EPALE 2019 Stakeholder Conference, Warsaw
Denise de Pauw, PhD student, Lancaster University, UK
“What is EPALE?” I wondered, when I was sent information about a conference in Warsaw by my PhD supervisor, just a few days before the event. It was very last minute, but I joined up on the website and applied to take part with funding from my ‘NSS’ and I’m so pleased I did!
As the first day progressed, I began to understand that the point of the conference was to take stock of what EPALE has achieved so far, and inform the future direction of the platform. I discovered that EPALE is the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe, and that it has National Support Services (the mysterious ‘NSSs’) and ambassadors who engage with and promote its activities.
THE STAKEHOLDER CONFERENCE
The conference started with an overview of EPALE and plans for its development, followed by testimonials from people about projects they had worked on successfully, using the platform to find partners, submit proposals and disseminate projects and resources. These were impressive in their diversity and creativity – two things that would have been inspirational for me, when I was self-employed as a blended learning teacher of workplace English, and when I worked for my local adult learning service and was looking for ways of improving our service in the face of a shrinking budget.
The event provided the opportunity to listen to a range of different EPALE representatives, including NSS staff, thematic coordinators, ambassadors and stakeholders. EPALE is the kind of thing I wish had existed years ago – not just a static information portal, but a potentially dynamic space where anybody connected with adult education can find educational resources, a wealth of different content and potential project partners from the whole of Europe. As a free platform, EPALE supports inclusion and encourages anyone working in adult education to come together to have meaningful discussions and positively impact on best practice and educational policy. The sense of community that EPALE provides is perhaps one of its most beneficial aspects.
FINDING COMMON GROUND
I found I had much in common with the people I spoke to in workshops and over the many wonderful refreshment breaks. We seemed to share a perspective that our sector is frequently overlooked, undervalued and underfunded, yet has a critical role to play in upholding civic values that aim to provide us all with a ‘good’ life. It is this belief in the power of adult learning that spurs us on and reassures us that we have pursued the right career.
Adult education will be vital in how we tackle the imminent disruptions to employment stemming from technological change, the challenges of longer life expectancy and demographic changes, and adaptation to social changes resulting from the climate catastrophe that is no longer being seriously dismissed. Only with continued learning can people adapt to the challenges life will throw at them, build resilience and harness the skills needed to carry them successfully into the future of work. On the second day of the conference, delegates could choose to attend the upskilling workshop, which specifically focuses on the ways in which EPALE can help support adult learning and upskilling. This focus feeds into the EPALE UK and the Learning and Work Institute’s joint conference later this month, which will explore adult learning, workforce development and upskilling.
The conference ended with an inspirational talk on the concept of ‘Bildung’ by Mette Hvid Brockmann, which crystallised the importance of individual lifelong learning in protecting the health and wellbeing of the whole of society. ‘Bildung’ refers to the link between philosophy and education, with an understanding that both personal and cultural aspects lead to self-cultivation, which in turn leads to an individual’s inclusion in wider society.
Attending the conference was a golden opportunity to discover the mutual concerns of adult educators, as well as feed into the development of the platform. As it stands, there is more work needed to enable EPALE to continue to be a leading platform for the adult education sector, but the potential is there and that is very exciting.
Denise de Pauw
Denise is an Applied Lingustics PhD student studying at Lancaster University. Her studies focus on the experence of migrants and refugees, in particular their experiences of applying for jobs online. She has worked as an ESOL teacher and a teacher in offender leanring. She continues to work as an ESOL teacher to support herself while she studies for her PhD. Areas of particular interest to Denise include Situated Literacies and embedded learning.
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