In the course of the discussions speakers and participants dwelled on four key areas:
Recognising the diversity of learning
“Learning can happen in so many different places and we have to continue to demonstrate that,” stressed MEP Julie Ward. The audience heard testimonies from different sectors of learning, all crucial in their own right for the development of skills required by individuals across different life contexts, including adult education, higher education, VET, non-formal education as well as the less obvious field of sports. Bart Verschueren, Coordinator of EU Sport Link and representative of the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA), emphasised the idea of physical literacy explaining: “sports help to include people in society and promote well-being. It is an essential part of lifelong learning.”
Investing in European cooperation
MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen made a strong plea to Member States to see the value of European cooperation and pooling of resources when it comes to skills policies: “We hope that we can encourage the Member States to see that lifelong learning is a European issue.” She added that it is a macroeconomic issue and so mechanisms such as the European Semester have a role to play. Margarida Segard, Vice-President of the European Association of Institutes for Vocational Training (EVBB), recommended further connecting the European and national levels in order to truly foster innovation.
Mainstreaming skills and policy synergies
Johanna Koponen, representative of the Finnish Presidency, emphasised its interest to promoting continuous learning by taking synergies between sectors further, notably through the first-ever joint Education and Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting on 8 November. Roman Horvath from DG GROW stressed the skills needs from the perspective of industry, explaining that both technical and soft skills are required. However, this needs to be reflected within the institutions through more robust cooperation, recalled Lucie Susova, Vice-President of the Lifelong Learning Platform: “I hope that the (new Commission) President will mainstream skills issues holistically instead of having silos between DGs where they find it difficult to cooperate.” Strengthening cooperation between different sectors of education, formal and non-formal, was likewise highlighted by several speakers including Fabrice Gonet, Interim Secretary-General of the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) and Gina Ebner, Secretary-General of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA). Learning also needs to happen in a more multidisciplinary way, taking account of psychology, neuroscience and through a more integrated research agenda, commented Mirela Mazalu, Secretary-General of the European University College Association (EucA).
Promoting skills not only for the workforce
The idea that education and lifelong learning are not only for the acquisition of labour market skills was evoked throughout the debate. Mónika Képe-Holmberg from DG EAC said this is clear in the cooperation between Member States, where the ET2020 framework deals with issues such as inclusion, inequalities and innovation in education. Ms Ebner explained EAEA’s Life Skills for Europe project which offers a holistic approach: “In our project, we developed a framework that identifies skills that every person needs in their personal and professional life. Education providers can adapt it to their own needs, starting from the learner’s needs.” Francesca Caena from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) also stressed the different facets of the Life Competence (LifeComp) framework, currently under development, which conceives learners as agents of change, integrating cross-cutting skills such as critical thinking, intercultural understanding and offering “the advantage of straddling employment, education and lifelong learning”.
The Lifelong Learning Platform and the European Association for the Education of Adults look forward to continuing constructive dialogue with the new European Commission and Parliament to embed a holistic approach to skills policies in the years to come.
Initiated in 2015 by the Lifelong Learning Platform and the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA), and chaired by MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (Finland, EPP), the Interest Group on Lifelong Learning brings together civil society representatives and MEPs to discuss key issues connected to lifelong learning in Europe.
Text: Interest Group on Lifelong LearningPhotos: Lifelong Learning Platform