SPDSozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, Germany

1. What does lifelong learning mean to you?

We live in a knowledge society. We aim for a society where everybody can participate. Accordingly, one has to acknowledge that formal higher education and professional training are not decisive for a successful participation any more. Especially, the technological change demands certain competences that are individually different for everybody – and that are often only achievable by the individual's commitment for learning. Therefore, people have to be encouraged to meet this challenge – and to experience learning as a positive, lifelong activity. We support the approach to create age-based and appropriate educational offers in early childhood – and the idea that people can further educate themselves even after completing formal education. Corresponding to that, there is a need for a broad offer of targeted and affordable trainings, courses etc. We see the folk high schools as a reliable partner for these educational offers. Especially in the framework of the new program, Erasmus+ – a program that combines all educational programmes within the EU. The EU provides – since 2014 – a larger sum for education than ever before. The programmes that were brought together under one roof were simplified and made more flexible – so that they can accommodate different educational needs during different phases in a person's life.

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

Since 2011, there is a new European Agenda for Adult Education – which comprises a multitude of important demands for European institutions and member states. The agenda lists priority areas in adult education from 2012 to 2014. We, the social-democratic MEPs, will demand the implementation of an agenda for the future – in the new legislative period. In the frame of the Agenda, the European Commission will soon offer a new multilingual online-platform for adult education in Europe: EPALE – Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe. We will monitor the effectiveness of this instrument, which should virtually bring together people interested in adult education as well as stakeholders in adult education.

In 2015, the effectiveness of Erasmus+ will be reviewed. We want to use this chance to revise the support for lifelong learning, through this basic support instrument.

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?

We, the social democrats, want to permanently implement inclusion into society. Therefore, we need changes on all levels, as well as an adequate financial and personal environment for people to live in. In the long term, it should be our goal to successfully approach marginalised groups with inclusive offers. Inclusion must not be misunderstood as erasing targeted and demanded offers completely. We have to go "step by step": In our opinion, we need clear definitions for specific educational goals. In a second step, we should ask for which underprivileged group this educational goal could be interesting for – and through which instruments they can be approached successfully: Here, the individual case has to be kept in mind, i.e. if a special offer, oriented at specific needs, is still necessary – or if an inclusive offer within the framework of the available resources will be sufficient for all participants.

We think that the latter is desirable, without wanting to condemn specific and targeted offers. Inclusion has to be considered from the first step of the program planning.

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

Non-formal education has, in our opinion, a growing role in all phases of life, from early childhood to old age. The biggest part of volitional lifelong learning probably happens in non-formal and informal learning. The Social Democratic Party welcomes that all member states are obliged – through the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) – to set steps for the validation of non-formally and informally acquired skills and competences. They will develop procedures for the validation on the national level. Accordingly, concrete political initiatives should be started in Germany. The limitation of the German Qualifications Framework – to formal education diplomas – is not desired on the European level, and therefore represents the German education system only inadequately. On the European level, a good framework for the validation of achievements in non-formal adult education is already set – but it has to be implemented on the national level as well.

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

Non-governmental associations like the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA), the European Research and Development Institutes for Adult Education (ERDI) as well as the European Society for Research on the Education of Adults (ESREA) are very important partners for us social democrats, when we debate about the future direction of adult education. They are supported with European money and we think that this will remain necessary in the future. We have high hopes for the opening of the e-platform “EPALE”, because we believe that the continuous transnational exchange of successful projects and concepts in adult education – as well as the connection of many individual persons who are active or interested in adult education – will give adult education a noticeable development impulse and growth of importance.

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

We the social democrats know that EAEA wishes to declare the years 2017 or 2018 as the European Year of Adult Education. We welcome this initiative explicitly. We think that the European Year can create higher visibility for topics that deserve more awareness. A good example of that was the European Year for Volunteering, in 2011.