EPALE interview: Georg Primas and the need of planning security and value protection

Adult education institutions can make a big contribution towards finding a solution to the current challenges.

EPALE interview: Georg Primas

Georg Primas from Ring Österreichischer Bildungswerke (Network of Austrian Adult Education Institutes) has been the chairperson of the Austrian Adult Education Conference since September. In the following interview, he talks about the plans and tasks for the next few years.

The Austrian Adult Education Conference (KEBÖ) is the working platform of the Austrian adult education associations recognised by the Austrian Adult Education Promotion Act (Erwachsenenbildungsförderungsgesetz) of 1973. It represents the interests of the non-profit Austrian adult education associations. Following a rotational basis, the chair went from Michael Sturm (BFI Austria) to Georg Primas (Ring Österreichischer Bildungswerke) this past September. He talks about the plans and tasks for the next few years in the following interview.

The Ring is taking over the KEBÖ chair from the BFI. What is the first thing you will do in this role?

Currently, there are two main tasks to achieve: The KEBÖ institutions are still a bit away from normality in their daily work routines. One task is to support the communication and optimal implementation of the legislative regulations and measures in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. This involves manageable framework conditions. Depending on how the situation regarding adult education develops in the medium term, it may be necessary for the KEBÖ to advocate for further claims for cost reimbursement or supporting benefits.

The second important task is the joint negotiation and swift implementation of the 2022–24 service agreements with the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research. The adult education institutions can make a big contribution towards finding a solution to the current challenges. In order to achieve this, however, they need planning security through reliable public funding. A valorisation of the existing service agreements between the KEBÖ associations and the Ministry of Education, initially by at least 10%, is urgently required, as no changes have been made to the subsidies for 10 years.

At this year’s annual KEBÖ meeting, section head Doris Wagner expressed her appreciation for the achievements of adult education and asked for the necessary trust to find good joint solutions in the interest of adult education. We are looking forward to the upcoming talks and the cooperation, and we will participate with competence, objectivity, and constructive ideas. One task will also be to more clearly emphasise the status of adult education in the education system as well as its social importance. We need the support of the Ministry of Education here, as well.

Your predecessor, Michael Sturm from BFI Austria, identified the priorities of the KEBÖ for 2021 in our interview as the topics of integration, digitalisation, labour-market-oriented educational offerings, and quality assurance and professionalisation within the organisations. What has the KEBÖ been able to achieve so far this year with regard to these matters? 

The topics mentioned by my colleague, Michael Sturm, continue to be of great relevance, of course, even beyond the year 2021. Particularly in the area of digitalisation, there were further pushes in development, also as a result of the continued challenges faced due to the Covid crisis. For instance, the didactic skills of the teaching staff were further expanded by means of targeted further education measures.

In what areas is there still work to be done for the KEBÖ?

Experience has shown that, on the one hand, new groups of participants can be reached with digital offerings. On the other hand, we have “lost” target groups, in particular those that enjoy learning and working in groups and need those conditions. The institutions must take this fact into special consideration and find solutions.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a strong impact on the further education sector; for KEBÖ associations alone, the participation in further education decreased by more than 50% in 2020. To what extent will the sector be able to recover, in your opinion?

The year 2020 brought enormous difficulties for many areas of society. The ban on events for several months stipulated by the Covid regulations also left its mark on the further education sector.

Looking at the future, we must be full of hope, but it remains largely speculative, of course. Be that as it may, the old saying always applies: that we learn in times of crisis. Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for providers of educational events has been the lack of planning security. As soon as this is restored and educational events can be held without significant restrictions, the adult education sector will be able to quickly reach pre-Covid capacity levels.

When will this be the case?

One goal is for the KEBÖ institutions to get through the next challenges of the pandemic in the best possible manner. In the ideal scenario, we will have mastered the crisis together by 2023 and will have achieved a new normal by means of coordinated efforts.

You have been the general secretary of the Ring Österreichischer Bildungswerke since the beginning of the year. In your inaugural interview, you spoke in favour of strengthening the full-time structures in adult education. Is this something that you can continue to pursue as KEBÖ chairperson?

In several KEBÖ associations, the educational work is carried out on site by around 23,000 volunteers in total. Without their dedication and commitment, it would be very difficult to provide people-oriented educational offerings in many places and communities.

Yet it is also necessary to expand the full-time structures in order to be able to tackle the social challenges for further education, to participate in EU projects, and to increasingly implement the objectives of the Ministry of Education. Since the initiatives in this regard by Minister Zilk (1984 initiative “Stellenlose Lehrer für die EB” [Teachers without posts for the adult education sector]) and Minister Scholten (1991 initiative “Pädagogische MitarbeiterInnen für die EB” [Educational staff for the adult education sector]), which both went hand in hand with a comprehensive accumulation of federal funds, there has been no further support from the Ministry of Education in this context.

The Ring Österreichischer Bildungswerke has the chair for two years. If you think about September 2023, what do you hope to have achieved by then?

There is currently a change in generations occurring at several federal associations and thus also in the KEBÖ management board. This transition has to be well organised; building on the experiences and achievements of our predecessors, we need to find “our” style of working and must continue to work together in the interests of positive collaboration.

A further goal is to position the KEBÖ as an important partner for the Ministry of Education in future as well. In order to continue with this successful model, we have to succeed in portraying the strengths and the variety of occupation-oriented and general adult education in a precise and clear manner.

The pandemic has demonstrated quite clearly to us how vulnerable our society is. Issues such as democratic values and the truthfulness of scientific statements were often discussed in a very divisive manner. Adult education is also always a form of enlightenment; we need more democratic political education; the adult education institutions must increase their offerings on scientific issues and on the responsible use of digital media. Adult education also means opening meeting places to people where they can obtain information, express their fears, and search for solutions together while finding possibilities for participation.

The KEBÖ had to first complain to the Ministry of Education before being allowed to include the area of political education in its negotiated portfolio of services! We hope we were able to convince the ministry of the importance of this subject.

So education for democratic citizenship is also one of KEBÖ's ongoing key topics?  

And, as in many areas of society, topics that concern the climate crisis and its effects on us all are increasingly coming to the fore in adult education, as well. We want to make progress in the development of expertise for the environmental and digital transformations towards sustainable development, and also include this in the educational offerings to a higher degree.

During your period of office, there is also an anniversary?

Besides that, in 2022, the KEBÖ will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding: an opportunity to look back, but also to look ahead to the future. It should be a celebration for all of the KEBÖ institutions: a chance to come together and gather strength for the future!

What is the KEBÖ?

The Konferenz der Erwachsenenbildung Österreichs (KEBÖ) represents the interests of the non-profit Austrian adult education associations. It is made up of the ten umbrella associations of adult education institutions that are active in Austria. The management board serves as a permanent working platform; it is an active governing body as well as a committee of experts. In addition, a symposium is held once a year.

The KEBÖ in numbers for the year 2020:

  • 4.5 million teaching units per year
  • 2.1 million participants per year
  • 764,594 users of public libraries
  • 153,890 events per year
  • 47,902 part-time teachers
  • 23,121 volunteers
  • 6,325 full-time employees

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