Joachim H. Knoll

Prof. Dr. Joachim Knoll, who is already familiar to our readers, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in spring 2004 by the Free University of Berlin. We reprint below a shortened version of the address which Professor Knoll gave on this occasion. Prof. Joachim Knoll is Pro fessor Emeritus of Adult Education and Out-of-School Youth Work at the Institute of Education, Ruhr University Bochum. He has supported the work of the IIZ/DVV for many years and is a member of the new Advisory Board for International Affairs of the German Adult Education Association.

International Adult Education as Education Policy: Lifelong Learning and Europeanization

Over the years I have chiefly taught international adult education by looking at international and supranational organizations, especially when addressing issues of immediate significance or those in which the quest for the world of tomorrow was to be discussed. Then UNESCO, the OECD, the EU and the Council of Europe would come to mind alongside the international associations run largely from Europe including, historically, the World Association for Adult Education or the present International Council for Adult Education, besides more specialized academic and educational organizations.

We shall consider two items that stand out among a range of topics and have been widely reported, commented on and publicized by the daily media, by now becoming catch-phrases: one is the principle of lifelong education or lifelong learning, generally associated with calls for “education for all”, and the other is the link between adult education and the process of European unification, which will bring in the question of subsidiarity and cultural federalism. These can of course only be addressed fragmentarily here, and we shall ignore details and contradictions which confirm the view that “the world and common sense don’t add up”, especially in international education.

All that will therefore be attempted is a clarification of these two catchphrases instead of a deeper examination of the issue as a whole.

Lifelong Education and Lifelong Learning

We look first at the vision of lifelong education or lifelong learning, which is linked with the notion that education is continuous and never completed, that all levels of formal and out-of-school education merge without a break into a continuum uninterrupted by final qualifications, and that adult education is only a part of this concept and is invariably tied to the education that comes both before and after it. The principle is not new and anyone claiming originality here has to accept that this is often little more than undiscovered plagiarism. For over two thousand years Jewish religious history and philosophy have been familiar with the principle in the tradition of the synagogue as a place of learning about far more than religious tracts. All forms of everyday knowledge and popular lifelong wisdom have been taught, as Kalman Yaron and Eitan Israeli remark in greater detail in the International Yearbook of Adult Education. I have never yet succeeded in proving a connection between that historical example and the present-day situation, although the salons of the early 19th century with their German-Jewish culture perhaps performed such a service of enlightenment.

But back to the present:

  • Extensive interest in concepts of lifelong education began in 1972 with the Commission headed by Edgar Faure, the findings of which were summarized in the publication “Learning to be”; in German the work appeared under the informal, futuristic sounding title “How we shall live”.

  • In 1976 the “Recommendations on the development of Adult Education” adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO then brought the principle of LL into the language and repertoire of activities of UNESCO, embodying UNESCO’s knowledge about adult education for some time to come and showing the way to a future which would treat adult education systematically and wisely and demonstrate a commitment to unity in diversity. I like to think of this programmatic document as “UNESCO’s Magna Carta on Adult Education”.

  • And lastly, a third event must be mentioned which has given lifelong learning a sharper profile in the present and for the future, namely the report of the Commission headed by Jacques Delors which in visionary manner set out among other things four pillars of learning for adult education in 1996 and explored them for further discussion: 
    1. Learning to learn 
    2. Learning to do 
    3. Learning to live together 
    4. Learning to be

  • The end of the present discussion is marked by the EU Memorandum on Lifelong Learning of 2000, although this is perhaps only a continuation and further expansion of what UNESCO had already had in mind, and by the somewhat lavishly titled paper that was the outcome of national consultations, “Creating a European Area of Lifelong Learning” (2001).

In and amongst there has been an impressively lengthy debate, sometimes conducted with youthful exuberance, which E. Bloch has described as “red-cheeked and generally spring-like”. Be that as it may, this wide discussion has had the advantage that it has clarified the international meaning of terms and concepts such as:

  • Adult education and globalization, with the catchy call to “Think globally, act locally”

  • Centralized and decentralized regulation

  • The “educational chain”, meaning models linking all stages of education with one another

  • Unity in diversity, contrasting the notion of individual identities with harmonization

  • Systematization and certification, applying a system of public recognition of competence to adult education, and finally

  • Expansion of the field of operation of adult education in the direction of socially structured demand for the further development of society through educational input

The EU Commission produced a more or less definitive definition of lifelong learning as “all purposeful learning activity undertaken throughout life with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective.” This offsets the perception of adult education as continuing education and training interested exclusively in efficiency and employability, adding both subjective and objective educational concerns. The DVV, the largest adult education association, then determined in 2001 for its own purposes that lifelong learning covered the following areas of activity and functions:

  • Environmental education

  • Policy on migration and minorities

  • Health education and population policy

  • Rehabilitation. Labour market policy

  • Citizenship and social education

As in the earlier Agenda for the Future of 1997 with a total of 10 task areas and the “one hour per day” programme, the emphasis is on decentralized regulation and reform; the task profiles proposed are to be regarded rather as a set of suggestions to be modified in response to regional, national, educational sensibilities and implemented through reform.

It is generally accepted that globalization and geographical cultural subsidiarity go hand in hand throughout and that this way of viewing things will avert a “conflict of cultures”; private opinion, recognition of cultural individuality and openness belong together, in a spirit of live and let live.


If we now turn to the second catch-phrase, we may seamlessly move on from the preceding reference to globalization and geographical cultural subsidiarity, especially if we replace globalization by Europeanization and complement geographical cultural subsidiarity by sovereignty of individual states.

We must repeat clearly at the outset that harmonization of designs for educational reform as part of European unification is stopped short by the sovereign rights of the individual states – national states or in our case, the Federal Laender. Only in the field of vocational education and training may the federal authorities transfer sovereign rights without the approval of the Federal Laender, provided that these rights do not relate to shared responsibility under the terms of Article 91 b of the Basic Law, which would require the agreement of both Federal and Land authorities.

Before we get into a fuller discussion of responsibilities, federalism and the regulatory competence of individual states, we may give an example of how the subsidiarity rule is observed and enforced. In the EU consultation on the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, the Bundesrat (the upper chamber of the German federal parliament) was one of the bodies asked for its views: the notion of lifelong learning was expressly supported in the response, but at the same time there was opposition to any extension of the power of the Community to regulate such matters as subject content or transnational systematization and certification. We read for example that, “(The Bundesrat) expressly points out that...responsibility for the content of teaching and the design of the education system lies with Member States” and more specifically, “The Bundesrat expressly points out that systems for the recognition of abilities acquired in non-formal or informal contexts may not be developed at Community level.”

When the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992, educationists, especially in the adult education media, greeted the Article headed“Gener- al and Vocational Education and Youth” as a turning point, if not quite a Copernican revolution, in European education policy. If they had read the text of the Maastricht Treaty, particularly the reservation about subsidiarity and the subsequent identically worded agreements, they would not have fallen into such exaggerated euphoria. They were doubtless carried away by childish pleasure that adult education now had its own little bucket and spade in the European sandpit.

But What Actually Happened?

First, the Maastricht Treaty removed the restrictions which had meant that European educational policy had up to that point concentrated its efforts on vocational training, for labour migrants for example, so that it was now committed to encouraging and supplementing general education (through teacher and student exchanges), higher education (through the European University Institute in Florence) and general education for adults. The crucial Articles 126 and 127 of the Maastricht Treaty, and the identical Articles 149 and 150 in the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997, are subject to the subsidiarity rule contained in Articles 3 b and 5 respectively:

“In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can, therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.”

By adopting the principle of subsidiarity, the Community has committed itself to restraining the tendency towards harmonization. To some extent, this reflects previous experience.

The so-called Dahrendorf Memorandum of 1973 set in train quite early on a discussion about notions of harmonization which might ultimately usher in a European education system with standardized criteria, measures, goals and qualifications. However, the EC went over thereafter to a policy which merely imposed on national educational policies a greater degree of flexibility and willingness to cooperate.

In short, the principle of subsidiarity requires restraint in such matters as interference with the guarantees enshrined in the German Federal Constitution, which provides that the Federal Government has no power to transfer sovereign rights. Harmonization and “Communitization” are, moreover, rejected by all Member States.

There are varying opinions on the current competence and ability of the EU to act. On the one hand, almost exaggerated hope is placed in support for and further development of adult education and training, and on the other there are reservations that the texts of the Treaties contain nothing more about support measures, particularly in relation to exchange programmes, than what was already being done in practice without a contractual basis.

At all events, the talk about a Copernican revolution has merely demonstrated a horrendous ignorance about the Treaties and an anhistorical toying with the idea of postnational structures, such as that indulged in by the sociologist Habermas from 1998. Karl-Dietrich Bracher objected strongly to this arrogation of historical competence early on. The witty remark of W. Lippmann applies to this case of overhasty prophecy: “There is a solution to every human problem which is simple, neat and wrong.”

We abide by the argument that the EU is not designed as a tool which could be used to harmonize the institutions and content of European education and that the principle of subsidiarity rules out the notion of standardized European adult education.

It would be more accurate, given the legal intentions of the Treaties and the cultural policy implicit in the rights of Member States to their own identity, to speak of “adult education in Germany, England, etc.”, but without forgetting to add “with a European dimension”. An adult education system with a European dimension would, through a proc ess of rolling reform and reconstruction, consciously secure individual traditions while achieving sufficient openness to adopt innovations and to apply them to the national context. German adult education, for example, has given considerable attention to the concepts of lifelong learning, as put forward by UNESCO and the EU, will pursue these further, will weed out what is irrelevant and will produce its own specific profile and make its own suggestions. Adult education thus conceived is based on dialogue and international stimulation rather than on prescription aiming at centralization.

At the same time we must not ignore the worry that there are increasing signs that the Federal Republic is adopting elements of government by plebiscite and centralism, thus moving away from the federalist, representative position enshrined in the Basic Law. Adult education should take its own stance, combining federalist tradition with central consultation, thereby outflanking EU regionalist plans.

The debate about the place of adult education with a European dimension has been given a boost by the consultations on a “European Constitution”. This debate is marked chiefly by a spirit of insistence by the Federal Laender on their own powers, as is evident from the position paper “Reform of the Federal Regulations Governing Education and Science, a Contribution by the Standing Conference of (Land) Ministers of Education to the Current Debate”. Mercifully this does not bow to the notion that federalism in culture and education merely results in a focus on local folklore or make a plea for “E pluribus unum” because life in diversity is too hard to bear.

The vision of a “Europe of nation states” is not so far off target because it does promise identity – including linguistic identity, as laid down in the Council of Europe Charter on Regional and Minority Languages – a sense of homeland, and regional transparency and allegiance, at least until we all share a sense of being European. One of the tasks of German adult education with a European dimension is to play a part in establishing and developing European awareness, besides work ing intensively on transnational developments through supplementary and support programmes.

But we must restrain ourselves: reform with a European and international dimension certainly, but with a sense also of what is practicable and sensible, much as described in Heine’s “Food for the soul”:



“Yes, green peas for everyone 
As soon as the pods burst 
The heavens we leave to 
The angels and the sparrows.”



International adult education has already left its “joyous new departure” behind it, and a balanced outcome is in fact being achieved.

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