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EPALE discussion: How can adult learning be used for social inclusion of vulnerable groups

The discussion will take place on this page on 26 September between 10:00 and 16:00 CEST and will be moderated by EPALE Thematic Coordinator Gina Ebner from the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA). Don’t miss the opportunity to share your views and experiences with the EPALE community!

Social inclusion of vulnerable groups.


As part of our August-September thematic focus, EPALE is organising a written discussion on how adult learning can best be used for social inclusion of vulnerable adults.

The discussion will take place on this page on 26 September between 10:00 and 16:00 CEST and will be moderated by EPALE Thematic Coordinator Gina Ebner from the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA). Don’t miss the opportunity to share your views and experiences on any of the topics below with the EPALE community!

Also, if you’ve ever worked on projects dealing with social inclusion through adult learning or developed any relevant methodologies – share your story with the other participants in the comments below!

The discussion on 26 September will include the following questions:

10:00-12:30 CEST

  • Does your organisation work with vulnerable groups? What are your target groups?
  • Do you offer tailor-made learning opportunities for vulnerable adults? Are they tailored to a particular target group or to the individual? How does this work concretely?
  • Are trainers/educators supported in working with vulnerable learners by the employer in your countries? Are there in-service training opportunities offered, for example for low-qualified employees?

Discussion left open during lunch interval


13:30-16:00 CEST

  • What do vulnerable learners need in order to progress in their professional and personal lives?
  • Are there any initiatives in your country to support / promote social inclusion through adult education?
  • Do you know of any innovative approaches to social inclusion?


    ** Comments will be open on 23 September so participants can introduce themselves or post their comments in advance.

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    Thank you also from my side, I really enjoyed the discussion and learned a lot of new approaches and examples. You have a very short summary above, and we'll provide a more detailed one soonish (7 October or so). For the time being, the discussion page will remain open, so if anyone's interested, you can still post somethign, and we'll integrate it in the summary.
    Thank you and bye for now!
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    Let's now move to the last part of our discussion: Can you formulate recommendation for the work with vulnerable groups? They might be targeted at policy-makers, at stakeholders (ec social partners), at adult education organisations and providers, at trainers.
    What do you think is absolutely necessary?
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    Gina, I need to leave now for another commitment. Please find below some suggested recommendations. Thank you for organising an interesting day, and summarising so succinctly. Best Regards, Brian
    1. Funding should be made available under a "good relations" budget or equivalent through central governments to local regional authorities to encourage and enable cultural awareness programmes.
    2. Accredited cultural awareness training should be made available by suitably registered community interest companies at level 4 EQF.
    3. Representatives of ethnic minority groups and disability organisations should be involved in advisory groups to inform policy-makers at government level about needs and priorities.
    4. 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 diabilities, and that support measures are provided for career development.
    5. All public bodies should be required to review annually their policies concerning diversity in staffiong and governing bodies.
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    Would you please include, under innovative approaches to social inclusion the Erasmus+ project, CAST4Innovation, which is currently being created by our transnational team,  and evaluated by trainers from ethnic minority backgrounds. It is envisaged that, as a result, there will be an expansion in cultural awareness workshops and activities throughout Europe, which will heighten the awareness of the importance celebration of diversity and social inclusion. Not least, we shall have many more trained and skilled trainers who themselves will have a diversity of backgrounds. 
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    We talked about a number of topics and were presented with very interesting examples.
    We touched on: tailor-made offers, social support, holistic offers, validation of prior learning, non-formal methodologies, empowerment, anti-discrimination, entrepreneurship, employability and the role of employers.
    Does anyone still have a comment on either target groups or topics?
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    So far, we have talked about the following target groups:
    Migrants - Refugees and asylum seekers - Blind/visually impaired people (especially migrants or those with a language barrier - Deaf/hearing impaired people - Ethnic minorities - Low-skilled or low-qualified adults - Young adults (school drop outs) - Adults with disabilities - Adults with intellectual disabilities, ASD, mental health issues - People affected by trauma - Prisoners - Parents of young children (especially those with a language barrier, e.g. migrants) - Unaccompanied minors - Employed persons with a lack of support/appropriate training - Unemployed persons 
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    Please have a look at Brian's comment, we were discussing discrimination and xenophobia towards newcomers, and I referred to a colleague that said that we, as educators have failed in this area. I'd still like to hear your opinions and am quoting Brian: 
    Encouraging and enabling inter-cultural dialogue is of course essential. I also firmly believe that newcomers from ethnic minority backgrounds can have a profound and positive effect on, not just local citizens, but on policy-makers too. If groups and communities are given the opportunity to share aspects of cultures different from their own, and listen to the experiences of journeys that migrant people have endured, fundamental changes in attitude can happen. It is also my belief that creative expression through music, drama, cuisine, poetry of the richness of other cultures can have an important and lasting impact. The other big question is whether adult educators should also challenge governmental policies if they believe that they are obstacles in the way of positive social change and equality of opportunity.
    What do you think?
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    It may depend on from which ethinc background one comes? Migrant, 2nd, 3rd generation migrant, member of a minority living in the country for hundreds of year? In Hungary's case the Roma /gipsy minority is the one we can talk about. Some of the Romas are completely integrated, accepted and appreciated, (including their culture) but their majority is not!
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    You have mentioned school dropouts and different learning opportunities... We are joining the discussion with Natalija Žalec, MAEd (UK), of the SIAE, who is the author of the Project Learning for Young Adults program and the coordinator of the basic training for mentors and training programs: 
    Among the most vulnerable groups there are also early school leavers and dropouts. The PLYA – Project Learning for Young Adults (…) that was developed by the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education in the nineties is designed to help NEET youth of ages 15 to 26. The project, financed by European Social Fund through the Ministry of labour of Slovenia helps the youths to overcome the problems that occur when they find themselves in a social emptiness i.e. social vacuum. At the moment there are 13 active PLYA groups all over Slovenia. 
    In general, the program has two main goals, i.e. to motivate a young person to to get closer to the labour market; either to continue or to complete an abandoned education or to get a job. PLYA is a highly personalised i.e. tailor-made programme where every student is invited personally to reflect upon her/his situation – the challenges, barriers, opportunities, her/his weak and strong points. Everybody outlines her/his personal learning plan. Participation in the PLYA is voluntary. The program requires daily participation. Students can attend the program up to one year. 
    The main learning mode are learning projects that might be completely personalised (i.e. individual learning projects; e.g. to make an exam, to do something that is important for the student) or collective i.e. group learning projects where a group shares the vision, goals and action plan, but the learning process itself is personalised (i.e. depending on student’s interests, learning needs, ambitions etc. within the project). Every learning project is realised in cooperation with the broader (local, national or international) environment, i.e. with experts and institution.   
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    We have - for example - a regional/local program in Békés city. It's main aim is fighting against segregation. It focuses mostly on Roma /gipsy/ community. The program includes providing financial aid to build a house, or a flat, counselling on healthy lifestyle, "life coaching". Many people need knowledge and a kind of "user's manual" even in very elementary issues. This lack of skills and knowledge makes them hard to break out of a poor and vulnerable  community. There is a focus on youngsters to gain at least secondary education. The program is financed by EU funds and governmental finances.
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    Tomorrow in European Economic and social committee, it'll be presented a project from 5 countries : Austria, Sweden, France, Spain and Italy about méthodologies for educators working with unaccompanied minors. There is a document in English and in French published on line

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    Disabled and Self-Employed: a good example of a project working on social inclusion
    'Disabled and Self-Employed' (DSE) is an Erasmus+ KA2 project on adult learning as instrument to support people with disabilities into self-employment, to start up their own business and to develop themselves. The aim of the project is to better equip institutions and entrepreneurial organisations to support people with disabilities on their way to the labour market basedupon a target oriented approach. The project is now at the final stage and has developed the folowing intellectual outputs: 
    The DSE Guidebook as a manual
    After an extensive survey in the participating countries, which has been described in the Guidebook, we have to conclude that there is no so much going on in the field of support for people with disabilities who want to start their own business. Good examples are scarce, entrepreneurial organisations of people with disabilities are lacking. In short, self-employment only occupies a very small place compared to what is organised as a social employment facility for people with disabilities. Very significant is that the Dutch situation is much worser compered with the situation in Germany, Spain and Italy, where is more attention paid to self-employemt of disabled people. The large difference in employment between people with and without disabilities is also shown by figures from Eurostat. This difference is not only due to high unemployment in European countries, but also because employers still have many prejudices about employees with disabilities. The manual in the Guidebook therefore takes as its starting point the qualities of people with disabilities and shows how they can also operate independently in the labour market. The manual is supplemented with examples of good practices and instructions for achieving this yourself. 
    DSE community as a meeting place
    We have created a virtual community, integrated within our website, where organisations dealing with these issues can not only make themselves more widely known, but can also exchange knowledge and experiences with each other. It is also easier for people with a disability to find other people in comparable situations there and see what kind of support they can expect from you. The community has various communication options for further discovery. You can communicate in your own language and the contacts are also arranged via national group pages. However, the community does not work very well – there is not much interactivity, alhtough we tired to stimulate this in several ways. 
    Easily accessible online tutorials
    DSE has now developed barrier-free software that takes into account the various types of restrictions. For example, there is international sign language for deaf users, there is a compatible screen reader for the blind and simple language is used for people with learning difficulties. This software makes it possible to make the tutorials to be developed accessible to people with different types of disabilities. We have developed tutorials around a number of indispensable topics such as: 
    • Finance and accountancy
    • ICT 
    • Public relations 
    • Sales & marketing 
    • Long-term support 
    The intention is that people with disabilities will feel more supported by this to undertake economic activities themselves. 
    Jumbo Klercq The Elephant, Learning in Diversity
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    I agreed with the difficulty to define what is exactly vulnerable groups. Vulnerability can be caused by so many factors. Does it mean when we speak about vulnerable groups, that we consider that as different group of persons , we need tohave different Learning processes.

    In my opinion, the concept of "learner in the centre of Learning processes" works for all persons. We need to give attention to the learner  first. After, méthodologies are the consequence of taking in account each personality, each individual.

    It's the core concept of "Education Populaire" in France, and of course in different countries.

    We have some examples. In la Ligue de l'enseignement Pas de Calais (North of France) social workers act with migrants. And they try to involve them in different activities existing. Other associations working on the concept of citizenship, can include different categories of learners. I wrote a blog on that exemple from KEUR ESKEMM (in Rennes, Brittany)

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    Hi David, good to see you here!
    Yes, we see the Llearner-centred approach here that was mentioned earlier, and empowerment is at the heart of most of the examples. What we haven't discussed yet is the connection to active citizenship. I believe that it is closely linked to empowserment, which then enables you to participate more and better in society. Who else has had similar experiences?
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    Thank you for your comment, Gina about active citizenship and empowerment.
    Sadly, I am witnessing increasing isolation and marginalisation of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, some of whom have been resident for many years. Is it sometimes simplistic to talk about helping newcomers to develop effective citizenship skills when they sense that, because of populist rhetoric and fear-mongering, their social environment is becoming more hostile towards them. Increasingly that hostility is manifested in verbal and physical abuse.
    I would welcome comments on what we mean by skills of citizenship? How can we help motivate anxious newcomers, individually and collectively, that they can contribute to and improve their new society? What work needs to be done among local indigenous communities to effect positive attitude change towards the importance of diversity?
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    Hi Brian, 
    this is an issue that happens in many countries indeed. Partly this concerns issues that we, as adult educators, cannot directly solve (low wages, precarious jobs, growing insecurity). What we should be able to do is bring people together, enable dialogue, forge intrecultural dialogue etc.
    Yesterday at an event, a colleague said that we have failed in this - discrimination, nationalism, xenophobia have increased and continue to do so.
    Have we failed? What can we do more?
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    Thanks for the helpful comments. Your colleague may be right - perhaps adult educators have failed to grasp a nettle. Encouraging and enabling inter-cultural dialogue is of course essential. I also firmly believe that newcomers from ethnic minority backgrounds can have a profound and positive effect on, not just local citizens, but on policy-makers too. If groups and communities are given the opportunity to share aspects of cultures different from their own, and listen to the experiences of journeys that migrant people have endured, fundamental changes in attitude can happen. It is also my belief that creative expression through music, drama, cuisine, poetry of the richness of other cultures can have an important and lasting impact. The other big question is whether adult educators should also challenge governmental policies if they believe that they are obstacles in the way of positive social change and equality of opportunity.
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    Hello from EPALE Austria! 
    Trainers (certainly not only in Austria) are often times confronted with the question “how to work with learners affected by a trauma in the best of ways?”. We would like to point out the EPALE Blog Trauma and learning, which sheds light on the impact that traumatic experiences (i.e. flight) have on adult learners. The article gives examples on how to handle insecurities in reacting on people with traumata and shares possible approaches, such as family learning. 
    The article is based on the training modules developed within the Erasmus+ project “INTED - Integration through Education and Information” and a workshop held by Barbara Kuss and Mats Mikiviers during the Austrian EPALE conference in June 2019. 
    Please have a look at the conference publication “Citizenship Education in Austria and Europe: objectives, methods and future prospects”, now available in German - the English Version is to be published in October. 
    Looking forward to the afternoon session of this interesting discussion!  
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    Thank you for linking to the blog post and the publication, very relevant! Many people from vulnerable groups have experienced trauma and/or mental health issues (violence, abuse ...). Working with them therefore requires specifix knowledge, expertise and empathy. I think Zoltan already pointed out that they are working with social workers, and Catherine explained that they have a focus on health.
    How do the others cope with this situation?
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    When we talk about socially vulnerable groups, this is the biggest issue when dealing with this target group: very low motivation of these people to enter any kind of education. The more the person is marginalized and living on the edge, isolated, the less motivation they have. I work for an organization in the Czech Republic that helps municipalities to create strategies for inclusion of people living on the edge of society.Despite the diffuculty, there are some tools that help. We have positive experience with providing tailor-made education connected with debt counselling. Many socially deprived persons have multiple distrains which means they have to seek for help. The type of tailor-made, individual or small group education is the most popular type of education the seek and need
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    At migrare we have been working with parents of pre-school kids for some years now. Especially migrants with language barriers find it very hard to successfully join the education system. We are planning on developing new tools for the support of pre-school kids, to help them with a successful start to their educational careers. 
    We are looking for organizations working in similar fields with experience and knowledge for the exchange of ideas and good practice.
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    We support parents in supporting their children. My colleagues working in this project go directly into the families and offer advice and support on how to prepare children for school. At the moment we are using material from a project called "H.I.P.P.Y", but we want to develop our own material for our special target group..
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    Our organisation, the European Association for the Education of Adults, is working on a number of European projects, one of which, SkillHUBS, is developing a training model based on extensive research in the prison educational system throughout Europe. The model includes a template for an Individual Learning Record as a public statement of a prison learner’s accomplishments and skills. It is a tailor-made approach that includes feedback and topics the inmates actually want to learn, and it increases the chance of success both in- and outside the prison system. The model is focused on a co-creative approach to teach and learn between inmates and mentors. We invite adult educators all over Europe to join the discussion and consult our research, documents and results. Our new SkillHUBS community of practice on EPALE gives the opportunity to access detailed project documentation including the SkillHUBS Model and Engine in full, as well as a host of specially selected resources for prison teaching and learning. The community of practice can be joined here:
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    The University of Malta's Prison Education and Re-Entry Programme is a partner in the SkillHUBS Project. We are currently in the process of piloting this model, analysing skill gaps prisoners find as an obstacle to employment. We would love to hear from other organisations who have done something similar. Out work so far can be found on 
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    10:00-12:30 Discussion: 
    Yes, our service provides support to adults with Intellectual disabilities, ASD and/or Mental Health needs.
    In the Outreach service where I work as a Community Support Worker I meet individuals and small groups.  The Outreach facilitates workshops to develop their social, relationships, budgeting and personal care skills.  This support empowers individuals to build on their skills, abilities and confidence to progress on to complete accredited courses in their community, i.e. Fetac Level in Ireland.  All the staff in our service received training from the Health Service Executive (HSE) to deliver workshops in our service about cooking skills and nutrition (Cook It! programme).  We also completed training around sexual health and relationships which was provided by other services in the HSE.
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    Hello Catherine,
    excellent! This sounds a bit like our 'Life Skills in Europe' project. in which we developed a framework of capabilities. It's based also on the 'Citizen's Curriculum' by our English member Learning & Work Institute, which is very learnr-centred and offers tailor-made basic skills training in combination with fiancial, health etc competences. 
    What is your learners' feedback?
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    I would like to inform you about the joint initiative of the Slovak and EPALE NSSs who organise the Slovak-Czech conference Educating marginalised adults on 9 October in Prague. The conference will gather experts from both countries to discuss how to support marginalised groups of adults and how to motivate them for learning.
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