Anita Jakobsone

The collapse of the former Soviet Union created an entirely new situation for adult education in the Baltic region. Three new states came into being: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Latvian Adult Education Association (LAEA) has been in existence for seven years. What are its aims, what are the conditions facing its governing body, what has been achieved, and how effective has it been? – Dr Anita Jakobsone is the Chairperson of LAEA. Here she provides an assessment of her experiences, including that of cooperation with the IIZ/DVV.

Latvian Adult Education Association: Between Dreams and Reality

Seven years have passed since the foundation of the Latvian Adult Education Association in December 1993. This article is a challenge for us to evaluate the activities of our organisation in this period of time and to answer the question about the role of LAEA previously and now in the development of adult education in our country. Exact evaluation is impossible without concrete quantitative and qualitative criteria. It is very important to look at our achievements and failures in the context of the collective development of our society and non-governmental organisations.

The table below characterises the growth of LAEA in figures:

Years
Number of members Value of projects and education (legal persons)
services (in local currency)
1993
12
11 100.00
1995
26
62 170.10
1997
42
37 080.61
1999
57
147 249.00

For example, in 1999 LAEA attracted more funds than are provided in the national budget for one of the government education offices with more than 20 employees. The proportion of the public procurement in the income of LAEA is 6.7%. At this moment we have only 4 full time employees, including an office cleaner, working in LAEA.

My purpose is neither to draw your attention to the number of publications (more than 30 in total), nor to the great success in the attraction of international funds and project management. I want to focus our achievements and to see how great they really are. Our aim has always been the development of adult education policy in our country. In the cooperation with the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science and other non-governmental organisations we have written at least seven versions for the projected Adult Education Act. In 1997 it was reviewed in the Latvian Parliament (Saeima) for the first time. Because of many corrections it was not passed and the new version of the law was introduced in the Saeima in 2000 and again was refused. As a result, adoption of the Adult Education Act was not achieved even after seven years.

Since 1998 LAEA has handed in applications for financing of adult education from the national budget. For two years the leadership of the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science has refused these applications with the pretext that there is no Adult Education Act in the country. It means that there is neither program nor subprogram concerning adult education in the budget of the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science. The municipalities have very few funds for adult education because the division between the central and the local budget is very ill disposed for the development of the education of local people. It means that we have not succeeded in making a purposeful adult education financing system from national and municipal budgets.

In 1995 LAEA created the first adult education plan in our country, based on experience in other countries. But we have no reason to be proud of that because this document is quite formal and outdated. Unfortunately at present we do not have anything else. But it does no harm either to adult education development because like many other papers of the same kind it is forgotten by all.

To clarify the situation in the development of adult education policy in Latvia I must say that there is no existing education development strategy despite hundreds of other strategies and plans in our country. A plan published by the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science in 1998 we can regard only as a summary of the opinions of its structural units about what they want to do in the sphere of education and their dreams on the theme of "How much money we would like to have if there were no limits".

Speaking about the development of adult education policy from the other point of view, we must admit another obstacle to development – the experts competent in the problems of European and world-wide education systems are not able to influence development on a national level.

Theoretical mistakes were made in creating the basic education law. For instance, in Latvia the term "science of education" has only now officially begun to coexist with the term "pedagogy", many education officials still have difficulties in accepting the term education target groups, the dynamics of educational needs remain unclear, etc.Terms like formal and informal education, initial and further education are not possible to find in the present umbrella law. There is also a characteristic lack of balance between the vocational and the general, including in liberal adult education development.

All the above-mentioned does not bother the politicians’ talk about the priority of the development of human resources in the country, about the importance of education in the political and social integration of the society, or Latvia’s integration into the EU. Idle words about the importance of education are very popular. But even when talking about active employment measures only a few state officials think about how to correct wastage created by educational establishments, especially on the level of secondary and vocational schools.

We can ask whether LAEA has contributed to innovations in education in our country. Yes, of course. Within the limits of possibility and funds we have paid attention to the accessibility of education in the prisons, to the necessity of second chance youth education and the development of a network of institutions, to the deficiency of basic skills, to the shortage of civic education. We have made concrete input in the training of the adult education organisers and teachers, and as a result the methods in the work with adults have improved rapidly.

It is very complicated for the LAEA to contribute in the investigation of adult education quality. Now we are very interested in joining international public research into trends in the development of adult education. Unfortunately we have not succeeded because of lack of resources.

We must admit that in public awareness building and advocacy of public policy we are still far from perfection. We have not sufficiently informed all levels of educational institutions’ employees about trends in the development of adult education in the world and the necessary changes in this field in Latvia. It is clear that at all educational levels, general and vocational education institutions have to equip adults to use the resources at their disposal effectively. There is an urgent need to educate the politicians, but the question is how to motivate them to study, how to demonstrate the disparity between their enormous deficiency of knowledge about adult education and their responsibility for the development of human resources,including the development of adult education in the country.

We have striven for delegation of government responsibility for adult education to LAEA. From 1994 to 1999 we had a three-sided agreement with the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science and the IIZ/DVV. In 1999 we concluded an agreement with the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science about delegation of government duties concerning adult education to LAEA. Just a remark – in February 2000 it is 8 months since the agreement was signed, but the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science has not provided execution of the agreement with any financing. Evaluating the public relations with ministries and municipalities, we cannot deny the development of the positive image of LAEA as well as the pretty wide range of partner organisations in Latvia as well as in other countries. Especially we can be glad that several municipalities have begun financing the work of the adult education centres in their localities, even to the amount of Ls 20 000 (60 000 DM) in several municipalities. It is really great progress in the situation of Latvia though light-weight compared with other European countries.

Our priorities in international cooperation are:

    1. increasing cooperation between adult education institutions at the local level

    2. developing and adapting innovations. Of course all of the issues new in Latvia are not new in other countries. Often the old becomes the new here. However, we hope that in this way we will be able to avoid at least some mistakes made in other countries. Though – no doubt – we will have our own mistakes!

Particularly we can talk about the development of the non-governmental organisations in Latvia, about the contribution of LAEA in this process as well as about the role of LAEA in the third sector, including the training of the leaders of non-governmental organisations. LAEA has taken part in the improvement of the legislation on public organisations as well as in the drafting of important national plans and programs, displaying in these documents the necessity of the development of adult education and the problems of the entire non-governmental sector. For instance in 1999 the representatives of LAEA participated in the working-out of the plan for social integration and the strategy for the decreasing of poverty.

Within the sector, LAEA is a promoter between the state and the civil society as one of the non-governmental associations with comparatively long working experience. We can share with our colleges how to promote the development of public policy in our country.

Also, LAEA continuously focuses on the development of the educational institutions network in Latvia. Step by step we try to strengthen the local adult education centres’ organising capability and to assist them materially. At the beginning of 2000 more than 10 adult education centres supported by IIZ/DVVwere provided with one computer, modem, connection to e-mail and Internet each.

This will make more effective the exchange of information between the adult information centres, and promote their roles in the development of further education and information for local people.

Summarising all the above, the conclusion is clear – the main purpose of LAEA as the association of non-governmental organisations is to maintain consistent step-by-step development of the networks of international and local cooperation and to promote adult education policy and its development in practice.