Migration and demographic change

Civic education and intercultural learning create inclusive societies and cultures. Seniors who learn are more active, work longer and stay healthier. Intergenerational learning enables older and the younger to profit from each other’s knowledge.

Adult education plays a vital role in the current migration and refugee situation in Europe. What is missing from the debate is a focus on public policies (including education) to maximise the benefits of migration, to support people to integrate into society and to tackle the local pressures on services and infrastructure.

The implementation of (inter-)cultural dialogue fosters an exchange between the indigenous and new citizens. It helps migrants to understand the cultures and social contracts of their new home countries and gives the host citizens the chance to appreciate different habits and develop their countries into deliberative democracies.

We need to ensure accessible and affordable learning opportunities, recognise and validate prior learning, as well as provide language training for migrants, to enable them to become active citizens in their new home countries. The role of adult education is essential in ensuring that individuals and the wider society are able to harness the capabilities of highly skilled migrants to everyone’s advantage, while also supporting individuals and communities that feel displaced by migration to get the skills they need to be part of society.

Learning is part of active ageing

We see great demographic shifts across Europe, with an ageing population which is living and working longer. Older people are a large and growing part of the population and this is changing our societies in important and fundamental ways. In order to tackle demographic changes, Europe needs citizens that stay healthy and active as long as possible.

EAEA is committed to active ageing and encourages a common vision on the active participation of older people. Learning provides many of these opportunities and active ageing will only be guaranteed if learning in later life is provided for. Research shows that learning seniors are more active, have more social contacts, volunteer more, work longer and are healthier. It is therefore necessary to provide high quality learning opportunities for all older people, which, in turn, will need the necessary framework of policies, funding, structures and access. Even at a very old age, learning has positive impacts.

Additionally, intergenerational learning enables both older, experienced people and the young to profit from each other’s knowledge; and on the other hand, the joint measures strengthen intergenerational solidarity within the European societies.

Research evidence

Learning benefits mental health and can make a lasting impact on cognitive skills.

One of the greatest challenges of our time is how society cares for persons with dementia, how they can and want to keep their independence and stay active. There are already initiatives and institutions (such as Hogewey in the Netherlands and Aigburth Care Homes in Leicester UK) dealing with that challenge. They have developed innovative, humane ways of caring for people with dementia. Learning at an advanced age is always a central concept of these institutions and initiatives, and learners report positive emotional or mental health benefits. It is speculated (Snowden, 2001 in Simone and Scuilli, 2006) that mentally stimulating activities have positive and lasting impact on cognition and may even prevent or delay dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Good practice

Bringing youth and seniors together can help fight exclusion. 

The European NEET-U project combined two of the most important social and educational challenges in the 21-st century: how to re-activate the increasing number of experienced seniors with social and educational potential and make them key players in coping with the dramatic increase of NEETs and other socially excluded youths in Europe.

They organised together a four-day marathon Hackathon for the development of a creative digital project. More than 70 seniors were mobilised and asked to bring family pictures or pictures of the past representing and containing important memories for them. The result was a public exhibition of large and medium format photographs, extracted from `analog memories´ and digitally projected on the walls, doors and corners of the city centre.

Both NEETs and seniors learned many new skills, gained confidence and realised that they had many abilities, strengths, experiences and personal qualities. Seniors can act in a new way, as brokers, to make use of networks and contacts and to unlock these for the benefit of new social entrepreneurs.