Maicen Ekman, secretary general of SAEA, handed over a conference appeal to the EU institutions on the 30th of September to the EU minister of Sweden, Cecilia Malmström who recived it and agreed that non formal adult education can play an important role to promote active citizenship in Europe.
The appeal was one of the results of the SAEA/EAEA conference on Active Citizenship in Europe, gathersing some 400 participants from 20 countries in Göteborg.
On recieving the appeal Malmström emphasised that Swedish non formal adult education organisations are important as a channel between citizens and decision makers and explained that this is why the Swedish government has given extra funds to the organisations to arrange Europe related activities. The appeal will be handed over by SAEA and EAEA to other EU institutions in November.
The conference highlights the fact that non-formal adult education and informal learning promote active citizenship in Europe. Non-formal learning emphasizes empowerment, grass roots participation and is a driving force in civil society.
Challenge 1: Only four out of ten Europeans voted in the European election
Politicians have long talked about the need to increase the involvement of citizens in EU issues. However, only just over four out of ten Europeans put a polling slip in the ballot box, despite the fact that EU policy has a huge impact on their daily lives.
Option 1: Listen to European civil society
The EU´s draft Lisbon Treaty sets out the intention of maintaining an open, transparent and regular dialogue with civil society. Active adult education organisations constitute, together with other civil society organisations, a foundation for a strong civil society. They form a structure of crucial importance for a sustainable democracy.
Non-formal learning is an important tool for discussing and promoting the European idea itself. If civil society is to be capable of successfully generating involvement in Europe, decision-makers at EU, national and local levels must embody and pay attention to the democratic activities carried out by civil society organisations.
Non-formal adult education and informal learning can play a crucial role in promoting active citizenship, but there is very little political and financial support available. We therefore suggest an extension of the EU Citizenship Programme to include a strong emphasis on non-formal adult learning. The parts of the European lifelong learning programme targeted at non-formal adult education should also be extended. The European leadership must move from words to deeds.
Challenge 2: Ignorance breeds extremism
Extremism in Europe is on the rise. Xenophobic and anti-democratic factions are established.
Option 2: Support a citizens´ Europe
We understand that the growing support among Europeans in favour of extremist parties is rooted in ignorance and a sense of powerlessness. To be able to combat extremist ideas, a functioning democracy needs well educated citizens with respect for human rights and a global awareness. The EU´s current education initiatives and programmes emphasize formal learning. It is high time to provide equal support for non-formal adult education and informal learning. For many people, non-formal learning is a stepping stone to, for instance, formal education or the jobs market; it also fosters personal development and provides meeting places for people from different social backgrounds and with different views.
Challenge 3: The financial crisis
The financial situation in Europe is tough. Public finances are increasingly under pressure and unemployment is rising, especially among young people.
Option 3: Time for an adult education initiative
Encourage the EU community to launch an adult education initiative, an initiative that invests in the education and learning of citizens. The initiative will promote the acquisition of the EU´s key competences, such as learning to learn, social and civic competences, cultural expression, digital competence and entrepreneurship.
This will promote social cohesion and more people will be able to join the labour market. It will also prepare Europe for future challenges such as demographic and environmental change. Non-formal learning is crucial for promoting learning for sustainable development. An investment in adult education now - despite and because of the crisis - will bring long-term benefits. Non-formal adult education and informal learning can reach out to people and foster a sense of community and citizenship. It is an asset and a necessity for Europe, its member states and its regions.