A lot of emphasis was put on the PIAAC results, which indicate that 1 in 5 Europeans has trouble reading simple texts, even more have difficulties in problem solving and in some countries people struggle with numeracy and digital skills. However, for many people – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds and refugees – the lack in skills is only the tip of the iceberg. Many of them have few possibilities to escape the low skills trap as they tend to be in low-paid and precarious jobs (if at all), and they often lack the know-how to access social services, proper health care that goes beyond urgencies, and democratic participation.
The research evidence from NIACE’s (current Learning & Work Institute) independent inquiry into the future for lifelong learning and its recommendations presented in the report, ‘Learning Through Life’ (Schuller and Watson, 2009) makes a compelling case that there should be at least four capabilities – digital, health, financial and civic in addition to those core basic skills of literacy, numeracy and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
The evidence suggests ways in which the capabilities overlap, for example, poverty and problems with debt can ‘paralyse people, almost literally, so that learning how to manage your finances is part of learning how to improve your health and well-being’ (2009: 182-3).
They also argued that the four capabilities underpin employability, directly or indirectly, for example, ‘participation in civic activity helps reinforce people’s sense of identity and well-being, which helps them maintain their links to the labour market’ (2009: 184).
The Citizens Curriculum
The EAEA member Learning and Work Institute (L&W) started to pilot this approach in 2014 through a project called Citizens’ Curriculum.
“A citizens’ curriculum is learning which is locally-led, developed with the active participation of learners, and interlinks the life skills of language, literacy and numeracy with health, financial, digital and civic capabilities”, explains Alex Stevenson, the L&W Head of English, Maths and ESOL.
This flexible, creative and innovative model not only benefited participants in progressing in their professional and personal lives, but also increased their motivation to learn, as shows this video produced by the Citizen curriculum’s learners.
As indicated by many interviewees, one of the most enriching added-values of this approach is the positive influence on the community. The civic competences proposed by the curriculum are not only useful for disadvantaged learners but for the native population as well. And this is the reason why the LSE consortium decided also to reach the original population of Europe, in particular those that respond aggressively to the foreigners instead of working towards a democratic and intercultural society.
The LSE’s next steps
The project was kicked off in Copenhagen at the beginning of February. Partners are currently working on a definition of life skills on the basis of a desk research and some key interviews.