What makes our learners want to get through the door and join our courses? Together with Mauricette Crutzen and Cossi Noudofinin from Le Monde des Possibles, an adult learning centre in Liège, Belgium that supports newly arrived migrants, I spent a week exploring adult learning organisations in Barcelona and Girona that had found inspiring ways of outreach. With the help of our host organisation, Catalan Association for Education, Training and Research (ACEFIR), we put together an intense programme, which included visits to adult learning schools, cultural centres, NGOs and social enterprises.
While the diversity of provision and approaches was impressive, there was one thing that many places we visited had in common: how easy it was to drop in.
“Proximity and decentralisation are key in the functioning of civic centres,” said Pau Martinell at the Civic Centre Sant Narcis in Girona. Intended as a community space for the neighbourhood, it hosts several associations and offers a selection of courses for children and adults, ranging from music and cooking to language classes. The centre also provides a space for the community to get together, for example to organise cultural events. Importantly, it creates a welcoming space already at the entrance to the building, which opens with a coffee bar.
“This is actually quite common – we see the social dimension as very important in learning here,” told me Anna Delort from ACEFIR, when I remarked on the fact that we were offered a coffee almost anywhere we went while visiting organisations in Barcelona and Girona.
Bringing the community together
We also felt the welcoming spirit at Association DOTA. While we were visiting, we witnessed a literacy class for local women in a space that might as well have been a café, with colourful furniture, artwork on the walls and baby strollers parked on the side.
As we were told by Laura Lazaro Lasheras, DOTA’s founder, the association was established to support migrant women in the town of Salt, who were missing out on learning opportunities. Soon after setting up DOTA, Laura developed a comprehensive outreach strategy, analysing the barriers to participation that local women might be facing, and how they might be addressed. Joining forces with other organisations and studying the local context has helped.
Salt is an industrial town in the neighbourhood of Girona marked by a high ethnic diversity of its residents, and DOTA is hosted by Ateneu Popular Coma Cros, located in a former factory. Bringing together several organisations that aim to “participate, propose, govern”, Ateneu Popular is run by thematic committees and highlights the importance of community-based approaches.
“We often organise common activities to encourage the local community to participate,” Laura told us. Activities include bicycle or clothes repair workshops that are open to anyone, or awareness-raising campaigns to highlight housing issues or school segregation.
While all our hosts underlined how important the feeling of community and togetherness is, it goes without saying that recent years have not made it easy to use adult learning spaces in their physical dimension. Some learning providers had to cancel their classes during the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic; others found ways to continue. For example, at CFA Palau de Mar in Barcelona we visited classrooms that offer hybrid learning provision; as all the content of the course is available via a “virtual classroom”, learners can easily participate in the class remotely if needed.
How to make learning relevant
We also heard from our hosts how important it is to offer learning and training opportunities that are relevant and that fit the needs of the learners, especially those at risk of exclusion. At ECOSOL, 70% of job placements are reserved for people in a situation of social vulnerability, who also undergo training. Importantly, enterprises where such job placements are established aim towards a circular economy. Examples include a bicycle assembly and repair plant, and Moda Re, a boutique dedicated to sustainable and ethical fashion.
Relevance is also key in language learning, as we discussed at the office of ACEFIR while browsing through “El Nostre Mon”, a series of coursebooks introducing the Catalan language to migrants with low literacy levels. “It was very important to us that our teaching materials are easy to use and that they discuss familiar topics,” Rosa M. Falgàs i Casanovas, the author of the coursebook, told us. Aptly titled “Our World”, the coursebook refers to the everyday world, and includes a set of photographs of objects and situations that all learners will be able to relate to. The next day, we saw the photographs being used during a class of Catalan at Caritas Girona, where we also heard how important it is for classroom materials to be visually appealing and tactile.
If the relevance of learning is important, who gets to decide what is relevant? During our study visit, we also looked at the ways in which learners themselves can be supported in voicing their needs and preferences. A prime example of prioritising learner voices is Escuela de Personas Adultas La Verneda-Sant Martí, where learners manage the school. Established in 1978 by residents of La Verneda Sant Marti, a Barcelona neighbourhood, the school was a result of a community-based decision-making process, and was housed in a building that had previously been used by administration under Franco’s dictatorship. Today, democratic participation of learners is ensured through different structures: a general assembly, a board and several thematic committees.
An inspiring illustration of learners’ involvement is the “Day of Dreams”, during which they come together to discuss their wishes for the future of the school. “For example, we discussed the topic of loneliness among learners, and a suggestion to have classes on Sunday,” told Ana Lebron, a learner who has been contributing to the activities of the school for years. “Another dream was to work more on science, and as a result we developed a project on science literacy.”
Other creative examples followed throughout the week, when we heard of different ways of taking learner voices into account – sometimes quite literally. A powerful example is Association Àkan in Girona, which provides migrants with legal aid – and also invites them to join a multilingual choir.
EAEA and Le Monde des Possibles would like to thank our hosts in Barcelona, Girona and Salt, for showing us first-hand how welcoming adult learning organisations are: ACEFIR, Association DOTA, Association AKAN, CFA Palau de Mar, CFA Nou Girona, Centre Civic Sant Narcis, Lloc de la Dona, ECOSOL, Agora La Verneda Sant Marti, Caritas Girona, DIOMCOOP, Fundacio Trinijove.
The study visit was financed with the support of the Erasmus+ mobility project FOCAL: Fostering Outreach through Capacity-building for Adult Learning organisations (2020-2022), coordinated by the European Association for the Education of Adults.
Text: Aleksandra KozyraPhotos: EAEA, Le Monde des Possibles