We were invited to represent parents as an important stakeholder group – both lifelong learners and lifelong educators – at a major conference on the future of adult learning in Europe on 15/16 October 2018. It was organised by the European Commission and EPALE (Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe) and brought together about 230 policy makers, educators and researchers from all European countries, way beyond the EU. From the parents’ perspective the highlight of the conference was the emphasis on the role schools should play in involving local communities in adult education and the importance of working with parents for this.
The event focused on two main topics, the present and future of adult learning in Europe and the role of the electronic platform EPALE can play in fostering participation. In a stocktaking presentation Dana Bachman, the responsible Head of Unit at the European Commission showed statistics and inspiring practices from some European countries. The statistics on adult learning participation stirred the audience and it was discussed in great detail in workshops later. It seems that different countries implement different methodologies to measure participation and some countries only included formal provisions. There was an agreement that there is a need to acknowledge and include non-formal and informal learning, the latter being the most difficult to detect.
Parents organisation has long advocated for a new, community learning center approach to school buildings, and thus we were very happy to see that two of the few inspiring practices presented by the European Commission were this can be detected. One is a practice from Estonia where schools actively reach out to parents to promote adult learning opportunities, the other is from Poland where school infrastructure is used to cover learning provisions needs in the local community.
The most interesting and forward-looking part of the conference was the discussion on future European policy on adult learning. This will only inform the next governance of the EU after the EU elections in May as the outgoing European Commission will not initiate anything new. They will then design European education policy for the period after 2020, hopefully in line with the need to reach Sustainable Development Goals by 2035.
The European Union has little jurisdiction in this field, and participants tried to collect ideas with this in view. The EU could do a lot to make information available on differences and similarities between national systems, this was not questioned by anybody. There is a need to act together to overcome the existing stigma linked to adult learning in many countries. Reflecting on the above-mentioned statistics, participants also called the EU to act in order to make learning visible. Funding should be available to invest more in competence building of educators – including parents in our view.
An important step would be to have a holistic, lifelong learning approach, to valorise learning regardless the place and form it takes. Today, even if we consider non-formal and informal provisions for adult learning, there are some forms that are not under the same umbrella, often with a higher value in the eyes of many in the case of higher education and vocational education. By implementing a consistent lifelong learning approach and including all forms of learning in it would be the way to the necessary valorisation.
The upcoming Erasmus+ programme for the period of 2021-2029 would be the necessary tool used by the EU by also implementing a cross-sectoral, holistic, lifelong learning programme that the current, 2014-2020 programme promised but has failed to achieve. EPALE is an important tool to support necessary developments, however, making everything available in national languages would be key. Today the platform is richest in English.
You can watch recordings of the conference livestream following this link: https://ec.europa.eu/epale/en/blog/epale-conference-2018-fostering-inspiring-adult-learning-community