Active citizenship and democracy

People who participate in adult education participate more in society, by voting, volunteering or taking active roles in communities. Adult education is the tool for the development of critical thinking.

EAEA and its members stand for a strong commitment to Europe and European values. We believe that democracy, intercultural dialogue, social justice and cooperation are key for a Europe of respect, participation and cohesion. Democracy and European adult education have common roots and a common history.

Adult education significantly influenced the development of democratic societies in Europe, but at the same time, democratic movements influenced the development of adult education institutions. Many adult education organisations were established as the result of emancipatory movements (workers, women, religious organisations, etc.).

Adult education as a space to develop active citizenship

Adult education is the tool for the development of critical thinking and empowerment, a lively and inspired civil society, and knowledge and know-how. Adult education also provides the space to develop active citizenship. We need adult education to reflect on societal situations and challenges, in order to learn from prevailing European issues such as increasing radicalisation, migration and social inequalities. These issues have shown that democratic attitudes, tolerance and respect need to be reinforced. Critical thinking is also at the heart of understanding a digital world, which demands a high level of media literacy.

Adult education strengthens and regenerates civil society by building responsibilities and a feeling of belonging to Europe and to a democratic tradition. Participatory democracy is only made possible through broad participation and meaningful contributions to decisionmaking and critical evaluation of political and societal issues by all stakeholders.

Research evidence

Preston (2004) analysed the impact of adult education on participants’ civic lives and on the formation of values, particularly tolerance.

Individual engagement in education is a predictor of engagement in public life because `the more students are engaged in their education, the more willing they are, on average, to play a positive role in public life´. Adult education leads moreover to an increase in racial tolerance and a greater likelihood of voting.

Preston found that learning has an impact on informal and formal civic participation. It helps individuals to build, maintain, dismantle, reconstruct and enrich their social networks. Additionally, the formation of values is influenced by learning. For example, changes in tolerance, understanding and respect were reported by respondents. (Adult Education and Attitude Change [Wider Benefits of Learning Research Report No. 11]) Civic and social engagement (CSE) as a learning outcome has also been analysed by the OECD (Understanding the social outcomes of learning).

Good practice

Educational programme created solutions for energy saving problems and influenced the broader strategy development in Ukraine. 

In the framework of the Ukrainian project Regional Voices for Democracy: Instruments for dialogue in local community, the Club for Sustainable Development from the Mykolaiv region initiated an exchange of ideas addressing issues of energy consumption in the community. Community activists, representatives of the local self-government and the local media took part. This exchange was done through an educational programme and several training courses on ecological and energysaving factors for local development with the involvement of various stakeholders.

The awareness of the value of adult education among citizens led to the inclusion of educational components in a broader territorial Community Strategy (2018 – 2026). This is the first case of a community support Adult Education Centre, and therefore the first inclusion of adult education in a plan of action, in the Ukraine.