BeLL results verify the benefits of adult learning

Mon 10 Feb 2014 03:01:00 PM EET

“Everyone will benefit from the BeLL project results” was the message at the policy debate organised in the framework of the Benefits of Lifelong Learning project (BeLL), which was held at the European Parliament on the 27 January 2014.

Representatives of EU institutions and the civil society welcomed the findings of the qualitative and quantitative research conducted in ten European countries. The results were presented by Dr. Marion Fleige (DIE Bonn, BeLL project coordinator) and Jyri Manninen (University of Eastern Finland, Finnish partner and initiator of the project).

“In the society we live in we desperately need benefits that go beyond the economic approach”, concluded Dr. Petri Mirala, advisor for the MEP Mitro Repo (S&D) in his opening remarks.

Adult learning as equaliser

The BeLL study shows that participants in liberal adult education courses perceive multiple benefits which go beyond the individual level, showing benefits also on a communal and societal level. The BeLL research also demonstrates that people benefit from adult learning despite their social background. However, one of the most relevant results of the research is that lower educated people benefit more from their participation in adult learning, Jyri Manninen underlined.

“This is particularly valid in relation to learning motivation as well as health, family and work conditions of the survey participants. In that regard, liberal adult education can help people out of the ‘low-skilled trap’”, Mr. Manninen said.

Therefore, one of the BeLL policy recommendations invited policy-makers to reach out to low-skilled people. The focus was confirmed by the European Commission, DG EAC, representative Martina Ni Cheallaigh.

“In the future the policy emphasis will be on disadvantaged groups and the cooperation with civil society at different levels will be key for succeeding this task”, she stated.

The EC representative presented some key figures on participation in adult learning in the EU and the progresses so far in reaching the European Commission benchmark of 15 per cent of the adult population participating in adult education. Moreover, she showed the correlation between a high performance in PIAAC (the OECD Survey of Adults Skills) and the high participation in adult learning; as well as the provision of quality assurance systems in education.

The "unexpected" benefits of liberal adult education

When linking the result of the BeLL survey and PIAAC results, it is clear that adult education and its wider benefits may have the potential to contribute to improve the worrying situation of low basic skills levels in Europe.

The BeLL interviews show that even an art course can improve a person’s writing skills: “In technical terms if you like, all the courses I have taken, which are liberal arts, cultural sorts of things, they have all honed by writing skills, including the Open University course and the Spanish because you still have to write essays and things, so they have definitely honed my skills”, describes one learner.

Work-related benefits have been experienced by 47 percent of the interviewees who participated in adult learning activities. This is an important finding in relation to policy making and significance of increased investment in adult learning next to vocational training.

“BeLL research results are an important tool for advocacy and awareness raising activities on European and national level”, concluded EAEA’s Secretary-General Gina Ebner.

The Bell researchers stated that the important role of liberal adult education as part of Lifelong Learning systems should be better recognized at national and European policy level.

“Liberal adult education should be taken seriously”, Mr. Manninen emphasized.

The BeLL consortium calls on national policy makers to take a holistic approach to education systems, to invest in and support all forms of adult learning.

Text and photo: Francesca Operti