The article below is a shortened version of EAEA’s statement on COVID-19 and ALE
Non-formal adult learning and education (ALE) plays a key role for the social inclusion of the most vulnerable groups in society by providing safe spaces to learn together and by helping people to build new social networks. These groups suffer most from the crisis as they are not only those who are at great risk of losing their jobs and financial as well as social perspectives, but also because they are the most likely to lack access to ICT equipment and strong internet connections, along with the digital skills required to participate in online learning. The current crisis shows by whom ALE is particularly needed: by elderly persons who have no computer skills and therefore have little or no contact with the outside world, as well as parents who cannot support their children in digital learning.
ALE can help to make individuals, communities as well as markets more resilient not only in our ability to see out this pandemic, but also in developing stronger tools for dealing with the social and economic crisis that is very likely to follow the pandemic. However, if governments and authorities at all political levels do not react now, there is a great risk that the ALE sector will be affected by a major weakening of its structures and will no longer be able to fulfil its role in a period of recession. Adequate political and financial support is urgently needed to ensure that non-formal learning offers can continue to be provided during and after the crisis.
More Europe is needed now
One lesson that should be learned from the crisis is that it is precisely in a crisis like this, but above all afterwards, that more rather than less Europe is needed in order to give all EU Member States the opportunity to rebuild their social coexistence and their economies. If the European Union is interested in strengthening the sense of belonging of its citizens and reinforcing the European idea medium and long term, now is the time to give sustained support to programmes such as the European Agenda for Adult Learning and to create a successor programme.
We expect national and regional governments – and the support of the European Union – to take effective measures to enable ALE providers and staff to cope with the consequences of this unpredictable crisis. This includes:
- Setting up emergency funds for non-profit ALE providers and self-employed teachers, trainers and other ALE staff who find themselves in an existential threat situation due to the corona crisis, comparable to emergency funds for the cultural sector that were set up in a number of countries.
- Full compensation of courses that are commissioned by public authorities in the context of labour market measures, the promotion of integration or other support structures, that cannot be carried out due to the pandemic and the closing of ALE centres.
- Promotion of ALE through additional public funding to mitigate the consequences of the social and economic crisis after the pandemic, for instance through education vouchers for all residents, citizens and migrants, or through supporting tailored learning programmes.
- Setting up of digitisation funds for non-profit ALE providers, to assist them in the transition to digital formats.
For programmes, courses and training supported by regional, national and European funding sources, we demand:
- Removal of restrictions to move courses online and abandoning of the requirement of physical presence of participants to obtain funding for courses and trainings. We particularly ask the European institutions to remove requirements of EU-funded programmes for keeping signature lists or recording presence through other means in the learning centres.
- Furthermore, if courses can be conducted digitally, learning methods with a higher proportion of self-directed learning should also be accepted. This means, for instance, that a course with 6 hours per day face-to-face training in a training centre should not be required to be translated into 6 hours per day of webinars or video-conferences. Elements of “flipped classroom” or other methodologies need to be recognised as appropriate learning methods that lead to the same learning outcomes. Funders and funding agencies should grant beneficiaries maximum flexibility in re-arranging their learning programmes.
We urge the European Union to:
- Continue and strengthen adult education strategies at EU level, in particular the European Agenda for Adult Learning: in addition to a skills orientation, the current crisis shows that educational areas such as health education, wellbeing and civic education are not only important for individuals, but that they are also an absolute necessity for rebuilding communities and economies. In the Nordic as well as German-speaking countries, these areas have long been – very successfully – integrated in adult education programmes. A European strategy could offer orientation to other countries that do not yet have appropriate structures and offers.
- Provide structural support to countries that do not yet have strong adult learning structures: Structural support programmes at European level and transnational cooperation are therefore all the more important for these countries to develop their own strategies and structures. The ESF, but also other programmes such as Erasmus+, play a central role in this respect, which must be strengthened to enable more countries to participate at the same level in the EU.
Europe needs a strong ALE sector to meet the economic, social and environmental challenges of the coming years, now more than ever!