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Lifelong Learning Interest Group – “Sustainability is not only about the environment”

In a vibrant online discussion, stakeholders from education, environment and development sectors gathered with European decision-makers to take stock of the role of education to build sustainable societies. The meeting, which was moderated by LLLP Secretary-General Giuseppina Tucci, focused on how education and lifelong learning can contribute to sustainable development not only from an economic, environment point of view but also social. Hosted by MEP Dace Melbārde, ViceChair of the CULT Committee of the European Parliament, this meeting of the Lifelong Learning Interest Group of the European Parliament saw considerable participation of stakeholders at large: civil society actors from local to EU levels, practitioners, representatives of European and international institutions. 

Europe lends its ear to civil society

The new European Skills Agenda sets ambitious goals for upskilling and reskilling, and it is clear that the sustainability dimension is engrained in its actions, and ways forward, said Ms Melbārde in her opening speech. At the same time, however, “innovation in education has been lagging behind” and while strategies and framework ask the right questions, their implementation often fails to provide the answer.

Michael Teutsch, representative of DG EAC, pointed out the new Commission has given great emphasis on green transitions since its establishment: even the Green Deal communication makes clear reference to education and related skills development. The European Commission, especially DG EAC, wants to follow up on this by focusing on the broader role of education in the SDGs and what education can do to promote environmental sustainability. 

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For instance, said Ms Denise Chrcop (European Parliament Research Service) a study for the CULT Committee showed that a relevant number of projects and the budget of programmes are already addressing environmental issues but the budget allocated is still under the share of 25%. The author points out that Commission and project leaders can do more to improve awareness of environmental impact and role of participants as agents of change. 

Sustainable education: what for?

Tatjana Babrauskienė, Member of the EESC and trade unionist, pointed out that the Skills Agenda does not provide a target on participation in training aiming to develop green skills. The climate policy naturally impacts all sectors of learning and we cannot make progress only focusing on formal education, we must give equal importance to all sectors. To this extent, we are missing an EU-level comprehensive strategy on green skills for all ages and all learners that should be eventually translated into national strategies developed with social partners and other stakeholders. Economic, social and environmental aspects cannot be separated, which requires a great complexity of necessary skills.

Of similar advice was Rilli Lappalainen, Bridge 47, who commented that the EU is inevitably seen as a trend-setter when it comes to innovation in education and pedagogies; building on previous comments, he emphasized the need to implement Target 4.7 of the SDGs, to truly fulfil the potential of what has now come in a simple wording: Education for Sustainable Development. The Envision 4.7 roadmap is an excellent starting point if we want “to jump a little higher”. 

This tension between the need to have an overarching strategy at EU level and the complementary urge to start acting in local communities is at the core of what GAIA Education is doing. An education provider, as its representative May East pointed out, it proposes a “new epistemology that embraces this transformative learning and a shift from intended learning to emerging learning and understanding lifelong learning as nested with others in communities and ecosystems that empowers people”. 

When we talk about Education for Sustainable Development, it’s not always clear what the aim is: are we trying to change people’s behaviour or are we trying to achieve through formal education to bring new skills for people to become scientists and innovators? Jérémy Apart, E-Graine, brought the question back to its starting point. How can we educate properly if we don’t have the overall picture of changing societies? We often focus on university science departments but when it comes to sustainable development if a school is not trying to change its practice (e.g. how often it serves meat, provision of recycling bins) then there is going to be an opposition between the lessons and what happens every day.

Patterns of change are in experiential learning

Interventions from the audience sparkled up the discussion. It was deemed necessary for education policy to move away from a school-based or university-based understanding: if we want to create systemic change (however large this system is), there need to be actions informed with non-formal education approaches or generally speaking with experiential learning. This is particularly true for an education that seeks to make sustainability a reality. To this extent, a lifelong learning approach is indispensable. 

In her closing remark, EAEA Secretary-General Gina Ebner pointed out that we have tools like technology, we have frameworks that we can already rely on and in Europe, we have the added value of the EU and we have education as a topic and opportunity to exchange. We see here the possibility for the future, through civil dialogue we can bring transformative change, starting from an efficient and targeted implementation. 

By the same token, MEP Dace Melbārde claimed that “there is no lack of policy documents but we are lacking strategies for implementation”. In her closing remarks, she underlined that lifelong learning promotes a positive attitude towards the future. 

Press release – GRALE 4 Report launched at Lifelong Learning Interest Group meeting – LLLWeek19

The fourth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) was launched on 5 December in Brussels at a meeting of the Interest Group on Lifelong Learning. The event, hosted by the Permanent Representation of Lower Saxony to the EU, took place in the framework of the Lifelong Learning Week 2019.

Focus on adult learning to develop integrated, holistic solutions to global challenges

The need for better recognition as well as financing of the education sector was at the centre of the high-level panel debate. While there is a wide acknowledgement that adult education is pivotal for creating inclusive societies, tools and instruments put forward by countries in Europe and other parts of the world are often insufficient to ensure large participation in lifelong learning. Panellists, coming both from civil society organisations, governmental and intergovernmental institutions, agreed on the need to decisively step up participation in learning and education.

A special focus was brought on to adults. “Adult education and learning must be at the centre of efforts to achieve sustainable societies. All actors need to recognise its key role in the development of integrated, holistic solutions to the problems we face,” said David Atchoarena, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), during his opening speech.

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Sustainability plays a key role in adult education

His Excellency Mahougnon Kakpo, Minister of Ministry of Secondary, Technical and Vocational Education and Training of Benin, underlined that all education needs to start with adults in order to achieve the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. “Equality is a global issue. Adult education provides a system for creating it,” he said.

“Sustainability plays a key role in the context of adult education. We need adult learning to implement the SDGs. As a society, our individual actors and consumers need to be aware of sustainability issues if we want to meet the goals by 2030,” Gina Ebner, Secretary General of the European Association for the Education of Adults, stressed in the discussion. “At the same time, we also need more sustainability of actual adult education policies.”

A new mindset to see education as a lifelong cycle

“We should change the culture and mindset that surrounds learning as an adult and see education as a lifelong cycle,” said Tatjana Babrauskiene, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee. She stressed that a holistic approach is needed not only for the way we teach but also for policy development and implementation.

There was a general agreement that “we must stop this culture that ‘the end of formal education means the end of our learning process,” as underlined by Manuela Geleng, Director for Skills in DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission.

A paradigm shift starts with increased investment in adult education

“There is a need for a paradigm shift in education policies that has to start with increased investment in adult education. A considerable number of countries is using less than 0.5 per cent of their education budgets for adult education. This is not enough to reach our target to get at least 15 per cent of adults into lifelong learning.” During the policy debate, it was anticipated that the European Commission will put adult learning high on the political agenda in the next years.

Everyone needs to have the right and the possibility to access learning

Adult participation in lifelong learning remains a key issue in almost all countries reviewed in the GRALE report. One-third of countries reported no change in participation rates, and some even reported a regression over the past years. Marginalised groups, including migrants, people with disabilities as well as older people, are particularly ill-represented in adult learning due to different barriers to participation.

Mr Atchoarena expressed concern that “most policy attention is on basic skills and employment education.” He called for more attention to issues related to citizenship, especially as democracy is in crisis in many parts of the world. “Participation in adult education plays a central role in being an active citizen and strengthening democratic systems. We must revisit the ways in which we use adult education policies to respond to emerging issues and problems, not only for the economy but for society as a whole,” he said.

The GRALE report urges policy-makers to work on and implement strategies for the participation in adult learning. “If things continue as they are — and without a significant change in political outlook there are good chances they will — the benefits of adult learning will continue to coalesce around the better-off and most advantaged in society, reinforcing and even intensifying existing inequalities, rather than helping the least advantaged individuals and communities.”

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Bringing all stakeholders together and offering guidance is central

Lucie Susova, SOLIDAR Foundation, and Sylvia Liuti, FORMA.Azione, represented the voice of civil society in the panel. Ms Susova emphasised the importance of bringing all stakeholders together, including social services, legal services, as well as civil society, in order to support learners as they move between service providers. Ms Liuti said that “adults need to be empowered to ask for education support and provision without fear of stigma.” Participation of adults in lifelong learning is higher in countries and regions, where these support mechanisms exist.

H.E. Kakpo said: “Lifelong learning and adult education should be leading global development. In a world with rapid technological changes, learning helps our citizens to cope with these changes, and be full citizens.”

“We must not take democracy, values and participation for granted. And lifelong learning has a key role to play in keeping track as they develop, evolve and change,” concluded Brikena Xhomaqi, Director of the Lifelong Learning Platform.

Press release – Lifelong Learning Interest Group on ‘Skills for Life, Skills for the Future’

BRUSSELS, 30 September 2019 – On 25 September, ahead of the second European Education Summit, the European Parliament’s Lifelong Learning Interest Group met to discuss Skills for Life, Skills for the Future with Members of the European Parliament Julie Ward and Sirpa Pietikäinen, representatives of the European Commission, Finnish Presidency of the Council and stakeholders from all sectors of education, training and beyond. The meeting focused on how to better implement the concept of life skills, which enable people to fully participate in society as self-sufficient individuals, by bringing various domains and stakeholders together, including the different configurations of the EU institutions. 

In the course of the discussions speakers and participants dwelled on four key areas: 

Recognising the diversity of learning 

“Learning can happen in so many different places and we have to continue to demonstrate that,” stressed Ms Ward. The audience heard testimonies from different sectors of learning, all crucial in their own right for the development of skills required by individuals across different life contexts, including adult education, higher education, VET, non-formal education as well as the less obvious field of sports. Bart Verschueren, Coordinator of EU Sport Link and representative of the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA), emphasised the idea of physical literacy explaining: “sports help to include people in society and promote well-being. It is an essential part of lifelong learning.”

Investing in European cooperation 

Ms Pietikäinen made a strong plea to Member States to see the value of European cooperation and pooling of resources when it comes to skills policies: “We hope that we can encourage the Member States to see that lifelong learning is a European issue.” She added that it is a macroeconomic issue and so mechanisms such as the European Semester have a role to play. Margarida Segard, Vice-President of the European Association of Institutes for Vocational Training (EVBB), recommended further connecting the European and national levels in order to truly foster innovation. 

Mainstreaming skills and policy synergies 

Johanna Koponen, representative of the Finnish Presidency, emphasised its interest to promoting continuous learning by taking synergies between sectors further, notably through the first-ever joint Education and Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting on 8 November. Roman Horvath from DG GROW stressed the skills needs from the perspective of industry, explaining that both technical and soft skills are required.

However, this needs to be reflected within the institutions through more robust cooperation, recalled Lucie Susova, Vice-President of the Lifelong Learning Platform: “I hope that the (new Commission) President will mainstream skills issues holistically instead of having silos between DGs where they find it difficult to cooperate.” Strengthening cooperation between different sectors of education, formal and non-formal, was likewise highlighted by several speakers including Fabrice Gonet, Interim Secretary-General of the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) and Gina Ebner, Secretary-General of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA). Learning also needs to happen in a more multidisciplinary way, taking account of psychology, neuroscience and through a more integrated research agenda, commented Mirela Mazalu, Secretary-General of the European University College Association (EucA). 

Promoting skills not only for the workforce

The idea that education and lifelong learning are not only for the acquisition of labour market skills was evoked throughout the debate. Mónika Képe-Holmberg from DG EAC said this is clear in the cooperation between Member States, where the ET2020 framework deals with issues such as inclusion, inequalities and innovation in education. Ms Ebner explained EAEA’s Life Skills for Europe project which offers a holistic approach: “In our project, we developed a framework that identifies skills that every person needs in their personal and professional life. Education providers can adapt it to their own needs, starting from the learner’s needs.” Francesca Caena from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) also stressed the different facets of the Life Competence (LifeComp) framework, currently under development, which conceives learners as agents of change, integrating cross-cutting skills such as critical thinking, intercultural understanding and offering “the advantage of straddling employment, education and lifelong learning”. 

The Lifelong Learning Platform and the European Association for the Education of Adults look forward to continuing constructive dialogue with the new European Commission and Parliament to embed a holistic approach to skills policies in the years to come.  

Initiated in 2015 by the Lifelong Learning Platform and the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA), and chaired by MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (Finland, EPP), the Interest Group on Lifelong Learning brings together civil society representatives and MEPs to discuss key issues connected to lifelong learning in Europe.

Click here to access the pictures of the event!