APEL.Q Case studiesBosnia and Herzegovina APEL.Q case study in education

Recognition and certification of vocational secondary education for adults


Vocational secondary schools carry the main responsibility for adult and continuing education in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). They offer training programs for adults mostly on the same lines as the programmes of formal vocational secondary educa. The aim of these programs is to enable adults to upgrade their skills and acquire qualifications in order to improve their employment prospects. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are also active in the training of adults, but this training does not lead to certification. An important aspect of vocational secondary education for adults is the opening up to a range of different providers and settings for training, including non-formal and informal learning (ETF, 2009).

The provision of vocational secondary education for adults is determined by two framework laws at the national level: (1) The Framework Law on Primary and Secondary Education in BiH (2003), adopted in 2008, is key to initial and continuing training of adults in response to labor market demands and trends. (2) The Framework Law on Secondary VET BiH of 2008 provides a broader perspective linked to lifelong learning ensuring conditions for the development and promotion of industrial crafts and services.

For recognition, validation and accreditation (RVA) of non-formal and informal learning to happen, standards need to be established against which skills, prior learning and work experience can be assessed and measured. Standards of assessment and quality of secondary vocational secondary VET (also for adults) are under the responsibility of the Agency for Pre-primary, Primary and Secondary Education as laid down under the Framework law on Secondary VET and the Law on Agency.

Procedures and processes

Activities around vocational secondary education for adults are mainly organised at the level of the two entities: (1) in the smaller entity of Republika Srpska (RS); (2) in the bigger Federation of BiH (FBiH) and in District-Brcko of the country. In the Republika Srpska (RS):

The Law on Adult Education of 2013 promotes the vocational secondary education of adults (above the age of 17). This law states that adults are required to update their vocational and professional knowledge, skills and competences through additional/further education leading to a qualification.

  • The Institute for Education of Adults designs the vocational secondary education curriculum for certification at levels three and four. It also develops standards and procedures for the accreditation of programmes/modules as well as offering further training for professionals who have prior experience in their occupational fields. Some of the training fields are radiotherapy, shoemaking, beekeeping, fruit business, winemaking, and nursing of elderly people and people with special needs.
  • The Council of Adult Education acts as an advisory body for standards and procedures for the accreditation of institutions, programmes and teacher qualifications. It cooperates with municipalities and is active in the networking of adult education institutions.
  • Until March 2011, almost 600 applications were registered for adult and continuing education. The Institute approved 88 training providers of adult and continuing programmes from the Republic of Srpska (Institute for Education of Adults in RS, 2011, p. 8).

There are several innovative cases of vocational secondary education for adults where RVA is being promoted in collaboration with private enterprises. These examples are taken from RS as well as from the different cantons of FBiH

  • The Tešanj vocational school in the Zenica-Doboj Canton (FBiH) delivers courses based on modular curricula and learning outcomes-based approaches. Social partners (employers and employee associations) have formed an advisory council to collaborate with enterprises. They deliver services to employed workers, and recognize and certify skills and learning outcomes from vocational secondary adult education that are relevant to the needs of local enterprises.
  • The Banja Luka Agricultural School is a member of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of RS. It cooperates with associations of bakers, butchers, and milk producers to organise courses and classes for gardeners, wine-growers, butchers and milk producers in accordance with the needs of the labour market.
  • The Gradiska Technical School (RS) co-operates with private businesses on the basis of an agreement for recognizing learning outcomes from practical training.
  • The Transport and Electrical Engineering School (RS) cooperates with the business sector in the recognition of learning outcomes from training programmes for adult education.
  • The Sarajevo Tourism and Catering Secondary school recognizes and certifies the learning outcomes from courses related to occupations in the Register containing the Classification of Occupations. The vocational secondary school has established good links with local companies in order to provide practical training to students and adults. The school also offers adult training that may not lead to a formal qualification, but local companies recognise the value of the certificate of attendance issued by the school.

In the case of Brčko District of BIH, the Development Strategy of Brčko District for the period of 2008-2017 (Brčko District Assembly, 2009) should lead to the adoption of a law on adult education. In the meantime, there are some activities in the VET of adults, which are modestly regulated (especially in regard to RVA) by the Law on Education in Primary and Secondary Schools in Brčko District BIH.  However, it is important to highlight that the already existing 2011 framework law on adult education for Brčko District, has until today never been given for consideration and adoption to the Brčko District government. Considering that already 4 years have passed, it is necessary to be cautiously optimistic about the adult education law in Brčko District (Kojić and Ćemerlić, 2015).

Outcomes and ways forward

The existing legislative frameworks on adult and continuing education are to a great extent influenced by vocational secondary education provision. Several recommendations have been made by the European Training Foundation (ETF, 2009, 2010) to improve adult and continuing education and to develop RVA mechanisms. These recommendations are listed below:

  • RVA should not only be limited to recognizing vocational and technical skills, but also to recognizing the wider needs of adults with regard to literacy, personal development and social cohesion.
  • It is important to take cognizance of the fact that employers are not only seeking technical/vocational skills but also general skills such as IT skills, foreign languages, team-working skills and positive attitudes towards work.
  • It is necessary to develop occupational profiles and standards in order to mitigate the problem of skills mismatch,
  • There appears to be a strong belief among people in BiH that the training of adults means going back to school; this is amply illustrated by the fact that it is mostly adults in formal vocational secondary schools, rather than adults outside the formal system, who are better able to express a demand for requalification in certain professions. The ETF reports suggest that incentives should be provided not only for the formal education of adults but also for the development and recognition of non-formal training, on-the-job training, and training at post-secondary levels.
  • In addition to the award of certification by schools and universities through diplomas, it will be crucial to draw attention to certifying learning outcomes from other forms of learning that take place in the labor market, in companies and in the non-formal training sector. This should happen with a view to supporting recognition and validation of prior learning, taking into account all knowledge, competences and skills acquired through formal, non-formal and informal learning.
  • The processes of identification and documentation of skills, knowledge and competences needs to be done with the involvement of a wider range of stakeholders, requiring improved communication, cooperation and coordination between education, employment, economic sectors and among social partners.
  • Vocational secondary schools for adults should be merged into regional and sectoral networks of secondary school communities. This would address socio-economic development at the regional level.
  • Post-secondary and tertiary education pathways must be established in order to give adults a future perspective after secondary vocational education.
  • The establishment of an Agency for Standards and Assessment will be crucial for the accreditation and the evaluation of programmes/modules;
  • “The development of a quality assurance mechanism in line with the European Qualification Assurance reference framework for VET (EQA-VET) would be particularly useful in a country like Bosnia and Herzegovina given the extremely fragmented administrative organisation and also because of the need for greater autonomy among VET providers. This would lead to the development of assessment, including self-assessment of providers (including VET schools), the development of indicators and a monitoring system at policy and system level.” (ETF, 2010, p. 20).


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