/ga/file/volunteering-adult-learning-2Volunteering in adult learning
EPALE Thematic Coordinator Andrew McCoshan reflects on some of the content published on EPALE in December.
EPALE’s December content leaves one in no doubt about the valuable – and highly diverse – contribution volunteers make to adult learning across Europe. As Aleksandra Kozyra makes clear, volunteers play many different roles. In Finland, they are important in liberal non-formal adult education, offering, for example, study circle activities; in Greece volunteering has been important in building solidarity since the financial crisis.
Volunteers bring enormous benefits, not only through their own personal development, but also through their social impacts. As my blog post on the roles and benefits of volunteering shows, individuals can develop a broad range of core competences that can be used in a wide range of life and work contexts. A key motivation for people to get involved is to make a difference to others and to their local communities, and hence volunteering can also help build stronger communities.
At the same time, we need to be alert to some of the risks inherent in volunteering. As Simon Broek argues, volunteers play a vital role in supporting those in need, and, for example, providing assistance in light-touch life/work guidance. But for a large group of (more vulnerable) adult learners, it is important not to muddle up the advantages of volunteering with the need for professional educators.
Focusing in on the needs of migrants for language learning, David Mallows shows that we may need to look to volunteers in light of pressures on national education budgets. Drawing on the VIME project, David’s blog shows that volunteers can add value as language assistants, coaches, buddies/befrienders and champions. It is also important to be clear about the roles, competences and modes of cooperation needed between professional teachers and volunteers.
Looking across EPALE content in December, it is clear that the roles of volunteers can be broad and that volunteers’ contributions can play a vital, grassroots role in adult learning, especially where adult learning is under-funded. At the same time, we need to take care to ensure volunteers fit well into the structures and processes of learning if we are to maximise the benefits of their contributions. Training and validation are important to ensure volunteers have the competences they need and to show them how much their contributions are valued and recognised.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 30 years. For more than 15 years he has conducted studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently an independent researcher and consultant, and Senior Research Associate at the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University in Ireland.