A successful partnership in adult learning can drive innovation and exchange best practices. Aleksandra Kozyra from the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) shares inspiring stories of cooperation across Europe, which the EAEA has collected throughout the year.
Good adult education initiatives and strategies do not happen in isolation. Following our annual theme of cooperations and partnerships, at EAEA we’ve been collecting and analysing examples of impactful collaborations. Alongside the best practices of our Grundtvig Award nominees (with the brochure now available online), we also heard some inspiring stories during study visits in different community education providers in Ireland, in a local adult education centre in Belgium and from the participants and co-hosts of our Annual Conference in Estonia. While our paper on the topic, which will also detail the policy background, is still in progress, we already have a few reflections on the myriad of benefits that a good partnership can bring, be it local, regional or European.
Arriving in Tallinn before our events in June, we had barely entered the office of our co-organiser ENAEA, when we heard from our host Tiina Jääger:
‘Actually, not all of our colleagues are here today – some are still on the way back from the island.’
From the island? As Tiina explained to us, just before our conference, a group of adult education professionals from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania took part in the annual Baltic Summer School. The three countries alternate to host the school, intended as a space for exchange and capacity building, and this year it was held on the Estonian Ruhnu island.
The concept of a regional summer school sounded very interesting, and after the conference frenzy was over, I was curious to find out how it was set up. A few articles in the International Review of Education – Journal of Lifelong Learning give a good overview of the early cooperations, which started in the 1990s as a series of study visits of Baltic adult educators to Nordic folk high schools. Supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, the visits and trainings proved transformative for the adult education sector in the Baltics. The professionals that took part not only learned to use new methods in non-formal education, but also established the first umbrella organisations for adult education in the Baltic region: the Estonian Non-formal Adult Education Association (ENAEA), the Latvian Adult Education Association (LAEA), and the Lithuanian Association of Adult Education (LAAE), all three of them now members of EAEA.
What I found most interesting, however, is how the cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic countries gradually evolved. While at first it operated more on a donorship than a partnership basis, allowing the Baltic countries transitioning to a new political system to build the first structures for non-formal adult education, with time it led to more focused exchanges between the two regions, for example on validation of informal and non-formal learning and National Qualifications Frameworks.
Building learner-centred approaches
In some cases, cooperations can drive learner-centred policy and practice. A few months ago, together with my colleague Raffaela we went on an Erasmus+ KA1 study visit to Ireland, and we left amazed at the diversity of cooperations and how, ultimately, they all help bring the voice of learners forward. We saw a community learning centre partnering with an online community college to provide higher education opportunities in a rural area, a department for adult education at a university working closely with a myriad of adult education providers to co-create courses, and more.
Perhaps the most inspiring and powerful example was the National Learner Forum in which we took part. The forum was established in 2016 and aims to help learners become partners in policymaking as opposed to passive recipients. Organised by AONTAS, it brings together learners from all over the country, giving them a space for exchange and feedback on their learning opportunities. AONTAS reports that the number of learners influencing national further education policymaking has increased ten-fold.
This year, the event included not only learners, policymakers and civil society, but also established a new cooperation with a group of academics.
‘The Academic Expert Group provides advice and guidance to AONTAS as we identify recommendations made by learners in the numerous learner fora held across Ireland. This advice and guidance from objective experts in the field then allows us to build and propose plans for the development of this work when speaking with the National Further Education and Training Learner Forum’s funder, SOLAS,’
– Benjamin Hendriksen, AONTAS Advocacy Lead.
Cooperations in adult education are also paramount for encouraging innovation and exchange of best practices. Our members frequently single out the Erasmus+ programme as key in bringing innovative practices to their organisations, which is one of the reasons why we’ve been advocating an increase in funding for adult education in the successor of Erasmus+. The impact of Erasmus+ on organisations and ultimately learners goes beyond the project lifespan. We regularly hear from our members that they continue the communicate with their partners and build up on the results through other projects. In some cases, the results of project work are incorporated into the daily work of the organisation.
“We try to have an integrated approach across all our projects,” said Didier Van der Meeren, Director of Le Monde des Possibles, an adult education centre in Liège empowering migrants and refugees. We visited Le Monde des Possibles two weeks ago together with our Younger Staff Training participants. Impressively, the organisation navigates not only between two main funding streams – from the region of Wallonia and from the French-speaking community – but also between project funding such as AMIF, ESF and Erasmus+. This is why bringing the added value of projects to the everyday practice is one of their key objectives, as well as advocating the use of the results at the policy level. It seems that our colleagues from Le Monde des Possibles are on the right track: as we’ve heard, the practices developed through Univerbal, an AMIF project supporting migrants to become professional community interpreters, are now being scaled up at the regional level in Wallonia.
So what do we need to cooperate?
The benefits of a successful cooperation are undeniable – but what is it that makes it or breaks it? What we have heard a lot from our members and the organisations we visited this year, is that partnerships aren’t possible without adequate support at the policy level, without developing a collaborative context as opposed to a competitive one.
What are your thoughts – what would you need to establish and sustain successful partnerships? What barriers do you still face? Please share your reflections below!
Aleksandra Kozyra is a Membership and Events Officer at the European Association for the Education of Adults and is responsible for organising EAEA conferences and the annual Younger Staff Training. She previously worked with adult learners as a language trainer in Poland.