OED Conference: Turn policy into practice to involve disadvantaged groups

Tue 24 Jun 2014 10:29:00 AM EEST

Around 100 people gathered at the Goethe Institute on June 17 in Brussels for the final conference of the OED - Outreach, Empowerment, Diversity project. At the conference, practitioners, adult education trainers, education stakeholders and policy makers discussed the OED results.

EAEA president Per Paludan Hansen explained the reasoning behind the OED project: “We want to empower people to participate in adult education and encourage active citizenship especially of disadvantaged groups."

The main outcomes of the project – a collection of good practices, the OED methodological guidelines and the OED policy recommendations – were discussed by the conference participants, during the first part of the event. As a common conclusion, participants and organisers alike agreed that there is a clear need for a stronger focus on outreach, empowerment and diversity from the adult education sector and from policy makers.

After lunch there was a panel discussion with participation from Paul Holdsworth, from the DG EAC of the European Commission, Ji-Eun Chung from OECD, Joyce Black, a UK national coordinator from NIACE and EAEA’s Secretary-General Gina Ebner. They discussed how the OED recommendations could be implemented in the future policy agenda. Gina Ebner, secretary general of EAEA, explained the project partners’ ambitions:

“We want to raise awareness on what Adult Education can actually do – for the general public and for policy makers. It is all based on your experiences."

Involve learners

“As beneficial as it is to share good practice examples and talk about our experiences, we need impact beyond our own group. We need a concrete roadmap on how to involve disadvantaged groups in adult learning,” the panel moderator, Mark Ravenhall, summarised, putting words to the thoughts of many participants.

Paul Holdsworth said that outreach and empowerment are mentioned in EU education priorities and initiatives, such as the Renewed European Agenda for adult learning.

“We need to find ways to reach adults who are seemingly not interested in learning. Learning is what makes us human and makes living worthwhile,” Holdsworth said, while also adding that “in the end national governments have the responsibility to provide funding for education.”

Ji-Eun Chung from OECD proposed that there are also innovative ways – such as online based learning or university night courses – that could be used to increase participation of disadvantaged groups.

“By highlighting the groups who are not represented we can get policy makers to start focusing on them.”

“Learning is not just about qualifications and skills , it is also about motivated learners. We should celebrate learners’ empowerment – give optimism to the learners and use learners as role models. They are a proof of the difference that learning can make” Joyce Black from NIACE said.

Support for a European Year for Adult Learning

EAEA introduced its initiative for promoting a European Year of Adult Learning at the conference. “We propose a European year of Adult Education – focusing on the joy of learning and not on up-skilling everyone” announced Gina Ebner, EAEA secretary General. The campaign can be seen as a tool to attract more attention for adult education. The campaign received positive feedback from the European Commission representative.

“Ideology and personal engagement have an impact on policy. Ideology cuts through everything. A European Year for Adult Learning can be a way to promote adult learning but major lobbying is needed,” Paul Holdsworth said.

Continuing the network

During the conference the participants were also invited to explore the good practices selected in the project and the methodology guidelines developed by the project consortium. As they learned from the different practices they were also given a chance to have their say in providing ideas for the dissemination of project results as well as sharpening the policy recommendations.

The participants of the OED conference and the consortium members agreed that there is a need for the network – and further actions – beyond the end of the project.

“OED has been a wonderful journey for the whole consortium. The richness of the network is the direct result of the passion shared by its members: We all learned from each other – personally and professionally – by exchanging views and opinions and sharing challenges and hopes. For this reason partners strongly ask EAEA to find ways to maintain the network and continue its enriching activities”, said the project coordinator Francesca Operti.

As the next step, the project consortium will finalise the policy recommendations and disseminate them among policy makers and adult education institutions across Europe – and spread the methodology guidelines within Adult education trainers and practitioners.

Text: Helka Repo and Francesca Operti
Photos: Raffaela Kihrer and Helka Repo