Interview about the benefits of non-formal education
Photo by Miglė Labeikytė
Have you ever considered how educational system improves your personal development? In olden days, this was the only way to find a better job. These days attending a university has become a goal in itself. Young people, who are unsure of what they want to do in life, choose higher education; however, is it the right choice in every situation? What could help to dispel your doubts about the future after high school? Perhaps the answer lies in non-formal education? The main advantage of non-formal education is flexibility, ability to adapt to individual people‘s needs and changes in the society. It can aid personal development, as well as improve professional skills.
Eastern partnership youth forum gave me an opportunity to meet initiators of non-formal education in Lithuania and Latvia: Inga Čėsnaitė, director of “The International Award for Young People” programme, Laura Bačinskienė, head of the Information Analysis and International Relations Division, Department of Youth Affairs, and Inese Shubevica, head of non-government organization “Youth leaders coalition” in Latvia.
Inga’s experience in non-government sector revealed how non-formal education has complemented her university studies and improved her chances to find a job.
From an ordinary volunteer to co-creator
“I was living and studying in Kaunas. After entering a psychology major at the university, I became interested in extra activities. At school I was a member of student’s council, and used to represented youth organizations at city’s government institutions; therefore, I wanted to be involved in additional social activities, rather than being just a regular student. My friends and connections helped me to become involved with “Youth Line” – a service offering emotional support via phone and email. After successfully completing the selection, I became a volunteer counsellor. This experience has helped me to broaden my horizons, meet many different people, and become acquainted with non-government sector, organizational projects.
Later on, I became involved in structural changes within the organization; I started training new counsellors and contributed to strategic development. This way, from a regular volunteer I came to be a co-creator of the organization.”
According to Inga, volunteering experience has helped her to expand the theoretical knowledge gained at the university, and made it easier to find a job. “Working within the organization helped me to develop a network of contacts, greatly expanded my knowledge beyond higher education; this experience significantly improved the quality of my academic studies. Here I was exposed to lots of practice, while training at university was mostly theoretical. This has helped me to integrate into the working setting. Since I already had practical experience, I could immediately apply it in my work; I already knew what to say and what to do.”
Eastern partnership youth forum revealed a few more similar personal stories on how non-formal education programmes influenced people’s lives, helped them to realize their heart’s desire and what they would like to do in the future.
Importance of co-operation
Dealing with the development and obstacles in non-formal education is an impossible task for a single organization. Therefore, to promote its growth, a dialogue between different institutions and social groups must be encouraged. During the interview, Laura Bačinskienė mentioned that one of the greatest nowadays challenges in the development of non-formal education is co-operation between different government bodies.
Inese Shubevica shared her experience about the common effort of professionals from a variety of disciplines towards a youth employment strategy in Jūrmala. “A few years ago in Jūrmala we completed a project which brought together a number of different professionals and government institutions. Our non-government organization arranged training on the development and realization of youth projects. After the training, all participants had to prepare a project in their local community and come back with feedback. The participants decided to work with the development of youth employment strategy in Jūrmala: they elected a council, organized a number of meetings with politicians, relevant departments and youth representatives. During the meetings the realization of the strategy, its importance and the needs of young people were discussed.
The application was submitted to the city council in May. In June, a working group of 20 people was assembled, dedicated to the development of youth employment strategy“. According to Inese, this was a unique example in Latvia. The working group consisted of a diverse list of representatives, including young people from schools and universities, members of educational facilities, non-government organizations, as well as unemployed individuals and young mothers.
“What is it like to coordinate work in such a diverse team?” I enquired. Inese explains that the meetings used to be extremely productive, full of discussions. Members used to spend a lot of time searching for information, statistical data about certain departments, and participated in about 20 consultations with experts of youth politics. “They really tried to understand what was going on in Jūrmala, the needs of the youth, and what would young people like to be involved with. In December, the document was sent to the city council, where it was considered for 6 months. After a year of discussions, revisions and corrections, the document was approved”.
According to Inese, encouraging co-operation and dialog between different areas is the key. Inese mentions it could be achieved by arranging seminars about youth psychology and young people’s needs for members of the government, assembling working groups from non-government organizations, government representatives and other specialists (such groups could look for information about legal developments in the area, and gather suggestions about resolving youth problems), preparing scenarios for the expansion of non-formal education at different levels, and organizing informative campaigns.
Girmantė Kareivaitė, young journalist of Eurodesk Lithuania and EU programme “Youth in Action”