Michael Samlowski

Ten European countries including some in Central and Eastern Europe in which the IIZ/DVV had worked with partners and maintained offices for a long time, joined the European Union on 1 May. Michael Samlowski, Deputy Director of the IIZ/DVV, considers what this means for the future work of the IIZ/DVV. The paper was previously printed in issue 4/2004 of the "Hessische Blätter für Volksbildung. Zeitschrift für Erwachsenenbildung" published by the Adult Education Association of Hesse.

Eastern European Enlargement – A Challenge for the IIZ/DVV?

Every contribution to a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical has to have a title. The title of the present contribution is not a bad choice. It is contemporary and suggests dynamic action. And to respond to a challenge, and even overcome one, is certainly a worthy undertaking. As such, it is an appropriate title for an article about the German Adult Education Association and its international institute.

All the same, the title is rather misleading for what the article is about. It implies an entirely new situation since 1 May 2004, when the European Union was increased by ten new member states, including eight countries from Central and Eastern Europe. It suggests that the IIZ/DVV would have to react to a new set of basic demands, and to make substantial changes in its existing agenda. This is not exactly the case. Still, although the enlargement signifies the achievement of a goal in the work of the IIZ/DVV, the date also highlights the need to continue support both in scale and scope in order to consolidate and strengthen the processes of education, and, at the same time, to initiate new processes in the new member states. Measures have to be taken to ensure that efforts will not be restricted to these countries but will become more and more relevant throughout all of Europe. And this is what the following article will be about.

What are the Functions of the IIZ?

As the organ of the German Adult Education Association (DVV) entrusted with the role of cultivating the Associationís international contacts, the IIZ/DVV carries out a wide range of diverse activities in the sector of international cooperation. Ever since its inception as a department of the Association, the Institute has seen itself as an instrument of solidarity and support in the interest of adult education, above all in developing countries. The activities of the IIZ/DVV are based on guidelines adopted in 1989 by the Associationís executive board and still in force today.

In response to very differing regional conditions and requirements in its various partner countries, the IIZ/DVV employs a wide range of methods and programmes relying on very diverse forms of organization. Its main activities include:

  • initial and inservice training for adult educators at grassroots, middle, and upper levels

  • dialogue and experience exchange between and among adult educators at local, national, and regional levels

  • development, production, distribution, and practical application of printed, audiovisual, and electronic teaching and learning materials

  • fortifying the institutional and material infrastructure of partner organizations

  • working with rural and urban groups, and building cooperative undertakings

  • community development

  • supporting continuing education programmes leading to examinations and the attainment of certificates

  • womenís education and consciousness-building toward gender equality

  • promoting initial and continuing training of vocational and incomegenerating skills

  • environmental education

  • peace and human rights education as a contribution to conflict resolution and social justice

  • research and evaluation for the planning, monitoring, and assessment of adult education programmes

Since its founding, the IIZ/DVV has been developing these activities in close and constant collaboration with its partners in the countries of the third world. The IIZ/DVV continues to devote the greater part of its efforts to work within and for developing countries.

New Demands Faced by the IIZ/DVV since the Dissolution of the Eastern Bloc

With the collapse of state socialism in the countries of the Eastern Bloc, projects of cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe became a new focus in the work of the Institute. The IIZ/DVV has been able to build on ties maintained by the DVV even during the years of the Cold War. Relationships back then were not on the scale of intensive cooperation in bilateral projects. Contacts involved occasional exchanges or visits to and from partner organizations, as well as consultations and negotiations within the framework of UNESCO and other international conferences. They depended on the commitment of the Institute and a number of dedicated individuals from various Volkshochschulen whose special interest in one country or another encouraged them to keep ties from being severed and channels open for fostering mutual understanding and curiosity. Although contacts were infrequent under the difficult circumstances of the Iron Curtain and Cold War era, it was precisely the difficulties that made them so special and valuable.

Hardly any of our colleagues in these countries were hardline communist functionaries who turned out to be political opportunists after the collapse of communism. Most were dedicated people worthy of respect and esteem, professionals committed to furthering adult education in their countries both before and after the downfall of socialism. They helped pave the way for the IIZ/DVV to develop projects of cooperation with our neighbours to the East, whether they stayed on to take part in restructuring their organizations, whether they left to form new initiatives, or whether they were forced to seek new positions at universities, for example, or even outside the adult education sector.

The societies for the dissemination of knowledge that operated under a variety of different names including SNANIE in Russia and Bulgaria, the associations for the dissemination of knowledge Towarzystwo Wiedzy Powszechnej (TWP) in Poland and Tudományos Ismeretterjessztö Társulát (TIT) in Hungary, and the Comenius Academy in the Czech Republic, were not dissolved after the communist countries changed their political systems, but they took on a completely new character. During the socialist regime they were powerful, state-sponsored agencies with a comprehensive education agenda. Strengthening socialist society in their respective countries was their primary purpose. Their finances as well as their clientele were guaranteed. After the fall of socialism, however, they existed in name only, with no clear function, no financial support, no concept and only a vague mission, completely at the mercy of a free and an absolutely uncontrolled market.

In this situation it was the task of the IIZ/DVV to facilitate the transition stage for our partners, to give them time and space to reflect, to help them become acquainted with alternative solutions, and not just with German models. It was important not just to offer advisory support, but material assistance as well, to enable them to adopt new forms of learning and to develop new programmes under new conditions. For the first time in their existence, our partners were required to adjust their programmes to the demands of learners, and learners were required, for the first time in their lives, to spend a considerable portion of their income on course fees, a situation that was often only possible with the help of family. For the first time ever, organizers of education programmes faced conditions of uncontrolled competition based on a deregulated market where learners were poorly informed and had no place to turn to for advice. It was necessary for the institutions to balance cost and quality and to make their offerings affordable and compatible with social needs. And at the same time, they had to make provisions to ensure their own institutional survival.

Where social responsibility was concerned, governments in almost every country of Central and Eastern Europe came to regard their role as limited. They saw education in the same light as every other sector ñ as a market ruled by the forces of supply and demand. At best adult education was understood to mean vocational training geared to adapting the workforce to the conditions of the new labour market. As for the rest, the people had already received a fully-valid formal education. Consequently, practically the only adult education programmes that received any public funding were retraining programmes run by public employment offices, and even this only to a very limited degree. The concept of publicly funded continuing education was characterized by short-term programmes with very restricted content and limited to a small number of participants.

These conditions constituted a substantial hurdle for our partners in their development. Moreover, there were no organizations capable of articulating or effectively representing their interests. Consequently, it became necessary to start building adult education associations. Existing societies for the dissemination of knowledge, which meanwhile had become virtually ineffective, offered a starting point in countries where they had survived the downfall of socialism. This was the case, for example, in Russia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Bulgaria. For the most part, however, such organizations were weak and lacking in prestige. Their staffs had been depleted and they had lost the backing of their members and partners. Often, single members succeeded in becoming more dynamic and effective than their national umbrella organizations, institutions maintained, though dormant, as a bearer of hope for future developments. There were also developments like the one in Hungary where a new adult education association (Magyar Népföiskolai Társaság MNT) was created alongside the traditional Association for the Dissemination of Knowledge (TIT), and even took over many functions of the older association that in 1991 had already celebrated its 150th anniversary.

In other Central and Eastern European countries, adult educators began building new umbrella structures, looking for orientation to Germany and other European countries. The IIZ/DVV was able to assist them during this phase by organizing study visits for the sake of exchange and encounter and by introducing representatives of the developing initiatives to other European colleagues during international conferences and national workshops. Model examples of new associations include the adult education associations of the three Baltic states, as well as the Romanian adult education association. The international adult education conferences celebrated by DVV every five years (Volkshochschultage), the various European continuing education conferences held by the European Commission, and the annual assemblies of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) became popular forums for contact and exchange. Over the course of the years, the IIZ/DVV has conducted numerous other seminars and events around relevant themes at which Central and Eastern European partners have been able to meet with one another and with representatives of German and European organizations. A few, not even representative, examples include the workshop "Experience, expectations, and perspectives of European Cooperation in the Field of Adult Learning", that was organized parallel to Germanyís "Expo 2000 Hanover", and the large international conference that the IIZ/DVV conducted in 2002 in cooperation with the UNESCO Institute of Education and the Bulgarian Ministry of Education in Sofia around the theme of lifelong learning, "Education for All", and adult education. A document has been issued recording the results of that conference. Topics include the debate around education policy goals, the recognition that in order to ensure the sustainability of the processes leading to social transformation, they must be accompanied by learning processes, and the fact that it is a human right and therefore also a public responsibility to ensure access to learning opportunities, and not just to vocational training or retraining measures to accommodate a constantly changing labour market. A later conference held in Zagreb to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Croatian Adult Education Association demonstrated the continued relevance of these issues by reiterating the necessity to anchor the provision of continuing education within a legal framework, and by taking steps to create a separate Continuing Education Act.

The European Union, Objective and Obstacle

It is necessary here to focus some attention on the European Union and especially on the European Commissionís Directorate General for Education and Culture. The significance of this agency is twofold. Firstly, it facilitates cross-boarder efforts to address common problems and engage in common pursuits. In this capacity it has been and continues to be a motivating force behind international collaboration in the design and implementation of concrete projects of cooperation. And secondly, as an educational policy-making body, its contribution to ensuring that national governments assume responsibility for lifelong learning has been more effective than what all the correct visions and political claims of national adult education associations could have achieved, even with the support of the DVV or other bilateral or multilateral partners.

The European Union as an Agent for Transnational Project Activities

Already since 1994, the European Union has been relevant as a direct source of support for projects of cooperation for the IIZ/DVV and its partners in Central and Eastern Europe. The first projects were conducted in Romania and Russia and were subsidized from the EU's PHARE and TACIS programmes. Our partner in both projects was NIACE (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) in England and Wales. In Romania the idea was to build up a nationwide network of continuing education centres and establish partnerships with German and British centres. The project in Russia was designed to develop a training programme on computer applications and to test the programme in a variety of pilot centres scattered throughout that vast nation. For this purpose, the centres had to be equipped with computers. Both programmes, incidentally, received a very positive evaluation from the European Commission itself, and their impact continues to be felt today. In Russia, for example, the computer training programme has meanwhile become self-sustaining, and even helps to pay for the operating costs of the institutions that offer it.

The subsidies for these projects were the first European funds to flow into adult education in Central and Eastern Europe. Had it not been for the commitment of the IIZ/DVV, they would not have been appropriated, considering that both the PHARE and TACIS programmes require matching funds from participants for every grant. Our partners in Central and Eastern Europe did not ñ and still do not ñ possess the means to co-finance projects.

Moreover, the EU was largely self-focused at the time. Funds were only available for member states, and any colleagues from Central and Eastern European countries seeking to participate in a Socrates or Leonardo project, or in an Interreg partnership, had to organize their own resources to do so. It was only at a later date, between the years 1998 and 2000, that provision was made for so-called candidate countries to participate in international partnerships on an equal footing within these budget lines. Accordingly, the EU eastern enlargement has always been an issue of utmost interest to the IIZ/DVV. The initiation of accession negotiations with those countries that meanwhile have become full members of the EU also represented a big step forward in the development of adult education structures in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Implications of International Cooperation for Central and Eastern Europe

Many reservations exist about participating in EU-funded transnational projects, particularly because it is so difficult to comply with the European Commission's funding conditions and its requirements for implementing co-financed projects. Some of the main points of criticism are that application and accountability procedures are unduly complex, lengthy, and bureaucratic, that approval is an inconsistent process with an unpredictable outcome, and that project leaders must reckon with arbitrary interference in their finance planning. Moreover, although approval and payment of grants are subject to long delays, there is little flexibility where the adherence to time-frames is concerned. And there is always an element of uncertainty whether incurred expenses will be regarded as eligible or whether funds will be recalled. Further, it is required that project participants draw on their own resources, and the use of English in their communication with the Commission is practically indispensable. For partners in Central and Eastern Europe who have not managed to secure footing within their own countries as yet, these and hundreds of other factors constitute potential barriers to participation in European projects of cooperation.

And yet, the IIZ/DVV has always recognized how important it is from a strategic point of view for our partners in Central and Eastern Europe to participate in transnational EU projects. The administrative hurdles are counterbalanced by the advantages gained through the creation of networks, international contacts, and opportunities to assume responsibility and become an actor among equals on the European stage. One of the most important functions of the IIZ/DVV has therefore been to pave the way for partners in Central and Eastern Europe to take part in trans-European projects. For this, there are a number of requirements:

  • It is necessary to identify partnership constellations and create a basis for mutual understanding among often unlike partners who first need to develop a relationship of trust before any common endeavour among them can function to the satisfaction and mutual benefit of all. It is no simple matter to establish an effective partnership among such diverse partners as a rural residential folk high school in Poland and an urban adult education organization in Spain, or the adult education department at a university in Ireland and a house of culture in Hungary. Such undertakings require a network of international contacts like those established by the IIZ/ DVV last not least through its work with the European Association for the Education of Adults.

  • It is also necessary to identify fields of action consistent with both the central objectives promoted by the EU Commission as well as with the interests and potentials of western, northern, southern, and eastern European partners. Questions that come into consideration here include the kind of educational opportunities that can be provided for senior citizens, the objectives that should guide the organization of learning festivals, ways in which people can be motivated to engage in intercultural learning, instruments that might be utilized to help unemployed women find work, and ways in which course certificates can be designed to adequately reflect achievement.

  • Practice is needed to meet the complex and rigorous administrative demands of the European Commission's selection process for project funding. It is imperative that project partners comply with Commission requirements, and the Lead Agency ñ the applicant organization responsible to the Commission for implementation ñ is obliged to ensure due compliance.

  • Training in project-planning techniques is required as well as in the development and monitoring of so-called logical frameworks ñ project-planning matrices containing precisely calculated time frames and quantifications. The project measures must be specified in a logical and binding sequence that allows exactly formulated goals to be achieved so that the results can be measured and confirmed according to conclusive indicators. Budgets have to be prepared. They must be calculated in detail but must also be feasible in practice, and this involves assessing the monetary value of material and personnel investments of the participating partners, and incorporating these indirect expenses along with the direct costs in a valid budget.

  • Assistance must be lent to the partners in securing their share of matching funds, without which they would not be able to participate in applying for EU grants or implementing EU-funded projects.

By now, our partners are participating in a large number of European projects that they have searched out and found on their own ñ endeavours in which they are enjoying more and more success. Many other organizations in Central and Eastern Europe, however, still have to find their way within the European arena. Consequently, much remains to be done in this sector.

The European Union as an Agent for Educational Policy Demands

Since the year 2000, nothing has advanced the education policy debate on the European level more than the "Memorandum for Lifelong Learning" published for discussion in that year by the European Commission as an outcome of the Lisbon Conference of the European Council. The Council outlined the strategic goals to make the European Union "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion". In November 2001, the Memorandum was followed by a Communication "to create a European space for lifelong learning", a document which formulated the priorities and political strategies of the European Commission through 2010. Both documents have been subject to widespread public debate, and the EU has actively encouraged the discussion and consultation process.

The reactions to these two documents were not completely enthusiastic. Many feel that too much emphasis was placed on basic and continuing vocational training, despite claims to the contrary. It has also been criticized that "employability" has been overstressed to the disadvantage of general education, even though general education does have a place in the texts of both the EU Memorandum for Lifelong Learning and the subsequent Communication. It merits mention here that the DVV, through the diligent efforts of its Institute for International Cooperation, has taken active part in the debate, introducing various critical observations both independently and in concert with other providers of adult education and AE associations within the framework of the European Association for the Education of Adults.

To enlarge upon this discourse, however, is not the intent of this article. The important matter here is that by citing the roles of adult and continuing education, the key documents of the European Commission supplied Central and Eastern European countries with many ideas and themes that they might not have thought about on their own. No government in the candidate countries was in a position not to develop education programmes along the lines outlined in the Memorandum and the Communication, or at least to nominally support such programmes. AE and continuing education consequently gained recognition as a matter of state responsibility.

The IIZ/DVV contributed in a variety of ways to making the content of the Commission's Memorandum and Communication the subject of discourse within Central and Eastern European countries. It helped organize and finance numerous seminars and workshops. It facilitated participation for representatives from Central and Eastern European countries in every significant international conference on continuing education. At a number of these international conferences resolutions were passed that served to strengthen positions in political dialogue with decision-makers, some of whom even attended the conferences and took part in drafting the resolutions. It encouraged and helped Central and Eastern European organizations and associations to join and actively participate in the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA). Since 1990 no other European organization has built up a comparable network of partners throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile that network and its members have grown increasingly capable of acting on their own to address learner needs. They have become respected and responsible agents and active participants in international dialogue and undertakings and are gaining competence in representing and promoting adult education in all the various countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Where Do the Challenges Lie Now?

Does this imply that the work is finished; that now that the EU Eastern expansion has been accomplished, the challenge it posed for the IIZ/ DVV has been met, leaving room for new tasks, or simply for many of the same tasks of former years, considering how little the world has changed for the better?

The answer is no. On the contrary, there is still much more for us to do than has already been done. The continuing education offer in every single country of Central and Eastern Europe comes nowhere close to satisfying the potential demand that exists there. This applies both in quantity and in quality. Only a few organizations have very recently begun to introduce programmes leading to internationally valid certificates and to acquire recognized quality assurance seals that have become so indispensable for marketing reasons alone. Only in a few instances has academic adult education begun to make the transition from traditional but rigid curricula and forms of learning to those based on modern social-scientific criteria. The development and introduction of contemporary courses of study is still in the pilot stage. And although the partners of the IIZ/DVV have managed to become involved in European partnerships and projects, there are countless other organizations that are still as far from reaching this stage as ever. The list of problem areas could go on ad infinitum. It will still take a very long time for adult education in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to attain a level of development that is comparable to average provision in Western European countries. And it would be unfair to expect Central and Eastern European countries to accomplish that task completely on their own.

Possibilities for the IIZ/DVV to continue providing assistance in these countries, however, are getting more and more limited with every year. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is the main source of funds for the IIZ/DVV's work, has reduced its budget for projects in Central and Eastern Europe to negligible levels, and alternative sources for funding simply do not exist. Considering the rigid constraints and uncertainty that govern the allocation of EU funds, EU resources can in no way compensate for this loss. If this does not present a challengeÖ.

Within the various countries themselves there is a need for a broader vision of the agenda and goals of adult education. New tasks are evolving - multicultural education, conflict resolution, political education from the perspective of a European civil society, and, last not least, international solidarity with other parts of the world, an area entirely foreign to our partners to the East since the days of socialism. The challenges never end!

Besides, Europe is more than the old and the new members of the European Union. Russia alone is a vast area that continues to pose tremendous challenges for adult education. In the Ukraine, the work of the IIZ/DVV has not gone much beyond a small model project in continuing education. Of the countries that made up former Yugoslavia, only Slovenia has joined the EU. Prospects exist only for Croatia to participate in European education programmes in the near future. However, countries such as Albania, Moldova, and Belarus need assistance as well. European expansion has not yet ended, and even when it has, Europe will be more than the European Union. Not to lose sight of this is a challenge in itself.

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