Under the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (PPUE), the National Agency for Qualification and VET (ANQEP), representing the Ministries of Education and Labour, Solidarity and Social Security of the Portuguese Government, together with the European Commission, organised the conference on Adult learning, developing paths for multigenerational learning, which took place on the afternoon of 10th March 2021.
This event was held in digital format, involving more than 130 participants, as well as national and international experts in the field of adult education and training.
Filipa de Jesus, Director of the National Agency for Qualification and VET (ANQEP), opened the conference by introducing the themes of the agenda, taking into consideration the priorities of the PPUE and bearing in mind the latest developments in adult education and training, enshrined, inter alia, in the recent Osnabrück Declaration and the Pact for Skills. ANQEP’s Director also recalled the launch, by the European Commission, of the Green Paper on Ageing (under public consultation until April 21st) which focuses on the impact of population ageing on education, skills, work, reforms and social protection. As Filipa de Jesus emphasised, “when launching this public consultation, the European Commission confronted us with some data that it is impossible to ignore. Today, 20% of the population is over 65 years old and by 2070, it is projected to be 30%. Meanwhile, the share of people above 80 is expected to more than double, reaching 13% by 2070”.
Immediately afterwards, David Atchoreana, from UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, presented their latest proposals for lifelong learning (LLL), considering the need to adopt a holistic concept, in response to current challenges. In view of the current demographic shifts, David Atchoreana mentioned, among other measures, the urgency of increasing the availability of LLL provision for older people and the development of learning activities that can go beyond the issues associated with work-related skills, considering its benefits for social inclusion, health, well-being and the quality of life; the contribution of LLL to a more positive view of ageing; and the need to promote intergenerational learning from and with others. So that learning can happen throughout life, this expert defends a stronger link and a better coordination between education/VET and the world of work, flexible learning pathways and the potential of higher education in promoting LLL, without neglecting the need to consider the most vulnerable groups at the core of the LLL agenda.
The work of the conference continued, organised in three panels.
Adult learning, paths, challenges and opportunities ahead
Alexandra Teixeira, from ANQEP, and Manuela Geleng, from the European Commission's Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, were the speakers of the first panel entitled Adult learning, paths, challenges and opportunities ahead.
Alexandra Teixeira presented the Qualifica Programme as a political priority in view of the need to raise the level of qualification of the adult population in Portugal. The objectives, goals and main tools of the Qualifica were described, focusing specifically on Qualifica Centres services and their performance, in terms of enrolments of adults, referrals to other education and training provisions and certifications, from 2017 to January 2021. The adults profile at the time of enrolment in Qualifica Centres was also presented.
Manuela Geleng started her presentation with an image of all the flags of the different Member States to show that it is natural for these States to have different systems, depending on their culture and history, but there are common problems for which we need to find coordinated answers, involving all parties: employment, education, social policies, etc. Another image (that of an iceberg), was used to demonstrate how formal education is only a small part of what education is (considering also its informal and non-formal dimensions) and how it interconnects with the issues of ageing, which must be seen as a major challenge for national education and training systems. The European Skills Agenda for Sustainable Competitiveness, Social Fairness and Resilience and the European Pillar of Social Rights, associated with the defined goals (quite ambitious for some), were also mentioned in this intervention that ended with an appeal for joining efforts and working together.
People first: understanding demography and inclusion
Pedro Conceição, Director of the UN Human Development Report Office, welcomed the title of the second panel - People first: understanding demography and inclusion -, because people are at the core of progress in human development and should be placed first. According to him, nowadays development is also measured by the possibility that people have to make choices, especially in countries where achievements in basic development are already ensured. And at this level, there are still inequalities, and education is fundamental for tackling them. Inequalities start before birth and can increase throughout life, unless they are contradicted by public policies, as he mentioned. In his view, human development is not just a matter of people's well-being, it must also provide conditions for people to be agents of change through the choices they can make.
This intervention was followed by that of Sónia Pereira, of the High Commission for Migration, who presented some data related to the profile of migrants in Portugal. She stated that migration is also an opportunity to enhance social cohesion, but it is still necessary to continue and improve in several aspects, namely those related to the qualification of migrants, despite Portugal being recognised in the Migrant Integration Policy Index for the advancements that have been made. Even so, it is important, in her opinion, to invest in easing access to Portuguese language training and in the recognition of qualifications of migrants.
Luís Rothes, the National Coordinator of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), gave a presentation linking literacy, demography and inclusion. Luís Rothes started by mentioning the results of the first cycle of the PIAAC to show how much age and education are associated with poor results in terms of literacy and how it relates to family income, poverty, employment, gender equality and social inclusion. Thus, he presented some challenges for the future which, in his opinion, demand the existence of literacy policies that accompany the lifelong time-span, from early childhood to adulthood; partnerships for literacy development (municipalities, businesses, trade unions, NGOs, etc.); a joint policy approach at national and European level, linking areas such as education, culture, health, employment, social solidarity; and sustained political commitment, with stable financial support.
New and old skills and multigenerational learning
In the third panel, called New and old skills and multigenerational learning, Dušana Findeisen, from the Institute for Research and Development of Education at the Slovenian University of the Third Age, defended the need to have “a new generational social contract” based on tolerance and on intergenerational respect, further demonstrating how much the troubled history of the twentieth century influenced different generations. In fact, the term generation is relatively new and has gradually replaced the concept of social class.
Through a simple true/false questionnaire, she also showed the difficulties felt by the low qualified who present themselves today as functional illiterates, as well as the discomfort regarding language, as one of their characteristics.
Immediately thereafter, Vítor Sérgio Ferreira, from the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, demonstrated how the attractiveness of professions has changed for young people today, corresponding mainly to professions that imply creativity, reinforce individualism and provide self-satisfaction and social status, demanding new responses from education and training systems. In his opinion, these systems do not give visibility to the qualifications associated with the new professions that young people find attractive; to new learning technologies, recognising and validating talents; and to more attractive communication for young people.
Christine O 'Kelly, from Dublin City University, presented the journey made by this university to be “age-friendly”, listed the 10 principles for a higher education institution to achieve this purpose, recalled the relevance of the Green Paper on Ageing and described possible upskilling and reskilling strategies for multigenerational learning, reinforcing the role that higher education institutions can play in attracting older people who are away from education systems.
At the end of the conference, Ana Cláudia Valente, ANQEP’s Deputy Director, highlighted the main points discussed throughout the afternoon, namely the emergence of a new culture of lifelong learning, the importance of everyone being able to participate and make choices and to counteract inequality trends, the relevance of basic literacy for all and approaches to life skills, considering all stages of the life cycle, with “age-friendly” institutions, and the current professional ambitions of young people.