"We are going to need a Europe-wide skills promotion initiative on the Swedish model if we are going to meet the EU´s skills target" claims the Folkbildningsförbundet, (Swedish National Federation of Study Associations), which is the umbrella organisation for study associations in Sweden.
"Non-formal learning needs to be promoted across Europe, with a broad focus on prioritised groups," says Maicen Ekman, the General Secretary of the Federation.
The EU has set itself an ambitious target to become the world´s most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based society by 2010.
"This is all most commendable, but if the EU is going to meet the challenge, there will have to be a broad focus on non-formal learning to give people an incentive to learn", says Maicen Ekman. "Particularly those in the most marginalised and unskilled sectors of society."
The issue of a European skills promotion initiative on the Swedish model is now being raised by the Folkbildningsförbundet in the run up to the Swedish presidency in the second half of 2009.
"Studies have shown that the Scandinavian model for non-formal learning is very successful in reaching large sections of the adult population", says Maicen Ekman.
Non-formal learning was a key aspect of the nationwide promotion of employment skills conducted in Sweden between 1997-2002.
Importance of democracy
Commenting on the European Commission´s policy strategy for 2009, the Folkbildningsförbundet draws attention to the vital importance of lifelong learning for democracy within the EU.
"It is the intention of the EU to conduct a clear, open and regular dialogue with civil society. Non-formal learning has an important part to play in this. Our experience in Sweden shows that learning in an informal setting underpins the democratic infrastructure and builds bridges between citizens and elected representatives.
The Folkbildningsförbundet points out that democratic and educational issues are pivotal to achieving the aim of a competitive, knowledge-based EU, which is sustainable in the long-term. It is therefore hoped that a forum can be established making it easier to exchange experiences in terms of models for civil influence and communication channels between people and their elected representatives within the EU.
In contacts with the Swedish government, the Folkbildningsförbundet has proposed a European liberal adult education conference on this subject during the Swedish presidency in 2009.
"We are constantly emphasising that there are many dimensions to lifelong learning," says Maicen Ekman. "Progress should not just be measured in financial terms, but also in terms of strong democracy and personal development".
"If the EU is to reap success in the important areas such as employment, integration, climate, energy, culture, fighting poverty and education there will have to be a shift of emphasis in the EU´s budget, with less being spent on supporting agriculture and more resources for skills development".
(InfoNet - Hetty Rooth)