chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up home circle comment double-caret-left double-caret-right like like2 twitter epale-arrow-up text-bubble cloud stop caret-down caret-up caret-left caret-right file-text

EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


How a pandemic tells a familiar story

by Fiona Boucher
Language: EN

A photo of attendees of Scotland's Learners' Forum & Impact Forum meeting 2020 sitting around conference tables.


The Impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 quickly revealed everything that’s wrong and right with our society and highlighted inequalities and kindness both at the same time.

Many volunteers came forward to help vulnerable groups in our communities get food, prescriptions and a general check on them during the initial lock down period. But it soon became evident that deprivation was a key factor in the high death rate.

Councillor Chris McEleny, working as a councillor in one of Scotland’s most deprived communities said, "We already know that evidence shows there is a strong link between low skills, poor education, poor health, unemployment and poverty," and called on the Scottish Government to do more to support them.

Scotland’s Learning Partnership held a series of impact forum discussions with researchers, policy makers and practitioners designed to explore the impact of COVID-19 on adult learning. Our discussions highlighted some really strong practice developments during the pandemic that support the most vulnerable.


The Transition to Online Learning

It became evident that for standardised courses and mainstream skills programmes the transition to online learning was straightforward enough. Many students studying at college and university had already used technology to support their learning so it wasn’t such a leap.

It also seemed that the transition for ESOL learners was smoother too, in the main because many use technology to keep in touch with family and friends in other countries, so they were familiar with its use.

However, for the adults learning in the non-formal sector developing their literacy and numeracy, confidence building, personal development and core skills – they didn’t have the digital know how needed to just switch straight on to digital platforms.

In the first few weeks, practitioners across Scotland moved quickly into action to support their existing learners – using telephone, written packs and some Facetime, Facebook and Zoom calls to support people, but in the absence of a shared platform they were somewhat concerned about the vulnerable groups they support.  We developed a Scotland Impact Forum for this group of practitioners.


Adult Learning After COVID-19

Initially a five-week programme designed to focus on policy, skills development and a discussion with Richard Lochhead the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science to talk about the role of adult learning post COVID-19.

The programme focus was on building evidence on the impact of adult learning across Scotland.

The Forum discussed:

  • participation and the impact of lower rates of participation in adult learning with Professor Ellen Boeren
  • the critical role adult learning plays in building a healthy society with Sir Alan Tuckett and Katarina Popovic (ICAE)
  • the different responses to COVID-19 across Europe and rest of the world with Gina Ebner (EAEA), Katarina (ICAE) and Sama Shalabi (UIL)
  • the CPD needs of adult educators in moving to digital and blended learning
  • the lifespan view of adult learning with Professor Tom Schuller
  • and in week 5 the political view of the new normal with the Minister – the Minister wrote to the practitioners thanking them for their efforts during the pandemic and in working towards the way forward.


What is significant is that adult learning is included in the Scottish Government’s route map through and out of the crisis. Their Framework for Decision Making aims to protect those most at risk and to protect human rights – good to hear as this will support International Adult Learners’ Charter.

In Scotland the Government has stated that they ‘are prioritising measures such as provision of school-based education, early learning and childcare, youth work and adult learning’.  The Impact Forum here will keep an eye on progress here and share with our colleagues across the UK and Europe as it develops.

As for the Forum’s work now, the Minister asked the group to come up with 10 ‘asks’.  We’ll be working on this very soon.  We’ve known for a long time it is time for change.  The advent of a global pandemic has made this more urgent than ever.


Institute for Learning and Work, Learning and Work | Sefydliad Dysgu a Gwaith, Scotland's Learning Partnership, Forum for Adult Learning NI, Ecorys, Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union


About the author

Scotland's Learning Partnership logo


Fiona Boucher is Chief Executive of Scotland’s Learning Partnership and coordinates the Scotland Impact Forum for the European Agenda for Adult Learning.




This blog is part of the Learning and Work Institute's 2020 collection of blogs and comments from UK adult educators involved in the European Agenda for Adult Learning programme. If you would like to get involved please contact Mark Ravenhall or Joyce Black.


Remember to share your thoughts in the comment box below or tweet and share on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Epale SoundCloud Share on LinkedIn Share on email