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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



Informal learning projects to promote active citizenship

by Tim Scholze
Language: EN
Document available also in: DE FR

Author: Tim Scholze, German Insitute for Adult Education - Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE)

In light of the discernible rise in populist and nationalist movements, accompanied by the wrath of the middle classes and post-truth sentiments, it is worth taking a look at some practical, meaningful and thus directly understandable lifelong learning projects that tackle these problems at a local level. These projects could now develop desirable side effects.

The strengthening of populist and nationalistic movements can currently be observed in almost every EU member state, spreading fear of otherness and hostility towards foreigners and fostering a separatist culture that is giving rise to the disintegration of European society.

We are increasingly seeing these right-wing populist tendencies in areas where civic action towards common goals has given way to an amorphous and undifferentiated culture of “angry masses”, in which one’s own individual interests are no longer reflected in a rational manner and shared values or collective developments no longer play a role.

Where civic skills such as cooperation and teamwork, inter-cultural communication, conflict management and above all critical thinking and the ability to consider things from another person’s point of view have faded into the background, the road ahead is clear for a “post-truth” society.

A key strategy for tackling the challenges ahead is the implementation of tangible “lifelong learning” projects within a community’s immediate vicinity, which take a meaningful, needs-based approach to dealing with specific problems on the ground.

These education projects are of a primarily “informal” nature, that is, they do not aim at achieving certain qualifications and some do not even have an explicit education goal.

The Dutch education project “Can Do!” is a very successful example of such a lifelong learning scheme, whereby Community Coaches motivate and support people living in cities to organise their own projects in deprived areas to promote their own sense of identity. In this project, long-time Dutch residents living in precarious economic circumstances, worked together with newcomers to the area from different countries to plan and organise their own events and campaigns – ranging from making their neighbourhood more attractive, holding community events or simply celebrating together. You can find out more about this project here: Website Can do - Project (in English).

There are also numerous initiatives promoting lifelong learning in rural areas, for example the ‘Projekthof Karnitz’, which has been using multimedia communication projects for years to create a tangible experience of culture and sustainable development with people living around the Mecklenburg Lake District in cooperation with international students and artists from both Germany and abroad. You can find out more about this project on the Website Projekthof Karnitz (in German).

The “Time for Society” cooperative integrates civic action and social engagement in informal, company-based training courses with large companies and has thus become the largest provider of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in Belgium. You can find out more about this project on the Time for Society Website (in English, Dutch and French).

Organised through services such as the European Voluntary Service, the entire industry of European volunteers offers a virtual pool of practice-based lifelong learning projects that combine practical, needs-oriented projects with active civic education.

The effects of these lifelong learning projects are enormous. They solve problems at a practical level, improve integration, resolve conflicts, educate and socialise different groups of people, including immigrants and their descendants as well as people in areas where right-wing tendencies are on the rise. These projects can thus promote and build the civic skills and involvement that can protect us from populism, xenophobia and nationalism.

There are countless lifelong learning projects in Europe. They are efficient, meaningful, have a direct effect and promote integration, as empirically tested by the BeLL Project (Benefits of Lifelong Learning). Their only ‘problem’ is their lack of formality, which means that this sector of education has a relatively weak advocacy group and, as a further consequence, receives less financial and structural support.

Up until 2014, the Lifelong Learning Programme (PLL) was one of the few sources of development funding and support for projects of this kind within Europe. These activities will be continued in the follow-on ERASMUS+ programme which is set to replace it – albeit it at the same relatively low level as before when compared with the formal education sectors of school, university and vocational training. National support programmes only focus on isolated areas, usually when the problems in these areas become too virulent and prominent.

Lifelong learning is a continuous process of individual development with powerful integrative effects for civic communities; it ultimately serves to hold our societies together.

For this reason, projects and initiatives supporting civic engagement are to be accorded great importance, which should by all means – particularly in light of the current situation in Europe and its member states – be reflected in strategic appreciation and appropriate levels of programmatic and financial support.


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