In Slovakia, we have a long-term problem with adult education. On average, only 4.5% of adults are involved in the lifelong learning process, while the OECD average is around 11%. How to solve this problem?
For the last decade, we have been trying to solve this problem in Slovakia by means of the EU funds. The Ministry of Education created a national project called Further Education and Counselling for Adults as a Tool for Better Employability on the Labour Market, into which tens of millions of euros have flowed.
The result is an investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office, non-existing publications, CDs, coaching books, existing but unnecessary e-learning for livestock farmers, miners, and carpenters or dilapidated counselling centres. According to the calculations, retraining of each person cost 11,000 euros.
And that is not all. A person needed to be employed during the retraining, because it was another department, which was responsible for the projects for the unemployed. The most popular courses were courses for further education teachers, counselling tutors, and operatives for management, administration, and implementation of the EU-funded programs.
So, the whole retraining program resembled a pyramid scheme with its nature and was similar to real pyramids with its usefulness.
However, this result is not a coincidence, but the feature of (educational) projects, where public resources do not buy results, but finance expenditures. Imagine, what would have happened, if instead of building a specific bridge or building, the state had bought 230 cubic metres of concrete to pour the foundation and 155 pallets of aerated concrete blocks to build the walls, and no longer cared about their proper placement. Even the biggest optimists wouldn’t have hoped for a usable result.
However, it is different in education. People usually naively hope, that if they pay for it, it will turn out well. They attach a magical value to the education as it is and do not require it to show its real result. This is a big mistake.
At least in the case of vocational education, retraining, and lifelong learning, which are implemented with the aim of employability on the labour market, we should want tangible results and pay for the service based on these results.
Investing in a human capital is a very detail-sensitive activity, in which many things must fit together at once. It is not like using EU funds to build a few benches, reconstruct a square, or lay a sewerage.
A well-design and implemented retraining must reconcile the trainee’s interests, trainer’s abilities, and employer’s demand. And to expect such harmonization to happen just like that is like throwing the bricks and mortar into the air and expecting a perfect building to land on the ground.
Lifelong learning therefore requires a complete change in approach to financing. There is no need to invent the wheel, all that needs to be done is to look at successful instances from abroad.
Instead of financing the costs, the state must start financing the results. This means that the state should reimburse retraining only to those trainers, whose graduates will afterwards find the expected job.
Such a connection between the fate of the graduate and the fate of the provider reconciles their interests and sets the motivation correctly. Suddenly, the goal will no longer be only to do sloppy job in the lessons and spend the money – to throw bricks and mortar into the air but to really increase person’s employability on the labour market.
Translated by Paulína Ivanišová