author: Bernd Käpplinger
Peter Brandt recently asked the question in the EPALE blog: “What remains of 2015”? According to my impression, we had many challenges in 2015. For instance: numerous acts of terrorism in France and many other countries; the financial and humanitarian crisis in Greece; wars in Europe and in front of its borders; the increase in refugee movements in the summer/autumn; the election victories of authoritarian parties and their takeover of governmental responsibility; the questioning of democratic precepts; and the propagated yearning for solely wanting to return to a national state. The European idea and its implementation have probably been rarely challenged or doubted as in this year.
European idea: from successful model to obsolescent model?
About 10 years ago the European idea seemed to be a successful model by global comparison. There was high and increasing economic prosperity as well as high democratic and legal standards. The support of the general public was correspondingly very high. About 10 years later the picture looks much gloomier, although many refugees come to Europe particularly because of these relatively high standards. The European model is still very good by global comparison. Yet in numerous countries parties have celebrated clear election victories which create an atmosphere with a decidedly anti-European and nationalistic course. Various religious or racist fundamentalists are gaining popularity. In economic terms, many countries seem to be mired in a spiral of permanent crises. European governments or tabloid media foment reciprocal national stereotypes about other countries. Contact with each other has become much rougher in this year 2015.
Is there visible public involvement in adult education for Europe?
Of course there are many statements from a standpoint of practical experience and scholarship with regard to the developments. But then where is the voice of adult education to be actually heard in national or European terms? Where are the discussions? EPALE (Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe) is an interesting platform, but where do involved and controversial discussions actually come about here with blogs as an engine for innovations? No, it seems as if the stakeholders in adult education also thoroughly like to be marginalised in public discourse. One implements their national or European support programmes as a service provider. Achievement of objectives per evaluation is reported to Brussels or the national ministries. Increased funding is ritually demanded. It will work, but where do the many recipients of European project funds also get involved for the European idea against national and populist headwind despite all the weaknesses of the European Union? Otherwise one warms up to slogans, e.g. that tolerance can be learned through adult education. Once again it shows that education can be progressive as well as conservative.
Make the voice more clearly audible.
What would have to be done if one does not want to be content with this relatively comfortable position? In my opinion, adult education and its stakeholders should be more courageous to express uncomfortable truths. As in the Delors Report that was influentially published 20 years ago, European integration must be justified more than primarily in economic terms. Here one would have to be more uncomfortable towards the Commission so that “active citizenship” alongside “employability” is not merely used as a fig leaf. A much clearer position should be taken with respect to radical right-wing as well as radical left-wing and racist groups in any form. One should offer alternatives and be so uncomfortable to go to educational sites in the suburbs and the social flashpoints where many participants in formal and non-formal adult education can virtually not be found up to now. An involved and absolutely exciting argument should be made about different strategies and campaigns in adult education, beyond the often euphemistic and edgeless “newspeak” of many a European statement or communication. It should not suffice that someone is on their way on behalf of good things in adult education. Economic and political basic education is more important than ever in order to be able to understand the complex globalisation processes to some degree and to develop a well-founded opinion. Not only competence, but also knowledge is required to do so.
Be more uncomfortable for democracy and its achievements!
Does adult education have the courage to be publicly involved? Where will one grapple provocatively and publicly with so many technocrats, autocrats or Islamists? Despite all major differences, the aversion for free and open words and deeds unifies the radicals. Perhaps more courage to be involved for more democracy in the European Union and understanding among nations is required in 2016? Based on the Greek meaning of the word, crisis is a moment of decision. What will we decide for in 2016, for passivity or activity?
Prof. Dr. Bernd Käpplinger has held the chair of Continuing Education at Justus Liebig University Giessen since 2015. Prior to this he was a junior professor for Learning in the Life Course / Enterprise-based Continuing Training at Humboldt University of Berlin. His research priorities include operational continuing education, programme research, educational counselling, qualification-related continuing education as well as international comparative research. Since 2013 he has been editor, together with Prof. Dr. Steffi Robak, of the series “Studien zur Pädagogik, Andragogik und Gerontagogik” (“Studies in Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Gerontagogy”) published by the Peter Lang publishing house.