Chisinau and Mannheim: City twinning for fostering adult learning and education

The Municipal Centre for Adult Learning and Education in Chisinau, Moldova, started its first courses in July 2023, while its German counterpart, the Abendakademie (Evening Academy) Mannheim has a history of 120 years. Mannheim and Chisinau are twinned-cities and the two ALE-institutions have started a close cooperation of sharing and learning to strengthen community-based adult learning and education.

Signing of the MOU by Susanne Deß, Director of Mannheimer Abendakademie, Angela Cutasevici, Vice Mayor of Chisinau for social issues, and Natalia Zaiat, director of the CMIEA

The second week of September 2023 turned into a special learning experience for a group of educators from the municipality of Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova – a study visit to the Abendakademie in Mannheim. The group included the Vice Mayor of Chisinau, responsible for social issues, two specialists from the municipal Directorate for Education, Youth and Sports and two employees of the newly established Municipal Centre for Adult Learning and Education in Chisinau (CMIEA). The group also included DVV International Regional Director for Eastern Neighbours, as well as the Director of the Moldova Country Office.

The aim of the study visit was to learn, from the Abendakademie in Mannheim, strategies and approaches in developing a city-supported Adult Education Centre as a community key institution of further education. Since 1989, Mannheim has been twinned with Chisinau, and the two cities have a good understanding between them. The specific cooperation between the Abendakademie and CMIEA as city structures started in February 2023, when the first workshop was conducted in Chisinau by Director Susanne Deß. Prior to this cooperation, in 2021, Vice Mayor Angela Cutasevici participated in a study visit to German VHSs as part of a group of Ukrainian and Moldovan stakeholders.

The programme from 9-16 September included a wide variety of topics: from cooperation of the ALE Centre with city structures and stakeholders to planning and implementing recognised and new programmes; from financial cooperation with educators and celebrities in order to deliver must-have as well as innovative educational activities, to using verified models to experiment and look into the newest challenges.

The impressive history of 120 years of community service that the Abendakademie has behind it may sound unattainable for CMIEA in Chisinau, that started its first courses in early June of 2023. But having a model of endurance through not always favourable times (like the recent pandemic) with modernised approaches in response to current challenges, without reducing the scope of serving about 1500 beneficiaries daily – proving that consistency and dedication make the difference – allows the young ALE Centre in Moldova to have high aspirations. 

Education should be inviting, relevant and fun – in a good balance

Development of a wide variety of courses for adults, primarily to support their better economic and social integration, is now a most urgent management need for the visitors from Moldova. The educators managing the CMIEA were advised that, in order to involve people in learning, quality should become an inner-institutional credo rather than having to rely on any external factor. Certification of courses, for example, is not always a pre-condition of success, since excessive certification can sometimes pay only lip service to true quality. Education should be inviting, relevant and fun, in a good balance, so that people gladly come to the VHS or other learning institution. The Corona pandemic proved that even in Germany (Mannheim included), with its long ALE traditions, people lose the habit of attending courses. Rebuilding those habits takes time. This is a good lesson for CMIEA, showing that it must develop offers that build trust and loyalty and and have the support of trainers and beneficiaries. 

Another lesson learned is that working alone can never be as rewarding as building viable networks. In the young democracy of Moldova, the reliability of partners is sometimes questioned, and a one-actor show is very much in vogue. Even if it’s not easy, creating networks of educators and supporters is not impossible. Several approaches used in Germany include: strengthening professionalisation of educators, caring about schedules and other matters of convenience for the learners, as well as conducting networking and recognition events. 

Memorandum of cooperation to continue mutual exchange

A special aspect of the visit was a dialogue with the newly elected Mayor of Mannheim, who paid a visit to Abendakademie and interacted with the Moldovan guests, emphasising the interest for consolidating the cooperation between Mannheim and Chisinau. 

The culmination of the week of interaction was the signing of a memorandum of cooperation between Abendakademie in Mannheim and Chisinau Municipal Adult Learning and Education Centre to continue the mutual exchange and possibly to even pilot some online courses. 

Cooperation between the two twinned-municipalities is a multidimensional one. Adding the ALE component and support in institutional development is indeed a substantial contribution, with best practice guidelines from an EU municipality to a metropole of an EU candidate, with the aim of turning its most sustainable asset, people of various ages, into a population that can learn how to learn and make their own city and country a more modern and better place to live while improving on all levels. 

The author

Adela Scutaru-Gutu is country director of DVV International in Moldova.
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