How Luxembourg is using ‘non-formal’ learning to help improve education and care for children

By Caroline Cassidy

Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

and Elizabeth Shuey

Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Key points:

– Luxembourg’s government is strengthening ‘non-formal’ education – learning that occurs in places such as after-school clubs and childcare centres.
– Non-formal education aligns with formal school education while the distinct systems and curricula support learning in different ways.
– It is now crucial to ensure that staff have the right qualifications to build quality learning opportunities for children, and incentive to join and stay in the sector.  

Often when we think of education, our mind goes to our own school experiences. However, learning and education take place in a variety of environments, including formal schooling and also less formal environments, like home care settings, after-school clubs and childcare centres. Many governments are focusing on the quality of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) but often out-of-school structures and learning environments are governed, regulated and funded in very different ways. Luxembourg is doing things differently.

Early Childhood Education and Care in Luxembourg

After decades of public investment in pre-primary schooling or ‘formal education’, the government is driving an ambitious policy agenda predominantly focused on strengthening what the country calls ‘non-formal education’. It serves young children before compulsory school age (four years old) and school‑aged children during out-of-school hours. A series of critical reforms is also coming into place in 2022 to further improve ECEC access, affordability and quality for the country’s youngest children.

What makes this such an interesting example is how Luxembourg perceives the non-formal sector and aligns its public investment accordingly. The government sees non-formal education as being not just about care or work support for parents, but as a core component of education and learning in the early years all the way up to the transition to adulthood. At the same time, non-formal education is still separate from formal education. Each has its own curriculum. Non-formal education does not have a system for assessing individual children’s skills or defined competencies like in formal education. Children are seen as agents of their own learning and are encouraged to develop their interests, accompanied by staff and guided by the non-formal curriculum.

The government sees non-formal education as being not just about care or work support for parents, but as a core component of education and learning in the early years all the way up to the transition to adulthood.

How does this compare to other countries?

There are other examples globally where governments are committed to a greater focus on ECEC and out-of-school time programmes. Israel and Ireland are making important reforms in their sector for children under three. Switzerland has age-specific curriculum frameworks for young children, including one specifically for home-based settings and another for out-of-school time of four to six year-olds. Australia also has a national curriculum that covers before- and after-school activities for school-age children and a curriculum for children aged zero to five for all types of ECEC settings.

However, Luxembourg is the first country to bring together all these different strands with the aim of aligning both non-formal and formal education. Regulation, funding, organisation and monitoring are all led under one ministry (The Ministry of Education, Children and Youth).

What challenges does Luxembourg face?

The implementation of the ideas driving non-formal education is not without challenges. Despite overall strong investment, there are clear divisions across the whole sector. Higher-qualified and better-prepared staff tend to be concentrated in the formal sector, which means there is a pressing need for a more qualified workforce in non-formal education. There is also the issue of how to attract and retain highly qualified staff for non‑contracted settings (delivered by private providers), as they can offer less advantageous working conditions than contracted settings (delivered by municipalities or non-profits). Continuous professional development is also particularly important in Luxembourg, where staff in the non‑formal sector come from different backgrounds and have diverse qualifications. New policies, being introduced in 2022 make continuous training, coaching and mentoring free of charge for all settings in the non-formal sector, and seek to tailor content to staff and leader needs.  

Workforce development can help to drive improvement in the quality of ECEC provision. Workforce preparedness, ongoing professional development and working conditions are key to boosting staff practices and improving children’s experiences. With the expanding non-formal sector and increasing focus on its quality, it will be important to develop ECEC‑specific qualifications and programmes to better prepare new staff and encourage existing ECEC staff in the non-formal sector to advance towards higher levels of qualification. Review of funding and monitoring systems is also important to support an alignment of workforce wages with these qualifications and roles.

Luxembourg’s focus on non-formal education, while still evolving, paves the way for other countries to examine how they can better develop high-quality learning environments for children outside of the classroom and above all, in those crucial early years.

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Photo: Shutterstock/ Jacob Lund