Classes after school
Photo by Eglė Gendrėnaitė
Do we really learn the most important lessons and prepare ourselves for the future in school? How important is non-formal education for children? Are high academic achievements the only indication of talent, of certain future, of intelligent individual, who is able to encourage positive changes in the society?
In Europe, non-formal education has been acknowledged for the first time over ten years ago – on April 1998, Bucharest conference, which brought together European ministers, responsible for youth politics. During the conference, a Final Declaration was decreed, inviting countries within European Council to encourage equal opportunities by recognizing training and skills acquired through non-formal education. In the year 2000, non-formal education was emphasized again in the European Council Parliamentary Assembly, and in 2001 – in EU White Paper.
European Commission, along with other EU authorities, considers non-formal education to be one of the most advanced methods for educating older people, as well as the youth. But how is non-formal education seen amongst students themselves?
“I live in a rural district, and go to a small region school; therefore I see non-formal education only from this perspective. I cannot say things are particularly bad; however, rural districts do lack non-formal education possibilities. Of course, schools offer a number of after-school activities, but most of them exist only in theory. Moreover, most of the time non-formal education options do not meet the needs of young people. Clubs, offered at school, do not appeal to modern-day youth. It is great that after-school activities can be found elsewhere as well, for example arts or sports schools and organizations. However, they are usually based far away from home, and can be difficult to reach due to inconvenient public transport schedules (e.g., usual transport is no longer running after the activities have ended), trips are expensive, since there are no discounts for students in intercity transport.
I have never limited my education to that gained at school, I have tried to achieve as much as I can, meaningfully spend my time, find ways to realize myself. I am very happy that about two years ago I became a member of Lithuanian Student Parliament. This experience opened the doors to many areas, and allowed me to get to know myself. I realized that in order to be a social personality you have to take initiative. I enjoy playing music, I participate in social affairs, sports, I try to not only engage in these activities myself, but to involve others as well. I am happy, since I am involved in exactly what I like. So, everything depends on our own attitude and determination to take initiative. If we keep saying there are no activities, then there will be none.” Said Donata Bankauskaitė, high school senior.
Since the year 2000, non-formal education initiatives have been clearly observed to be expanding. Non-formal education opens the doors for young, as well as older people, enabling them to perceive the world differently. Educational system in Lithuania recognizes formal and optional education, while the latter is subdivided into supplementary to formal (such as arts, music or sports schools) and non-formal education (clubs, volunteering, social activities). Non-formal education in Lithuania is constantly becoming more popular, and the community becomes more and more involved. Even though there is no official unified accreditation system for non-formal educators, employers may consider applicant’s skills acquired through informally.
What is the added value of non-formal education?
First of all, questions like “who am I, what are my goals in life, what skills do I need to develop?” become a lot more transparent. Non-formal education might not prepare a student to be an expert in a particular area; however, it will aid personal development and broaden understanding of certain subjects. Various leadership, arts, sports and other activities, volunteering, involvement with non-government youth institutions, project development, helps to discover your own path, get to know yourself, widen your horizons, learn to plan your time. Moreover, adolescents who participate in non-formal activities are a less likely to get involved in unfortunate incidents, which happen due to common temptations. Non-formal education is particularly important in this perspective, since it helps the child to select his own friends circle, and ensures parents that their child is in safe and appropriate environment.
“The benefits of non-formal education are priceless. Most people associate their life with what they used to do besides school. Our hobbies become a part of our lives, and most people choose their specialities in relation to their non-formal education experience. “Personally I feel that my character developed accordingly, my intellect improved at least 50%, I gained ethical sense and found lots of friends, who are my very best” said Lukas Kaminskis, who combines studies and non-formal education.
What characteristics you might have acquired due to your non-formal education?
“Non-formal education provides all the abilities you need in life, that are not provided in school. Team work, person perception, leadership, communication with diverse individuals, awareness about topical issues and situation assessment are the main skills you gain”.
How devoted are you to non-formal education and what do you receive in return?
“I invest quite a lot of time and effort to show students that non-formal education is the highroad to successful career and life. In return I receive everything I need to be successful in life”, said Antanas Mikalauskas, president of Lithuanian School Students' Union.
Did any opportunities open-up while participating in non-formal education?
“Well, first of all, I believe non-formal education has “opened-up” my brain. Arts study and photography club have both helped to broaden my mind, and taught me to solve problems in a more creative, flexible and simple way. Participating in various competitions helped me to develop lots of connections, meet people who are great achievers in life”, said Gabrielė Bagdonaitė, high school student.
Obviously non-formal education has to complement formal training. Balanced society requires a freedom of choice. The concept of non-formal education be solidified, and it should serve as an addition method of well-rounded education alongside formal training, improving people’s skills and personalities. For it to have any significant effect, non-formal education must be approached not only from community level, but from the state as well, through the development of functional educational policy. Even though school may provide a great amount of theoretical knowledge, not everybody can apply it in practice. After-school activities become a school of life, a place to learn about people’s relationships, develop social skills, realise your potential in practice. Such skills should be established in all of us. Only by developing an appropriate educational system will we be able to expect that modern-day youth – achievers in business, science, culture and society, future politicians – will be ready to stay in Lithuania and become the leaders.
Justė Jankauskaitė, young journalist of Eurodesk Lithuania and EU programme “Youth in Action”