Informal education is a pervasive phenomenon which stands for different forms of education through which an individual enriches its knowledge and experience gathered via the formal education system. In the last years the concept of non-formal education that perfectly matches the idea of lifelong learning became growingly popular. Calling upon my “non-formal education” experience, which I could compare with precisely seven “university years”, I am able to name few reasons justifying plausibility and efficiency of the concept of informal education in the Western Balkans.
Firstly, on an individual level, it is simply a more interesting form of gathering knowledge, because it is in general more interactive, and it can produce more efficient results embodied in the level of knowledge we manage to gather and substance of the issues we manage to reach spending less time, than it could take us to memorize abstract and theoretical phenomena presented in the books. As the billionaire founder of Alibaba Mr Jack Ma said “We should not compete with artificial intelligence, but instead focus on unique human intelligence”.
Secondly, the non-formal education could be regarded as a form of compensating deficiencies that the traditional education systems are “cherishing”, at least in the Western Balkan region, where we have various versions of Bologna system endeavours. I am highlighting this because the fact that the implementations of reforms envisaged by Bologna system were not as smooth as the sole declaration of introducing new education system was. Those traditional systems are extensively based on learning methods focusing on memorizing information rather than on critical and analytical approach to the subject matter. Since they persistently survive - benefiting from the fact that the implementation of well-written standards is not stronger side of the Western Balkan countries, strengthening the role and visibility of the non-formal education could serve as a remedy that the young generations in the Western Balkan need in the transition period we are stuck, in order to be able to cope up with the trends on the labour market in the region, and wider.
Thirdly, it has various forms, we can pick and choose, such as conferences, workshops, hackathons (lasting for typically several days, in which people meet in order to engage in collaborative idea developing and computer programming), summer schools. One of my favourite is the summer/winter school concept. These schools in general have strong multinational, multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-confessional features, as their participants come from different parts of the world.
Attending a number of internationally renowned summer schools, such as European Forum Alpbach Summer School, Sarajevo Summer School "Rethinking the Culture of Tolerance", Regional Euro-Atlantic Camp (REACT), etc., I’ve witnessed many benefits of non-formal education I am trying to highlight writing this blog. The sole approach to the topics encompassed by the programmes of the summer schools I mentioned was completely innovative, and during the lectures the floor was constantly open for discussions and debates, beside the fact our lecturers were well-established experts in their area. Not so typical for professors in the Balkans, is it? Furthermore, I’ve been given the opportunity to meet lots of people whose careers are inspiring what served as a strong impetus for my further professional development. Moreover, it helped me raise the level of self-awareness, realize what my strengths are and the talents I have for certain careers, and especially what’s something I still need to work on.
The last thing I would like to mention is what for me is extremely important. These gatherings are a certain type of a litmus paper that shows us what potential challenges we will face at work, caused by our character or in relation to our knowledge and skills that require upgrading, if we do not want them to present a barrier to the job we want to perform.
My first summer school was for me practically an enlightenment, because it helped me to realize that as much as it is important to master the information, it is equally important to be able to present them appropriately/in an interesting way, so that they intrigue and hold the attention of the listeners.
During this period I’ve also managed to obtain a huge number of connections, I’ve broadened my perspectives, learnt about different attitudes and opinions, and what was especially significant is that these events were an inspiration for my further professional development. I believe that it is precisely these connections (that I managed to acquire through summer schools), that blur the boundaries between states - that divide us into groups of individuals condemned to live in developed, developing and underdeveloped countries, thus predetermining our destiny and our limits.
Another thing that I believe is the product of my non-formal education life, mirrors in my self-esteem in taking and defending attitudes in different public appearances, debating, transferring knowledge, and other skills that I believe could make any individual stand out from the masses of university-educated people. And as one quote says: “An umbrella can’t stop the rain but can make us stand in the rain. Confidence may not bring success but gives us power to face any challenge in life”. That was exactly the precious product of my involvement described above.