Michael Samlowski

“By focusing on adult education in a world context, we are not seeking to tackle macro perspectives in an attempt to avoid the micro problems that remain to be solved at home. On the contrary, it is our conviction that modern education can only be understood in an international context. It will not be long before the educational niveau of a nation will play a greater role in determining the balance of power among nations than military strength. The growing impor tance attributed to division of labour in every sector of the world’s economy will not stop at our education systems. Every country of the modern world is dependent on what goes on in other countries, and this interdependence also applies where education is concerned. Development in industrialized society creates similar problems all over the world. Whether they live in Baku, Kansas City, Stockholm or Nancy, adult educators of the future will all be contending with the same issues. ...”1

DVV International – 40 Years: How We Became What We Are

No, the foregoing words are not a quote from the latest German Adult Education Association declaration on the role of the Volkshochschulen, Germany’s community adult education centres, in the globalized world of the third millennium. They were written all of 43 years ago. Professor Helmut Becker, who was president of the Ger man Adult Education Association at the time, used them to explain the commitment – and obligation – of German adult education to think and act internationally.

1952, First International Conference in Salzburg



1952, First International Conference in Salzburg
Source: DVV, Geschichte – Geschichten – Gesichter, p. 21Origins



It was actually right after the Second World War that the German Volkshochschulen became interested in exchange and cooperation with institutions and colleagues abroad. The countries which had so recently suffered under German oc cupation still regarded their German neighbours with reservation and mistrust, and in many cases with animosity and bitterness. In the post-war period it was consequently just as necessary to establish friendly ties as it was difficult. Indeed, activities of this nature were encouraged by the Allies.

Early contacts turned into friendly relation ships and stable partnerships, paving the way for efforts in later years to build a systematic network of cooperation in Europe. In 1953, the Volkshochschulen and their regional associations joined forces to form the national German Association of Adult Education (DVV). Membership at the time was necessarily restricted to West Germany. One of the Association’s objectives from the very beginning was to help work toward international understanding and reconciliation. As early as 1954, very soon after it was founded, it began receiving support for this purpose from the Federal Ministry of the Interior. And from 1959 onward, assistance for international activities was also provided by the German Foreign Office.

Roby Kidd

Because of DVV’s expertise in the field, but above all because of the personal integrity of the adult educators representing the new umbrella organization, the Association soon gained entrance into adult education circles in Europe, becom ing one of the driving forces for what at first was a very loose coalition of people and organizations active in the field. As a concerted effort, the group organized a European Bureau of Adult Education, which at first took up operations from a small office on the premises of the Agency for European Folk High School in the Dutch city of Bergen, and then was transferred to an office at the University of Amersfoort. The Bureau became a venue for documentation and information, and a centre for the promotion and organization of professional exchange and research.

In those days, even more so than today, the viability of such initiatives depended on the people working behind them. The first name that comes to mind in this con nection is Helmuth Dolff, the director of the German Adult Education Association from 1956 until his death in 1983. It was Helmuth Dolff who brought structure and direction into the cross-border interests and contacts of individual Volkshochschulen and adult educators. Together with Bob Schouten from the Netherlands, he played a key role in setting up and supporting the European Bureau of Adult Education. And alongside Roby Kidd from Canada, he was instrumental from the very start in building the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE) into a global agent for adult education. In 1975, he became president of the European Bureau of Adult Education, a position which he maintained until 1983. He organized study trips to France, Great Britain, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands and also, of course, to neighbouring Austria. He recruited participants for international conferences, established contacts in the USA, and already began initiating contact in such de veloping countries as Ghana, Cameroon, Togo, and India.

Under his leadership, the DVV participated in the UNESCO World Conference at Montreal in 1960. The countries of Africa and Asia which were in the process of freeing themselves from colonial domination had sent their representatives to the Conference to appeal for support in the building of their own independent education systems.

A number of sympathy movements had arisen in Germany in support of this process. There was widespread solidarity with the countries which had achieved independence from colonial rule. An “Africa Week” conducted in 1960 by the DVV and various Volkshochschulen in cooperation with the “German African Society” was one expression of this solidarity. Photo exhibits were set up at a number of Volkshochschulen, and events were organized around specific African countries and themes related to liberation. A conference was held at Hirschborn Castle in 1960 around Africa and the need for adult education there, and at the German Adult Education Conference (Volkshochschultag) in Frankfurt/Main, the focus was worldwide adult education as a new dimension in education.

Training Courses for Adult Educators from Developing Countries

Plans emerged around this time to organize a training course for adult educators from developing countries. With strategic vision, Helmuth Dolff realized that the

Ten Commandments for Educationalists

  1. Thou shalt never try to make another human being exactly like thyself; one is enough.
  2. Thou shalt never judge a person’s need, or refuse your consideration, solely on the trouble he causes.
  3. Thou shalt not blame heredity nor the environment in general; people can surmount their environment.
  4. Thou shalt never give a person up as hopeless or cast him out.
  5. Thou shalt try to help everyone become, on the one hand, sensitive and compassionate, and also tough-minded.
  6. Thou shalt not steal from any person his rightful responsibilities for determining his own conduct and the consequences thereof.
  7. Thou shalt honour anyone engaged in the pursuit of learning and serve well and extend the discipline of knowledge and skill about learning which is our common possession.
  8. Thou shalt have no universal remedies or expect miracles.
  9. Thou shalt cherish a sense of humour which may save you from becoming shocked, depressed, or complacent.
  10. Thou shalt remember the sacredness and dignity of thy calling and, at the same time, thou shalt not take thyself too damned seriously.

J. R. Kidd

German Volkshochschulen had the potential to make a positive contribution to development assistance. He succeeded in convincing the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) to tap this potential and establish the DVV as a partner of the Federal Republic in the provision of development assistance. The Ministry, which itself had just been created in November 1961, agreed to finance the implementation of separate training programmes for African and Latin Ameri can adult educators.

The underlying reasoning behind the programmes was recognition of the fact that in a post-colonial context, adult education was a vital factor for progress toward autonomy. Express reference was made to the 9th session of the General Conference of UNESCO, which defined fundamental education as

“that kind of minimum and general education which aims to help children and adults who do not have the advantages of formal education, to understand the problems of their immediate environment and their rights and duties as citizens and individuals”.

Since the colonial authorities had not made any provisions to prepare personnel for this task, there was a pressing need to train adult educators. In those days, the adult education sector in the developing world customarily recruited its teachers from the formal school system. However, training standards at this level were often low, and no attention was paid in qualifying normal school teachers for work with adults.

In keeping with the ideas current in the early 1960s, it was held to be the best option to prepare select future adult educators from the developing world in Germany, where it would be possible for them to gain a comprehensive overview and understanding of the field that would serve as a source of new impulses for their work back home. The courses were designed to accommodate a maximum of twenty-five students for periods of not more than a year so as not to exceed the modest framework of a residential adult education centre nor to awaken illusions or false expectations. The site chosen as appropriate for guests from Africa was the Göhrde Residential Training Centre, which was situated in a secluded expanse of woodland on the premises of a former hunting lodge, far from any worldly dis tractions that might prove detrimental to concentration and purposeful study. The programme ran for a period of twelve years from 1963 to 1974. A series of follow-up measures were organized by the DVV to complement the programme. Courses were held in African countries around specific issues of adult education. Occasional supplementary measures were subsidized, and contact was maintained with course graduates to follow their progress in their careers.

In 1965, a parallel training course for Latin American adult educators was launched in Schleswig-Holstein at the Residential Training Centre in the city of Rendsburg. The programme was conducted under the supervision of Kurt Meissner, who went on to become director of the German Adult Education Association. Three years later, however, the DVV decided that it would be preferable to locate the programme directly in Latin America. Apparently it was recognized sooner for Latin American adult educators than for their African colleagues that the German model of community adult education was only of restricted relevance for other countries and consequently not directly transferable.

Project Activities in Developing Countries

It quickly became clear that professional exchange and training programmes alone would not suffice to develop reliable structures of adult education in the developing regions of the world, and that stable, long-term support, for which the demand was enormous and insistent, would also be required. When it came to putting what they had learned into practice so as to shape the education systems in their own countries, the graduates of training courses in Göhrde, Rendsburg, or San José naturally looked to the DVV as a competent partner. Here again, it was Helmuth Dolff who took the initiative to turn petitions for assistance into projects. Step by step he obtained financial support from the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation. The German embassies in Africa and Latin America were soon familiar with the DVV and its commitment to development cooperation, and they began referring requests for assistance to the Association with growing frequency.


Projects in Africa were first initiated in the country then known as Zaire, as well as in Somalia, and Sudan, and later in the People’s Republic of the Congo and in Sierra Leone. Support focussed on integral approaches to initial and inservice training for adult educators, income-oriented projects, measures geared to the acquisition of practical know-how, strengthening community participation, basic education beyond literacy training, health education and the promotion of local languages and cultures. In 1975, an “Africa office” was set up in Ghana. Operating out of Accra, it coordinated training measures, scholarship programmes, conferences, and a variety of other measures in several African countries.

Latin America

Efforts in Latin America date back even further. In 1963 support was lent to the Costa Rican project ICECU, the Central American Institute for Adult Education (In stituto Centroamericano de Extension de la Cultura), an initiative with a reach that extended far beyond the boarders of Costa Rica. The project produced educational radio programmes in Spanish and various Mayan languages, and published a Farmer’s Almanac, which it distributed in large numbers in the interest of providing broad access to basic education and general knowledge while preserving and promoting traditional culture.


This project was an early example of intercultural education. It sought to provide answers in a respectful manner to questions posed by members of rural radio audi ences in Central America whose vision of the world was frequently shaped by tradi tional indigenous beliefs and a mystical concept of nature. The following is a typical example of the type of questions that could be heard on the broadcasts: “You have taught us how earthquakes come about, but our ancestors say they are the contrac tions of the big snake on which the earth rests.” The response given to this particular question was formulated as follows: “We no longer know something about the big snake. What we told you is the conviction of the scientists.” For people who still believe in magic, the idea of a human being landing on the moon is either a television hoax or heresy. Where wind is considered a seed-bearing, harvest-determining power, it is not enough to describe it as no more than a mass of air set in motion by high and low pressure systems that people can harness accord ing to need. It is important to reconcile mystical beliefs with the explanations of natural science so that well-meaning peo ple do not attempt to destroy wind-driven pumps in a development project out of fear that the machines might confuse and scare off the wind. In an approach based on realizations of this nature, the project answered thousands of questions in radio broadcasts which peasant farm ers were able to listen to on transistor radios. And the Farmer’s Almanac, with an annual circulation of 340,000 copies, not only contained practical farming hints and explanations, but also songs and stories from Central American folklore.2

With its infrastructure, ICECU offered an ideal alternative as a site for the training course geared to Latin American adult educators. The programme was transferred to Costa Rica after the first three years in Rendsburg, and was held annually on the premises of ICECU from 1968 until 1972. Contacts made there would later lead to new projects in Colombia and then in Bolivia.


Asia came into consideration as a region which offered new possibilities for DVV cooperation in 1964 when Helmuth Dolff was among those who participated in an initiative that led to the founding of the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE). Although ASPBAE had a very low profile at first,3 it was the cornerstone in a close partnership that began in 1978, a relationship that mean while looks back on more than 30 years of intense cooperation. In an article he wrote for the 25th anniversary of cooperation between ASPBAE and the Institute, Chris Duke, long-standing Secretary General of ASPBAE, spoke of the strong inter national reputation that the DVV had already established by the mid-1960s as a non-government adult education organization known for its supportive role in devel opment assistance.4 Work with ASPBAE led to contact and first measures of bilateral cooperation with various Indian organizations, including the Delhi-based Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), the Association for Nonformal Education and development (KANFED) in Kerala, and Seva Mandir in Rajasthan.

The relationship between DVV and PRIA is still active today. PRIA, in turn, supports a network of partners throughout Southeast Asia. The Institute provided assistance for training courses organized by PRIA for NGO staff and administrators, but also for community and political decision makers, with the intention of preparing them to adopt a participatory approach in work with their respective focus groups. On the Society’s website, the mission of PRIA reads as follows:5

“To work towards the promotion of policies, institutions and capacities that strengthen voices and participation against the marginalisation of communities. The idea is to improve their socio-economic status through democratic govern ance. PRIA’s mission is to reach out, through such governance, to everyone in society and to ease their participation in the governance process.”

Dr. K. Sivadasan Pillai, General Secretary of KANFED since 1995, described the Institute’s cooperation with KANFED in the following words:

“The German Adult Education Association (DVV) offered financial support to KANFED for about ten years for the organisation of literacy and continu ing education centres, training of personnel, preparation and publication of neoliterate materials including books and periodicals, and awards made to committed social workers at KANFED’s annual celebration.”6

Seva Mandir is a development-oriented non-government organization that works with the rural and indigenous populations of southern Rajasthan. The activities which the Institute supported there concentrated on the preservation of predominantly oral tradition and vehicles of culture such as song, dance, theatre, and puppet shows. Elements of these arts are incorporated in measures geared to promoting areas such as health education, literacy learning, and environmental education.

International Cooperation and the Need for Institutionalization

The number of petitions received by the DVV for assistance from developing coun tries kept increasing. Helmuth Dolff and the members of the board strove to meet requests for help wherever possible. They regarded this as an obligation as well as their political responsibility on the part of Germany’s community adult education centres arising from their overall commitment to education. Helmuth Dolff read the signs of globalization long before the word became part of our everyday vocabu lary. He recognized the growing interdependence that connected people all over the globe. He saw how vital it was for the adult education sector, last not least in its own interest, to address such issues as unequal exchange, decolonialization and the development of new forms of dependence, the conflict between old cultures and technological civilization, and the problems of religious rivalry. Providing solidarity and support wherever possible was to his mind an ethical duty as much as it was a rational imperative.

The photo ist taken from: “1982–2002 – 20 Years PRIA – Our journey”

The photo ist taken from: “1982–2002 – 20 Years PRIA – Our journey”

However, he hesitated to call the contribution of the Volkshochschulen “support for developing countries”:

“What about the work of the Volkshochschule in the area generally described as educational assistance for developing countries? The very name already involves a mistaken notion. We may be the donors in a material sense, but our work in this complex brings us so many realizations and so much valuable experience for our own situation that cooperation in the development of adult education would seem to be a more appropriate designation.“7

This firm conviction of Helmuth Dolff was to become a basic element in the philoso phy that has always guided the international work of our Institute: the principle of partnership based on common professional interests – not a one-sided arrange ment, but a relationship based on the egalitarian notion of give and take. In such a relationship, it is still the case that one partner has resources which the other partner needs, but this does not lead to dominance on the one side and depend ence on the other.

Origins and Growth of a Separate Institute for International Cooperation

For quite a number of years, the secretariat of the DVV operated on a very modest scale. Helmuth Dolff did everything that had to be done by himself, from develop ing concepts, initiating contacts, conducting negotiations and mobilizing funds, to filing reports. For secretarial work and accounting, he had the assistance of two employees from the Association’s headquarters, both of whom, however, attended to these tasks alongside their responsibilities in the national work of the Association. Adequate provision had been made from the very beginning for the management of the office’s bookkeeping and accounting, the heart of its financial operations.

DVV International

Cooperation in developing countries in the area of adult education grew to such an extent that in 1963 the Association’s board decided to set up two separate divisions within the office – one in charge of work in developing countries, and the other to coordinate the Association’s normal exchange activities and programmes.

The office was not granted the status of an independ ent department of the DVV in charge of development cooperation and the entire scope of international rela tions maintained by the Association and its member Volkhochschulen until 1969, however, when a petition was successfully filed with the Ministry for Economic Cooperation for funds to hire and maintain the staff necessary to carry out the corresponding tasks of devel opment cooperation. This marked the beginning of the Institute as an organizational unit of the DVV in its own right. At first it was called the “Fachstelle für Erwach senenbildung in Entwicklungsländern” (Department for Adult Education in Developing Countries), and later the “Fachstelle für internationale Zusammenarbeit” (Department for International Cooperation). In 1993, the Department officially changed its title to the “Institute for International Cooperation”, and since 2007, it has been operating under the name “DVV International”.

The first team was a small one. In the beginning, Helmut Dolff kept the new area of work under his supervision, but he increased the DVV’s secretarial positions in response to the office’s exponentially growing administrative demands. The increas ing number of projects required an increasing number of reliable staff members to manage the accounting and expenditure reports and to establish and maintain the basis of trust that exists up to the present between the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and the department. The position of department director was created already in 1970. In 1971, another position was added for a programme manager to coordinate activities in Latin America. This post was filled by Jakob Horn, who went on to successfully direct the Institute for many long years. By 1972, it had become necessary to hire a programme manager for Asia to coordinate activities with partners in India.

Some of the people who joined the staff of the department during its first decade of its existence remained with the DVV until their retirement (Jakob Horn, Sigrid Elflein, Elvira Biela). Others still work for the Institute today (Marita Kowalski, Her ibert Hinzen, Wolfgang Leumer). All in all, the Institute has an impressive record for retaining its staff. This can be seen as an indication of the strong personal identification which the people employed by the Institute have with their jobs, especially considering the high degree of mobility that characterises the modern labour market.

When the department was first established, it had to operate on an annual budget of only 1.8 million German marks (which today amounts to approximately 900,000 euros). Since then, the funding volume has steadily risen. By 1974, it had already reached 4.4 million marks (around 2.2 million euros). By 1979, it had climbed to

5.5 million marks, and in 1984 to 8.3 million. After 20 years, in 1989, the Institute was able to provide funding in an amount of 9.4 million marks.


It is important to note that the express purpose of establishing a separate depart ment was to create an instrument for development assistance in the sector of adult education. Arrangements of cooperation were to be made in a selected number of developing countries, but also within Germany itself. The nature of the work was defined in a catalogue of tasks that was compiled in 1971. According to this catalogue, it was intended for the newly founded “Department for Adult Education in Developing Countries” to concentrate on the following activities in Germany:

  • collecting and documenting data on adult education in developing countries
  • promoting the development of adult education concepts that cater to specific needs in the broadest range of settings
  • developing appropriate learning and teaching materials
  • providing development workers with orientation prior to their placements in developing countries, and preparing those specialists in particular who were to work in DVV projects
  • conducting study conferences with government representatives of host countries
  • supporting the media in the development of education programs
  • conducting advanced training for practitioners and administrative staff working in the adult education sector in developing countries and in Germany 
  • offering adult education courses for students from developing countries, and
  • informing public opinion about development cooperation

Work in developing countries was to involve:

  • cooperating with providers of adult education in all areas of out-of-school education
  • conducting study workshops for government representatives
  • training personnel
  • encouraging cooperation among universities and academic institutions in developing countries and in Germany on the fundamentals of adult education
  • setting up local training centres
  • conducting scholarship programmes
  • providing follow-up measures for schol
    arship recipients, e.g. by issuing pub
    lications relevant to their work and by
    conducting follow-up seminars
  • providing appropriate teaching and
    learning materials
  • facilitating participation at internation
    al conferences and exhibitions
  • supporting international adult educa
    tion associations. 8

Developing Programmes for Adult Learners in Africa

It is clear from the Guidelines, which are still valid for the work of the Institute today, that developing countries are the focus of the Institute‘s work. From the time these Guidelines were first introduced in 1973, they have continued to emphasize the following insights:

  • There can be no sustainable development without education. We acknowl edge the right of developing countries to demand more than charity from the affluent industrialized countries of the world.
  • “Adult education in developing countries” as we understand it comprises all those activities, both parallel to or subsequent to formal education in general and vocational education systems, which contribute to social justice, and which can help people to satisfy their basic needs, i.e. an adequate education, sufficient food to satisfy their dietary needs, decent housing, social security, and participation in political processes as well as in the social and cultural life of their communities and countries.
  • It is a fundamental principle that education for adults must serve the interests of socially disadvantaged groups.
  • The lending of support to developing countries in the building of their adult education structures must not connote or imply a transfer of western models to these countries. The forms of organization, contents and methods of their adult education must be the decision of the developing countries alone.


Tasks of DVV International

From the very beginning the work of DVV International has been characterized by continuity. We have always followed a socially-oriented approach that identifies with the interests and needs of the members of disadvantaged social classes in our partner countries. Our work is founded on the basic principle of solidarity in the interest of adult education in the countries where adult education organizations and practitioners require support from abroad to carry out their work and sustain their efforts. The groups on which we and our partners focus therefore mainly include marginalized groups, slum dwellers, people from lower middle class neighbour hoods, indigenous groups, peasant farmers, farm labourers, people who are unemployed or threatened by unemployment and social exclusion, unemployed youths without vocational training or prospects for the future, and women whose abilities go unrecognized and who are suppressed, exploited, and destined to humble social status and an obscure station in life.

Our work is the organized expression of the dedicated responsibility on the part of German adult education to help develop the adult education sector in our partner countries. How we perceive our work coincides with the perception that the Volkshochschulen have of their work. They share our social commitment and have always made a special effort to serve disadvantaged groups and help them exercise their right to education.

Project visit in Bolivia

Project visit in Bolivia
Source: DVV International

Continuity has also always characterized the relationship which the Institute has maintained with its most important funding agency, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The fact that the Ministry has always underscored the value of the DVV’s work is clearly illustrated in the following passage from a speech held in 1994 by the then Minister, Mr. Carl Dieter Spranger, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Institute:

Fishing in Rivers of Sierra Leone

“With our support for the work of the German Adult Education Associa tion, we seek to work together, above all, to strengthen the institutional and material infrastructure of partner organizations abroad, to provide adult educa tors at every level with basic and inservice training, and to improve the avail ability of teaching and learning materials. We also seek to support community development as an integral approach to adult education, to develop basic and further vocational training to improve employment and income opportunities, and to foster work at the grassroots level in rural and urban areas.

By promoting the social and structural development of adult education, it is our goal to enable the members of the broader population to participate in the social and economic development of their countries, to strengthen their will to help themselves and to take responsibility for their lives, and to assist in the building of structures that encourage sustainable development. And taking this opportunity to dispel a common prejudice: Development-oriented adult education strives above all to transmit knowledge and skills as a form of help for self-help and as a means to combat poverty. The point is to assist people in securing their existence. For many people in our partner countries these are issues that decide their fate.

The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation also relies on the experience and knowledge of the DVV in the field of adult education to promote develop ment education. This is another area in which government and non-government partners complement one another. Together we seek to improve the image of development cooperation in our society and to gain public approval and support for our work.“9

This continues to be the task of DVV International and the reason why the Ministry supports our projects with resources that still account for close to 85 % of the Insti tute’s overall budget.

The First Twenty Years

During the first two decades of the Institute’s history, cooperation was restricted to developing countries. The largest part of financial aid went to projects in Africa, followed by projects in Latin America, then in Asia, and lastly in the Pacific region. The work focuses were very diverse.

In Africa, the project in Sierra Leone promoted the development of university adult education and compiled and documented examples of vernacular folklore to foster the preservation of oral culture. In Somalia, juvenile offenders in a youth custody centre received vocational training in selected crafts and trades. The project in the People’s Republic of the Congo sought to build healthcare awareness in the illiterate sectors of the population by producing photo novels and TV commercials around issues relating to health and nutrition. In Tanzania, support was given to the Institute of Adult Education to implement a broad programme of evening classes, radio learning groups, distance education courses, and further training measures for district-level coordinators. In Uganda, the DVV’s partners worked mainly with groups of rural farmers. A project in Madagascar was launched to build experi mental adult education centres in rural areas. At long-standing and respected uni versities in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, adult education practitioners upgraded their professional qualifications in diploma-level training courses.

With three parallel projects, Colombia was still the focus of the Institute’s work in Latin America. Efforts there concentrated on vocational training in lower-income urban communities, functional adult education in rural areas, and the creation and strengthening of small cooperatives and micro-enterprises. As part of the reform of the national adult education system in Bolivia, a nationwide program had been launched to set up and equip training workshops, and to upgrade the qualifications of instructors.

5 Book Titles

In Asia, cooperation concentrated on partners in India. The regional adult education association ASPBAE helped the Insti tute establish contacts with various institutions in other Asian countries, including some in the Pacific region on the Fiji and Salomon Islands.

The Institute’s journal, “Adult Education and Development” was founded in 1973, at first as a means of furnishing graduates of DVV training courses with information relevant to their field. Since then, “Adult Education and Development” has become the world’s most widely circulated adult education journal. It is published in three languages – English, French, and Spanish.

Since 1977, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Co operation and Development has provided annual assistance to Germany’s Volkshochschulen for their programmes in develop ment education in order to inform the public about developing countries and to support the centres’ instructors in their work in this context. A frequently used approach to motivate interest on the part of learners has been to introduce them to a developing country or culture by focussing on a single aspect of that country or culture as an incentive for them to learn more. In German Volkshochschulen, learners made pottery the way it is made in Africa, and wove cloth the way it is woven in Peru. They worked with the traditional batik methods of Indonesia, prepared the typi cal foods eaten in Kenya or Pakistan, and practiced meditation techniques or forms of exercise taught in India or China. Activi ties of this nature were designed to motivate people to become involved, and to arouse their curiosity in the country and people responsible for the cultural techniques being taught. The idea was to foster understanding and respect for difference and diversity. In an unobtrusive manner, the courses promoted admiration for the cultural achievements of the peoples of Asia, Africa, or Latin America. They created interest to learn more about the people who are capable of fashioning such meticulously crafted articles of beauty with such modest tools and means.

Admiration for the achievements cultivated interest on the part of learners to learn about the living conditions of people in the third world and developed their sense of commitment to support these less advantaged peoples in overcoming their poverty. Suc cess with methods of this nature depends in large part on how well-prepared the course instructors are in the knowledge and know-how they are seeking to transmit. Relevant material was collected and documented for them, and they received special training. In some cases, study trips were arranged to places like Ghana or Peru where the instructors spent longer periods of time learning indigenous techniques of making pottery or weaving cloth. Thorough preparation and follow-up activities accompanied such measures.

The Institute took active part in the work of the international adult education as sociations. It channelled considerable amounts of assistance into regional associa tions in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean, and played an active role in the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) and the European Bureau for Adult Education.

This was in line with an agreement between Helmuth Dolff and the prominent Canadian adult educator, Roby Kidd: Roby Kidd had agreed to mobilize Canadian support for the secretariat of the International Council that was to be located in Toronto. It was not possible for the DVV to invest funds from a German ministry in support for an institution located in an industrialized country. But it was able to assist the regional organizations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The DVV still honours this informal agreement today.

Europe After the Transition and New Challenges

The events of 1989 initiated a process of transformation that significantly altered the image of the Institute. Radical social changes, which only a short time before then would have sounded unlikely, were taking place in the countries to the east of Germany, including the eastern part of Germany itself.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lifting of the Iron Curtain, more intensive relations of a completely different nature became possible. It was not that the Institute had not cultivated and maintained contacts with organizations in this part of the world, even during the years of the Cold War. But now opportunities for much closer cooperation with adult education organizations were opening up in Hungary, Poland, the Baltic countries, and in Czechoslovakia, which was still a single country at the time. Support was soon expanded to include Romania and Bulgaria, and then also the Russian Federation. Adult education was not a new field in these regions. Just as in our part of the world, Central and Eastern European countries have a long tradition of adult education and have always recognized the important role that learning plays in the social welfare of society. Adult edu cation societies and associations existed in all of these countries. And as in our own country, adult education associations in the former socialist states provided compensatory education to supplement the elite education system that does not adequately meet the educational needs of large sectors of the population. Adult education also often served as a political force in support of national movements or in connection with workers’ movements. In 19th century Poland, adult education became an underground activity. Secret meetings conducted in Polish helped to preserve national identity after the Kingdom of Poland was dissolved and parti tioned among its neighbours. In 1989, the Hungarian Society for the dissemination of knowledge (TIT) celebrated its 150th year of existence. Professor Rita Süssmuth, President of the DVV, attended the anniversary ceremonies held in honour of this occasion in Budapest, and opened an exhibit documenting the history and current situation of Germany’s Volkshochschulen.

Mutual exchange visits by delegations from the German Adult Education Associa tion and the Polish or Soviet Societies for the Dissemination of Knowledge (TWP and Znanie) were very rare. The remarkable thing, however, was that they were able to take place at all. And the fact that they did, made it possible at international conferences, especially those organized by UNESCO, that representatives from East and West were able to reach common agreements with respect to education policy in spite of the ideological di vide that separated the Eastern and Western Blocs.

Book Title

When the model of socialist society became discredited, however, traditional providers of adult educa tion in socialist countries had their foundation pulled out from under them. Before the transition, they had been the official representatives and nationwide providers of continuing education and further training, also in an ideological sense. Whereas under the old system they had suf ficient allocations from the national budget to carry out their tasks, under the new system they found them selves at best tolerated. Subsidies were drastically decreased, and in some cases completely discontinued. Previously they had been assured of nationwide structures, official cars, offices, centres in every municipality, instructors on the state payroll, and a pro gramme with a reliable audience, although social pressure rather than personal interest was often the motivation for attendance. After the transition, only vestiges of the central administration remained. Centres were closed or rented. Instructors lost their jobs. Programmes shrank to a fraction of what they had formerly been. And a totally new orientation became necessary because of the radical change in demand. Adult education associations were now faced with the emergence of completely unregulated, profit-motivated competition. Governments everywhere distanced themselves from the responsibility to ensure furfurther training, and left the sector to the dictates of so-called free-market forces.

In the wake of social and economic transition, it became urgently necessary to mobilize support for serious programmes of continuing education which were closely tailored to the needs of the new situation and readably accessible by the public. Owing particularly to the foresight and determination of Jakob Horn, who was then director of the Institute, the DVV recognized the need to address the vacuum that had come to exist in the continuing education and training sector in the countries to the east of Germany. As a participant in most of the earlier East-West exchange visits, Jakob Horn was able to grasp the true dimensions of the political and economic upheaval that was taking place, and the loss of orientation faced by the societies in transition due to the lack of possibilities for education and training. The new societies required new ways of working and thinking. But they also carried the inherent risk that new kinds of previously unknown poverty would develop. The German government was quick to provide resources to expedite the changeover from socialist systems based on centrally planned management to democratic systems based on market management principles. Jakob Horn real ized that the processes that had been set in motion would not lead to sustainable changes without a system of well-functioning socially-oriented continuing education and training that would secure the support of the people rather than alienating them. He saw the need to invest part of the government resources allocated for the transformation process into cooperation in the adult education sector, and he knew that the DVV was in an ideal position to help Eastern partners restructure and secure the provision of continuing education and training.

The first task of the Institute’s staff was to assess the situation of continuing educa tion in neighbouring countries so as to gain a competent understanding of existing conditions, and to investigate possibilities for projects and partnerships. Once potential partners were identified, it was necessary to determine relevant areas in which they needed and wanted support, and to discuss the details of cooperation. Contacts which had been maintained from the time of the Cold War were useful in this connection. Cases were extremely rare in Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary of colleagues in the category of staunch political functionaries who after the fall of socialism turned into opportunists. Most of our colleagues were dedicated people who were doing their best to create optimal adult education opportunities under the difficult social conditions prevailing in their respective countries – peo ple who had earned personal and professional respect both before and after the system change. They provided invaluable assistance in getting the Institute started in arrangements of cooperation and in project work with our Eastern neighbours, whether they continued to work for the restructured adult education associations after the reorganization process had been completed, whether they launched new initiatives themselves, or whether they had to seek new employment elsewhere – at universities or even outside the adult education sector.

Hungary and Poland

In 1990, the first detailed project proposals were submitted to the Ministry for Eco nomic Cooperation and Development, and the Institute took steps to set up project offices, first in Hungary, and then in Poland. Both projects required particularly capable projects directors – knowledgeable people who were highly experienced in the field and would be able to handle delicate issues of international coopera tion skilfully and competently.

Seminar in Poland

Seminar in Poland Source: DVV International


Over the years, Jakob Horn had kept himself closely informed about the situa tion in Hungary. As a recognized expert of German adult education and the Ger man Volkshochschulen, he was in an excellent position to mediate partnerships with Hungarian institutions. His many years of service as director of the Institute backed by twenty years of experience in the complexities of international relations made him qualified as no other to navigate situations requiring a high degree of diplomacy and sensitivity.

Norbert Greger had the invaluable advantage of being able to speak fluent Polish. For many years he had coordinated contacts for the DVV with adult educa tors in Poland. He was an authority on the country and its sensitive history. With the extensive experience he gained as a director of the Volkshochschule in the city of Mülheim/Ruhr, he had all the skills and qualifications that would be required to coordinate the Institute’s project of cooperation under the difficult circumstances that prevailed in Poland.

Parallel to this project, which was funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, a second project, with a different approach, was launched in Poland with funds from the German Ministry for Education, Science, Research, and Technology (BMBF). The aim was to improve relations between Germany and Poland through cooperation between institutions of continuing edu cation on both sides of the German-Polish border. Joint functions were organized to provide people from both countries with chances to become better acquainted, grow less shy and hesitant around one another, overcome their prejudices, and learn to live together in a normal spirit of neighbourliness. The project team, which worked out of a liaison office directly on the border in the city of Frankfurt (Oder), cultivated numerous German-Polish partnerships which are still active today. It was an innovation for the Institute at the time to appoint a person from Poland to direct the office here in Germany. What is taken for granted today was no easy matter back then. Completing all the formalities to obtain a work permit for our Polish employee was a complicated process.

It was not possible for us to conduct programmes with broad-based coverage and project offices of our own in Czechoslovakia and in the Baltic countries. Neverthe less, we were able to make a positive contribution by helping organizations there to reorient their programmes and secure their financial footing. With the Institute’s support, our partners gained space and time to reflect on their situation with col leagues and organizations in Germany as well as in other European countries. This helped them generate ideas for organizing continuing education and training programmes in response to the needs of their populations. The Comenius Society (Akadémie J. A. Komenského) in the Czech Republic with its regional centres, and the Education Academy (Akadémia Vzdelavánia) in Slovakia with its 41 branches, were able to develop an extensive network of provision and to secure their place on the adult education market. Especially our Slovak partner has succeeded in building up a close network of European partners and has been able to benefit from European Union funding programmes. With assistance from the Institute, adult educators in all three Baltic countries were able to set up national adult education associations which have succeeded in securing government policy changes in the interest of the sector. Through the good contacts which they have established in the European lifelong learning landscape, they have become a well-integrated part of European adult education networks.

South Eastern and Eastern Europe

Additional DVV project offices were opened in 1993 in Romania and Russia, in 1997 in Macedonia, and then in 1999 in Albania. Since 1994, the Institute has been providing support in Ukraine to a continuing education centre in the city of Skole (Lemberg district) where vocational training is combined with income-oriented work practice. Alongside computer skills, learners acquire vocational skills in trades such as bakery, carpentry, and tailoring. What the learners produce is marketed by the centre in neighbouring communities. The income helps to maintain the centre and also offers learners opportunities to earn while they learn. This centre, which goes by the motivating name of “Impulse”, is a good example of how DVV International build on projects started by local initiatives, in this case by the Volks hochschule of the German city of Regen.

A larger number of project partnerships were initiated in the year 2000 within the framework of a regional project entitled “Stabilizing Local and Regional Structures of Adult Education as a Contribution to Stability in South Eastern Europe” (or, as the project came to be known “Adult Education in South Eastern Europe”). With support from the DVV office in Albania, a DVV office was set up in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia and began operating in 2000.

Besides a strong accent on work in Bulgaria – a component that was intended to strengthen the work of our Bulgarian partners which the Institute had been sup porting already for a number of years – the new project, which was developed with funds that were procured in 1999 within the framework of the “Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe”, was designed to significantly expand the Institute’s work throughout the region. Small offices operated by one or two national adult educa- tors were opened in Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro, as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Kosovo. The offices in Romania and Macedonia were likewise integrated within the framework of the “Adult Education in South Eastern Europe” project. In addition to a variety of diverse measures that focused on the particular country where each office was located, the activities that were financed included lifelong learning festivals and learning weeks organized on a regional basis and certificate programmes in foreign languages and vocational training.

Two programmes were launched to advance democracy, civil society, and toler ance through education – the “History Project” and “Seeding for Multiethnic and Intercultural Learning Experiences (Smile)”, both of which promote intercultural exchange in seminars for history teachers and other multipliers from all countries of the region. In direct encounters, some of which took place at such sensitive historical sites as the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, participants experienced profound shifts in consciousness and changes in the way they perceived themselves and others. As multipliers, they were later able to pass on their new insights.

Central Asia and the Caucasus Region

The next step in the expansion of the Insti tute’s work came with the introduction of the “Stability Pact for Central Asia”, within the framework of which the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development created a special budget at the end of 2001 under the title “Anti Terrorism Pack age”. The Institute submitted a petition for funds from this budget arguing that only by learning and working together would people in the region be able to overcome prejudices, feelings of hatred, desire for revenge, and blind nationalism. From the very beginning, the project included a component of measures in Afghanistan. It was mainly conceived, however, as a regional project for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan – the Central Asian countries which were formerly part of the Soviet Union. A project office was opened by the Institute in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent.

DVV International Folder for Central Asia and the Caucasus Region

Although geographically speaking the region belongs to Asia, the problems which are the focus of adult education there have a Soviet background. They are rooted in the history of these countries as former Soviet republics and have become manifest in the process of transition and the rise of a divisive nationalism, in part artificial, as the countries search for a new identity. Economically the region is still in a satellite relationship with Russia, which has attracted millions of migrant workers from Central Asia. In the long run they may find common interests with southern and south eastern Asian countries, India, Thailand, or Indonesia, and pursue com mon tasks together in the area of adult education. Efforts to integrate Central Asian partners into the ASPBAE networks, however, have made little progress thus far.

Already in the year 2000, a regional project had been launched for the European Caucasus countries, all of which followed a basically similar course of development as former Soviet republics. Small DVV International offices were opened in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. At first, the Georgian office in Tbilisi was in charge of coordinating adult education initiatives in these three countries. Later on, the coor dination of activities there was transferred to the regional office in Tashkent.

Unlike in Central Asia, the Caucasus countries have a strong European identity. Accordingly, adult education organizations there have considerable interest in joining European initiatives in the sector. With its many European contacts, DVV International has been an ideal partner for them. There is hardly another organiza tion that has devoted such concentrated attention to supporting the development of adult education in the Caucasian region.

European and Islamic Cultural Dialogue in the Mediterranean

Since 2002, DVV International has stepped up cooperation with the countries of North Africa and the Middle East which border the Mediterranean. Under the head ing “European-Islamic Cultural Dialogue”, the Institute organized and implemented conferences and joint projects together with European organizations and partners from the entire Mediterranean region. The aim was to bring together adult educa tion organizations from the Mediterranean countries of Europe, Africa, and the Near East to define their common interests and create networks of transnational cooperation in the region. The high point of this initiative was a conference held in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in December of 2005, at which it was decided to establish a Mediterranean association of adult education, not for the sake of com petition, but to strengthen the adult education sector internationally alongside and in collaboration with the Euro pean Association of Education for Adults EAEA. Transnational initiatives in the greater Medi terranean area are of special significance in that they create room for impartial dialogue in a region beset by conflict with out excluding specific countries for political or cultural reasons. Based on the good working relationship which the dvv in ternational already maintains with all potential partners, the Institute has been very willing to assume an intermediary role in this context to facilitate joint measures that would otherwise be difficult to realize – initia tives, for example, among our Israeli and Arab colleagues.

Market in Morocco

Market in Morocco

Source: DVV International


Petitions for assistance have also been received from the continuing education and train ing sector in the Maghreb coun tries – Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Accordingly, in addi tion to stimulating regional ac tivities, we are also prepared to provide bilateral support in these countries to the extent possible. Last year, as a first step, we were able to open a small office in Morocco with funds from the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The main area of concentration during the first phase of the project is advocacy work. Contacts and discussions have already been initiated with decision makers and adult educators from NGOs, civil society organizations, universities, and research institutes. Plans exist to expand the work to include organizations from neighbouring countries, and to develop activities on the regional level.

EU Programmes

Nothing has changed the nature of the Institute’s work as much as the funding programmes of the European Union – particularly the programmes launched in the 1990s by the European Commission Directorate General responsible for “Educa tion and Culture”.


At first it did not at all appear as if adult education would be regarded by the European Union as a field of education that needed to be taken seriously. In 1994, when the first versions of the SOCRATES programme were made public, the term “adult education” was not even mentioned in the documents. An action line entitled “Adult Education and Other Pathways” was only introduced into the programme after a concentrated lobby effort on the part of a few convinced members of the European Parliament (Doris Pack, the current Chair of the Adult Education Land As sociation Saarland merits special mention here), the president of the DVV, Professor Rita Süssmuth, and the European Association for the Education of Adults, behind which our Institute was a driving force. Under the Grundtvig action title, a place for adult education was secured within the framework of the sec ond phase of the SOCRATES pro gramme established in 2000. In 2001, the European Commission issued an official Communica tion entitled “Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning A Real ity”. This policy statement, which is still valid today, is a benchmark throughout Europe for continuing education and training. It was supplemented in October 2006 with the Communication entitled “Adult Learning – it’s never too late to learn”. It is not possible to overestimate the political sig nificance of these position papers for our field.

Phare and Tacis

Two further European Commission initiatives besides Socrates and Leonardo that were significant for the work of DVV International and its part ners were PHARE and TACIS, both of which were established to assist the former socialist countries in their transition to democratic market-oriented societies. Fund ing from these programmes enabled the Institute to expand its work in Romania and Russia through projects that we conducted together with our British partner NIACE, the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education in England and Wales. Work in Romania concentrated on building and strengthening education centres throughout the country and helping them to form partnerships with German and British centres. The project in Russia focussed on the creation of a training programme in computer skills. Select model centres in very different corners of this vast country were equipped with computers in order to carry out the testing phase of the programme. These were the first European funds that were channelled into adult education projects. The projects would not have been possible without the commitment of our Institute, considering that in order to participate our partners in Central and Eastern Europe were required to mobilize matching funds – resources which they did not have at their disposal.

Socrates und Leonardo da Vinci

Our partners in Central and Eastern Europe at first did not have the wherewithal to participate in projects funded under the Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci action programmes sponsored by the Directorate General for “Education and Culture”. From a strategic point of view, however, it was critical for them to do so, for such projects were a chance for them to become a part of adult education networks all over Europe and to enhance the quality of their own work. It was therefore ex pedient and necessary for our Institute to include them in European projects from the start, and to help them become capable of participating. The list of projects in which DVV International was a partner or lead organization is long and provides enough material for another story which should be told another time. For the sake of illustration, mention can be made to such diverse project focuses as adult education in museums, action learning for local development, strengthening self-help efforts of ethnic minorities, improving parent-school relationships and emphasizing the role of the parental education to help children of ethnic minorities succeed in school (under the title “Home-School Liaison”), counteracting social exclusion, education for the elderly, the organization of learning festivals within the context of lifelong learning, tolerance and understanding toward our Muslim neighbours, vocational training for disadvantaged groups and especially for immigrants, school and vocational education for Roma groups, the development of a European Master of Adult Education programme, and life in multicultural societies.

Management of EU Projects

Projects financed by the European Union required a new approach, one that was completely different from the way we had been accustomed to proceeding. It was no longer simply a question of bilateral cooperation and assisting partners to carry out their plans or projects. It had now become necessary to mobilize a team of several partners from several countries that would work together to decide on a specific theme, compile the appropriate material, and then draft and test innovative concepts. The project was expected to generate added value not only in the form of technical progress, but above all in the gradual growing together of Europe. Unlikely partnerships began to develop – consortiums which would hardly have been possible if not for the conditions imposed by the European Commission. The idea of Portuguese or Spanish organizations teaming up with counterparts from Ireland, Denmark, Austria, Cyprus, and Lithuania was an absolute novelty in European adult education. For most participants, the Commission’s petition and granting procedures were new and unfamiliar. In the interest of transparency and equal opportunity, they were required to follow strict application rules and deadlines. The proposals had to contain a precisely calculated plan showing everything needed to complete the project, including exact number of work days, cost of material, number of participants, task distribution within the team, frequency of work sessions, time allotments for meetings and sem inars, and a specification in type and quantity of any tangible deliverables such as books or CD ROMs. For an application to be filed, every partner had to make a binding commitment for a specific financial contribution toward the cost of implementation. The projects had to be realized within a fixed time frame which at first was very limited. During the initial phase of the Socrates programme, projects normally ran for one to two years. Meanwhile they are normally ap proved for an average period of up to three years.

Andragogical Studies

Project proposals had to be assessed by independent evalu ators. The evaluation process was complex and time-consuming, and the outcome was uncertain. It was expedient to submit applications in English, even in cases where the partners had only a limited command of the language, to facilitate their processing by the evaluators. While deadlines for applicants were enforced to the minute, there were no binding time frames for the Commission to process applications or to make funds available once an application was approved. In short, the entire procedure was difficult to manage, and success was by no means guaranteed. Moreover, the Commission reserved the right, upon examination of reports and accounts, to reclaim funds for investments which it deemed ineligible under the funding programme.

Over the past few years, the Commission has learned from experience. Although application and implementation conditions are still strict, they are meanwhile more in line with the actual tasks and capabilities of adult education organizations. The National Agencies responsible for advising and supporting organizations in car rying out EU projects have played an important role in this connection.

But it has not only been a learning process for the Commission. The requirement to frame clear goals, to conduct precise needs assessments and to develop binding plans has increased the management competence of organizations which in the past were frequently guided more by feelings and emotions. There is no question that our own work has also profited from experience with EU projects.

The European Union and Development Cooperation

Our Institute unfortunately did not qualify for funding under European Commission’s special budget line for NGOs working with partners in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (title B7-6000). Under the Commission’s eligibility requirements for this programme, funds were available only for non-government organizations which could prove that their funds come from private sources.

None of our efforts to procure funds from the European Commission for work in Africa, Asia, or Latin America were successful. Applications were repeatedly denied on the argument that the administrative costs of our Institute were exclu sively covered by a fixed share of the resources it receives for its projects, even in cases where we had managed to find European partners capable of proving that their contribution would be covered by private resources. This is one example of how the administrative requirements of the Commission can stand in the way of a relevant and necessary contribution on the part of respectable and experienced organizations with close ties in partner countries. In the meantime, however, some of our partners have learned to apply for funds without our participation, and the Commission itself has become more flexible with its regulations.

Service Tender

An alternative source of financing which the Institute has begun to tap over the course of the past five years involves taking part in invitations to tender issued by the European Commission and other financing organizations such as the World Bank. This is a development which has also changed the character of our work. The projects in question mostly concern the design and development of basic education and literacy programmes, concepts for the organization of vocational training, or legislation proposals for continuing education.

Tendering for service contracts is basically a new field of activity for us. Until now our work involved developing project concepts together with our partners and assisting them in putting those concepts into practice. Tendering procedures, however, require us to elaborate bids to execute specific project schemes as defined by the financing organization. We must submit to a selection process based on convincing evidence of our professional expertise and an economically advanta geous proposal to carry out the work. The party awarded a contract under a tender is completely bound by the terms set by the contractor. When we participate in tenders, we enter into direct competition with organizations, which, as a rule, are profit-oriented consulting companies bidding for the contracts with completely dif ferent goals. In most cases, bids are not submitted by one organization alone, but by several organizations which come together to create a consortium. The parties in such a consortium negotiate the tasks, the deliverables, and also the distribution of funds. An organization with an exclusively non-profit-oriented tradition has unsure footing at first in such a field. It is a learning process with many hurdles, but also a chance to develop new qualifications. The aim, on the one hand, is to make a productive contribution in the partner country that cannot be carried out with customary project assistance provided by the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is an alternative that allows the Institute to expand its reach and enhance the impact of its work. The procedure, on the other hand, restricts the Institute’s accustomed level of independence.

As a matter of principle, before participating in such tenders, the Institute follows the practice of carefully reviewing all the conditions to ensure that the desired serv ices coincide with the goals pursued by both our partners and ourselves. We only enter a bid if we are completely confident of our competence to provide the services in question. Our efforts in this respect have been successful so far. Examples of services which we have been commissioned to perform include the organization of a focus-group specific basic education programme in Guinea, and the development of vocational training programmes in Tajikistan and Albania. Such services are in line with our qualifications and are also consistent with our goals.

What Has Changed, and What is Still the Same

Expanding our range of cooperation with the opening of Central and Eastern Eu rope and with European partners has not been to the detriment of DVV International’s commitments in the Third World. At no time was there any decrease in cooperation with African, Asian, and Latin American partners in terms of project numbers and budget figures because of our European obligations. For DVV International there has never been any question that its work can only be expanded to new fields of international cooperation in addition to and alongside its commitments in develop ing countries.

By widening its efforts to include the countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, the Institute has broadened the scope and nature of its work. The former socialist countries all had education and training systems that were fairly well developed and universally accessible. Large sectors of the population also had access to higher education.

Unlike in developing countries, there was no broad-based need for functional literacy programmes and adult basic education. Interest from the start concentrated instead on employment-oriented vocational training. People wanted to acquire the skills they would need for the new types of jobs that were emerging in the changing world of business in their societies. So-called management and marketing courses, the type covered in Germany by the business or commercial training sector, were in demand everywhere. There was also a considerable demand for courses in western foreign languages. Since institutions of adult education in all of these countries were required to turn their facilities into cost-covering ventures, enrolment in many cases became a financial burden that learners could only bear with strong family solidarity or willingness to go into debt at least temporarily to improve their future prospects of a better income.

Unlike in developing countries, the German Volkshochschulen play a much more direct role in our Eastern European projects. There are many similar programmes and courses and there is a much higher degree of directly relevant expertise. The various Volkshochschulen and their staffs also have many more contacts in these countries that can be used in the context of our project work. A good example of this kind of cooperation can be seen in the organization of exchanges and joint activities related to continuing education and training within the framework of twin city partnerships.

On the other hand, the dividing line between industrialized countries and countries of the developing world has become increasingly blurred. Most of the former Eastern Bloc countries and the republics that once constituted the Soviet Union are still able to benefit from the education standards that previously existed there. In many places, however, their infrastructures are stagnating and deteriorating. And it takes only a cursory look at the dramatic gap that exists between rich and poor, the unequal distribution of income, the progressive marginalization of already disadvantaged groups, and the growing lack of education opportunities for large sectors of the population to realize that these countries are increasingly exhibiting the same kind of indicators that characterize developing countries. Accordingly, the tasks of adult education are growing more and more similar in all the regions where we work.

Despite all the differences that exist in regard to countries, cultures, and social conditions, the challenge is still the same: to foster greater social and political participation through the transmission of knowledge and know-how. Both here in Germany as well as in developing countries, the purpose of adult education as we understand it is to serve those people who face disadvantage and exclusion in their societies. We have always maintained that adult education alone does not suffice to solve the problems of our globe and its peoples. But it is also clear that without adult education there can be no lasting solutions that rest on solid foundations of public conviction. It is hardly too much to maintain that without adult education it would not be possible for the countries of this world to sustain democratic forms of government shaped by their citizens.


The German Adult Education Association’s Institute for International Cooperation has been in existence now for forty years. That is indeed a long time. We have seen that the Association’s international work goes back even farther. It is no small accomplishment for an organization such as ours to maintain its position in the field for so long, and to keep on growing and taking on new challenges in spite of the fact that adult education is not a main priority of its sponsors or a major point on national or international policy-making agendas.

I have often maintained that it was a question of timing forty years ago that the DVV was able to establish an internationally-oriented institute of its own not just for the purpose of sharing ideas and experience in adult education with adult educators and organizations from other countries, but also to help support their work with technical and financial resources in addition to expertise. It was a ques tion of the right people being involved at the right moment and under the right circumstances.

The idea of creating a comparable institute today under the same working conditions would not seem feasible. The conditions would be far too difficult. It would involve too much of a risk in a situation of financial uncertainty to hire personnel and assume the obligations imposed by labour law. Competition would be too strong and newcomers would not be welcomed by established institutions. The overall concept would not be concrete enough and the targeted outputs not sufficiently measurable or verifiable to be successful with petitions for funds from the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation, the Foreign Office, or the European Union. Forty years ago, however, it was so important for Germany to establish international relations and gain recognition that ethical considerations rather than a firm planning framework were enough to justify and launch such a bold venture.

Looking back, much has been accomplished over the years. DVV International has become a key player in the field of adult education with a highly-respected international reputation. Its services are well-recognized and in high demand. The modest undertaking that started out in 1969 with only a handful of employees has grown into an Institute with a staff of more than 140 dedicated workers in Bonn and throughout the world. Its annual budget today is fifteen times what it was at the start. The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is still by far the Institute’s main source of funds, but over the years we have gained the financial support of several other institutions including the European Union with funds from various programmes, the Foreign Office, the Ministry for Education and Research, the Federal Press Office, and the World Bank. We have recently even received funds from the Netherlands for a project in Ethiopia. Support from these sources has made it possible for the Institute to consolidate and expand its efforts. Many agencies and institutions seek the technical expertise of the Institute. We are frequently consulted on question of adult education by the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development as well as by the authorities of the European Com mission and UNESCO. Our contributions are valued by the European Association of Education for Adults (EAEA) and the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE). We have many close contacts with colleagues from other organizations and institutes which are also actively involved in international cooperation.

The recognition and respect that our Institute enjoys oblige us to continue to do our utmost in the future to live up to our reputation and to maintain and develop our position. There is no question that this will require intensified efforts – efforts that we are prepared to invest, relying on our decades of experience combined with a necessary spirit of innovation. We often hear that the world is becoming a smaller place. But, at the same time, the tasks of adult education are growing. We are called upon, together with our partners in Europe and around the world, to take on the challenge of these tasks. As during the past forty years, the sector of lifelong learning will be able to continue to count on the full support of DVV International.


1 Helmut Becker, “Worldwide Education – New dimensions in education and training”, 1966, in Adult Education and Development, vol. 43, Bonn, 1994, p. 350.
2 Martin Wagenschein, “Adult Education through Public Dialogue in Latin America”, November 1973, UNESCO <unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0000/000062/006227eb.pdf>
3 Chris Duke, “DVV and ASPBAE – the Early Years”, in Adult Education and Development, vol. 60, Bonn, 2003, p. 85.
4 Chris Duke, “The Year OF the Sheep – International Cooperation for Adult Education,” in Adult Education and Development, vol. 60, Bonn, 2003, p. 30.
5 <http://www.pria.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3&Itemid=8&lang=en
6 K. Sivadasan Pillai , “KANFED and the Adult Education Scene in Kerala”, Adult Education and Development, vol. 60, Bonn, 2003, p. 148. See also P.N. Panicker, “KANFED – A Private Organization Promoting Adult Education” in Adult Education and Development, vol. 60, Bonn, 2003, p. 141-145.
7 Helmuth Dolff, “Volkshochschulen and their international work” in Adult Education and Development, vol. 43, Bonn, 1994, p. 357.
8 See “German Adult Education Association Department for Adult Education in Developing Countries”, (1971), in Adult Education and Development, vol. 60, Bonn, 2003, p. 358-360.
9 Translated from: “Deutscher Volkshochschul-Verband: 25 Jahre Institut für Internationale Zusammenarbeit des DVV”, Bonn 1994, p. 12–13. 

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