Sirpa Pietikäinen, EPP, Finland

Current MEP

1. What does lifelong learning mean to you?

As all the parts of the human body, also a brain needs to be trained in order to develop - throughout life. Howard Gardner has identified five ways of thinking in the human mind that need constant strengthening. The disciplined mind, synthesizing mind, creative mind, respectful mind and ethical mind all need training in order to preserve the capacity to understand the world.

Lifelong learning is the foundation of education and flexible employment. The importance of common knowledge will grow as the world becomes more complex and globalized. In the information society knowledge becomes the main capital, in many cases even more important than financial capital. Lifelong learning provides tools for keeping up with these changes. Today people become marginalized and more unequal based on their education.

Personally my main motivator for promoting learning in different arenas is the ideal of democracy. To function, democracy requires educated citizens. If the education level of the society is low, democracy can become a frightening force that can pave the way to populistic and nationalistic ideologies.

2. How will you support the promotion of adult education and lifelong learning if you are elected?

A European Council summit focusing on increasing investment in education and innovation for the successful future and economy, must be organized. It should include as its priorities the increasing of the EU budget for education and research and the binding augmentation of investment to education in all member states. This contains the investment to good basic education, vocational training and higher education as well as in research. Education funds and the number of higher education degrees should thus be included in the European budget follow-up process.

The quality of basic education is the basis of further education and thus the quality targets of educators need to be agreed on and the resources for the training secured. Free movement of labor force inside the EU demands common perception of professional capacity. For this, more discussion on the minimum levels of educational systems in different countries, on quality evaluation, on sufficient amount of common knowledge and on the contents of vocational degrees is needed. There should also be more possibilities to combine different study modules from different parts of EU. In this process, the representatives of academic institutions and labor market organisations should have a central role.

3. In your opinion and experience, how can different disadvantaged groups (elderly, migrants etc.) be included in lifelong learning in order to support their social inclusion?

The Finnish model combining adult education centres, folk high schools and community colleges has worked well in promoting lifelong learning. We need more such education that is cheap, low-threshold and invigorating. A good example of education for targeted groups is the “University for the Elderly” that provides courses throughout the country. However, we should aim at providing open and accessible education options for all. The ability grouping of marginalized groups should not be self-preserving in education.

In the future it is important to increase the opportunities enabled by technology and remote access. Interactive, web-based lectures are already in use but should be mainstreamed. Remote lectures especially would serve those that haven’t got the access to lecture space.

4. What do you see as the role for non-formal adult education in helping to implement EU educational policy?

Non-formal adult education is currently not visible enough in the EU policy. For that reason the opportunities to promote non-formal adult education in the EU level are not frequent. Education is often seen as a tool for obtaining work or competence. For this reason I try to talk about learning as a value itself anytime possible.

An objective on strengthening and developing a network of non-formal adult education, equivalent to the Finnish system, should be set on a European level. To define this target level and other similar goals, a platform of different actors should be established to allow continuing dialogue on the development needs of education. One concrete step in this direction would be the validation of non-formal adult education credits in the European educational systems.

A central task of the non-formal adult education should be increasing knowledge on EU and promotion of critical debate, in the framework of EU supported mainstream programmes. We can’t expect the European democracy to develop unless we have a learning and debate forum that will include all the stakeholders. This is important in order to tackle the future EU challenges.

5. How will you support the work of civil society actors in promoting adult education?

The expert knowledge provided by CSOs has a crucial role in the Union as the decision making lies more in the hands of individuals than in national politics. In the new programme period strating this year, the funds of regional development and sectoral funds should be allocated for example to support non-formal adult education. Besides funding, civil society organisations should be heard more and early on in the decision making process.

A concrete easement for the civil society sector would be the acceptance of European organizational form. The discussion on this should be continued in the EU institutions.

I have already agreed with certain organisations that if I am elected I will have a role in establishing an intergroup for MEPs with the theme of non-formal education policy and learning. It would function as a forum also for CSOs to debate with the parliament and other EU institutions about the direction of education policy.

6. Would you support a “European Flagship campaign on adult education and learning” and if yes, how?

I warmly support the campaign. EU flagship initiatives are an important way to promote the current and future important themes. The importance of lifelong learning is continuously growing and it should thus be accepted as a flagship initiative. In the past, the flagship initiatives have succeeded in cutting through all the different levels of the society, which would be equally important for lifelong learning. I would also promote the initiative in all these forums. In the parliament, a suitable forum could be the intergroup and in Finland, I would promote the initiative in different events and current openings all over the country.