03.12.2021

Well-being in learning brings return on investment

The meeting of the Lifelong Learning Interest Group on 1 December 2021, taking place online and chaired by MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen, was held under the theme “Funding Education for Wellbeing”.

A high-level panel composed of Ema Perme, representative of the Slovenian Presidency, Dr Borhene Chakroun, UNESCO Director for Lifelong Learning Policies, and Dorota Sienkiewicz, Senior Policy Coordinator at Euro Health Net, introduced the discussion. Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the OECD, then presented new data on Funding for Wellbeing. MEP Radka Maxová closed the debate.

The New European Agenda for Adult Learning promotes well-being

Ema Perme highlighted the recent adoption of the New European Agenda for Adult Learning as one of the most important achievements of the Slovenian Presidency. “Well-being will be one of the cornerstones in the work on adult education in the next decade.” She stressed that adult education in Europe is still very fragmented, but that it nevertheless has a central role in addressing megatrends such as demographic change, digitalisation and climate change. “We need to focus on the quality of adult education, raising awareness among all stakeholders and promoting inclusion and equal opportunities,” said Ms Perme.

Ema Perme, Slovenian Presidency, highlighted the importance of the New European Agenda for Adult Learning

‘Whole-government approach’ needed to boost investment into learning systems

Dr Borhene Chakroun, Director for Lifelong Learning policies at UNESCO, said that citizens are facing a number of major transitions and uncertainties related to societal aspects. These include not only the green and digital transitions, but also demographic and economic changes, some of which are related to the current COVID-19 pandemic. “If we look at how education systems around the world are responding, we find that the resources allocated to education are less than 3% of GDP. We need a ‘whole-government approach’”.

If we look at how education systems around the world are responding to the green and digital transitions, but also demographic and economic changes, we find that the resources allocated to education are less than 3% of GDP.

“The stimulus packages offer an opportunity to invest in education. Let’s make sure that this is in line with the Paris Declaration. The Declaration on ‘A Global Call for Investing in the Futures of Education’ aims to sustainably strengthen the financing of education systems to meet the challenges of the present and the future. For well-being in and through education, we need to focus on three things: mobilisation of resources, equitable use of resources, and efficiency of use,” pointed out Dr Chakroun.

Learning for well-being promotes public health

Dorota Sienkiewicz looked at the debate from a public health perspective. Euro Health Net had analysed the national recovery and resilience plans and found that while biomedical research and disease management had taken centre stage in these funds, they did not pay sufficient attention to resilience aspects, such as using community care, primary care, etc. “Disease prevention still plays a minor role in public funding. There would be a lot of potential here, for example in digital health literacy, mental health literacy and social skills” and “this requires working across sectors.”

There would be a lot of potential for disease prevention, for example in digital health literacy, mental health literacy and social skills. This requires working across sectors.

MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen stressed that we put too much emphasis on the individual and not enough on society. “We should really focus on people when we think about what causes health inequalities.” Focusing on technology and pharmaceutical solutions in the current crisis does not meet people’s needs, and “we need lifelong learning that promotes equity, sustainability and social well-being.”

Learning is primarily a social-relational enterprise

The results of the latest OECD Survey on Social and Emotional Skills go in the same direction and highlight that the mindset we develop is the best predictor of learning success. Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, said that “Learning is not a transactional enterprise, but primarily a social-relational one. The decline in social and emotional skills between 10- and 15-year-olds found in the survey is a sign that education systems are robbing students of their motivation to learn, creativity and curiosity. This gap widens with age”.

It is the quality of relationships within the school that determines well-being.

“It is also clear that art activities can enhance students’ curiosity and creativity, as well as their well-being and that positive interactions lead to better outcomes. Interestingly, the pressure placed on students by learning environments, teachers or parents is not the only predictor of student well-being. On the contrary, we can find high levels of well-being among students in highly competitive learning environments. It is the quality of relationships within the school that determines well-being.”

Andreas Schleicher, OECD, presented the results of the latest OECD Survey on Social and Emotional Skills

“The distinction between curricular and extra-curricular activities is a thing of the past,” said Mr Schleicher. “Integrating different learning spaces is a good solution, especially in a situation where we see a trend towards commodification of education. In recent years, we have increasingly narrowed teaching and taken away many tasks from teachers that actually make teaching fulfilling. We need to return to a ‘whole of society approach’ to education.”

Demand for quality of learning and targeted funding

The speakers agreed that several factors are needed to promote well-being in lifelong learning. Stable funding seems a necessity in this scenario, especially when it comes to education for vulnerable groups and non-formal adult learning in particular. Public funds need to be focused on those most in need of developing their skills and abilities. On this topic, civil society organisations are encouraged to take lifelong learning to where people are: participation in lifelong learning tend to increase where this happens. “If we don’t learn, we don’t exist,” said Ms Perme.

If we don’t learn, we don’t exist.

Elisa Gambardella, Vice-President of the Lifelong Learning Platform, asked in an intervention from the audience whether the European Pillar of Social Rights and its principle number one on the right to lifelong learning should also mean a political guarantee for funding. “How can we ensure that when private companies invest in transversal skills, it is in the public interest?” She said that public funding of education should be expanded, also to limit dependence on private funding of education.

Adults don’t enjoy adult learning until they try it. If you introduce lifelong learning to people in a different way, they will see the benefits of it.

Russell Hogarth, University of Central Lancashire and CEO of a health company, said that many people are not aware of their health. One of the aims of his organisation is to organise “health events” that inform people about health issues and direct them to prevention programmes. Through this programme, he has seen people from marginalised groups whom they had helped become teachers themselves. From his personal and professional experience, “adults don’t enjoy adult education until they try it. If you introduce lifelong learning to people in a different way, they will see the benefits of it. Lifelong learning has been perceived in such a way that people think that lifelong learning is only related to work, but in fact it is related to life and managing one’s life.”

Including all in European lifelong learning

MEP Radka Maxová closed the debate with a plea for better access to education, but also for stronger exchange and networking at European level on good practices. “Everyone regardless of socioeconomic background should be provided with good quality education. For this, we need collaboration and open dialogue at the EU level. The EU should foster the exchange of good practices as well as promote investment in technologies.”

Let’s use the momentum created by the launch of the New European Agenda for Adult Learning and make sense of the tools we already have.

Susana Oliveira, Lifelong Learning Platform, said that the momentum for lifelong learning should be used with the tools available.

Susana Oliveira, Vice-President of the Lifelong Learning Platform, concluded the session highlighting that learners should be seen as agents of change. “We need to address the fragmentation of lifelong learning in Europe while embracing the diversity of the lifelong learning landscape. Let’s use the momentum created by the launch of the New European Agenda for Adult Learning and make sense of the tools we already have.”

Initiated by the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) and by the Lifelong Learning Platform (LLLP) together with a number of MEPs, the European Parliament’s Interest Group on Lifelong Learning brings together civil society representatives and MEPs to discuss key issues connected to lifelong learning with strong emphasis on adult education. Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, Finland) serves as the Chair of the Interest Group, supported by Vice-Chair Dace Melbarde (ECR, Latvia).

Text: Raffaela Kihrer

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