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E-Plattform für Erwachsenenbildung in Europa



Summary of the online discussion on vulnerable learners

von Gina Ebner
Sprache: EN
Document available also in: EL HU

/en/file/epale-discussion-social-inclusion-0EPALE Discussion Social Inclusion

EPALE Discussion Social Inclusion


Gina Ebner reflects on the EPALE online discussion on how adult learning can be used for social inclusion of vulnerable adults.


Thank you to everyone who took part in our discussion on vulnerable learners on 26 September. For those unable to join us I have attempted to summarise the points of discussion and contributions from all participants. This is not necessarily a detailed or comprehensive record, so feel free to visit the discussion page and read the full discussion.

During the introductions it became clear that each organisation that participants discussed or represented targeted different groups of vulnerable adults, the most often mentioned being migrants (especially migrants with limited language skills), disabled adults, ethnic minorities and prisoners. Other groups of vulnerable adults mentioned were also refugees and asylum seekers, low-skilled or low-qualified adults, school dropouts, parents of young children, people affected by trauma, employed people with inadequate training or support from their employers.

In light of the wide range of adult learners that the participants appeared to be working with, it became clear that our second point – pertaining to the use of ‘tailor-made’ opportunities and approaches – was very fitting. Many participants described approaches or adaptations to traditional approaches that were tailored to increase accessibility for vulnerable adults. Many noted that these approaches were vital because often these vulnerable adults were already less inclined to reach out for access to, or support for, adult learning or training. Without these adaptations, practitioners are likely to damage beyond repair adults’ perceptions of education (one obvious example of this are young adults who left school prematurely).

A participant from the Netherlands brought up the example of language skills education for migrants who are blind or visually impaired. As their access to traditional written resources is limited, the approach to learning is very different: immersive training – surrounding the individual with the language in an attempt to develop their skills in Dutch.

Most of the participants agreed that holistic approaches to education were vital for providing vulnerable learners with a sense of a ‘safety net’, and also to coordinate with other providers to ensure the best chances for the learners. Zoltán Lupták provided a strong example by mentioning the use of a ‘triangle approach’ to school leavers, working in collaboration with social services and the local labour office to give these individuals the best possible chances at employment.

Approaches to education for prisoners were brought up by Raffaela Kihrer from EAEA as well as by Michela Scalpello from the University of Malta. Both of them recognised that education is key for helping prisoners develop skills for re-entry to the workplace, and that employment was a major part of motivating offenders to rehabilitate and self-include in society. Both organisations are working on an interesting initiative and approach to prison learning, SkillHUBS, which is tailor-made to focus on topics that, according to feedback, make inmates ‘want to learn’. This project is interesting as it demonstrates how less traditional education models, focusing on validation and individual learning objectives can improve learners’ relationship with education, helping to also advance their sense of citizenship.

In terms of employer involvement and support, most participants agreed that there was much room for improvement. Brian Caul recommended that employers in all sectors should be actively encouraged by governments and non-government bodies to ensure that there is fair access to employment for newcomers and people with disabilities, and that support measures are provided for career development. This would improve employment accessibility for a number of vulnerable groups who often find that despite having the appropriate skills they witness a lot of prejudice from employers.

However, many participants are working with organisations or initiatives aiming to educate and inform employers on how to better support the inclusion of vulnerable adults. Action on Hearing Loss (AoHL) for example noted how an increasing number of employers were providing interpreters at interviews and ongoing career development for deaf or hearing impaired employees. CRAIC NI offers training workshops (and is in the process of creating advice centres) for employers on cultural learning and social inclusion – aiming to improve hiring practices and the understanding management of instances of prejudiced thinking amongst current staff members.

Learning to learn was brought forward as a concept that appears frequently for vulnerable learners who often have a very complicated relationship with formal education formats. These adults often haven’t developed the skills needed to learn, and first need to do that in order to get the most out of adult education. ‘Learning to learn’ often comes with a necessity for less traditional or formal approaches to learning. One example of this is the emphasis on validation of less formal skills and competences – most participants agreed that this was beneficial for the development of self-esteem and self-empowerment for vulnerable adults.

Empowerment of vulnerable learners was mentioned by many participants, especially through validation of prior learning. Florian Hinterberger discussed an approach he is using to help individuals recognise their prior skills and increase their chances of employment: this approach is called Competence Kaleidoscope. It is especially valuable as it empowers learners to recognise the value of their own experience and abilities instead of only focusing on where they lack skills.

A number of innovative approaches to social inclusion through adult education were discussed. The Dutch initiative Disabled and Self-Employed, for example, provides disabled adults with accessible resources on a variety of key competences for start-ups and small businesses: from finance and accounting to marketing. The online resources are also ‘barrier-free’ – compatible with text-to-speech software for blind or visually impaired learners. This initiative is attempting to improve accessibility to a broader range of job opportunities, such as entrepreneurship as there are few disabled small business owners in the Netherlands. Most participants echoed the idea that we should recognise employment as a ‘motor’ for social inclusion.

Another interesting and innovative approach to social inclusion is CAST4Innovation, a project looking to create courses (on a transnational level) to develop skills in cultural education, awareness and social inclusion. They are attempting to tackle racism, xenophobia and discrimination using a multitude of tools including non-traditional teaching approaches (the use of music, cooking and other creative outlooks).


Gina Ebner is the Secretary-General of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) and also EPALE's Thematic Coordinator for Learner Support.

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