The European Association for the Education of Adults reviewed adult education trends in the EU member countries and beyond, identifying key issues requiring the development of new policy. The timing allows the study to contribute to debate around the new EU Communication on Adult Learning.
Strengthening the European dimension must be achieved without weakening the grounded diversity of different countries’ approaches and traditions.
Deep philosophical differences about values and priorities reflect in the use and connotation of different terms, complicating discussion. Established values and principles need to be reinvigorated and applied to the new global context of the enlarged EU.
The rich history of adult education in Europe varies greatly by region and carries powerful elements of enlightenment equity and access thinking. Recognition of adult
learning has been grown since the mid-nineties but the tension between broad and narrow functionalist views has also increased.
Adult learning is vitally important to the European Social Model and to the standing of a strong Europe in a globally competitive world.
Adult education is recognised and protected only minimally, and variously, in leg islation from country to country. So far EU efforts for lifelong learning have done little to alter its formal standing and the public resources allocated for it.
Lifelong adult learning requires recognition and embedding across many govern ment portfolios.
Provision in law and financial security must accept the subsidiarity principle, with member states taking on main responsibilities.
Indirect social and non-economic benefits need to be recognised along with direct return on investment in human capital labour market. Co-financing must become a normal mode of support; different parties benefit and should contribute.
Participation in adult education remains highly unequal. Those most in need participate least. Finding new ways to motivate and involve excluded groups is a high priority for policy, research and funding.
This requires a shift from supply- to demand-driven policy, a focus on diversity of provision to meet different individuals’ and group needs, and more support for locally determined adult learning opportunities.
Adult education has an essential contribution to make in building social capital, fostering social inclusion and combating both direct and less obvious costs of social exclusion.
The wider benefits of learning are being recognised for their great social and also economic value. They should be taken fully into policy and resource calculations based on the needs of society and individuals.
There are many good examples of innovation to address exclusion and disadvantage through adult learning projects. These should be studied and disseminated with EU support. A first step is greatly to enhance awareness of these issues, and the visibility of adult education as a means of addressing them.
Changing demography, especially ageing and migration into and within the EU, are making big new demands on national and EU policy. Adult education must adapt and contribute to meeting the new needs that arise.
Those migrating between countries require a new skills and knowledge. Host communities must adapt and actively accommodate new cultural groups. Intercul tural learning is of high importance.
Cultural change is also occurring apropos older and very old people. Adult education is needed to help keep them active in the workforce longer, and to be able to live an active and rewarding life in retirement as engaged citizens.
A sensitive approach is needed, led by the EU, to develop threshold quality indicators across the Union which are well fitted to the particular character of adult learning.
The recognition and validation especially of non-formal and informal learning is important in equity, access and labour market senses. The informal learning is the most effective one for many of the social excluded.
Basic skills and key competencies are now recognised as vital unmet needs for many people in the EU as well as in poorer parts of the world. Threshold provision is needed in all member countries.
Active citizenship is increasingly seen as essential to reinvigorate democracies under threat from apathy, loss of purpose, widening gaps between haves and have-nots, and a contracting state. Adult learning is an important underpinning for active citizenship and the European Social Model.
Trends favouring decentralisation to regions and localities within member states should be reflected in local needs identification and provision in adult education.
The research base for adult education is weak and fragmented. It should be greatly strengthened within the growing EU research programme, and its fruits brought to direct use in enhanced policy and good practice.
The personnel working for adult learning reflect the marginalized, diverse and fragmented character of the field. More effort is needed at all levels to identify needs and strengthen their professional development, but without insensitive standardisation.
Europe has a leading role in the changing world lifelong learning and adult education scene. It is in its interest to play this part to the full.
In Part 3 we will summarise the main findings of the study, starting with EU pro grammes. The key message here is that a wide range of new, and renewed, EU programmes including Grundtvig and structural fund programmes should be used to embed adult learning throughout a vigorous and sustainable European learning region.
Following the main themes of the study, the main issues, trends and findings are systematised. On this basis, we draw the conclusions in terms of implications and requirements regarding necessary actions and the two elements are summarised in a recommendation. Finally the study concludes in five key policy messages.
The summary of the key messages is consonant with the main messages of the Communication on Adult Learning, which is not a coincidence since the authors of this study have collaborated not only with a wide range of adult education organisations and experts, but also with the expert team working on the Com munication and a number of joint consultations and discussions have been held at the Commission. However, this does not necessarily mean that we have the same understanding and are of the same opinion. What’s more, this does not mean at all that the key messages presented below or in this study, as a whole or in parts, represent anybody else’s standpoint other than the opinion of the authors of the study. The statements made here solely express the standpoint of the contributors of the study. This standpoint is not definitive, indisputable or irrevocable, on the contrary, it aims to promote and encourage further dialogue and analysis so that Adult Learning can become an emancipated, integrated and successfully strength ening pillar in lifelong learning policy as a whole.
Adult learning is the essential fourth pillar of the support system for lifelong learning. Schooling, VET, higher and adult education each has a significant contribution to make to the global competitiveness of the European Social Model. Without all four, the long term economic and social goals of Lisbon and the EU will be at risk.
1. A holistic – total, integrated, systemic and all-embracing grasp and policy perspective on adult learning and the resulting provision.
This implies that a common European adult learning framework should be developed to strengthen adult learning within Europe, based on its diverse national traditions. This will allow European partners to help, compare and learn from one another more effectively, enhancing the quality and utility of adult learning.
A culture of adult lifelong learning must permeate all public, private and third sector thinking and activity. Learning opportunities should be available and accessible to adults throughout life in all settings.
2. Core public funding especially for the disadvantaged, with a stable and sustainable locally based infrastructure.
Public authorities and governments should attend in particular to the less advantaged, including specific age groups. Adult learning must be easily and flexibly accessible, on all levels, and in all learning sites throughout life. Strong local participation in identifying and meeting needs is essential. More attention should be paid to the trends of an ageing population and the related adult learning rather job-oriented learning.
Social cohesion, civic participation and economic growth demand a huge process of intercultural learning provision for native Europeans as well as the new population.
3. High quality of provision and quality of the personnel involved.
High quality in support of adult learning relies increasingly on networks and collaboration with public authorities, social movements, NGOs and enter prises exercising corporate social responsibility.
High quality adult education personnel are needed to manage new roles and demands. Their professional development, support and mobility demand serious attention.
4. Recognition and credit for non-formal and informal alongside formal adult education and learning.
It should be made more publicly known that the extension of validation is not just in the interest of the labour market and it does not just mean the degrading of the authority of formal institutions and the quality of education and training, but it is in the interest of all actors, especially the adult majority of the learning society. The recognition of the institutionalisation of non-formal learning is a key tool in increasing motivation, access, participation and learning output.
5. Simple key indicators, together with support for and use of good research and statistics.
The efficiency and equity of the European Social Model can only be realised, just like the great differences within the EU can only be reduced if we put no limitation on adult learning’s contribution to ESM’s success. This not only requires the inclusive approach to all forms of adult learning, but the creation of measurements and monitoring systems that enable the planning of adult learning’s development, transparent decision-making and quality assessment in an inclusive way.
These key messages arise from the work reported in the first two parts of this study. They correspond closely with key messages in the forthcoming Communication. It is hoped that they will enable the EU and others who use the Communication to interpret it, support it, and put it to sustained good effect.
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