Along with digitalisation and integration, the priority topics include labour market orientation, quality assurance, and professionalisation, says Michael Sturm, chairman of the Austrian Adult Education Conference, in an interview. (Reading time: roughly 5 minutes)
The coronavirus pandemic will once again have an impact on adult education this year. In the following interview, the managing director of BFI Austria (external link) and chairman of the Austrian Adult Education Conference (KEBÖ) (external link), Michael Sturm, discusses how the member institutes will be supported in handling the situation and what lessons pertaining to educational offerings can be learned from the lockdowns.
Friedl: The coronavirus pandemic has posed major challenges for adult education and will continue to be an issue in 2021. What tasks does this create for the KEBÖ?
Sturm: The KEBÖ is tasked with implementing the legal regulations and recommendations of the Austrian federal government related to the coronavirus pandemic as best as possible and communicating them to the member institutes. In this context, it will continue to be important to agree on a responsible approach in a timely manner and take every possible measure in order to offer employees, instructors, and participants the maximum level of protection.
Along with the health aspect, the KEBÖ will continue to advocate for adult education institutes to be entitled to the reimbursement of costs for government-mandated closures and for these benefits to reach the affected parties as quickly and with as little red tape as possible.
Friedl: The digital transition was already a focus area before the pandemic, but has gained a tremendous amount of momentum due to the lockdown. What insights can the KEBÖ draw from this?
Sturm: The KEBÖ has always strived to continuously improve the teaching and learning methods that are put into practice at the institutes. Due to the growing use of information and communication technologies, e-learning and blended learning have already been integrated into the educational offerings for quite some time. For this reason and based on the high degree of flexibility that characterises the Austrian adult education sector, it was relatively easy for many institutes to switch from face-to-face instruction to distance learning during the first lockdown.
Three key insights emerged: Firstly, it is necessary to provide instructors with further didactic training in order to be able to optimally take advantage of the possibilities of distance learning in terms of instruction methods and the learning gains of the participants. Secondly, the fact that certain skills – especially those that are learned by practising on actual people and machines – cannot be taught remotely was confirmed. This also applies to (psycho)social and creative/artistic skills, which can only be developed over a longer period of time and in a collaborative form. Thirdly, there is a risk that the people adult education aims to address will be marginalised. Possible reasons for this include a lack of the necessary infrastructure, a lack of appropriate digital skills, or simply disinterest due to the absence of the shared educational experience. In short, the surge in digitalisation has been good for us, but has also made us aware of the value of social processes for individual and social advancement.
Friedl: What are the priority topics for 2021?
Sturm: Because the KEBÖ sees itself as the Ministry of Education’s most important partner for the implementation of adult education policy initiatives and priorities, these aspects are of course a primary focus. The priorities for 2021 are the topics of integration, digitalisation, labour-market-oriented educational offerings, and quality assurance and professionalisation within the organisations. In addition, the existing support programmes “Initiative Erwachsenenbildung” (Adult Education Initiative) and “Berufsmatura: Lehre mit Berufsreifeprüfung” (Blended Apprenticeship Programme with Vocational Matriculation Exam) will be continued and predominantly implemented by KEBÖ institutes.
However, the strength of the KEBÖ institutes lies in the breadth and diversity of their educational offerings. Different approaches and focuses are pursued for individual target groups on an organisation-specific basis, and together they produce the unique mix that characterises non-profit adult education in Austria.
Friedl: In light of the pandemic, the federal government has consistently emphasised the importance of collaboration. What does this mean for Europe-wide/international networking from the perspective of the KEBÖ?
Sturm: I got the impression that the government’s appeals were aimed more at solidarity and that collaboration was unfortunately less of a priority. Both are important for the KEBÖ. In the form of the cooperative system of adult education, we take on topics and challenges together with the Federal Institute for Adult Education that cannot be overcome or comprehensively handled by individual organisations alone. This includes interorganisational training and further education offerings for employees who work in adult education, the process of the Austrian Academy of Continuing Education for enhancing the visibility of and recognising competences, and innovative event series, model seminars, and symposiums.
Naturally, we also cultivate international collaboration, which is reflected in numerous memberships in European organisations and networking activities, for example. This can also be seen in the active participation in consulting processes for the implementation of European initiatives in adult education. In addition, the KEBÖ organisations have taken part in countless transnational projects in a wide range of education programmes of the European Union since Austria joined the EU. These projects serve the development of expertise and the transfer of knowledge in equal measure. However, promoting intercultural competences and furthering the idea of the European Community are also key aspects of the partnerships and priorities for the KEBÖ.
Friedl: Are there important dates for 2021 that we can already mark on our calendars?
Sturm: The gala ceremony for the presentation of the Austrian Adult Education Radio Award scheduled for 26 January 2021 at the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation’s RadioKulturhaus building will presumably be held online. Following the tremendous success of the #ebcamp20 in online form, the KEBÖ’s next BarCamp in cooperation with the Federal Institute for Adult Education is being planned as a hybrid event that will take place from 28 to 29 April 2021.
Another KEBÖ annual conference will be held in 2021. The date has been set as 22 September 2021, and the venue will be the education centre of the Vienna Chamber of Labour. At the end of the conference, the rotating KEBÖ chairmanship will be transferred to the Ring Österreichischer Bildungswerke (Network of Austrian Adult Education Institutes).
Friedl: What additional tasks are on the agenda for the KEBÖ in the coming year?
Sturm: The majority of the tasks and activities of the KEBÖ organisations are performed “behind the scenes”. Apart from the international coordination activities, this primarily involves participation in various committees, advisory councils, work groups, and forums in which the interests of the KEBÖ are represented and topics that are relevant for adult education are addressed.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the service agreements concluded between the Ministry of Education and the KEBÖ organisations were extended by a year. The negotiations for the next three-year period from 2022 to 2024 are set to start in the first half of 2021. They will require a lot of time and energy because we hope to further develop the service agreements and negotiate an increase in funding.
In terms of content, the goals of the government programme for adult education and those set out in the KEBÖ’s position paper are to be coordinated and gradually implemented. The goal of the KEBÖ is to secure the existing structures in non-profit adult education for the long term on the basis of the Austrian Adult Education Promotion Act (Erwachsenenbildungsförderungsgesetz) and orient them towards the future challenges for this education sector