According to Johanni Larjanko, Publicist and Coordinator at Bildningsalliansen, liberal adult education is a relatively unknown field in Finland, even if many Finns use its services.
“To be relevant and offer what people want and need, liberal adult education must, above all else, keep up with the times, be bolder than before and get involved in people’s everyday lives,” says Larjanko.
“Liberty is quite literally an essential part of liberal adult education. Our educational system seems to be increasingly headed in a direction where results are measured and various indicators are demanded to ensure high quality. We should not overly restrict the field of liberal adult education in the same way; instead, our duty is to defend liberty. Liberal adult education can be involved in people’s lives in all the different stages.”
The key activities of Bildningsalliansen include supervision of interests, continuing education and various development-related tasks. The first means issuing comments and statements. The second is based on the needs of the member organisations and cooperation partners. The third means, for example, building tools and services that aim to fulfil the needs of the entire field.
“If there is a fourth duty, it must be communication – in other words, raising awareness of liberal adult education. We have set up a blog and a YouTube channel for this purpose and we also produce podcasts. In addition, we try to be involved in the public discussion concerning our field,” says Larjanko.
According to Larjanko, the status of Swedish-speaking adult education and liberal adult education in Finland is mostly similar to that of any other Swedish-speaking services. For example, there have been some attempts to merge adult education centres into bilingual institutions, but occasionally, Swedish-speakers may have been ignored due to their low numbers. The drastic drop in the number of adult education centres overall has not helped.
“People worry that the institutions important to them may be shut down. And when something is eventually shut down, it can seldom be revived.”
Formal learning is not enough
According to Larjanko, liberal adult education has a unique brand. There are no other networks as comprehensive and diverse. He particularly wants people to understand that this service does not come for free. People must also be ready to defend it.
“Today’s working life requires a great deal of interaction and understanding a wide variety of topics, and formal studies leading to a degree are usually not enough for all that. This means we need both non-formal learning and informal learning. Even if you know how to read the instructions, it doesn’t mean you know how to use the machine,” says Larjanko.
“If many jobs become automated in the future, we must learn to be creative and verbal in a completely new way, to learn new things and to handle uncertainty as well.” Being open to the chance to learn and aiming to adapt to a changing world can also be considered non-formal learning.”
On the other hand, non-formal and informal learning may not gain great exposure in the overall field of adult education, according to Larjanko. Informal learning, in particular, is often quite invisible, and a key question is whether to make such occurrences of learning more visible, one way or another.
“I believe it would do people good to understand how much they are constantly learning. It’s not so simple, however. By making something visible, we create expectations that, if not realised, can create obstacles for future incidents of learning. Instead, it would be meaningful to talk more about the fact that learning new things in everyday life continues throughout people’s lives.”
“When my first child was born, I didn’t get a manual for parenting. In some cases, informal learning may be much more important than formal learning,” says Larjanko.