In rural areas, there is very little opportunity beyond school for further education, vocational training and even fewer opportunities for basic skills learning. The education system is not yet equipped to address the challenge of diversification of the rural economy. Human capital as a determinant of a region's development potential is not yet understood by policy makers. And it is not yet understood that diversification and prosperity of rural economy depends also (to a large extent) on the level of education, the skills and qualification of the rural labour force.
Many studies argue the fact that the quality of rural education is lower than in urban areas. And maybe we don’t necessarily need studies to tell us that – reality is there, we can see it and we can feel it. Awareness and enhancement of participation of the rural population in adult learning with special regard to basic skill development (and other areas of adult learning as well) can contribute to a great extent to balanced social and economic development, both at local and national level.
In Romania disparities between rural and urban areas are even higher than in other European countries. In recent years there have been several initiatives, programmes and projects, both public and private, government and EU funded, aiming at overcoming economic and social disparities in rural areas, by encouraging the creation of small and medium enterprises, and developing entrepreneurship skills etc. Unfortunately, very few of these initiatives have put a clear focus on the need to develop first and foremost the human resources through appropriate adult learning provision. There have been few projects to acknowledge the need to address especially those categories of adults that have little or no qualification. More importantly, there are few projects for those that don’t have the appropriate levels of basic skills to successfully cope with the day to day requirements of their work and life.
In the new Law of Education (no.1/2011), the chapter on Lifelong Learning describes that community centers for lifelong learning should be established in every single local community, to ‘implement at community level the national policies and strategies on lifelong learning’. The role of the centres has been once more emphasised in the recently approved National Strategy on Lifelong Learning. According to the law and the methodology for the organisation of the centres (waiting for approval), one of the main responsibilities of the centres are to provide remedial education for adults and alphabetisation programmes, which can be translated as second chance education and basic skills programmes. In terms of policies, this is a huge achievement for Romania. But in terms of implementation, nothing has really happened out of the doors of the Ministry.
The Romanian Institute for Adult Education took the initiative on this and through the project Community Centres for Lifelong Learning – An integrated approach to overcome economic, social and educational disparities in rural areas from the West Region of Romania will set up, equip, operate and pilot adult learning programmes (basic skills as major component) in four centres in the western part of the country. It will be a long and challenging journey, trying to convince and motivate people, change mentalities and create a culture of learning (almost) from scratch. But this is the only way to show we can do it and how we should do it.
I encourage readers to share other examples of interventions in disadvantaged areas and strategies for building adult learning infrastructures. Learning from others is key to success in adult learning!
Maria Toia is Director of the Romanian Institute for Adult Education and Executive Committee Member of the European Basic Skills Network. She has an interest in research and policy development for the adult education field, with a focus on adult basic education and professionalisation of adult educators.