The purpose of this article is to paint a picture of the adult education landscape of Norway today, and in the same time try to point out some challenges for the future.
By Sturla Bjerkaker, Secretary General, Norwegian Association for Adult Learning
Adult education and learning (AEL) in Norway today can be separated in at least four parts, with some overlap:
1. AEL is about basic skills - and formal competences
Almost one third of the adult population in Norway does not have proper skills in reading, writing and simple maths and ICT to cope with the society´s complexity. This "problem" - uncovered by the OECD surveys ALL and SIALs a few years ago - is taken quite seriously. The National institute of adult education (VOX) has, on behalf of the Ministry of Education and Research, developed programs and offered money for projects where companies and adult education providers have jointly cooperated in different in-service basic skills learning opportunities. The parliament has the last years increased their spending for this purpose. Not much, compared with other comparable countries, but this year an amount of approximately 8 million Euros will be spent on this program. According to the proposed state budget for 2010, around 10 million Euros will be spent next year. Many providers are involved, also the voluntary based study associations.
The basic skills program can be seen as being close to the "adult´s right". As a result of the so called Competence reform (1998- 2002) a change came in the Education Act, giving adults formal right to fulfill upper secondary and high school level if they had missed it as young. The public authorities on county level are responsible to offer these opportunities to adults, but distance education schools, study associations and school´s adult resource centers can be providers. The challenge is that it is still too many adults missing basic education and skills, both in the origin Norwegian population and not least amongst immigrants, and the participation in learning provisions are still too low compared with the "needs", as they are defined by the school authorities. Many counties are not willing to give their provider responsibility away to others (see above). They should do so in order to reach the goals, which is - of course - to eliminate adult functional illiteracy completely. But it is not said when… According to the goals in the Education for all declaration (UN, Dakar 2000), a country like Norway should not have these problems, but instead give contributions to solve them in developing countries. (This also is the case to some extent.)
2. AEL is about further and continuing education
Skills do not last forever, or, if they do, they might not be sufficient for the needs of today. With other words: It is "always" a need for knowledge updating, and there are very often a need for new skills and competences at work places, especially those that copes with new and different technology. And most companies are. An architect graduated in 1980 cannot function in his work today without attending further education courses. Drawings happen on screen today, no longer on transparent paper. The ICT technology has already for quite some years influenced many professions. Therefore, further and continuing adult education is a big issue; both as in-service training, courses run by companies and as a profession by university colleges, universities, companies and others. Further education is also provided by the labor market authorities, as labor market courses, re-schooling for new professions etc. It is not only a question of skills updating, but also of learning totally new skills for totally new professions, as the old professions not longer exist and the need in e.g. the health sector is constantly increasing.
It´s difficult to give numbers and costs for this part nr 2, satisfactory statistics or reports are not to be required, but it is a big area, probably the biggest field of adult education in Norway today. .
3. AEL is about learning for its own sake - learning for joy
The people go to courses and study circles and have done so "always". Just name it: language courses with no other purpose than the joy of leaning something new or being able to order a meal in Spain or somewhere else. A wide range of courses could be added: flower and gardening, fishing and hunting, handicraft, folk dance and music, guitar and drums, singing, knitting, modeling. Adult education should contribute to give adults a more meaningful life, to quote the Adult Education Act from 1976. Not least the "learning for its own sake" is relevant in this context. Here, the 20 study associations in Norway, together with a wide range of voluntary member organizations, have done a great job for more than 75 years to fulfill this part of the adult education landscape. This is learning without exams. But state support is given when certain conditions is fulfilled; the courses or study circles have to have at least five participants joining for more the n12 hours etc. Many of these study circles are easy to join, the door path is low, the challenges come smoothly.
4. AEL is about learning for active citizenship and democracy
We find a historic role of AEL in all the Nordic countries which has to do with the rice and maintenance of democracy. Democracy has to be learned for new by every generation; it is not learned once and for ever. Popular enlightenment and people´s own enlightenment has for almost 200 years played a crucial role for developing democracy. The learning tasks are: General knowledge about the "content of society", about the functions in society, the elections, the representatively, the parliamentary system, the ways of influence etc. Important also in this field is to learn how to be critical, how to cope with all the information which is overwhelming. Here also, learning how to run organizations and meetings is important. Which mechanisms must be in space to run a meeting properly? How do we cope with the people in charge, in power, the consumer´s rights etc? All this requires learning. How to learn to act as a Chop Stuart at the work place? Learning for democracy - in all its facets - might be the biggest challenge of EAL in the years to come.
Are these challenges special for Norway? I don´t think so. If not universal, the challenges described in this article are at least quite common for the Nordic countries. But - I believe - many other countries in Europe and other parts of the world may have things to learn, or - at least - consider when a new policy for adult education and learning is to be concreted.
Look to Uruguay: In August 2009 this little country in South America has developed a quite new plan and strategy for non formal adult education and learning. Non formal that is, as they tell us that adults have to learn on their own conditions and the formal educational system is not able to meet their thirst or desire - and need - for knowledge. As a result of this, the state of Uruguay has set up an Institute for non-formal adult education and learning.
Interesting to find "a mirror" so far away…
A new law
A new law for non-formal adult education and learning passed the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) this summer. The law puts up new goals for the NGO-based study associations. To use adult education to strengthen democracy and secure sustainable development, to work for integration of immigrants and disadvantage groups and to work for motivation to learn are some of these goals. The public support for study circles that work to fulfill these goals will maintain. But the providers would like to see an increase of the poblich grants, of course. The distance education institutions are also covered by the new law. It is still quite unique worldwide to have a law - such as the Norwegian - regulating adult education run by the voluntary sector. The future of AEL in Norway is to some extend depending on how this new law will be implemented. But, referring to the four parts of EAL introduced in this article, the law is first and foremost interesting for the third and fourth part - learning for its owns sake, and learning for human growth and democracy. But that should be good enough…