EAEA General Assembly and Annual Conference 2019 were held in Vartov, Copenhagen

EAEA General Assembly and Annual Conference 2019: Life skills bring a holistic approach to adult education

We need to be more flexible and creative in our learning provision, if we want to increase participation in adult education. Fun might be the key, as well as a holistic approach to learning, said our speakers at the Annual Conference in Copenhagen.

The EAEA General Assembly and Annual Conference 2019 were held at historical Vartov, a former workplace of Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig and the epicentre of adult education in Denmark.

At the General Assembly EAEA members elected a new Executive Board and a President. Per Paludan Hansen from the Danish Adult Education Association (DAEA) finished his six-year-long period as President and Uwe Gartenschlaeger from DVV was appointed the new President of EAEA. In recent years, Gartenschlaeger has worked as DVV’s Regional Director in Laos, and is starting as Deputy Director of DVV International in August.

Uwe Gartenschlaeger talks about his expectations as a new EAEA President on a video filmed in Copenhagen.

Executive Board standing in front of Grundtvig statue

The new Executive Board pictured in front of the Grundtvig statue in Vartov, from left: Alex Stevenson, Karin Tudal, Dina Soeiro, Klaudius Šilhár, Benjamin Hendriksen, Gro Svennebye, Uwe Gartenschlaeger, Monica Widman Lundmark, Galina Veramejchyk, Bernhard Grämiger and Lauri Tuomi. Not pictured: George A. Koulaouzides.

We need to find the hidden potential

The Annual Conference focused on topics of life skills and participation. Anna Nikowska from the European Commission presented results of the latest Adult Education Survey and Labour Force Survey and stated that participation in formal and non-formal learning has generally increased in EU countries. Also the participation in informal learning, for example learning from friends or learning using media, has increased, particularly among low qualified adults.

“There is a hidden potential in those who participate in informal learning and want to learn. We need to reach out to them”, says Nikowska.

Employers also play an important role in increasing participation, because people spend a lot of time at workplaces, but they should not just provide training for the employees who are already highly qualified. Nikowska also noted that there is a clear correlation between participation and guidance. Those countries that provide good guidance have better participation rates.

People often think that bad experience in formal education has an impact on participation in non-formal learning but according to studies, it does not have a great influence. More important reasons for not participating are cost, lack of time and motivation.

Fun might be the key to learning

Lene Rachel Andersen, author of the book “The Nordic Secret” made a case how liberal adult education has deep historical roots in holistic development and democracy in the Nordic countries. Andersen stated that adult education should help people to adjust to new realities, as it has historically done. Broader purposed learning is needed now more than ever.

Andersen used the German terms “Erziehung” (lifting up people) and “Bildung” (enlightenment) to describe what should be the goal of adult education.

“If we don’t have access to “Bildung” we are not going to be able to sustain human rights and democracy and find solutions for climate change”, underlined Andersen. “We should ask ourselves, how can we get people to want to understand more. Fun might be the key, not job skills.”

Lene Andersen

Lene Rachel Andersen discussing how can we encourage a holistic approach to learning.

Learning about healthcare while doing needlework

“The life skills approach is about building a curriculum based on the needs of the learner and turning the traditional model of teaching upside down”, said Gina Ebner, EAEA Secretary-General. From a policy point of view, the life skills concept is broadening the concept of basic skills. Alex Stevenson from Learning and Work Institute (UK) said that more flexible, innovative and creative ways to learn basic skills are needed:

“One finding of the Citizen’s Curriculum project in the UK was that some of the wider capabilities like health and financial skills can provide a way into teaching reading and writing.”

Learning and Work Institute has used the life skills approach in the UK, and it was also part of the Life Skills for Europe -project, where the life skills approach was further developed in European co-operation.

picture of a flower with texts on each petal and stem

Life Competence Flower used by the Danish Adult Education Association

Stine Hohwu-Christensen from DAEA presented the Danish version of the life skills model, “the Life Competence Flower” which has added creativity to the European model. Hohwu-Cristensen told about the courses organised for Danish and refugee women:

“Even though the focus is on needlework, there are a lot of other things happening: forming a Danish network, being involved in the local community, being introduced to the parliament, improving language skills and getting to know the health care system.”

But how can we tell the funders that adult education needs to be fun? Trine Bendix Knudsen, secretary general of DAEA linked the answer to motivation:

“Fun and joy are closely linked to motivation. That way you can explain the importance of fun to the funders. The whole idea of non-formal learning is that you are willing to learn, otherwise you don’t learn.”

Per Paludan Hansen interviewing participants

Per Paludan Hansen interviewing participants

A common approach is needed

In the discussion among participants, it was pointed out that adult education providers are proud of the diversity in the field. However, there are some areas where a common approach is needed. Life skills could be one of them. We also need to keep up to date with the fast development of our society, because in five years’ time, we may need different life skills than we do now.

“Life skills could give us a framework to explain more easily what we are doing in adult education”, said Uwe Gartenschlaeger in his closing words. “If we can keep working on this and combine it with the inspiring concept of Bildung then maybe this could give us more visibility at a European and global level.”


The new Executive Board of EAEA

Uwe Gartenschlaeger, DVV International, Germany
Bernhard Grämiger, Swiss Federation of Adult Learning (SVEB), Switzerland
Benjamin Hendriksen, AONTAS, Ireland
George A. Koulaouzides, Hellenic Adult Education Association, Greece
Klaudius Šilhár, AIVD, Slovakia
Dina Soeiro, APCEP – Associação Portuguesa para a Cultura e Educação Permanente, Portugal
Alex Stevenson, Learning and Work Institute, UK
Gro Svennebye, The Norwegian Association for Adult Learning (NAAL), Norway
Karin Tudal, La Lique De L’Enseignement, France
Lauri Tuomi, The Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation (KVS), Finland
Galina Veramejchyk, IPA, Belarus
Monica Widman Lundmark, Swedish Adult Education Association, Sweden

Text: Sari Pohjola  Photos: Sari Pohjola

Links to picture galleries of the General Assembly, Grundtvig Awards Ceremony and the Annual Conference

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