Paul Bélanger

Paul Bélanger, President of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) reminded us of the three challenges for Adult Education: Access for all to education opportunities; financing of further education, especially in times of financial crisis; and the task of making clear the individual as well as the social added value that can be gained through Adult Education.

On to New Horizons

As president of the International Council for Adult Education, I need first, on behalf of the world community of adult learners and educators, to congratulate the DVV for what you represent in the world today, for your achievements and leadership in the promotion of the right to learn throughout adult life. Every year, nearly 10 million adults in Germany are able to exercise their right to learn on a self-determined
basis through the Adult Education Centres, the Volkshochschulen (VHS).

The VHS are popular Adult Education Centres through their large and diversified public as well as through their vision of learning which answers the real need of people in health, in language training, in all the arts, in environmental issues, to introduce themselves to the new technologies or to master basic literacy and numeracy. You have resisted against falling in a reductionist vision of Adult Education.

I need to congratulate the DVV and the VHS also for your unique international solidarity, supporting Adult Education movements, networks and organizations on all continents, from Asia to Africa, from Latin America to the Arab world, not for- getting Central and Eastern Europe. You are giving our Council, the ICAE, steady support in order for us and our members to pursue our advocacy mission at global and regional levels for the right be able to learn for all adults wherever they live on this planet. You are thus helping to create space for South-South, East-West and North-South cooperation.

Three Challenges

I see in your prospective paper three challenges facing the Adult Education net- works all around the world. Accessibility is the first challenge. In the world of rapid changes in the courses of people’s lives on all the continents, all citizens should have the opportunity to develop themselves throughout their life at whatever age, to acquire the knowledge and know-how to better pilot their life transition, to improve their quality of life, to develop their potential, to experience the joy of learning. In that perspective, no area of learning should be left behind. The VHS have created, over the years, an open and friendly public image of adult learning, an image that has made it possible for so many women and men to cross the doors of your centres every week and feel at home there, in spite of strong apprehension they may harbour against any formal education institutions.

In that context, the rise of fees to attend evening courses is becoming a huge issue all over the world, because it can silently but deeply transform Adult Education participation in so many countries, Norway, Finland, England, Canada, The Netherlands and possibly Germany. Hence the second challenge: the financial factor. Research has demonstrated again and again that Adult Education provision, based on pure market logic, tends to reproduce the inequality constructed through initial formal education. The financial factor has two effects: The direct one of clos- ing the door of Adult Education Centres to large numbers of adults, in particular those who have less resources. And a second indirect effect is what I would like to call the “substitution function”. With this term I am thinking of the serious risk of slowly replacing freely chosen learning activities by obligatory employability courses because they are paid for entirely by the employment offices, accompanied by the danger of turning open cultural or health related activities into expensive exclusive activities.

Of course work-related Adult Education and training activities have a key role to play both for the economy and for the people searching to exercise their right to work. And we have policies and institutions and mechanisms to that end. The issue is to protect the budget and the resources for non-work-related adult learning. The issue is that otherwise the Adult Education Centres might change their character by silently and inadvertently shifting their programs and their public.

General Adult Education, the popular or community education, what the Nordic countries call Oplysning, enlightenment, or Folkbildning, is not an expense, but an investment yielding high returns. General Adult Education is not a luxury or a generosity of governments in period of affluence, but a necessity.

This then is my third challenge: We need to demonstrate the benefit of general Adult Education in the various domains of human activity. Taking a very significant example: We have to get evidence of the benefit of enhancing people’s health competency: Through its prevention effect, it reduces the occurrence of illness and hence the demand for health care, as was shown on the African continent over the last five years, when the HIV-SIDA pandemic has been significantly reduced through intensive health information, education and communication interventions. Similarly, increased health literacy within a population makes it possible to maintain the quality of health care while reducing the time of medical visits. Indeed health related popular education is one of the greatest factors of productivity of our health welfare system by making its emerging participatory approach realistic, not for a C few, but for all.

Paul Bélanger





Paul Bélanger
Source: Heidi Scherm




We also have to collect factual evidence of the improvement of school achievement of children through parental education and the direct effect of parent participation in general Adult Education, an effect being produced not only through the increased mentoring capacity of parents, but also by creating a positive image of education within the immediate family culture. We have to produce evidence also on the impact of an increased participation of the aging population in Adult Education: impact on the autonomy thus gained by the senior citizens thus becoming less dependent on social services, but also and even more important the quality of life of the whole community.

Closing Ceremony (Baul Bélanger, Alan Smith, Ekkerhard Nuissl von Rein, Rita Süssmuth, Klaus Meisel, Dieter Rossmann, Constanze Abratzky)



Closing Ceremony (Baul Bélanger, Alan Smith, Ekkerhard Nuissl von Rein, Rita Süssmuth, Klaus Meisel, Dieter Rossmann, Constanze Abratzky)
Source: Heidi Scherm


The same is true of the effect of popular or general education and consequently of VHS on environmental consciousness and the vitality of civil society.

Yes, popular or general education should not be traded off. It is one of the best investments governments can make to sustain an efficient, and therefore participatory welfare state. It is an investment yielding unmistakable returns, but we have to demonstrate it to all our decision-makers. By supporting general Adult Education and making it accessible to all, we build an inclusive learning society which will yield results in all areas of activities, including the economy and the world of work. It is a concrete recognition of the human dignity and creativity of all women and men, whatever be the level of formal schooling they may have had.


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