Quality is one of the most used terms in policy making and in education, yet it is a concept that is hard to describe. Many people have an instinctive idea about what they mean but when they specify it, often people have very different ideas on what quality actually means in a concrete situation. For some education is 'quality' if it is strict, for some if it leads to something that you can earn money with, and for some education is quality if it allows you to express yourself and become happy.
Quality can therefore not be used as a slogan but needs to be defined and it has to be put 'to work'. Quality has only meaning when it is discussed, when there is communication between the providers, the learners and society on this quality and on how it addresses needs. This are the two functions of Quality Assurance: to improve quality and to communicate clearly about it.
This vision on Quality Assurance is very similar to the approach in other educational fields, yet the implementation might be rather different due to the difference between the educational fields. The network works on the following cornerstone definition:
The quality of non-formal education in youth non-government organisations is the degree to which selected needs of society and of learners are reached and addressed.
In this definition, quality is related to the needs that are selected by a certain educational provider. This is why the network has no quality standards, the field is so diverse, dealing with so many different situations that all Standards would either be so vague as to be meaningless, or unwillingly declare some very valuable NFE as no-quality due to a different approach. For example, a quality standard might be that there is one educator per 10 learners. Some youth organisations would not meet this standard because they work on the principle of peer-learning whereby there are no separate educators, only learners. The network instead works with quality indicators, that are common concepts and valid for all non-formal education, but that need to be defined for each program or organisation.
In practice, the quality assurance process exists of three phases, or levels. The first is the internal quality assurance process in which the non-formal education provider chooses the needs it wants to address, develops their indicators, implements the programme and evaluates itself.
The second phase is the external quality assurance, where the organisation gains trustworthiness by having its quality assurance reviewed by peers, other youth organisations. The peers assess whether the organisations had a proper and thorough quality assurance process. Secondly the peer review process is also an educational process for the organisation, by being reviewed by peers, they get the opportunity to look at their programmes 'as an outsider' and get valuable feedback from other experts.
The third level, is the reporting to the Stakeholders and making all info on their quality assurance process available to whoever is interested., learners, other educational providers and institutions.
The Quality Assurance process in each organisation should proceed according to the following Quality Assurance Standards:
- The organisation has a QA process gathering data
- The organisation uses the data to improve on-going and future processes
- The organisation reports to and consults with stakeholders included in the Quality Assurance Framework.
The Quality Assurance process:
Many youth organisations already work extensively on setting objectives and evaluation and should find that a quality assurance process complements this way of working. A quality assurance process within an organisation for an non-formal education programme could thus follow the cycle below:
1. Self review and Consultation
The organisation organises an internal discussion and a consultation with stakeholders to gather information about the learning needs and to learn from previous NFE schemes.
2. Setting objectives and themes
Based on the information received in the first phase, the organisation sets out the objectives and the themes on which it wants to work during the proposed NFE programme. Setting out these objectives has to be accompanied by determination of quality indicators and how these will be assessed.
3. Designing the NFE scheme
4. Implementation of the programme using quality control and continuous evaluation and adjustment of the programme.
5. Reporting and peer feedback
As a result of the peer feedback process, a final joint report will be written.
6. Adjustments of scheme and possibly the procedures
An important part of the quality assurance process is to document systematically the crucial points of the process itself. This documentation will facilitate reporting and review procedures, but also enable the organisation to create support resources for following cycles.