Democracy on the table

EAEA members discussed one of the key themes of EAEA this year, the topic of democracy, at the EAEA General Assembly held in Brussels in June. The crisis brings focus to adult education as a tool for creating employability. Is that a good thing for our field or does it divert attention from other effects that adult education might have? the participants pondered.

“The crisis is pushing Europe into competitive thinking which creates more responsibility for adult education. We need balanced policies and a balanced approach in order to create jobs and keep democracy alive,” said Edith Soghomonyan from the Armenian Lifelong Learning League.

Besides economic impacts, the crisis has stirred major changes in attitudes and ideas.

“The crisis is also a political one, and it’s the less tolerant forces that are winning ground. But the crisis can also be a new opportunity for learning – for adult education,” said Maja Maksimovic from Adult Education Society.

The elections as a fuel for discussion

One of the topics concerning the members is the rise of extremist parties in Europe.

“These fascist movements are driven by people’s fear. People are afraid of things that might lead to negative changes and people feel betrayed by the established parties. When people with racist opinions enter adult education, we can introduce new values into their lives,” said Amelie von Zweigbergk (FOLAC, Sweden).

The inclusion of democracy in adult education varies in different parts of Europe and the theme seems to appear on the adult education agenda in different times. In the 1980’s the focus was strong on democracy that has now been a shifted. The elections might raise the issue again on the agenda.

“People are going to react and a new sort of movement will grow, although it will not be the same as it used to be,” said Berni Brady (AONTAS).

Creating space for interaction

Mariana Matache (Asociatia EUROED, Romania) said it is important to make people understand that they can affect their local communities – even between elections.

“It is important to spread information about how citizens can influence their community through active citizenship.”

Trine Bendix Knudsen from the Danish Adult Education Association reminded that knowledge is not always the cure for more democracy or open-mindedness.

“Highly educated people can also have narrow-minded opinions. Democracy is a culture - a way of speaking to each other. We need to live and practice democracy and not just talk about it.”

Besides including the topic of democracy in course agendas, it is important to create space for discussion and interaction.

“The coffee break in an adult education course is sometimes as important as the actual course content,” said Berni Brady.

Text and photo: Helka Repo