What is a learning society

THE magazine for adult education

Learning society Europe

Adult learning in Europe

Ekkehard Nuissl
Prof. Dr. Ekkehard Nuissl is Professor of Adult Education at the University of Marburg and Director of the German Institute for Adult Education in Frankfurt / M.

Instead of European adult education today, European education policy tends to talk about adult education and learning. Is it therefore better to speak of a learning society in Europe? Ekkehard Nuissl names the reasons for this development and shows trends in the discussion about future European funding and action programs.

Europe is undoubtedly a learning society in which the most varied of national parts relate to one another, perceive and meet. The common money will not only be a real medium of exchange, but also a visible symbol of this path; it certainly has more to do with education, learning and the development of European consciousness than some of the programs of European citizenship.

There is no European adult education (yet), one can confidently say that. There is not one, but many adult education programs in Europe. European continuing education is therefore always a collective term for different national systems. These are also differentiated once again. This is the case in Germany, for example, where the 16 federal states have educational sovereignty due to the federal system and have different structures, especially in adult education. But it also applies to Belgium with its three different language parts, for the United Kingdom with its four states, for Italy with its enormous differences, for example between Sicily and Alto Adige (South Tyrol). Nevertheless, the main dividing lines in European adult education are still the national borders, which separate different currencies, policies, cultures, historical backgrounds, economic problems and educational systems from one another. This also applies if the same language is spoken on both sides of the border, for example between Belgium (Wallonia) and France or between Germany (Bavaria) and Austria. Adult education / further training, this is confirmed again and again, is not only a lively, dynamic and difficult to contour area, but and this is closely linked to the respective economic, social and cultural identity of the society in which it is practiced.

If adult education in Europe is so differentiated and neatly separated from one another, the question naturally arises why it should come together under the term European adult education at all.

The original reason for this is no secret: it is an attempt to bring the people of Europe to where the economic union is already. So it is a kind of employment of adult education, in order to let the implementation of an economic union reach the people and to make it acceptable for them. To put it bluntly, this is a similar use of adult education as the Allies implemented as democratic-political education in Germany after the collapse of fascism. The first goals of the new policy field in Europe are defined accordingly: awareness and acceptance of European citizenship, understanding and acceptance of other languages ​​and cultures, with which one is inextricably linked due to an increasingly common economic basis.

These first approaches of a European adult education have meanwhile been overcome. Perhaps because it was established that European citizenship in the intended form of information and advertising could not be implemented. But above all because Europe has developed rapidly. All over Europe today, the need for lifelong learning and the development of a learning society is spoken of with regionally different accents. The questions of the first hour about a necessary adjustment of the adult education systems, about possible transfers of offers and structures, about European added value take a back seat to this general development.

The common economic basis has also caught up with adult education. The comparable problems and structural crises in the European countries result in comparable content for the different adult education systems. Lifelong qualification, the fight against social exclusion, flexibility and mobility, increasing the qualification and competence level and other content of adult education based on social processes are Europeanized. That is why it is more correct today to speak of a learning society in Europe or adult education and adult learning in Europe than of a European adult education.

For a few years, since 1992, the year of the Maastricht Treaties, education and culture have been an independent European policy field. Before that, they only played a subordinate role in programs for the labor market, economic development and regional development. Articles 126 and 127 of the Maastricht Treaty laid a solid foundation for the development of new adult education strategies, even if the possibilities of the Treaty have not yet been exhausted. In June 1993, the Council of Ministers for Culture and Education of the European Community emphasized the keyword of lifelong learning, which emphasized personal creativity and recurring education in the curriculum vitae. The Council of Ministers paper was titled Profound Changes in our Education System and stated the following priorities:

  • Lifelong learning and the ability to do so
  • Creativity and initiative in every single person,
  • Guarantee of the individual right to lifelong learning (e.g. linked to a coupon system).

Immediately following the opinion of the Council of Ministers, the Green Paper of the Roberti Commission (1993) emphasized the need to improve the educational climate and strengthen the role of organizations, and the White Paper of the Delors Commission (1993) emphasized a closer link between the economic Development strategies with the educational strategies. This created the foundations for the European SOCRATES and LEONARDO programs in 1993, as well as the political foundations for the series of advanced training conferences in Athens and Dresden (both in 1994), Madrid (1995) and Florence (1996), which each set the political framework for a European Adult education formulated and emphasized.

The guidelines for European adult education policy are summarized in the White Paper on Teaching and Learning. Towards the Cognitive Society, published shortly before the European Year of Lifelong Learning in 1995. As with some documents of European education policy in recent years, it is advisable to read the original French text, as terms and connotations in the translations (even in English) are sometimes misleading. For example, the cognitive society is more about a learning, capable and willing to learn society that needs to be achieved than a knowledge society.

Based on the social megatrends towards an information society, towards internationalization and the penetration of everyday and professional life through science and technology, the White Paper states a growing need for knowledge and information, a growing number of jobs with higher qualification requirements, growing difficulties in participation at national and international level European level and a growing need for innovative and flexible employees. The content-related goals of adult education and training are therefore: to increase the perception and understanding of things, to improve awareness and creativity, to develop judgment and decision-making skills, to deepen and deepen basic knowledge (reading, writing, arithmetic, foreign languages ​​and dealing with media) support social skills.

In connection with these general teaching and learning objectives, the White Paper emphasizes that educational institutions and employers must work more closely together, that the traditional fundamental dispute between vocational and general education is over, that social exclusion must be combated and that at least three European languages Community need to be dominated. Specific statements concern measures to increase mobility and flexibility, to develop a compatible certificate system and to exchange and train teachers.

The concrete measures and actions in the programs that relate directly to the education system (in particular SOCRATES and LEONARDO) only partially reflect these general guidelines. This may be due to the fact that projects were not commissioned, but applications were approved, so the setting of project activities was not prescribed from above, but presented from below. Applying the European Commission's educational policy benchmarks to the projects to be approved turned out to be difficult, not least because of the very heterogeneous levels of abstraction. It also became apparent that the principle: There is no longer any conflict between vocational and general education was undermined by the European Commission through the differentiation and different equipment of LEONARDO and SOCRATES themselves.

Nevertheless, the concrete European adult education policy is approaching its programmatic objectives in some areas. On the basis of the current projects it can be stated that

  • Europe-wide information systems for adult education (e.g. ALICE) ensure more transparency and at the same time provide approaches to a compatible structural description;
  • motivating and demand-promoting projects (e.g. similar to the Adult Learners Week) could be developed and adapted;
  • In some content-related fields (e.g. in cultural and environmental education) sustainable networks have emerged,
  • first approaches to a European accreditation system are recognizable,
  • Problems and possible solutions in relation to the training of teachers, quality assurance and evaluation could be developed.
  • On the other hand, there were also diverse problems and deficits, namely
  • the fit of European concepts for specific regions of Europe (e.g. Greece)
  • the modification of adult education for urban and especially rural areas,
  • the difficulties in finding suitable partner institutions in European countries for the planned project and your own institution,
  • Deficits in economic aspects, especially in the area of ​​general education (e.g. marketing, sales, etc.),
  • the lack of a European authority for permanent infrastructural services (e.g. database maintenance, dissemination of products, etc.),
  • the lack of sufficient research and evaluation to develop European adult education.

Currently, the discussion of European education policy and education administration revolves around the redesign of the EU programs on culture and education. With regard to adult education, it is discussed in particular whether this is an own
constant action is to be renewed or adult education is to be integrated into an overall area of ​​lifelong learning. Depending on the national structure of adult education and the intended reference to professional learning, the representatives of European member states vote in this discussion. From the German point of view, it must be taken into account that there is hardly such a broadly developed publicly funded system of adult education in other European countries.

In general, the German side also emphasizes the side of the learners more than that of the educational institutions and their offers. As a result, people no longer speak only of adult education, but of the overall view of adult education and learning. In future, this means that European education policy will also focus on the demand and demand side. Accordingly, the educational policy guidelines in the European nation states are converging. The establishment of support structures, the investment in programs, the promotion and financing of learners have so far gained priority over institutional support systems and supply-oriented policies in the discussion and less in reality.


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