Heinz H. Meyer

In May 1998 and 1999, Festivals of Learning were held locally and regionally throughout Germany. The German Festival of Learning is adapted from the British Adult Learners Week and is a joint initiative of the Federal Government and the governments of the 16 Federal Laender. The Adolf Grimme Institute, an agency concerned with audiovisual and new media, was entrusted by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with the nationwide organization and coordination of the festival, as well as with some of the publicity work. The individual Federal Laender provided a range of support locally for the Festival of Learning, which is a new and unusual challenge for German continuing education establishments. – Heinz H. Meyer is Director of the project Lernfest 2000 and an academic staff member of the Adolf Grimme Institute GmbH in Marl, Germany.

Heinz H. Meyer

"Adult Learners Week" in Germany

1. Why a Festival of Learning?

Continuing education in Germany already has an established and comprehensive response to people’s widely varying desire and potential for learning. Since education is part of our changing society, it must face up to the demands created by the transition from an old-fashioned industrialized society to an information and knowledge society. New ideas are being put forward about both the topics covered by provision, and its manner of presentation. In future, innovative approaches and continuing education activities will gain in importance. The rapid development of information and communications technology, in particular, and its effects on all fields of human life, will play a major role. Even learning itself will change. To a greater extent, the impetus to acquire new knowledge will come from changes at the workplace. The big wide world will increasingly impinge on the small world of the individual: a knowledge of foreign languages will become important, sympathy with other cultures will have to grow, and so on. This and far more will, in the form of learning throughout life, be taken for granted in future as an integral part of human existence. This is the background to the Festival of Learning, which is pursuing the following aims.

2. Aims of the Festival of Learning

The Festival of Learning in Germany is intended, like those in other countries, to raise the profile of continuing education as a part of society’s education policy, to provide information about the wide range of opportunities offered by continuing education, and to address new target groups and interest them in continuing education by means of practical, tangible examples. The overall potential of continuing education can thus be made apparent.

The Festival of Learning addresses all education and training establishments, continuing education, cultural institutions such as museums and libraries, and not least, the economic sector. It invites them all to become involved, preferably cooperatively, in holding or joining in festivals of learning, and to use these festivals as a way of presenting their work to the public and of showing politicians and society as a whole what they can achieve.

3. Continuing Education Must Go to the People

The Festivals of Learning that have been held so far, in 1998 and 1999, demonstrated the whole spectrum of continuing education and learning. There were visual presentations, often accompanied by music or other demonstrations, of languages, vocational education – especially new communications technologies – political and cultural subjects, as well as topics relating to art, sport, leisure pursuits, etc. Regional and local festivals were often given a particular slogan, such as "Learning is fun", "Education changes things" or "Continuing education – the window on the world". The wide range of topics, the cooperation between presenters, and the concentration of activities, made it possible to attract media attention. The nearly 270 festivals that were held over the two years, attended by several hundred thousand visitors, received full press, radio and television coverage in commentaries and reports. Numerous politicians, from local mayors to Land prime ministers, took part in festivals or became their patrons.

Viewed overall, festivals of learning are a way of publicizing and marketing continuing education that has genuinely raised the public profile of continuing education, has demonstrated to politicians that continuing education is an important prerequisite for shaping the future, and has shown citizens that they can find appropriate answers to their particular questions through education. The festivals held to date have provided the encouragement to hold another. The third Festival of Learning will take place locally and regionally on 8 September 2000. The date of 8 September 2000 is not chosen at random, since this is the well-established International Literacy Day. Because of the global presence of UNESCO, it provides the stimulus for festivals of learning worldwide, as well as in Germany.

The main event will be held on 8 September 2000 at the Hanover EXPO. The international exhibition EXPO 2000 has the slogan "Humankind – Nature-Technology. A Whole New World". This expresses major concerns and challenges for society, and it is good that continuing education will be there, showing how it can address and overcome these – for example, through a Festival of Learning!