According to the 2009 ECVET Recommendation, implementation of the “European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training” is voluntary. Each Member State and its institutions define the rules and scope of ECVET application in a given country.
The principles of ECVET are applied in Poland, but the name is not usually mentioned by name when learners use these facilities (except for mobility projects). Where ECVET inspired the modernization of system solutions, knowledge of its use is usually hidden. The ECVET principles in Poland are applied in the following areas:
- Learning mobility projects (e.g. internships and internships for students from trade schools)
- Vocational training within the education system
- Market qualifications operating within the Integrated Qualifications System
- Higher education
The main area of application of ECVET are projects aimed at learning mobility. They are largely implemented within the Erasmus + program. In the next two areas, the principles of ECVET have been implemented in a systemic manner (they have been included in the relevant legal acts, practices and procedures). In the field of higher education, these principles have been institutionalized in the few postgraduate studies that award qualifications that have been incorporated into the Integrated Qualifications System. They are also used as part of projects on better integration of apprenticeships into study programs and the improvement of study programs.
The use of ECVET in the above-mentioned areas can be analyzed and assessed against the key dimensions of ECVET. The first deals with the use of the language of learning outcomes, the second with solutions for the accumulation and transfer of credit, and the third with the promotion of international mobility and transfer of credit internationally.
The ECVET Recommendation provides for the use of learning outcomes, their ordering into sets (units), and linking learning outcomes to information on how they will be verified. Learning outcomes were introduced in Poland in a systemic way: in general education in the education system in 2009, in higher education in 2011, and in vocational education in the education system in 2012. Separating qualifications in vocational education professions and dividing the learning outcomes described in the core curriculum for vocational education into sets (units) of learning outcomes meant the introduction of the key principles of ECVET to the Polish education system. From 2016, under the Act on the Integrated Qualifications System, each qualification included in the IQS (awarded outside the education and higher education system) must be described by means of learning outcomes, as well as separate sets of learning outcomes and verification criteria. From 2019, also the core curricula of vocational education contain verification criteria.
Learning outcomes described in various systems, and often also within one system, differ in the level of detail of the description (the so-called granularity of learning outcomes), the rules for organizing learning outcomes and the criteria for grouping them (e.g. thematic, subject or subordinated to perspective of professional tasks).
In higher education, the ECVET system is used in particular in relation to vocational education – in vocational universities and in postgraduate studies. So far, the ECVET principles have been piloted in several universities, especially numerous experiences have been gathered at the PWSZ in Elbląg and the Lodz University of Technology.
In higher education, learning outcomes for qualifications and study programs are traditionally broken down into knowledge, skills and social competences. This method is convenient for the proper preparation of the didactic process, and also enables the presentation of the profile of the graduate, taking into account the scope and depth of his knowledge, type and level of cognitive and practical skills. However, it does not show the profile of the graduate, the role and tasks for which the graduate is prepared. For this purpose, it is useful to describe and organize the effects through the prism of their practical application (most often in relation to specific professional tasks and typical positions and jobs).
Accumulation and transfer of achievements
From the point of view of accumulating and transferring achievements in individual areas of ECVET application, the key possibilities are related to:
- separate confirmation of achievements (usually corresponding to the learning units specified in the qualification) – separate and staged accumulation of such achievements is called accumulation;
- combining achievements obtained in various contexts (e.g. at courses, at school, at university), i.e. obtaining and using exactly the units of learning outcomes and qualifications that we need, which significantly contributes to making the learning process more flexible and facilitates gaining exactly the knowledge, skills and social competences that we need at a given moment in life;
- the availability of convenient forms of support and validation, i.e. activities aimed at creating opportunities for achievement (and ultimately qualifications) for people who learn outside the education system, e.g. independently or in the workplace. Availability of validation forms adapted to their life situation (i.e. alternatives to the exam) and support, consisting in counseling, training, or even assistance in collecting the necessary documents
In the area of the education system, the qualifications introduced as part of the core curriculum for vocational education constituted an important aspect enabling the transfer and accumulation of achievements. The separation of qualifications in occupations made it possible to collect certificates in stages confirming some of the competences that make up the profession, and in the event of interruption of education, also the possibility of continuing education without the need to repeat education or validate previously confirmed learning outcomes. Additionally, it is possible for adults to acquire qualifications as part of qualifying vocational courses.
Due to the adopted legal solutions in the education system, the possibilities of validating the effects of informal learning are currently limited to vocational examinations. At the moment, no other validation methods are expected to be introduced, such as methods based on the analysis of evidence (the so-called portfolio) or observation in the workplace – although it should be noted that gradual changes to the external examination system are currently being introduced. An important change in the education system from the point of view of transferring achievements is the possibility of obtaining market qualifications as part of professional education, introduced by the changes in the education system in 2018. It is worth noting that the market qualifications reported to the IQS often correspond with their specificity and content to fragments of vocational qualifications from the education system, which enables and encourages the transfer of achievements between qualifications.
In the higher education system, credit accumulation and transfer is traditionally used in a ‘subject’ structure. Individual classes end with an exam and credit (in the student record book), and in the event of a change of the field of study, it is possible to transfer and credit ECTS points obtained at another university. Same as for Erasmus + mobility. ECVET pilots, on the other hand, introduce the possibility of recognizing achievements that come from outside the higher education system, for example related to apprenticeships.
The systemic solutions functioning in Poland leave little space for recognition of achievements resulting from educational mobility (e.g. internships and internships abroad). Although the development of the IQS may in the future favor the expansion of the scope of these possibilities.
Supporting international mobility and transferring achievements in an international context
Elements of the ECVET system are commonly used in learning mobility projects, which are implemented mainly by schools providing vocational education under the Erasmus + program. Mobility projects are most often in the form of apprenticeships, under which students of Polish schools can gain practical skills and develop social competences by working for a foreign employer. It is worth noting that the name ECVET is used explicitly in Erasmus + projects and in official documents.
The analysis of project documentation and the results of monitoring visits to schools implementing educational mobility projects, which were conducted by the ECVET Team of Experts in Poland, allow to conclude that in the last 5 years there has been a significant increase in the awareness of Erasums + program participants in the area of applying learning outcomes to planning, implementation and Mobility evaluation. According to the employees of schools implementing mobility projects, the use of ECVET contributed to increasing the value of learning mobility for students and the visibility of foreign competences acquired during internships.
Documents used as part of the mobility – cooperation agreements, learning agreements, but also templates of assessment / observation cards, or individual lists of achievements are now much more complex, but also much better developed than in the early 2010s.
Summing up, ECVET is explicitly used in Poland as part of learning mobility, but its principles have been included in solutions in all education sectors and qualifications subsystems. So far, to the least extent in higher education, which is not surprising due to the specificity of this area and the functioning of the ECTS system there.
Other European countries also recognize the need to further develop solutions related to the accumulation and transfer of achievements. More and more European countries point to the increasing application of ECVET principles, mainly in vocational education systems. ECVET is also used for learning mobility projects by many institutions and vocational schools in Europe. European strategic documents (including the European Skills Agenda, Recommendation on the EQF of 2017) emphasize the need to implement systems of accumulation and transfer of achievements at all levels of the European Qualifications Framework, which corresponds to the trends in the use of ECVET in Poland.