Heribert Hinzen

A Forum for Information and Exchange. Impressions from "The Future Needs Learning Needs a Future" Conference

“Thank heaven that’s over.” This was doubtless what many colleagues thought and felt when the 11th German Adult Education Conference, held in Hamburg from 7 to 9 November 2001, came to an end. The effort of planning, preparing and conducting such a large conference with over 1000 participants in addition to the normal daily workload stretched those involved to the limit. Let me therefore take this opportunity to thank all those concerned for their tireless contributions to its success.

We are generally wise after the event. We think we know what we could have done differently, and better. But perhaps we overlook the factors that caused us to act in one way rather than another at the time. Let me give an example. If we had known when we started planning, a year and more ago, the exact position with regard to two key factors - how much money we could spend, and how many people would attend - many things would have been simpler. But this was not the case. The true figures were not known until afterwards, when all the participants (and especially the paying participants) had come and gone and all the pledges and commitments by sponsors had been taken up.

It will still take some time to assess the outcomes of the Conference, particularly the lessons to be learnt for the future about arrangements in the age of the new media. The 1000 and more people who came were trying to get to over 100 individual sessions - lectures, workshops and discussions - most of which took place concurrently. At the same time there was an education fair, with presentations and exhibitions of books and software. People were on the go all day long. Since the names of those running these sessions promised that they would be of high quality, there was a great deal of interest, and people hurried from event to event. There were frequent complaints from participants that they were missing something. And there were of course also the many informal meetings with old and new professional acquaintances.

Every Five Years...

Eleven Adult Education Conferences have been held, every five years since 1951. The main purpose has always been to raise the profile of adult education and to demonstrate what it provides. The early conferences were small affairs, but they have now become major events held at trade fair grounds or congress centres. The emphasis has naturally varied, but issues relating to professional delivery, organisation and education policy have always been addressed. Politicians make use of the Conference for exchanges of views. The Federal President has given a keynote speech about adult education on each occasion. This Conference was no exception, and we reprint here the address by President Johannes Rau, setting lifelong learning in the context of the information and knowledge-based society.

The Conferences of 1966 (when a development role was first discussed in the context of educational aid) and 1991 (the focus then being on the opening up of Europe and One World) were turning points. On these occasions, domestic concern with the situation of adult education in Germany left room for cross-border and indeed worldwide considerations. It was recognised that it was desirable to learn from one another, which meant adult educators learning from other cultures.

The 2001 Conference was on a different scale, however, as was made plain in the speech by the EU Education Commissioner Viviane Reding, which we reprint here. The Memorandum on Lifelong Learning issued by the EU, itself not a decade old, presents us with a challenge. It sets out guidelines for teaching and education policy that will be of great practical relevance. I can think of no educational document in history that has been subject to such a broad consultation process. Over 10,000 replies have been received from institutions and individuals in Member States and states applying for membership, from as far away as China, and from associations in the United States with state, civil society and university partners. The Memorandum was of course discussed at the Conference from a wide range of perspectives, regional standpoints, and even languages.

...and this Time?

The Conference title for 2001 was “The Future Needs Learning Needs a Future”. The reality and vision implicit in this title was addressed in six broad themes:

  • The VHS as a Learning Organization
  • Learning in International Cooperation
  • Learning in Regional Networking
  • Learning in the Information and Occupational Society
  • Learning with Sense and Every Sense
  • Learning as a Basic Right - Public Responsibility for Continuing Education

Those concerned with gender issues were catered for equally as well as those wishing to discuss health education, computerized adult education management, adult education in museums or quality management systems.

Prizes were also awarded for the best courses on “The Internet for Beginners”, there was a “Best Practice Exchange” and a continuing education fair with providers from the Volkshochschulen (community adult education centres) themselves as well as from German and foreign educational companies. Platform discussions addressed the financial and political issues facing adult education, and how these might be resolved. There was a huge party for all participants and other guests, with music, dancing and conversation until late in the night.

Learning in International Cooperation

Never before had there been so many foreign participants at a German Adult Education Conference. There had never been so many lectures, working groups and exhibition stands devoted to such a broad range of issues discussing and presenting

  • intercultural and global learning
  • transnational project cooperation
  • European and international plans and partnerships

We at the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (IIZ/DVV) see this as a welcome and necessary development. But while the phrase “at a time of globalization”, which is now so often used, may of course be true, it is surely not an adequate explanation.

Globalization was indeed the key word that haunted and electrified the Conference in various guises, from the slogan “Local, global, no matter” to the frightening question “Is the South losing touch?”, which Professor Nuscheler incisively posed in his widely praised speech (reprinted here) that linked in with another theme, “Global Learning”, discussed in our last issue. It is all very well setting ourselves the fine-sounding historic task of “influencing globalization”, but we then need to think about what forms of international cooperation we want, and what we are actually going to do, and to exchange experiences of ­“public-private partnerships”.

Nearly 25 sessions provided an opportunity to find and exchange information. The breadth of topics, only a few of which can be mentioned here, speaks for itself:

  • Agenda 21 - Eight steps towards local government for the future
  • Stability through adult education? Projects, partners and perspectives in South-Eastern Europe
  • Learning: Lifelong and globally?
  • Adult education and the eastward expansion of the EU
  • International cooperation and new partnerships
  • European voices on the EU Memorandum on Lifelong Learning
  • Adult education centre practice in the context of globalization
  • Education for all and lifelong learning

A fuller review of international aspects would have to include the many workshops on intercultural and transnational adult education, and language learning and its certification in the European Year of Languages, taking into account the effects of the policy of enhanced integration and changes in citizenship. This Adult Education Conference will probably have set the course towards greater internationalization in adult education, to which we must respond positively.

Major educational themes were also taken up in discussion of development policy. How can Education for All and Lifelong Learning be ­related one to the other? It is not just a matter of quantity - a billion people, around 900 million adults are illiterate and 100 million children are not in school - but also of quality. What is basic education, what are the new key skills, and what needs to be borne in mind in teaching them so that they become relevant for lifelong learning? What should be the approach to literacy: literacy first and livelihood skills later? The presentation of the main results of the study conducted by the IIZ/DVV on behalf of the World Bank (see the substantial extracts in this issue) suggested some answers, describing the process as “strengthening livelihoods with literacy”. What can be done through health education to prevent AIDS and support the sick?

One trend needs serious questioning. This is the uncomfortable polarization between Basic Education for people in the South and Lifelong Learning for those in the North. It became clear in any event that further partnerships must be established in international adult education if the growing number of tasks are successfully to be accomplished. The civil society and NGOs must increasingly be involved alongside state agencies, in both planning and implementation. The thinking that is spreading in the industrialized countries (see the paper by Professors Beaucouvalas and Henschke reprinted here) is of note in this context.

Creating and Using Opportunities

Advantage was also taken of opportunities for further cooperation. The UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg and the German Foundation for International Development had invited experts from many countries and continents to a conference in the same week entitled “The Making of Literate Societies Revisited”. They had their own agenda, reviewing the state of research, practice and policy on the key issue of how literate, written cultures come about. Many participants were able to make use of the opportunity to attend individual sections of each other’s programme that they found of particular interest.

The European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) had arranged its Annual General Meeting this year so that it immediately followed the German Adult Education Conference. This meant that all delegates could potentially take advantage of what was on offer at the German Conference. The EAEA and its members, in return, had the opportunity to provide information about their successful projects by means of a large display at the education fair and a catalogue (see the announcement in this issue about how to order it). On the first day of the EAEA Annual General Meeting, which was open to the public, the emphasis was on the presentation and discussion of the best projects and their wider dissemination.

We believe that adult education has much to offer in relation to the Stability Pact for the Balkans and the eastward expansion of the EU. Our partners came from all Central and Eastern European countries, ready and willing to exchange experiences with colleagues from the Volkshochschulen and adult education in other parts of the world. They were frequently in search of specific support and joint long-term arrangements. The presence of many partners from the former socialist states, which are now often described jointly as countries in transition, also made it possible to deal with similarities and differences in education policy and legislation at a special meeting.

For us at the international institute serving the Volkshochschulen, which is engaged daily in detailed cooperation with widely differing partners in many parts of the world, it was also our aim that our partners should make use of their attendance at the Conference to exchange information and see what is being done. We still find that many potential and actual partners know little about the work of the Volkshochschulen, or that their limited knowledge gives a picture that deserves to be improved. Similarly, we had also invited the financial backers of the project, so that they too could find out more about our work and our partners. Representatives came from the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, the Foreign Office, the EU, the World Bank, and also from potential donors who accept the importance of global learning and international cooperation for sustainable development - so that we all have a future.