DiversityCapacities: Improving the capacities of Adult Education Institutions to successful dealing with diversity (DivCap)
Authors: Helga Moser und Renate Ackermann
Promoting a diversity orientation
Adult education institutions offer their services in a changing and diverse society. Therefore, the students and employees in adult education organisations come from heterogeneous groups. The goal of the Erasmus+ project DivCap was to promote inclusion and diversity in adult education. This was achieved by providing concrete instruments and measures that were tested in educational institutions. Based on the experiences of the case studies and pilot projects, recommendations and lessons learnt were developed. Under the DivCap project, support structures were established in adult education institutions to enable them to successfully deal with the diversity within their organisations. In this way, we wish to make a contribution to anti-discrimination and inclusion, and promote equal access to adult education offerings.
The project partnership consisted of a consortium of partner organisations with different backgrounds (higher education, adult education, vocational education) from Germany, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Austria, the Netherlands, and Spain. The Institute of Social Work at FH JOANNEUM University of Applied Sciences was responsible for the overall coordination of the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership (which ran from December 2018 to July 2021).
Diversity processes can address various aspects of difference. Our diversity focus is targeted above all at aspects relating to the challenges that adult education must tackle in the ‘post-migration society’ (ogsa AG Migrationsgesellschaft 2021): ethnicity, cultural background, and religion. But other important aspects such as gender, age, education, and disability (intersectional approach; Winker, Degele 2009) were also taken into account. One important lesson learnt at the project level, but also in the participating organisations, is that time should be taken to clarify which diversity aspects are most relevant for the organisation to focus on.
At a theoretical level, we are referring to concepts of a diversity-oriented opening, meaning that the focus is placed on a variety of diversity aspects, but with the goal of improved promotion for disadvantaged groups in the sense of intercultural opening processes (Schröer 2018; bifeb 2015; zebratl 2014; Bildungsteam Berlin-Brandenburg e.V. 2018).
Knowledge of and awareness for diversity issues was increased on two levels. First, at the level of the employees, where the goal was to improve the personal competencies of the employees in dealing with diversity. Here, an “Applied Diversity Awareness” workshop was tested in three pilot workshops. This ultimately resulted in a modular curriculum. It is important in this context to facilitate a deepening of the cognitive understanding of diversity through concrete personal experiences.
Second, work was completed at the level of the organisation to implement concrete measures to promote inclusion and diversity at an institutional scope. In each country, the partner organisations worked together with a second educational institution that was committed to making concrete progress in implementing a diversity orientation. This means that 14 educational institutions in total were involved. In the first phase, a case study was conducted to analyse the institution in terms of its diversity orientation. A special questionnaire was developed for this purpose. The reports on the case studies contained recommendations for the implementation of measures. These addressed different areas such as mission statement, Human Resource development, employee competence, and public relations. The most important results were also summarised and used to create a tool kit for the analysis of an organisation and initiation of change processes.
In the second phase, concrete measures were implemented in pilot projects. This phase was heavily impacted by the Covid pandemic, and the work in the educational institutions had to be restructured. Resources for ‘additional’ tasks such as diversity orientation measures were perceived as a burden, though some institutions used the crisis as an opportunity to embark on new paths. In any case, we overcame this challenge in the partnership by being innovative and creative. The results of the working process in the institutions were documented in reports. A video series was also created to offer portraits of seven institutions and show how each of them addressed the respective topics and the experiences they gathered. The experiences and findings in the 14 institutions were then distilled into overarching principles for the implementation and design of diversity processes in educational institutions. All reports and handbooks can be found on the DivCap project website: https://www.diversitycapacities.eu/. The videos were published on the DivCap YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDO3OOzGBv21mn7GVTDNWpQ
It is not within the scope of this article to discuss the work done in all of the institutions. Therefore, an example will be presented below to provide some insights into the concrete work and results in one institution.
Practical example VHS Chance: Personnel recruiting for diversity-conscious employees in adult education
VHS Chance is one of the City of Hannover’s adult education centres. It focuses on education for marginalised persons and promotes their integration and wellbeing based on a holistic approach.
VHS Chance works in the state capital of Hannover, which has 556,695 inhabitants – 38.6 per cent of whom have a migration background. Dealing with interculturality and diversity is obligatory for this institution, especially given the focus of its work.
The initial situation
First off, a case study was conducted under the project to determine the initial situation in terms of diversity in the organisation. To this end, five employees and teachers were interviewed by means of a questionnaire. These interviews yielded important information about the requirements for a change process and also sensitised the respondents and their colleagues to the topic.
The results of the case study showed that VHS Chance was already in a very good position, but that improvements were needed in some areas such as personnel recruiting, where attitudes towards diversity and intercultural competence only played a marginal role and were to be given more weight when selecting staff. The importance of diversity was also to be stressed in the job descriptions to specifically address applicants who have a migration background and who deal actively with diversity.
Activities and process
The managers of VHS Chance and the respective teams were informed about the results of the case study and the recommendations discussed in targeted meetings. The participants were very open to the topic, and it was apparent that the interviews had already piqued interest. All recommendations were found to be important for the institutional opening of VHS Chance. As a number of positions would need to be filled in the coming months, the topic of personnel recruiting was assigned the highest priority.
In the subsequent process, methods were developed to assess an applicant’s knowledge of diversity and his or her intercultural competence. To this end, the mandatory interview guideline, that is intended to ensure comparable and objective job interviews, was expanded with questions about diversity. Role playing scenarios were developed as one of the tasks to be completed in the assessment and were based on situations that had actually occurred, adapted to the profile of the respective position. This offers the advantage of requiring the applicant to act in a practical situation and entails a relatively low risk of using stereotypes to develop the scenario. The related tools such as the job advertisement text, the guideline for job interviews, and the role playing scenario template can be found in the report, which can be downloaded from the DivCap project site.
The case study is a key step towards a change process, provides insights into the institution, and raises awareness of the topic. Involving personnel in the interviews generates interest in the topic.
Support from management is crucial and must be requested whenever needed. It is easy to lose sight of such a long-term process, therefore it is important that responsibility for the change process is assigned to a competent person.
A change process affects all areas of the institution, but should begin where the highest priorities have been set.
An adult education institution is constantly confronted with change. This makes a high degree of flexibility in planning necessary for a longer-term change process.
Further information can be found on the DivCap website: https://www.diversitycapacities.eu/
Mag.a Helga Moser researches and teaches in the bachelor and master programmes in the Institute of Social Work at FH JOANNEUM University of Applied Sciences. She focuses on social work in the (post-)migration society, diversity, difference, and discrimination. One of her current tasks is coordinating the Erasmus+ DivCap project. She has many years of experience working on various (international) projects in the field of education run by migration and anti-racism NGOs, including ZEBRA – Interkulturelles Beratungs- und Therapiezentrum from 2002–2016. She earned her degree in Educational Sciences in Graz/Austria, Maynooth/Ireland, and London/United Kingdom.
Dipl.päd. Renate Ackermann worked at VHS Hannover from 1989 to 2019, first as a teacher and project manager for externally funded projects, and then as Director of Vocational Education starting in 2007. Her work also focused on European projects. She received her teaching degree from the University of Hannover, after which she completed an additional degree in Educational Sciences with a focus on adult education and extracurricular youth education. She has been in retirement since October 2019 and works for VHS Hannover in two European projects on a freelance basis, one of them the DivCap project,.
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About this blog
This blog is based upon a workshop at the Austrian EPALE and Erasmus+ Conference "I am different. You are different. Together we are diversity! Diversity in inclusive adult education" which was held on 20 May 2021.