Annette Schavan

The Federal Minister of Education and Research, Dr. Annette Schavan, was also present at the Adult Education Conference. In her speech she stressed the significance of lifelong learning in all areas of life for all citizens, and the role of the Volkshochschulen in this process.

The Educational Outlook in Germany - The Volkshochschulen as Partners

"Computers, data processing and the Internet" and "languages" are the areas of continuing education in greatest demand. Foreign language skills and a routine knowledge of how to use a computer are abilities which will no doubt become increasingly important in our globalized world. Anyone wishing to keep pace with progress must be prepared to go on learning.

  • However, not everyone is equally interested in learning: while only one in three of the age group 50-64 years (31 per cent) takes part in continuing education, the figure is 46 per cent in the age groups 19 to 34 years and 35 to 49 years.
  • Those who have taken that step for themselves are convinced of the need to do so: 94 per cent of learners take the view that everyone should be ready to pursue continuing education. 92 per cent think it necessary to take continuing education in order to be successful occupationally. Lack of training must be compensated by lifelong learning.
  • It is only in this way that we can help a large proportion of the nine per cent or so of 15 to 65 year-olds who are unemployed to have a real chance of finding work.

For a long time, education has not been tied to a particular stage of life, but is a lifelong process.

Today more than ever, we need to realise that education is one of the most important resources, opening up opportunities in life and making it possible to participate. Adult education is crucial, and not only for those who are in the labour market and need to go on learning to keep up with new demands. Adult education improves quality of life and provides a second chance for those who have failed for whatever reason to prepare adequately for working life.

In 2003, 83 percent of 25 to 64 year-olds had completed some form of upper secondary education and/or training. Among people of foreign origin, only just over half had done so, however. Germany is thus well above the average for OECD countries (66 per cent). But we cannot sit back and be content with that. Those who have not completed initial education and training must enjoy a later opportunity to live independent lives.

One problem that we should not dismiss is the people with inadequate skills in reading, writing and mathematics in our country. The Bundesverband Alphabetisierung e.V. (the national literacy association) estimates that around four million people have abilities in written language that are to be regarded as "inadequate". Each year, around 20,000 people take part in literacy courses at adult education centres.

These figures alone demonstrate how much education providers such as the German Volkshochschulen still have to do in this country.

Education, especially continuing education, is both a personal and a social task. And there is a need for it: the proportion of people not taking continuing education or training is still 50 per cent.1 Among groups "alien to education", this figure is much higher.

Significant indicators are low levels of initial education, low income, and more generally, low willingness to invest in education and training for oneself. We must therefore open up opportunities which make it easier to learn. We need programmes that everyone can afford and use easily. And we must find ways of motivating those who are not yet purposefully pursuing continuing education or training.


The most widespread and important continuing education institution in Germany is the Volkshochschulen (community adult education centres). In 2004,9.2 million people attended courses at the thousand or so Volkshochschulen, which have two great advantages: besides quality and breadth of provision, their main attraction is their local and regional roots. And lastly, they provide adult education that is accessible to all and is affordable.

The Volkshochschulen offer comprehensive basic general continuing education throughout the country. They are also becoming increasingly involved in the world of work and continuing vocational training. Education and training are today far more than in the past crucial to people's futures, and to the future of society as a whole. Education opens the way to knowledge. Through education we can find our bearings in an ever more complex world. For all of us, education is the key to personal development, to playing a part in society, and to the labour market. Education is therefore also an instrument of society, a precondition for tolerance, solidarity and social commitment, and hence the basis for and a valuable benefit of democracy.

The Volkshochschulen are not just places where knowledge is transmitted and skills are developed. Volkshochschulen are also centres of communication, social involvement and integration. Because of their particular local responsibilities, Volkshochschulen today increasingly have a pivotal role in the region; they initiate round tables and support civil society commitment, and they are becoming key nodal points in the network of continuing education and training. This development has also had an impact at European level. It is, for example, thanks to your initiative as President of the German Adult Education Association, Dr Süssmuth, that the high priority and European dimension of adult education were given adequate expression ten years ago in the form of a separate EU support programme, "Grundtvig".

Against this background, I am particularly pleased that Germany will be permitted to launch the "Lifelong Learning Action Programme" at a major European conference during its presidency of the EU in 2007. This programme will continue the established programmes of the European Union in specific fields under one roof. This is an important signal, not least for our national educational goal of making lifelong learning a reality.


In all areas of life and work, people are affected today by far-reaching changes. Their future depends on the ability constantly to meet new and ever higher demands. This brings huge opportunities for personal, social and economic progress. But there is also the danger that those who do not take part in continuing education and training throughout their lives will be increasingly cut off from this progress and will be excluded. To put it in a nutshell, we may say that without lifelong learning there will be no lifelong employment. Learning at work is crucial to the future. But without a functioning continuing education and training system, that is inconceivable.

The potential of lifelong learning and continuing education and training is by no means exhausted. In order to develop a new, coherent overall plan, we have to ask ourselves first of all whether and how to devise an education strategy that will still fit people's circumstances in the year 2020 and will match their styles of working and living.

Already, paths through life and education are less and less straight. It has long been the norm to change jobs, or even to take up a second career. The key questions to which we need to find answers lie at the points where sectors of education meet and where it is possible to cross over from one educational path to another. The crucial factor in a successful education policy will be professional support for learning throughout the life span. This must be guided by the individual's specific circumstances of living, working and learning.

We must therefore involve all learning opportunities and all places of learning in our strategies. Continuing education and training already covers far more than traditional courses at the VHS (adult education centres). We must work towards a systematic use of step by step informal learning. Adults with low levels of skills, for example, can seldom be attracted into formal continuing education courses because of failure at school or during vocational training. But they too have often gained skills through informal learning in the process of working, in the family or in clubs, and these can be built on.

The Federal Government will therefore expand continuing education and training systematically. The Coalition Agreement provides for the establishment of "a system of continuing education.. .under standard national conditions". We shall increase the budget for continuing education and lifelong learning by around three per cent over the previous year.

The Federal Government is not working towards a "national Continuing Education and Training Act". Each Land has its own continuing education legislation. This should be sufficient. If we were to make the law governing continuing education more complicated through national legislation, this would mean that we could not react flexibly enough to new demands either in vocational or in general continuing education. Even without national legislation we have enough ways of introducing standard national conditions for learning throughout the life span. By supporting innovations, we intend to strengthen continuing education for the long term. It is our aim to increase participation in education as a whole, thereby giving people greater opportunities for personal, vocational and social development throughout their entire lives.

We have to expand our education system so that a "learning society" with a new culture of learning becomes a reality. We cannot concentrate on courses leading to supposedly higher formal qualifications. We need a "culture of recognition",2 which individually promotes and socially acknowledges people's many and varied gifts.


We need to develop an overarching plan for lifelong learning, in which continuing education is strengthened. A number of key challenges are at the core of my thinking:

  • Crucial requirements for lifelong learning are motivation to learn, learning to learn and the ability to manage one's own learning. These need to be taught as early as possible. Kindergartens, schools, vocational training and higher education must provide far greater motivation and skills for permanent continuing learning throughout life. We must therefore establish closer links between initial and continuing education and training. Achieving lifelong learning for all, especially for those who have as yet taken little or no part in continuing education and training, is a task that will increasingly become critical to the future of both the individual and society. It will govern whether we can prevent personal, social and economic exclusion and can meet the growing need for skilled workers in the light of demographic developments.
  • Even those who are highly skilled need continuing training. Continuing education and training will therefore make a major contribution to meeting the need for highly skilled workers.
  • Lifelong learning can only operate if there is a long-term funding and learning plan sponsored by federal, Land and local government, and the social partners. This will enable people to plan securely, and gives them motivation and responsibility for their own learning.
  • Networks and groups working together greatly help improved transparency, improved regional education structure, across-the-board continuing education counselling, quality assurance and assessment of educational provision. We must therefore systematically strengthen and expand networks and collaborative groups. We shall only meet these challenges if all those involved work together, and if the various areas of continuing education are not cut off one from the other. General, vocational, cultural and political continuing education must complement and nourish one another. This is one of the traditional strengths of the Volkshochschulen.


From these challenges we may derive specific fields of action for the future:

  1. Learning throughout life will require basic skills such as reading, writing and mathematics. We must therefore reduce functional illiteracy in order to enable everyone to play their part personally, socially and economically. Only in this way can we draw the four million or so people with functional illiteracy into learning throughout the life span. The new media can help here by backing basic education and literacy work. This was demonstrated by the "Apoll" project, which we supported. We have built on it in the "Second Chance online" project of the German Adult Education Association. The fact that this learning platform is regularly used today anonymously by over 8000 people shows that individual learning aids can be placed in the hands of those who do not wish to take part in a Volkshochschule course or who wish to go on learning independently at the end of a course.
    I should like to launch a programme of "Adult basic education research and development". The aim of such a programme would be to network the various players nationwide through joint research work and innovative developments, and to expand existing counselling institutions together with them. We have to find new ways of reducing barriers to learning and participation, and of increasing enrolment in basic education courses, and especially in "subsequent further learning".
  2. Young adults without initial training need a second chance to acquire a recognised vocational qualification. About 1.3 million young adults under 30 years of age have no recognised vocational training. We can no longer tolerate this. Initial vocational training is a prerequisite for successful entry into working life. Anyone without initial training has few future prospects, with all the social consequences of that situation. Delayed vocational training combined with sensible employment can help these young people to gain recognised skills, and even a formal vocational qualification. In this, it is important that employers work with outside training providers - including Volkshochschulen.
    Measures to integrate migrants are another focal point of continuing education. These include language courses and guidance on everyday life in this country. In 2010, migrants will account for over the half the population under 40 years of age in major urban centres.
  3. Continuing training at work must become the norm. I regard it as natural that salary and wage settlements should make firm allowance for in-house continuing education and training. We intend to develop models such as "team learning" in mixed-age and mixed-nationality staffs. In cooperation with continuing education and training establishments, new models of counselling and learning need to be created. "Learning services" might be developed, designed and delivered directly to individual employers. This programme should also investigate the connections between the level of training of employees and the innovative capability of employers. We expect the results to lead to recommendations for action relating to specific circumstances, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises, and to the continuing training needs actually found in them.
  4. The rate of unemployment among adults with no vocational qualifications is ten times that of people who have vocational higher education qualifications. It is our national task to enable these poorly educated groups in particular to continue learning. This is in the interest not only of the people concerned, but also of social cohesion and the economy. The biggest obstacle is negative experiences of learning and education, and inadequate information about continuing education and training opportunities and the potential that these represent. Measures to increase participation in continuing education and training need to start with these causes. We therefore need new types of individual counselling, at the work place, for example. Such complex information and advice often needs to be organized across a range of providers, using trained counsellors.
    For all those involved, the funding needs to be reliable and comprehensible, as well as socially balanced and fair, so that it does not exclude from the outset the very people whom we wish to draw into more education and training. At the same time, new provision that is genuinely needed and wanted needs to be developed through enhanced opportunities for individual planning. Educational savings plans are a funding tool which the Federal Government will set up to encourage private investment in education through incentives and support. Together with the social partners, we shall try out additional methods of co-funding and we shall support these by introducing education and training time accounts into wage and salary agreements.
    The "Learning Regions" programme3 will support around 70 regional networks until 2007. These are testing new forms of cooperation between education and training supply and demand. This programme is being monitored for research purposes. On the basis of the recommendations made, we shall support particularly successful and transferable developments in selected regions in the final stage of the programme. We shall give especial support to new forms of networked counselling, measures to improve transfer between areas of education, and the opening of new places of learning.
  5. Academic continuing education is a particular priority. Linkages with foreign economies and international companies mean that vocational continuing education and training is vital even for highly trained employees. Employers have the task of looking for suitable providers and funding the continuing education. Only if continuing education is closely tied to research can the results of research and development feed into new products and procedures in the near future. Greater attention than in the past therefore needs to be paid to what skills needs result from the development of new products and procedures. We have to develop suitable provision to meet these. In Germany, we need to give a new impetus to innovation. But innovations can only be launched and implemented by staff with outstanding skills. Skills are therefore a crucial requirement for innovation in Germany.
  6. Innovative learning by adults, a continuing education structure, and education strategies to make lifelong learning a reality all need to be based on research. We therefore need effective forms of cooperation between education policy and academic research, especially empirical educational research. Education policy and empirical educational research are closely connected in terms of the requirements for their success. An "empirical" turning point in education policy assumes an "empirical" turning point in the science of education, and vice versa. It is my intention to strengthen empirical educational research both structurally and through internal departmental research.
    The proposed creation of an Education Panel in close consultation with the Laender and the academic community is another far-reaching structural measure for the expansion of educational research in general, and of empirical educational research in particular. It is also a core basis for national educational reporting. Such an Education Panel should be as closely networked as possible with existing and proposed measures at national and international level. This also applies to the measurement of adult competences planned by the OECD.


I invite representatives from the universities, the world of business and practice to discuss the key points outlined here for a new strategy of lifelong learning and continuing education and training. This month, on 17 May, the "Continuing Education Innovation Group" will meet for the first time to talk about a "road map" for a new strategy.

The Volkshochschulen have continually demonstrated their ability to reform and their willingness to be open to new developments. In order to design an adult education that is viable for the future. I am therefore counting on the willingness of all institutions to develop, and on the creativity and professionalism of all the staff in the Volkshochschulen and their associations. Let us therefore try to strengthen and shape continuing education together, to find ways of solving problems, to acknowledge what has been tried and tested, and to support innovative developments and make it possible to take advantage of them for the expansion of continuing education and training.

Only together shall we develop a strategy for lifelong learning which can respond to people's different styles of living, working and learning in the future. Let us work at it, so that everyone has the opportunity to learn to meet new challenges.

The Volkshochschulen should continue to play the major part in this in future.


1 Schlussbericht der Expertenkommission Finanzierung lebenslanges Lernen, p. 120f.
2 Machbarkeitsstudiezum Weiterbildungspass (Feasibility study for a continuing education passport), Federal Ministry of Education and Research 2004, p. 67. Konzeptionelle Grundlagen fur einen nationalen Bildungsbericht (Principles of a National Education Report), Federal Ministry of Education and Research 2003: "Capturing and assessing informal types of learning should not go too far in the direction of a 'culture of certification' with narrow criteria and restrictions, but they should be documented by means of a conscious 'culture of recognition.'"
3 On average, around 35 formal network partners, especially continuing education establishments, and 94 informal partners, are involved in a Learning Region.

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