Rita Süssmuth

A Regional Festival of Learning was held in Skopje, Macedonia, from 16 to 19 October 2003, attended by all eight countries in the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe and organized by the IIZ/DVV office in Skopje. There was a wide-ranging programme, and many international organizations such as the World Bank, UNESCO, ETF, CEDEFOP, EAEA and GTZ took part. At a Continuing Education Fair held alongside the Festival of Learning there were over 60 stands with delegations from nine countries and territories, which resulted in numerous meetings, contacts and discussions. The President of the German Adult Education Association, Prof. Dr Rita Süssmuth, acted as patron of the Festival. In her speech, which we reprint here, she stressed the importance of adult education and lifelong learning, and of cooperation in the Balkan Region. On 18 October 2003, the Declaration on Lifelong Learning, Adult Education and Employment Promotion was signed by eight government delegations (Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania and Slovenia). The complete text can be found on page 165. Further information about the programme and the events at the Festival of Learning can be seen on our website, www.iiz-dvv.de

Lifelong Learning, Adult Education, Employability

Dear Conference Participants,

I am sincerely grateful to you for the opportunity to speak to you at this conference on the occasion of the first regional Festival of Learning for the Stability Pact region. As President of the German Adult Education Association (DVV) I was delighted to become the patron of this event and very pleased to be able to accept the invitation of President Boris Trajkovskij to come to Skopje because I regard positive developments in this region as being of great importance for the future of a united Europe.

I have followed with great sympathy the initiative of organizing a “Festival of Learning” involving people from eight countries in the Stability Pact region and I hope that the event will give a boost to the expansion of dialogue and cooperation in the region.

I should like to thank all those who have played a part in the preparations most warmly for their commitment, and I hope that more and more citizens will have the chance to meet and get to know one another through similar cooperative ventures.

It is a major occurrence for the education ministers from the region to be meeting together here in Skopje. Even in Germany we have never achieved such a feat. It may be that this idea originated earlier somewhere else, but no one had as yet put it into practice. It seems to me that it is important that this initiative should not remain a one-off event, but should encourage a change of paradigm and lead to the recognition that “together we are strong”. A Festival of Learning like that being celebrated here in Skopje for the first time for the Stability Pact region strikes me as a particularly appropriate way of achieving this goal.

I think it is absolutely vital to help to create new relationships and identities by expanding encounters between people and encouraging them to learn from one another.

Initial and Continuing Education for Economic and Regional Development

The “Bologna Process”, under which higher education qualifications are to be brought into alignment by the year 2010 takes us back to one of the achievements of humanist Europe, when it was possible for students to choose the university that suited them best for the subject in which they were interested, without regard to nationality.

Europe has been forced to take this step if it is to maintain its commercial position in the world. If Europe wishes to grow stronger, we must work together for no country can today manage the future of such important matters as transport, communications or the chemical industry on its own. Education and educational policy can no longer be looked at purely in a national context.

But allow me to observe that given the scale of the problems, the answer will not be simply to update existing educational and social institutions to bring them into line with those in other countries. From a financial point of view alone, this process would far exceed the capacities of the states in the region, and indeed of the international community, including the European Union.

In view of the increasing pace of the worldwide exchange of information and knowledge, however, it will be increasingly difficult to achieve sustained economic and social development in the national context alone. New communication technologies make it possible to exchange complex data sets almost instantaneously, and improved road and rail links and the opening of borders encourage the growing mobility of people and goods. With further technological progress, decisions on where to locate businesses will depend less than now on the availability of natural resources.

Continuing Education and Globalization

This development brings both opportunities and dangers. Areas which have until now seen little economic development on account of their geographical situation or the lack of mineral resources may now experience a powerful upsurge. Traditional industrialized countries, on the other hand, among them of course the Federal Republic of Germany, may well find within a few years that because of technological change, industrial centres are increasingly turning into depressed areas with high unemployment.

The development trends summed up by the term “globalization” are having an immense impact on economies and societies throughout the world. The availability of well-educated, motivated people will be a key factor for successful economic and social development.

We know that education has traditionally been given high priority in the societies of South Eastern Europe and that many people have a high level of education. This region has contributed greatly to the development of European adult education. In Bulgaria, Romania and the states of the former Yugoslavia there was a dense network of workers’ and people’s universities, cultural centres, reading rooms and continuing education facilities within enterprises which offered wide sections of the adult population opportunities for continuing education and vocational training.

Many of these institutions were destroyed in the 1990s in the wake of armed conflict and the effects of transition. But much survived, and much more has been newly created in the last few years. With the financial support of the Federal Government, the German Adult Education Association (DVV) has, through its Institute for International Cooperation, been among those trying to rebuild adult education institutions or to strengthen their operations.

I note with great concern, however, that the national education systems in the region appear to be developing only a limited ability to create stable social institutions. One indicator is the shockingly high unemployment in the region, which reaches a rate of 60% in many areas and particularly affects young people and young adults.

It seems to me that there is an urgent need to give these young people credible prospects for the future. One important question will be how to translate university knowledge into the creation of jobs. Young people will hardly be motivated to pursue initial training and continuing education if they are uncertain of securing a livelihood in the long term because of poor employment prospects.

However important national identity may be, the future lies in crossing borders in order to create added value through synergy. One of the meanings of globalization is linking smaller regions to a larger grouping.

One way of doing this may lie in the notion of “learning regions”, in which the social partners conduct joint projects in order to achieve positive developments. In order to provide a few examples from practice it would be sensible to select a few rural regions and to create successful projects there which may serve as “beacons of hope”.

Let me mention a few existing examples
With the aim of combating poverty a priest set up a network of educational institutions in the region of Mondragon, near Bilbao, in which schools, the university and businesses formed a close alliance. We may now think the cooperative model chosen in this case outmoded, but unemployment in the region now stands at one per cent.

Another good example of how a country can quickly find its way out of economic crisis by investing in education is Finland. Educational initiatives were concentrated in rural areas, focusing on shortcomings identified through analysis, in order to facilitate learning in small groups, particularly for young men.

In Denmark again there is a system of linking training and jobs, in which social providers are involved at regional level.

Of course, schemes like these cannot be created in a couple of years. But I think it is important that successes have been achieved through long-term, holistic approaches made possible by the willingness of a wide range of social providers to cooperate.

Democratization and Discovery of Identity

This raises the significant question of “what” is to be learnt and “how”. We face a dilemma: the higher the rate of unemployment rises, the lower will prove the interest in continuing education and training. How can we break out of this vicious circle?

In order to find an answer to this question, we should no longer look backwards and ask, “What kind of world am I starting from?” but we should debate the question, “What kind of world are we learning for?” If we are to involve as many people as possible in finding sustainable solutions to the creation of individual living spaces within stable social institutions, we need above all to be open to innovation and creativity, and to be prepared to take the initiative and demonstrate solidarity.

We must also recognise that the values of democracy and the market economy are not self-explanatory. They have to be learnt and experienced through opportunities for involvement. We may therefore conclude that the building of identity is a key aspect of shaping future economic and social institutions. Democratization, or “Education for Democratic Citizenship (EDC)” must be thought of as an integral part of social policy. “Personality development”, “acquisition of social skills” and “promotion of employment” must be indissolubly linked and form fundamental principles in the shaping of the teaching process.

Positive economic development requires political participation. Without people, and without their willingness to become the vectors of social development, there can be no stable economic development. But motivation and commitment can only be created where social institutions give people the opportunity to play a part in decision-mak- ing. Their creativity and talents can be exploited for social development as long as they can enjoy their rights as emancipated citizens, as well as perform their obligations.

To whoever says that this is a huge task for adult education I would reply that adult education must face up to this task and that it can be done.

Any number of ideas may come “from the top down”, but if they are to be implemented, people must go along with them. The decisive changes are made by people; politics only creates the framework. If people feel that they are powerless, then nothing will happen. We therefore need to encourage project-based learning in order to create local initiatives. Only then can politics provide the support.Adult Education as Part of the Concept of Lifelong Learning

So far, however, at most five to ten per cent of the population have access to opportunities for lifelong learning. Moreover, there is still a lack of clarity over where adult education fits in between basic, general and higher education.

The ability to find one’s way and take the right decisions in complex situations is becoming a prerequisite for active participation in social processes, and for long-term employment and security of income. Promotion of the development of the personality, in the sense of the mutual relationships between the individual and his or her surroundings, is a necessity for an understanding of each person’s role in social contexts. Words such as “globalization”, “rapidity” and “change”, which are frequently tinged with anxiety, lose their terrors if they can be related to personal experience. This skill must be learnt and further developed, particularly since inherited social institutions are becoming more and more different.

Adult education is especially important in the context of “lifelong learning” because it can create bridges. The basic, vocational and higher education enjoyed in youth will not suffice on its own to teach all the knowledge which people need throughout their lives if they are to keep abreast of the level of contemporary knowledge that is actually needed in their private and working lives.

Since adult education already contains a second-chance element, it has extensive experience in these areas. Adults learn by slotting new knowledge into what they know from experience. This has now turned into a difficult process of relearning, and of reconciling prejudices and stereotypes with new impressions. It is this learning based on reflection that is one of the distinguishing marks of adult education:
by comparison with children, adults can translate what they learn far more swiftly into changed behaviour and practical action.

This is particularly important because trends of economic development are becoming ever harder to predict. Given the current pace of change, it is difficult to say what kinds of adult educators will be required in a few years’ time. It will therefore be complicated to determine demand for education in advance.

For the planning of learning this means giving people the skills which will enable them to develop judgmental ability based on their own experience of life. When applied and participatory learning are adopted, responsibility for the outcomes of learning must be placed in the hands of the people who will use it later. One objective should be to enable learners to anticipate their own educational needs, to set their own individual learning goals, and to organize for themselves how they acquire knowledge.

While it is a duty of education for children and young people to create motivation for “lifelong learning”, so that “learning to learn” becomes a major objective of basic education, adult and continuing education has the task of maintaining and enhancing this motivation. It has a significance today that is quite different from that in a predominantly reproductive world.

This will in my view be one of the main tasks for the further development and implementation of the concept of “lifelong learning”. It will therefore be important to recognise formal, non-formal and informal forms of learning as having equal value within the education system. Adult education must become an integral part of the education system in order to provide a firm foundation for the realization of the concept of lifelong learning.

Education systems which fail to take advantage of the potential of learners’ experience by bringing together people of differing backgrounds, social status, gender and age, waste a large amount of creativity and ability to influence the future shape of society. This means, in the spirit of the “Education for All” (EFA) programme sponsored by UNESCO, of CONFINTEA, and of the European Union “Memorandum on Lifelong Learning”, that all sections of the population and all age groups should be guaranteed access nationwide to training and continuing education. Particular attention should be given to those who have had no chance because of war and expulsion to complete school and vocational qualifications.

Equality between Women and Men

Let me stress one point here: despite undeniable progress, there is still a long way to go before men and women are universally equal. In many parts of Europe, women are still at a disadvantage in gaining access to good-quality education, and to senior positions in politics, society and employment.

Education is the prerequisite for participation by women. Cooperation is necessary if they are to achieve social integration. Women must in effect be fetched – not merely given an invitation. It is not the transmission of knowledge that is the problem, but the integration of women against a background of differences in cultural identity. The first thing is therefore to examine where these are to be found. In order to facilitate access for women, women’s magazines should be won over to the long-term task of equality: the media are more influential than we think. Even in Germany, changes in social awareness occurred only slowly, but in the 1980s there was a leap forward because the topic of equality received greater attention

In the light of these experiences permit me to say that if we intend to overcome the challenges facing us, we can no longer afford to dispense with women’s creativity and ability to shape events for reasons of gender-specific discrimination.

Funding of Initial and Continuing Education

However much the slogan of the “information and knowledge-based society” of the 21st century may dominate conference debates and symposia, we have to recognise that the structures needed to implement it are being weakened at the same time.

In its Memorandum on Lifelong Learning the European Union may have an action plan for a coherent policy on continuing education and training, but discussions based on it also show how great are the differences between regions in respect of the practical implementation of statements of theory.

In the implementation of the UNESCO-sponsored “Education for All” programme (EFA), there is also a noticeable tendency to leave adult education largely out of the picture, or at least to treat it as of lesser importance. However, it is one of most prestigious tasks of any state to educate its citizens. “Lifelong learning” must be more widely perceived as a public responsibility and must become an integral part of the public education system.

I suggest that there are weighty arguments for treating adult and continuing education with the same priority as basic education for children and young people:

  • Education is invariably a form of preventative social care. If people are given the tools to manage their lives for themselves, they will be less of a burden on the social system.

  • Small business start-up and micro credit schemes such as those set up by many international sponsors in the Stability Pact region and elsewhere to promote employment and the economy need participants to have an essential knowledge of commerce and a social appreciation of enterprise as the driving force of economic development.

  • It will be twenty years before children and young people now receiving training become the decision-makers who will have to solve problems. But experts are needed now to find solutions using current levels of knowledge. Through adult education, it is possible to react more flexibly to the problems that are identified.

If a legal framework is created which offers state and non-governmental educational institutions a reliable basis for operations, substantial support can also be given for the integration of the adult education sector into the education system.

The same applies to equality of types of learning and to mutual recognition of formal qualifications. Greater transparency would expand the ability to move between pathways within the education system, increase efficiency and enhance quality.

We must make great efforts to persuade politicians and society to make the requisite funds available to guarantee and further develop existing schemes.

However, we observe a worrying tendency to subject initial and continuing education to cost-benefit analysis. Holistic approaches to education based on consideration of people’s mutual relationships with their surroundings are, on the other hand, losing ground. A broad education means just that; it is not a side-show.

International Cooperation

Following the decisions taken at the EU summit meeting held in Thessaloniki in June 2003, the countries in the region now have the option of joining the European Union. But we shall only be able to bring this notion of a united Europe to life if it is supported on all sides by a willingness to cooperate and if it aims to enable people to meet and exchange ideas with mutual respect and with consideration for each other’s cultural identity. Learning languages is an indispensable tool for this, and an important foundation. We find that English already ac- counts for 30% of communication at the workplace in Europe, even though we must not allow mother tongues to be neglected.

Adult education should therefore focus on two areas: on self-assur- ance – “Where have we come from?” – and on understanding for the future. Perhaps it is still too early for rapprochement and reconciliation. But solidarity must be developed, and this implies a willingness to come together across borders.

Europe has learnt that growing together calls for regional relationships and variety, albeit on the basis of shared fundamental values. Since Europe is becoming more diverse through the influx of new ethnic groups and cultures, it is increasingly important to teach universal human values. The reference to national traditions, religion and culture in our inherited understanding of what it means to be a citizen has often hidden a latent tendency to cut ourselves off from anyone different.

I am depressed to see countries in the region digging in behind their national borders. There is no need to point out what a potential threat this poses to European unification. Radicalism of every kind flourishes wherever people have little feeling of self-worth.

In view of the tasks before us and the resources for project funding that are shrinking overall, the German and international sponsoring organizations will need to achieve synergy effects through concerted action and cooperation in project activities. We shall not be able to go on convincing our partners of the effectiveness of our projects in the long term unless we can demonstrate that we are able to coordinate our planning with the substance of our activities, to the benefit of the people in the region.

If only because of the historical importance of the Balkan region and South Eastern Europe as a bridge between West and East, we shall continue to watch with great attention the future economic and social development of the countries in this region.

I hope that this conference will put forward practicable ideas for increased cooperation in the region which will give the people in the region new opportunities for initial and continuing education, employment and an equal share in the development of society. I should regard this speech as poor if it were seen as encouraging a race between countries to join the European Union.

I wish the conference every success and say to you: Do not be downhearted by the problems of everyday life.  

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