Focus on adult learning to develop integrated, holistic solutions to global challenges
The need for better recognition as well as financing of the education sector was at the centre of the high-level panel debate. While there is a wide acknowledgement that adult education is pivotal for creating inclusive societies, tools and instruments put forward by countries in Europe and other parts of the world are often insufficient to ensure large participation in lifelong learning. Panellists, coming both from civil society organisations, governmental and intergovernmental institutions, agreed on the need to decisively step up participation in learning and education.
There is a need for a paradigm shift in education policies that has to start with increased investment in adult education.
A special focus was brought on to adults. “Adult education and learning must be at the centre of efforts to achieve sustainable societies. All actors need to recognise its key role in the development of integrated, holistic solutions to the problems we face,” said David Atchoarena, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), during his opening speech.
Sustainability plays a key role in adult education
His Excellency Mahougnon Kakpo, Minister of Ministry of Secondary, Technical and Vocational Education and Training of Benin, underlined that all education needs to start with adults in order to achieve the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. “Equality is a global issue. Adult education provides a system for creating it,” he said.
“Sustainability plays a key role in the context of adult education. We need adult learning to implement the SDGs. As a society, our individual actors and consumers need to be aware of sustainability issues if we want to meet the goals by 2030,” Gina Ebner, Secretary General of the European Association for the Education of Adults, stressed in the discussion. “At the same time, we also need more sustainability of actual adult education policies.”
A new mindset to see education as a lifelong cycle
“We should change the culture and mindset that surrounds learning as an adult and see education as a lifelong cycle,” said Tatjana Babrauskiene, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee. She stressed that a holistic approach is needed not only for the way we teach but also for policy development and implementation.
There was a general agreement that “we must stop this culture that ‘the end of formal education means the end of our learning process,” as underlined by Manuela Geleng, Director for Skills in DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission.
A paradigm shift starts with increased investment in adult education
“There is a need for a paradigm shift in education policies that has to start with increased investment in adult education. A considerable number of countries is using less than 0.5 per cent of their education budgets for adult education. This is not enough to reach our target to get at least 15 per cent of adults into lifelong learning,” said Ms Geleng. During the policy debate, it was anticipated that the European Commission will put adult learning high on the political agenda in the next years.
Everyone needs to have the right and the possibility to access learning
Adult participation in lifelong learning remains a key issue in almost all countries reviewed in the GRALE report. One-third of countries reported no change in participation rates, and some even reported a regression over the past years. Marginalised groups, including migrants, people with disabilities as well as older people, are particularly ill-represented in adult learning due to different barriers to participation.
Participation in adult education plays a central role in being an active citizen and strengthening democratic systems. We must revisit the ways in which we use adult education policies to respond to emerging issues and problems, not only for the economy but for society as a whole.
Mr Atchoarena expressed concern that “most policy attention is on basic skills and employment education.” He called for more attention to issues related to citizenship, especially as democracy is in crisis in many parts of the world. “Participation in adult education plays a central role in being an active citizen and strengthening democratic systems. We must revisit the ways in which we use adult education policies to respond to emerging issues and problems, not only for the economy but for society as a whole,” he said.
The GRALE report urges policy-makers to work on and implement strategies for participation in adult learning. “If things continue as they are — and without a significant change in political outlook there are good chances they will — the benefits of adult learning will continue to coalesce around the better-off and most advantaged in society, reinforcing and even intensifying existing inequalities, rather than helping the least advantaged individuals and communities.”
Bringing all stakeholders together and offering guidance is central
Lucie Susova, SOLIDAR Foundation, and Sylvia Liuti, FORMA.Azione, represented the voice of civil society in the panel. Ms Susova emphasised the importance of bringing all stakeholders together, including social services, legal services, as well as civil society, in order to support learners as they move between service providers. Ms Liuti said that “adults need to be empowered to ask for education support and provision without fear of stigma.” Participation of adults in lifelong learning is higher in countries and regions, where these support mechanisms exist.
H.E. Kakpo said: “Lifelong learning and adult education should be leading global development. In a world with rapid technological changes, learning helps our citizens to cope with these changes, and be full citizens.”
“We must not take democracy, values and participation for granted. And lifelong learning has a key role to play in keeping track as they develop, evolve and change,” concluded Brikena Xhomaqi, Director of the Lifelong Learning Platform.
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. Find more information about the Interest Group on http://www.lll-interestgroup.eu/.