer courses, foreign language courses, national professional qualification (NPQ), etc. Your educational program is of high quality and you have, so to speak, a diverse offer. Who are your target groups? How many of your users are in the group between 15 and 30 years of age and why do they come to you? What would you like to learn?
ZIK’s target groups are participants of various ages and educations, from young people to pensioners, from people with incomplete primary school to the highest educated. According to their status, they are unemployed and employed, most of them from the municipality of Črnomelj (66%), the municipality of Metlika (17%), the municipality of Semič (10%), and 7% from other municipalities. About a fifth is in the 15-30 age group. Our participants are mainly involved in informal programs for adults, in primary school for adults and in social activation. They like to learn foreign languages and computer science; they are interested in the field of food self-sufficiency, health, exercise and personal growth.
Is the knowledge they acquire from you certified? In fact, is there a law in Slovenia that determines what non-formal education is and how it is recognized? If so, can you tell me more about the law itself?
Since 2018, the new Adult Education Act (ZIO) has been in force, which has defined the public service and the public network. The public service includes a primary school for adults and counselling for adults. Due to the implementation of the public service, ZIK is also part of the public network of adult education organizations in Slovenia, which is set up and co-financed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. A certificate in the sense of a document confirming something is a normal document at ZIK upon successful completion of an educational program. In the primary school program for adults, participants obtain a publicly valid document, namely a certificate of completion of a primary school class or a certificate of completion of primary school.
At the end of the non-formal training programs and after successfully completing the obligations, the participants obtain an appropriate certificate on the basis of which they prove their knowledge and skills. Certificates are also an official document in the procedures for identifying and recognizing non-formally acquired knowledge.
Can you describe in more detail the existing strategies and action plans that define non-formal education in Slovenia?
On the website of the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education: https://www.acs.si/podrocja-dela/neformalno-ucenje/ it is stated what non-formal education and learning are: “Non-formal education and learning is not about gathering information and experience, as it is organized, planned and usually adapted to the needs of adults. Non-formal education and learning is not intended to provide a level of education. ”
In Article 21, the ZIO defines non-formal educational programs for adults (in Article 2 it explains/defines the term non-formal education and in Article 22 providers of non-formal education).
The Resolution on the National Adult Education Program in the Republic of Slovenia for the period 2013–2020 (ReNPIO13–20) defines general adult education as the first priority area: http://www.pisrs.si/Pis.web/pregledPredpisa?id=RESO34.
From 2007 we have the Lifelong Learning Strategy, which defines non-formal adult education: https://asemlllhub.org/wp-content/uploads/attachments/Slovenia_-_Slovenian_lifelong_learning_strategy.pdf.
Have you also participated in the development of strategies, a law or an action plan related to non-formal learning? If so, can you tell me if your suggestions were successful?
ZIK Črnomelj is a member of the Association of People’s Universities of Slovenia (ZLUS). Within the ZLUS association, I was actively involved in the preparation of guidelines and materials for the placement of non-formal learning for adults in the legal basis for the new ZIO. I also participated in public events organized by the competent Ministry of Education and Science for the professional public, where we had the opportunity to influence and make proposals for the new ZIO. In the given circumstances, we were relatively successful because there was also a lot of opposition to such a legal solution and the position of non-formal adult education.
I know your programs are based on non-formal education. But how do you promote non-formal education in public? Do you also collaborate with other NGOs and governmental organizations in the local environment and beyond? In which way?
As ZIK obtains most of its funds in a market way, through public tenders, it must place great emphasis on the promotion of its activities. In the autumn of 2019, ZIK published the Catalogue of Educational and Cultural Offers, where it presented its activities in full. Detailed information on educational and cultural projects and programs as well as all important information are published by ZIK on its website www.zik-crnomelj.eu and on Facebook. Other forms of promotion were: leaflets on educational programs, bulletin boards in the building of the Cultural Center and the People’s University unit, banners, presentations of teaching aids, a Center for independent learning, counselling for the unemployed and other participants, informing the public about all important events and educational programs and presentations of ZIK’s activities to the professional, political and internal public. In 2019, ZIK started to promote its activity more intensively through the social networks – Facebook and Instagram.
At the end of the training, ZIK organizes a gala event for participants in various programs and projects, where we present to the participants the evaluation of their training, the offer of new educational programs and projects and the importance of adult education in the environment with emphasis on funding sources.
For various programs and projects (primary school, counselling, identification and evaluation of informally acquired knowledge, study circles, school for parents, educational programs for the unemployed, film education, language education) ZIK organizes motivational meetings, where the emphasis is on program presentation as well as educational offers with sources of financing. We cooperated with the media (Dolenjski list, Televizija Vaš kanal, Belokranjec, and others), which monitored and presented ZIK’s projects and programs.
Is there a lot of interest among young people in getting involved in non-formal education? How does ZIK attract young people to get involved? In your opinion, do young people even know what non-formal education is or do they know the differences between non-formal, formal and informal education?
Young people are mostly involved in various forms of formal education, which means they have less time for non-formal education. They also have opportunities for non-formal learning in the institutions where they are educated. As said, young people in our organization represented about a fifth of the participants. That means in all our programs, including formal ones (primary school).
The Slovenian Institute for Adult Education (ACS) has developed several non-formal learning programs, such as study circles, self-study centers, literacy programs, a training program for sustainable development and a program for the initial integration of immigrants. Most of these projects have become established in Slovenia, and interest in them is growing in our environment as well.
Young people are more involved in programs in the field of culture, where ZIK has developed traditional projects that encourage youth creativity: musical “Voice of Youth (Glas mladih)”, literary “Župančič Flute (Župančičeva frulica)”, art “International Sculpture Colony of Youth (Mednarodna kiparska kolonija mladih)” and film “Film Camp Kolpa (Filmski tabor Kolpa)”. The traditional projects were joined by the establishment of a new group ZIK Teater, which promotes theatrical creativity of young people. Involvement in cultural projects is also an important part of non-formal education for young people, who, by participating in the projects learn how to communicate, self-initiative and connects.
I find it difficult to assess how much young people know about professional terminology. In my opinion, it is more important that they engage in various forms of education and learning to be curious, active and socially critical.
Have you included in the process of involving young people things that are important for non-formal education?
They wrote on the ACS website: “The goals of non-formal education and learning remain the same as before:
• get to know the value of knowledge and its acquisition,
• the need to bring knowledge closer to those who do not recognize it themselves,
• to enable education and learning for those who simply do not have (enough) opportunities for it”.
ZIK works in this spirit.
Should politics or government be more actively involved and contribute through cooperation (for example, the recognition of non-formal education, even more different NPQs …), if we are talking about youth and youth policy?
It is my opinion that neither the government nor politics will respond if they do not receive regular initiatives from the profession and the public. The needs of the environment dictate the search for solutions. Active involvement of young people is a prerequisite for the development of various forms and approaches to non-formal learning, especially at a time when the virtual environment has replaced traditional classrooms. Knowledge is more accessible today than ever before, but the bigger problem is choosing information that is useful and forms a whole.
To the best of my knowledge, there are more opportunities to obtain NPQ certificates than there are participants who would like to obtain them. I conclude that the bigger problem is the motivation and willingness of people to take advantage of all the opportunities they have to certify the knowledge they have acquired informally or non-formally.
Do you think that in the future non-formal education will be much more important than it is currently in Slovenia? Namely, employment still places much more emphasis on formal education than on non-formal education and experience.
I believe that formal education is a prerequisite for inclusion in the labour market, and informal knowledge and experience is a criterion for choosing between several candidates. In other words, as an employer, I check the fulfilment of formal conditions, and I select employees mainly on the basis of their additional (informal, non-formal) knowledge and experience, which can significantly benefit the achievement of the organization’s goals.
What do you think is the future of ZIK?
I believe that ZIK will continue to be a reputable organization in the environment, which will respond to the needs of the environment. It is important that ZIK follows the profession, innovations, and different views and adapts to change. Above all, it is important who the people, who will be employed at ZIK, will be, how much they will want to give to the organization, participants and community.