Viviane Reding

Lifelong Learning in Europe

This 11th Conference of German adult education centres takes place in a historic year for education policy. Never before was there a year in which Europe has thought about and discussed the future of lifelong learning so much.

The year 2001 is the European Year of Language Learning and its programme with its many language learning workshops, its multilingualism and its internationality reflects the continual contribution in this field.

At the same time this year marks the start of the 5th European Framework for the Advancement of Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, which will run from 2001 until 2006. I myself am a member of the group of 5 commissioners in the committee, which - under Mr Prody’s presidency - coordinates equal opportunities for men and women. In this programme lifelong learning is seen as one of the most important instruments in achieving equal opportunities.

Three quarters of students in adult education centres in Germany are women of every age. This is really significant. An OECD survey only recently showed that it is still mostly men, especially men between the ages of 25 - 50, who enjoy the best opportunities for further education. Men’s chances even increase with their educational and financial status. With this in mind you provide an extremely valuable contribution to gender mainstreaming in Europe. Please let me encourage you to spread your services in this field more so that other sectors of lifelong learning can profit. In the adult education centres experts in adult education have developed important women related programmes in all fields of learning, they have encouraged women to engage in politics, to prepare themselves for a job, to defend their jobs and to keep their jobs. Some of the most interesting programmes, among them programmes which we gladly supported with funds from the Socrates­programme, will be presented here in workshops.

This year the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, which the European Commission presented to the public in November 2000, has generated many discussions throughout Europe. The Commission invited all Member States and candidate states to discuss the Memorandum and to submit suggestions for an action plan concerning lifelong learning. In addition non-government organizations and individual citizens were invited to join the debate. A tentative estimate states that 12 000 people in the whole of Europe participated in the discussion on the Memorandum. Many also took an active role in the debate by contributing their experiences and visions. I would like to thank you all very much.

The Member States have informed us of the wide range of suggestions and actions regarding lifelong learning. The multitude and quality of the events that took place everywhere have shown us that the European consultancy process is itself an important catalyst for an increased awareness and new politico-educational momentum. The Commission will soon present the many interesting recommendations, which were made from all sides, to the Council for Education and the Council for Youth to realize a European platform for lifelong learning.

Together with the European Ministries for Education we will try to design a work programme which will follow the report on the aims of general and vocational education. This is an initiative of the European Heads of State and Government conceived last year in Lisbon. For their meeting next year in Barcelona it is planned that the programme be as concrete as possible. Subjects which are especially interesting for adult education centres are, e.g., a basic education for everyone including adults, teacher training and further training on all levels including adult education. Special emphasis lies on the creation of a new basic education designed to complement the previous education: with learning skills, basic knowledge in the field of information and communication technology, foreign language skills, with basic scientific and technical skills for all, but especially for women and girls, with a spirit of enterprise and with social skills. Other subjects touched on such as the quality of lifelong learning met with special interest in the German debate. For this best-practice examples were collected, indicators were developed and various forms of bilateral cooperation in Europe were suggested. Due to the parallel discussion on the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning this workplan, which first concentrated more on the formal ­education system and its future, included the dimensions of adult ­education in ever increasing concreteness.

Before I go into the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning let me say a word on the voting process regarding our initiatives for education between the European level and the national level:

I believe the Commission is a catalyst and a stimulant for the ongoing process. It is only right that we operate within the legal framework of the EU contract regulating the power-distribution among the Community and the Member States, as written down in articles 149 and 150. It is vital to this process to acquire acceptance from all participants. Only if they are convinced by this approach will we be able to implement it successfully. With regard to education and vocational policy, which can never be a policy of harmonization, we put special emphasis on an ­exchange of information, experience and best practices and the ensuing a political dialogue on joint aims and strategies, and finally the commitment to achieve these aims and implement these strategies. With this method the independence of national education and vocational policy is ensured. Nothing can be imposed on a Member State against its will.

The Memorandum on Lifelong Learning met with mixed feelings in your circle. Some reacted with enthusiasm, others with reserve and scepticism. Please let me take up five theses from the debate, which could ­interest you particularly.

1. Lifelong learning does not only concern the economy and the job market but all areas of life.

In the past years the debate was led - especially in Europe - in a way that could lead to the impression that it was only concerned with lifelong adult training and further training for the workplace and the interests of business. After the Europe-wide debate a consensus has been reached which is aimed at striking a balance between the interests of business in lifelong learning and the interests of the individual citizen in learning processes: lifelong learning to participate in political life, to improve one’s opportunities, to develop one’s abilities to the full and for social integration. Adult education centres throughout Europe have always had the whole range of subjects in their programmes and many programmes today still reflect the “life-expanding” range of subjects, and in future these subjects will gain new importance.

Based on the feedback from the Member States the Commission will underline the importance of political education, which supports active citizen commitment, and clearly belongs to a basic education. This basic education must not be sacrificed in the name of wrongly understood priorities to career-orientated training. In future we will ensure that the demands from Member States for a verbal balance in the Memorandum between professional training on the one hand and political education, personality development and social-integrative training on the other hand correspond with a better balance of our funding priorities.

A Europe of knowledge needs a lively democracy with intelligent and brave citizens who have learnt to ask critical questions and to debate with others, to take issue and so to become competent political partners in new political fields. A lively democracy needs a lively political culture in adult education centres, which can be planned together with interested citizens and is not dependent on paying clients, but is the priority of public bodies.

The intercultural dialogues held in the past decades all over the country, the integration work with immigrants and refugees give the “knowledge-based-society” in Europe a clear ethical profile, a humane face. While other educational institutions are only now discovering the cultural dialogue, you have for years been organizing action days in protest at right-wing extremism, xenophobia and violence.

2. Lifelong learning is not only the concern of adult education but of all sectors of education.

The Europe-wide consultations on the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning have revealed how important reforms are which assist in making lifelong learning attractive from a very early age on - in the family or in nursery schools. As inequalities of opportunities for lifelong learning very often appear at an early age the task of educating parents and families, which was always supported by adult education centres in many European countries, is of even greater strategic importance.

Very often people who dropped out of school for various reasons are given a second or third chance with adult education. So we want to start with improving the first chances. Our pilot project “second chance schools” in cooperation with a German adult education centre with its day and evening classes has indicated that a reformed learner-centred school management, student-centered teaching and learning methods, cooperation with open-minded firms, multi-lingual and multi-cultural approaches are a vital help in decreasing school dropout and helping “school failures” try a new start.

This year we are promoting adult education and lifelong learning in Europe and on taking over the pilot project “second chance schools” we have realized how many adult education centres in Europe are already providing this important service. They are operaing under the most difficult financial, personnel and spatial conditions. Instead of expanding adult education classes or the so-called “second course of education” it will matter more in future to change schools in Europe in such a way that lifelong learning is developed and these schools profit from the learner-centred and flexible approaches taken by second chance schools.

The experiments, which are also supported by the Commission, with the ”Socrates schools” which have become a movement in Europe, have shown that a divergence from the regular timetable, learning in project groups, a new advisory, supportive and accompanying role for teachers in the learning process of groups and individuals, equal access to all information sources for teachers and students, are feasible and can lead to amazing results.

There is a question from the Europe-wide debate on the recognition of previously produced learning results I would like to put to schools and adult education centres: why is it that subjects which were passed with very good, good or satisfactory at the first school need to be taken again when attempting to gain a final school qualification at evening school? Couldn’t the subjects in which students did not fail in their final exam be recognized and certified with regard to the idea of lifelong learning? This would save cost and time when offering students the possibility to attain a final school examination and for the institutions that are being established all over Europe to access previously obtained knowledge and skills.

We will have to find solutions in Europe to enable a routine certification of partial achievements when studies or vocational training is broken off and to make the various sectors in the education system more interchangeable.

Apart from offering the possibility of obtaining a school qualification we need up-dated open offers of basic education with a European dimension in a part-time or full-time format. These offers should enable citizens to refresh their basic knowledge and skills in weekly, monthly or yearly courses. Many problems with actively processing information can be put down to insufficient background knowledge which is not provided by the media, although they too are obliged to provide education. Educational radio broadcasts together with the public media and the adult education centres have opened up such new horizons.If the financial situation of European adult education centres - possibly with our help - could be strengthened, these institutions could become new places for a basic adult education with a European dimension.

Universities, too, are required to adopt the idea of lifelong learning. This applies to their original task of teaching, where students are demanding a more learner-centred approach with better personnel and structural conditions. But this also applies to the demand for an opening up of the universities to all circles of society. The Commission is also working on a Europe-wide recognition of skills and knowledge acquired in one’s professional or private life. The German adult education centres have, according to the conditions in the individual federal states, made a remarkable contribution to opening the universities to students who did not follow the regular educational path. This was achieved firstly by offering final school examinations and secondly by offering “study-ability courses” for those in work. This was done in close cooperation with several universities. A few universities have decided to open their doors to high achievers who would like to study for a trial period. They are admitted after a learner-centred interview and not after an exam.

The founding of academies and universities for senior citizens, who can participate on a broad base, was also an initiative of adult education centres. With their appropriate didactics and methods they have spearheaded a forward-looking development.

These examples from other education sectors may show you that it is in your own interest if apparently impregnable bulwarks are turned into places of cooperation and partnership in the interest of lifelong learning.

You understand that these innovative movements, these small earthquakes are necessary for the European educational landscape and relieve you from continually doing the duty of a doorman.

A big part of the preparatory, “door-opening” educational work, which you traditionally do, should in future be achieved by open doors and the recognition of already existing knowledge and skills.

3. Lifelong learning requires a new learner-centred perspective. Adult learning should therefore be voluntary and tailored to students’ needs.

The biggest part of adult lifelong learning in Europe takes place in longer-term courses that students seldom are able to choose and where they have to stay even though they see no progress or even if they would prefer to take up a job instead. It is an obligation and not an interest they abide by.

The biggest part of adult learning in adult education centres is initiated by the individual student voluntarily.

The programme is composed of modules, and everyone can assemble his or her parts from all fields of knowledge. Certificates are also offered for individual modules or exams in general education. But they are not an obligation.

I have heard that school teachers repeatedly come to adult education centres in order to offer their services free of charge. They are glad to be with people who are in general incredibly interested in the teacher’s expert knowledge.

Especially in the area of vocational adult training this adjustment to the learner will lead to a radical change. The rules governing the choice of the most economical and the most experienced educational institutions for EU-funded schemes are very detailed. In future I would wish to have equally detailed rules for the learner-related management of the courses. This is where we need your advice and cooperation so that important European support instruments in our head office for education and culture and also in the others that promote lifelong learning are brought in line with the individual needs of learners.

  • Accordingly in the adult education centres innovative ways of learning from and with each other have been explored. Here adult education, with its open and flexible, varied teaching methods, can exchange a lot within Europe and contribute to other education sectors. Many adult education centres already make use of study circles, workshops, future-workshops or open space meetings. ­Methods presented in the workshops concentrate on the whole person. Methods which provide “learning with sense and the senses”. The person should agree to the learning process and understand it and not only learn or repeat details. The learner should put the matter learned in a wider context and “create the world anew while learning” as was the motto of the campaigns to combat illiteracy.
  • Adult education centres belong to the few places in adult education where learner participation is very much requested on all levels. In several federal states there are elected student representatives. The adult education centre itself can be a place of active citizen commitment. Its management should be in accord with the principles represented in political education. Young people in the pilot projects of the “second chance schools”, which partly have very open and flexible structures, learn about co-determination and co-responsibility. I would like to express my support.
  • In the development of quality concepts the adult education centres belong to the trendsetters in Europe because they put great emphasis on evaluation by participants. So long as further education takes place outside public authority and is catered for by an ever expanding market, we must reinforce the position of the consumer. The German initiative for an education test foundation was keenly received by other countries.

Further education under public responsibility especially, must be taken to task on the issue of high standards for students in the knowledge society.

4. An important innovation for teaching and learning is the implementation of information and communication technologies.

In our E-learning initiative we analysed the threatening gap in digital training and further training. Technologically supported forms of learning alone, in groups, in virtual groups or in correspondence courses are already exemplary in many adult education centres.

This is documented in the programme presented by you, and is also shown in the participation of individual centres in the Minerva and Grundtvig campaign of our Socrates educational programme which is presented here.

Especially adult education centres, with their proximity to otherwise excluded or disadvantaged sections of society, will need their own or integrated, but not shared, IC-centres with the right personnel, so as to enable group learning and to provide technological and pedagogical support for self-learning.

In this area there is still much scope for public investments in lifelong learning: investments which very often seem to exceed municipal and regional financial possibilities. Here there is a need for joint efforts by all towns and regions involved in learning and teaching to bring together industry, cultural and educational institutions and NGOs. The special contribution these new technologies provide for certain groups such as long-term ill people, who cannot participate in the traditional ­educa­tional systems, should be a focal point. For the good of all ­everywhere in Europe, excellently equipped institutions with technology supported learning systems will have to open their doors to other sections of society and question their legal purpose. But disadvantaged people cannot rely on second hand learning possibilities for ever. This is why the head office of education and culture, through the Socrates-Grundtvig project, is providing access to information and communication for people with special needs such as visually impaired people or people with a hearing and speech impediment, for chronically ill people, for people in prison, for women in rural areas, for refugees and migrants, just to name a few. Institutions in deprived towns and regions have already successfully used money from the European social and regional fund to improve the regional and local infrastructure.

Last but not least, please let me say a word on the financing of lifelong learning against the background of the Memorandum debate.

5. Lifelong learning requires economical thinking based on long-term investment in intelligent minds.

The language of business that speaks of ” human resources” or of ” human capital ” has often been criticized in the feedback process of the Memorandum. The Commission has tried to breach the gap in the traditional definitions of business and cost calculations now also often used in public institutions.

The essential turn in the debate, in which a wide degree of agreement was arrived at, was established with the fact that financing lifelong learning does not mean unbearable “costs” for firms, towns and communities, regions and states in Europe, but rather a future investment in the skills of their citizens.

Here we can see a radical change in thinking on all levels. A Europe of knowledge can only develop dynamically and competently if it learns to take investment in lifelong learning of people just as seriously as it takes investment in machines, buildings or workplace infrastructure. Public spending and industry in Europe are both required to rethink their accounting and finance planning to meet the demands for lifelong learning for all. Lifelong investments in intelligent minds will be among the most lasting investments in Europe.

Perspectives: More German Participation in the Socrates-Grundtvig Programme

Lifelong learning in all fields will need a greater European and international dimension. Especially thanks to the sustained efforts of our colleagues Ms Süssmuth and Ms Pack, among others, we managed a breakthrough with the programme Socrates I in the promotion of adult education. That is why I am very happy that approx. 25 adult education projects which were supported by us under Socrates I until 1999 and can show particular success were prepared to present themselves in the exhibition area at this conference of the German adult education centres and that further, currently still running Grundtvig projects will present their ideas and prospects in various workshops. At this point I am pleased to greet the project co-ordinators who have come from all over Europe and to thank the European Association for Education of Adults for the excellent preparation of the presentation.

In the second promotion period we named the project “Grundtvig” after a very influential Danish adult educator. As some of you already know, it not only gives you the possibility to receive funds for new ideas and initiatives but also to give them future prospects by facilitating parallel development, acceptance and sometimes even formal recognition.

In comparison to other European countries I would wish for a considerably larger participation of German adult education centres, contributing all their competences. It is still possible to start learning partnerships in adult education with a European direction within the framework of “Grundtvig”. Finally I would like to invite you to use the competence in lifelong learning German adult education centres undoubtedly possess, and to offer further training for colleagues from other European countries. Your programme in the area “learning in international cooperation” reflects an impressive depth and range of activities.

On the other hand you should encourage your colleagues to attend further training in other European countries. What seemed exotic some years ago will in future strengthen the European and global competence of our adult education centres. That is why under Grundtvig 3 a scholarship was introduced for employees in adult education. We have increased the funds for this important mobility and hope that you as a learning organisation, as you present yourself in your programme, will support your staff and teachers on their way towards Europe.

Educational holidays and sabbaticals will not only supply the necessary “storm in the heads” but also influence the quality of future adult education substantially.

If you set an example you support the initiatives of employers and unions to develop European companies into learning organizations. The unemployed can enjoy a trial working opportunity and substitute for employees, who receive the possibility to find further training on educational holidays or during a sabbatical. Already the average training period in European companies amounts to 38.5 hours.

At the same time I would like to invite you to profit from our networks under Grundtvig 4, to visit the European meetings of the networks and to make use of their various products. Of the currently funded projects I would like to point especially to the second chance schools in Europe, to the networks of learning cities and regions and to the research networks in adult education. Finally, if you see a demand, you might consider - with our help - establishing a European network in your specialist area.

You can get further information from our project co-ordinators here at the conference and at our joint stand with the Carl-Duisberg-Gesellschaft, where you can get further advice on the above mentioned scholarships for employees in adult education. Additionally there are two colleagues from the Grundtvig team (Alan Smith, Maria Oels) present in forums and workshops who will be happy to provide you with further advice.

Here in Hamburg, four years ago, at the CONFINTEA Conference on Adult Education the talk was of the enjoyment of learning, of celebrating learning and of learning festivals. The latter are now celebrated all over the world. I hope that you will experience this enjoyment at the talks, the international gatherings and discussions at this conference venue. We need your local competence, your expert initiative and your international broadmindedness for the future of lifelong learning in Europe.