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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


EPALE Summary: March focus on social inclusion and equity in adult learning

by Simon BROEK
Language: EN
Document available also in: FR HU

/en/file/social-inclusion-adult-learning-0Social Inclusion Adult learning

Social Inclusion Adult learning


Thematic Coordinator Simon Broek looked back at some of the articles published in March for EPALE’s focus on social inclusion and equity in adult learning.


Adult learning and widening inequalities?

The month started off with a stone in the water: does adult learning actually contribute to inclusiveness, or does it lead to even greater inequalities. Higher qualified adults tend to participate more in learning and therefore, some might argue that adult learning tends to widen the skill gap between high- and low-qualified adults.

Obviously adult learning can provide a valuable contribution for more inclusive societies as it was well evidenced by many articles published this month, including EPALE’s quarterly podcast and the March online discussion.


Contribution of adult learning tailored to the form of exclusion

Inclusion comes in many forms, as there are many ways in which a group can be excluded. Participants in the EPALE online discussion talked about many barriers faced by migrants, older people, low-qualified and low-literate adults, and learners with disabilities.

A video reportage by Markus Palmen showed how learners with disabilities can be empowered through inclusive music education.


Inclusion starts in the ‘classroom’

Most blog posts on how adult learning can be more inclusive mentioned the learning environment and the role of the teachers. They provided evidence for instance on why it is important that teachers and trainers provide an LGBT-friendly educational environment. Guest writer Laila El-Metoui shared that training is essential to equip staff with the necessary skills to successfully challenge discrimination and prejudice.

David Mallows addressed the issue that adult learning professionals can have the most impact and that change starts in the classroom. He argued that to make their ‘classroom’ more inclusive, adult learning practitioners need:

  1. freedom to be able to design appropriate content and pedagogy;
  2. the ability to access resources and organisations that will help them to run programmes at appropriate times and places;
  3. resources and expertise to provide learners with essential support;
  4. top-down support and frameworks in the form of flexible qualifications and approaches for the recognition of prior learning that will enable them to get on with the job.


Identifying conditions for inclusive adult learning

Andrew McCoshan wrote an article on the essential ingredients for achieving inclusive adult learning. He pointed to effective outreach strategies; identification of skill needs; design and tailoring of programmes to those needs; support to non-learning issues; and provision of follow-up support.

Gerry Mc Aleenan from the Soilse programme in Ireland extracted key messages for adult learning practitioners to help adults in addiction recovery re-engage with society, such as identifying adults’ needs and issues and tailoring the programme towards those needs. He indicated that advocacy is key to informing policy and proposing solutions.

Here we finally arrive at the policy level: what can we do to improve inclusiveness of societies through adult learning?

Characteristics of inclusive Upskilling pathways approaches

Two professors from the Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences – Pepka Boyadjieva and Petya Ilieva-Trichkova – conducted a study on equity and inclusion in adult education in 25 European countries and concluded that to reduce educational inequalities in adult learning, adequate policy actions are needed.

In designing their Upskilling Pathways approach, policymakers need to consider a number of questions, such as:

  • How accessible is adult learning for all adults? What are the barriers for learners to start a learning pathway?
  • How are those in need of learning encouraged to learn? What support structures are in place for disadvantaged learners?
  • How effective are outreach policies in reaching out to those who need learning the most?
  • To what extent is learning tailored to the needs of those who need it the most?

To conclude, the objective of Upskilling Pathways is to provide all adults with opportunities for upskilling; however, this means that policies need to target groups that are difficult to reach and engage, which is a costly process with uncertain results. This is why we need to challenge policies not to settle for harvesting only the low-hanging fruit, but also to reach out a bit further to establish systems in which adult learning is indeed the solution for inequalities.


Make sure you visit EPALE regularly in April, as our thematic focus is outreach and guidance in adult learning!

Simon Broek has been involved in several European research projects on education, labour market issues and insurance business. He advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and European Agencies on issues related to education policies, lifelong learning, and labour market issues, and is Managing Partner at Ockham Institute of Policy Support.

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  • Monica McDermott's picture

    Hi Simon, just a thought in response to your summary – the overall number of adult learners accessing our provision has decreased over the last five years and although reasons are varied and complex but link in particular to changes in government funding and levels of employment.  Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt that we now work with consistently more ‘harder to reach’ learners more of whom are ‘mandated’ to our provision.  Our curriculum has developed to reflect these changing needs.  We have truly dedicated tutors who try very hard to create learning environments that provide the best possible support for our learners.  However, and particularly in relation to recent changes in the benefits system, we are now seeing more learners who are ‘mandated’ to specific short generic courses.   In reality many these learners would benefit more from more personalised learning opportunities particularly as some can become frustrated by the ‘enforcement’ and  consequently see adult learning more as a ‘punishment’ than an opportunity. Although mandated to attend no one can be mandated to learn and I believe tha adult learning can only be truly effective if a learner recognises the potential personal benefits and therefore wants to learn.