ARALE conference

The ARALE Conference took place in Brussels on 2nd and 3rd of October 2013.

The chicken and the egg

What comes first – a European initiative on adult learning to inspire national developments or national activities that are coordinated on a European level? It was like the chicken and the egg at the final panel debate of the conference.

“Do we need a European-wide campaign on adult education?” That was the question that the three panellists were asked to talk about.

Zvonka Pangerc Pahernic from the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education and Per Paludan Hansen, who is both chairman of the Danish organisation and of EAEA, supported the idea of such a conference. While not directly opposing it, Dana Bachman, head of the vocational training and adult education unit of the European Commission, stressed that activities have to take place on the national level.

Key priority

“Awareness raising for adult learning is a key priority for the Commission,” Dana Bachman said in her introduction and mentioned three ways to work for that goal:

- Developing specific strategies

- Encouraging actions at national level

- Encouraging member states to appoint national coordinators, for whom awareness raising is a central task

A movement

Zvonka Pangerc Pahernic pointed to the conference itself: “This kind of conference is a learning festival. It is our way of celebrating,” she said.

In her introduction she also said that the European adult learning community must discuss how to become a real movement - again.

Strengthening Europe

Taking up the note from the very first presentation (the BeLL project) at the conference, Per Paludan Hansen said that the sector must develop its capacity to explain the benefits of adult education.

“For example we can contribute to the strengthening of Europe, both in relation to competition and the market and to individuals as active citizens in a democracy,” he said.

European initiatives

Per Paludan Hansen also said:

“We can contribute to the creation of a European perspective in our countries. But it does help us if there are special European initiatives, for example a European Year for Lifelong Learning.”

The immediate reply from Dana Bachmann was to stress that action must take place on the national level where the citizens are.

EAEA general secretary, Gina Ebner, intervened in the debate saying: “The national governments could learn from Brussels. National governments are sometimes very narrow-minded.”

Dana Bachman once again stressed that the Commission must stay within the limits of the European treaties, defining education as primarily a national prerogative.

Jobs or more?

Uwe Gartenschläger from the German DVV-International was critical to the overall EU strategy, as it is defined in the so called Lisbon Strategy: “It turns adult education into a tool for job purposes. Lifelong learning must be humanistic, and we must have a holistic approach to people, addressing all their needs as citizens, family members, individuals – and of course on the labour market.”

Zvonka Pangerc Pahernic warned against seeing Vocational Education and Training (VET) as the enemy of general adult education.

In support of that point Dana Bachmann said that there are a lot of possibilities of interplay between the two sectors: “I think we should use the synergies between general adult education and VET much better.”

She admitted that lifelong learning has been “sliced into different departments”, but she expressed the hope that the new programme, ERASMUS+, will partly solve this problem.

Having the last word from the floor, Berni Brady from AONTAS, Ireland, told the participants not to be smug: “Non-formal adult education is not the only learning sector that takes care of the whole person. Stop parallel thinking about the sectors. The persons must be at the centre, and they want jobs and security. Most of us in this conference have a good education and a job. Who are we to say that it is not important?”