The Lifelong Learning Platform’s Annual Conference took place on 19-20 June in Brussels, the perfect place to take stock of the EU elections and assess the role education will play in the future of Europe. It gathered stakeholders from all education sectors and interests, tackling together the topic of “Learning democracy, values and participation: the added value of lifelong learning”. A very dynamic discussion saw the light, and there was general concordance on some key issues.
1. Our democracy needs all of its actors
It should be apparent that democratic systems need all of their gears to work smoothly. And yet, we feel like we need to state once again the key role of civil society organisations in building resilient societies. Organised civil society is the main provider of civic education in Europe. NGOs and other stakeholders allow for civic spaces outside of the public arenas that foster participation and democratic values, filling the gaps left by the state apparatus. Horizontal and vertical partnerships are crucial because democratic behaviours are built and shaped in these spaces, common values are spread here, and not only in the election moments.
2. All learning environments are crucial to a healthy and learning democracy
The space where we learn about our society, our institutions and our democratic values are very important. But it is also capital to realise that not all learning environments fulfil the same purpose, and yet they’re all needed to achieve the goal of a more harmonious society. Formal education still has a long way to go, but it represents a unique space for students to learn about civic education; non-formal and informal environments provide a much more flexible space, but also a space that adapts better to the needs of the learners. For instance, our family is the very first learning environment where we experience democracy. Breaking the silos between education sectors remains capital for citizenship as well.
3. Recognise the importance of Global Citizenship Education
Global Citizenship Education (GCE) is proven to build better citizens. It shapes more active, involved and aware citizens. However, there is still no formal recognition at European level – nor there is an integration on schools curricula. The SDGs (and their achievement) are the first step in this direction, but more needs to be done at European level to embed the lifelong learning dimension in GCE and then in national systems; the Finnish presidency will be an important interlocutor and we hope it will bring forward concrete actions to this extent.
4. An empowered democracy begins at the local level
We live in a system that has multiple levels of governance, all of them with recognisable purpose; and yet the local level is chronically underfunded and insufficiently involved – if compared to the national and European level. Democracy can be taught and learned in a structural way through European curricula but needs to be practised in everyday life and locally. Lifelong learning attitude, in all of its forms, remains a formidable anchor to empower people locally and enable them to make a difference at national, European and global level.
5. Investing in our teachers and educators means investing in our future
While education systems need to provide learners everywhere with adequate spaces and tools to both learn and exercise democracy, they also need to empower teachers and educators to serve the same purpose. We place plenty of expectations on teachers and educators when it comes to civic education and the appreciation of democratic systems: let’s match these expectations with adequate funding for their professional training and their learning mobilities.
Only through these measures, we can really see an increased relevance of lifelong learning in our societies and, by the same token, more active citizens and healthier democracies.