Mariella Ciani and Fabrizio Lava received the award from EAEA president Uwe Gartenschlaeger

EAEA Grundtvig Award winner: taking learning out of the classroom in Italy

In 2019 EAEA GRUNDVIG AWARD was celebrating the development of life skills in non-formal adult education. The applications we received demonstrate brilliant examples of how non-formal education can motivate adults to participate in learning, support their personal growth and well-being, and boost positive self-beliefs, changing lives of individuals and impacting society. Today we will talk about the winners of the national projects category, the project “Street University”, coordinated by Unieda, an association of popular universities in Italy, an innovative approach in breaking walls between adult learners and education.

The objective of the project was to address the part of the society that is considered functionally illiterate, in other words, incapable of managing daily living and employment tasks that require reading and writing skills beyond the basic level. The problem which the project tackled was bringing those adults to education, dealing with challenges of providing learning experiences that are both convenient, appealing and meaningful to learners. We asked Mariella Ciani from USE, University without age, one of the partners of the project, to give more details about the project and here is what we learned about it:

What was the main purpose of the project?

“The project re-introduces citizens to the “pleasure” of learning and being part of a community through a training course that places the individual and not the program at the centre of the educational activity. With the project ‘Street University’ it was intended to set up a widespread collaborative network, with the idea of becoming a service that identifies learners’ needs and responds to the demand to improve the living contexts of participants through leisure and culture. One cannot in any way be a part of the knowledge society, without constant learning throughout life; in the world where the only permanent thing is change, not only it is necessary to learn continually but, above all, learn how to learn. The free participation, the high relevance of the themes proposed and the informal atmosphere are all the elements that contributed to increasing at least curiosity in the most sceptical and therefore fostering communication. The proposed model can be easily replicated in any context and is proposed as an example of good practices to start a useful path to tackle the issue of both functional and structural illiteracy.”

Learning about tablet and smartphone apps helped older adults expand their abilities in technology use

How did the project foster the life skills approach?

“During the project, we designed and promoted a large number of informative meetings in non-formal environments, e.g bookstores, parks, and bars, where we talked about the knowledge and skills needed for conscious participation in active citizenship. The content of the meetings was evidently useful for learners not only to start growing in terms of knowledge and skills but also to combat social isolation, to get out of which is fundamental to open oneself to new experiences and increase chances of social mobility. It should be kept in mind that non-formal learning activities were designed to foster personal growth and development, social and professional inclusion of participants. Non-formal learning uses participatory, learner-centred, and modulated methods; thrives to be responsive and adaptive to ever-changing needs of learners and the environment they are in.”

From the emotional point of view, the most exciting course was laughter yoga in prison because the people involved were able to release their emotions and establish positive relationships with others.

What was the best practice learnt from this project that you want to share? 

“We organized workshops on the history of countries of our participants, laboratories for the conscious use of tablets and smartphones, meetings on financial education, consumer rights, health education, and so on. From the emotional point of view, the most exciting course was laughter yoga in prison because the people involved were able to release their emotions and establish positive relationships with others. From an educational point of view, the most successful course was the conscious use of apps. The participants were elderly people who normally used smartphones only to call and send messages. Learning to use apps has opened up a world for them. Initially, we observed a certain difficulty, then there was joy and wonder of these people. Over time, learners began to discuss, exchange impressions and opinions, creating a friendly setting, establishing relationships that allowed the formation of a united group. The thirst for knowledge led to the request for a further course to investigate the risks associated with the use of social media.”

Education should consider wider dimensions than sharing of factual information: it is also about understanding oneself and others


Street University.

  • Category: Winner of national projects
  • Coordinator: UNIEDA
  • Country: Italy
  • Focus: functional illiterate, active citizenship
  • Life skills approach: providing learning opportunities to increase adults’ active citizenship, professional and personal skills
  • Resources: video; website


Text: Aizhana KhasanovaPhotos: EAEA, The Street University

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