The participants from all over Europe gained many insights into new and creative approaches to intergenerational learning at GoAct workshops and a conference. The event took place in Brussels from 17 to 18 June 2013 and it was organised by the Elternverein Baden-Württemberg.
The event, at which EAEA was a partner, was under the direction of Dr. Renate Heinisch, a former member of the European Parliament, current member of the European Economic and Social Committee and chairwoman of the Elternverein Baden-Württemberg.
On the first day of the conference, the participants attended four workshops on intergenerational learning. EAEA invited leaders of best practices to present their projects at the workshops. The projects showed that learning at older age often takes place in informal settings rather than formal institutions like schools or universities.
After the presentations, the participants had the opportunity to pose questions and to discuss about burning issues concerning intergenerational learning. The workshops were moderated by experts in the field of education: Dr. Ann-Kristin Boström (Jönköping University, Sweden), Professor Bernhard Schmidt-Hertha (University of Tübingen, Germany), Dr. Birgit Breninger (Paris-Lodron University of Salzburg, Austria), and Professor Stephen McNair (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education NIACE, UK).
On the second day of the event, a day-long conference was held. Dr. Renate Heinisch, introducing the experts and their speeches, critically approached the concept of lifelong learning. In her opinion, the concept would need a make-over, as the focus would have to shift from elderly people to young people.
"We should speak about ‘learning for a long life‘ rather than ‘lifelong learning‘," she suggested, as even young children should learn about a healthy and sustainable way of living.
Deputy Director-General for Education and Culture at the European Commission, Xavier Prats Monné, and MEP Heinz K. Becker, presented the political agenda concerning adult education in the European Union. Both emphasised the importance of ideally and financially supporting projects in the sector of lifelong learning.
According to them, the EU has already understood the huge potential which lies in lifelong learning. For this reason, strategies for the education of adults and intergenerational learning will be implemented in the education policies in the near future.
"Studies on learning of the elderly have started to appear just recently, and they raise more questions than they are able to answer at this stage of research," Professor Schmidt-Hertha stated.
In his own research, Professor Schmidt-Hertha highlights that educational offers for older people are not always the best way to provide an opportunity for learning. It depends on the type of learner, if special educational offers are welcome or not.
"If we want to establish a fruitful process of learning between the younger and the older generation, we first have to overcome intergenerational tensions, but if that is achieved, the intergenerational perspective brings with it a great potential for an increased wellbeing and self-esteem both for young and old generations," said Dr. Ann-Kristin Boström in her speech.
Therefore, institutions of intergenerational learning have to be organised, seniors and children have to be prepared, and a learning model has to be chosen. Furthermore, intergenerational learning has to provide benefits for children and young people.
Dr. Birgit Breninger showed in her presentation that adults are not only able to learn facts, but that they are also able to change their entire way of thinking regarding norms and stereotypes.
"Cultural structures are, according to her research, deeply inscribed in the brain, but they can change through intercultural competence trainings for adults," she said.
Professor Stephen McNair pleaded for a broader definition of learning and working than we have been using until now. Even very old persons are still able to learn and to participate in working life. However, their special needs concerning the learning and working environment have to be taken into account. Work places and formal institutions of learning are often not fitted to the pace of learning and working of the elderly, even though many of them would appreciate the opportunity to learn and to give their experience further to younger generations.
"They would like to be active citizens. "Active" in this sense means working, as work is very often associated with being a valued part of society, that is to be able to contribute to society. Not to work, on the other hand, means all too often being invisible to and in society," Professor McNair said.
The last point at the conference´s agenda was a presentation of three short films about intergenerational learning, produced by three young journalists from Lithuania, Ireland and Italy. The films took a more emotional approach towards adult education. They illustrated the importance of learning as an adult, both as learners and as teachers, on an individual level.
"I was always very conscious of the fact that the older generation could teach the younger generation so much, and that the younger generation could teach the older generation, one person portrayed in a video nicely summed up the main message of the conference."
After the conference, the participants could see an exhibition about 16 European best practice projects which was organised by EAEA. The projects were presented by the project leaders and members and gave the participants at GoAct the possibility to discuss about different strategies of achieving intergenerational learning, and to learn from each other´s experience in projects.
Text: Raffaela Kihrer