The COVID-19 crisis has exposed that adult learning and education matter more than ever to build societies that are resilient and adaptable to crises. No matter how much one admires the revolutionary potential of the youth, adults are the critical mass, the main consumers and decision makers of today: We need Adults for Future!
Fight Every Crisis
In times of the COVID-19 crisis, it has become apparent that adult learning and education matter more than ever to build societal structures that are resilient and adaptable to crises. The current situation showcases how the most vulnerable parts of our populations are the most affected by the virus and its consequences. The climate and ecological crisis is an emergent threat and another unprecedented challenge to humanity that will, just as the current crisis, further exacerbate existing inequalities in the world. Adult learning and education has to become priority of education policy to adequately address these inequalities and work towards a sustainable future for all.
Adults for Future!
Where are the Adults for Future? The youth might be on the streets today, but they cannot by themselves shape the political and social structures that are necessary for a green and just transition. The future needs critical adult thinkers, grown up sustainable doers, mature employees with green and transferrable skills, and most importantly, role models that can pave the way for generations to come. Fridays for Future cannot alone lead the change. Parents, grandparents and every single member of society can be part of a social, economic and ecological transformation. No matter how much one admires the revolutionary potential of the youth, adults are the critical mass, the main consumers and decision makers of today.
The Decade of Action & Non-Formal Adult Learning
Heading towards 2030, we are in the Decade of Action to deliver the Global Sustainable Development Goals SDGs. Sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Report, 1987). These goals do not only serve to improve literacy and numeracy among the adult population and equip them with relevant skills for employment (SDG 4.4, 4.6). The SDGs also declare that all learners need to “acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.” (SDG Goal 4.7). Incorporating “all learners” demands a cross-generational and holistic approach to learning that transcends compulsory and formal education structures.1 Non-formal education is fundamental to promote human rights, global citizenship and cultural diversity at the grassroots in each community. Therefore, adult education needs to become a priority, instead of a sidelined paragraph or a mere conceptual reiteration of the lifelong-learning paradigm. Non-formal education is crucial to making sustainable development a reality across all sectors of society.
Green Skills & European Green Deal
Adult education policy generally seeks to enhance employability and competitiveness to contribute to building a more robust and innovative economy, especially in response to crises. But will the cross-sectoral provision of green skills be sufficient to turn the tables towards a European Green Deal? Cedefop (2013) defined Green Skills as “knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society”. Green Skills are an important step for up- and reskilling the economy to build transferrable competences to encounter any crisis, including the threats posed by climate change. Equipping the workforce with green skills, however, will not be sufficient to realize the holistic and just transition the EU anticipates. Sustainable literacy, environmental competences, adapting to changing environmental conditions in one’s personal life and developing tools to cope with the future’s uncertainty are examples of attitudes, skills and knowledge required to build a society where sustainability is on the minds and hands of many.2 In this transformative process, disadvantaged adults, the ones hardest hit by any crisis, need to receive equitable access and additional support.
Skills for Life
The current pandemic reveals that the consequences of a global crisis extend far beyond the realm of work. Life-skills started to become essential to socially, emotionally, and economically sustain oneself in times of crisis. Care, collaboration, compassion, communication and emotional empathy, entered the public arena and are no longer perceived as exclusive to care professions. Rather, they are skills for life, imperative to foster social cohesion and equity in any community or society. (Depicted also in the recent (LifeComp report). Non-formal adult education is the breeding ground for skills for life, that encourage inter-generational, intercultural and community learning (Action 8: Skills for Life. European Skills Agenda 2020). Ultimately, skills for life are what the adult learner needs to develop solidarity, democratic engagement, and crisis resilience in facing the climate crisis.
The Role of Civil Society
Civil society and social movements have highlighted the voice of the ordinary people ever since. Today, yet again, they need to advocate to public and private institutions to place more emphasis on the education of adults. “The best investment in our future is the investment in our people,” President Ursula von der Leyen states in anticipation of the implementation of the 2020 European Skills Agenda for Sustainable Competitiveness, Social Fairness and Resilience.
Adults Educators- Change Agents
As adult educators and civil society advocates, however, we are aware that words need to be followed by action. Change does not only occur in political discourse and policy making. Real change happens on the ground. The transformative adult learning that is needed, occurs in informal and non-formal spaces. In the honest conversation about climate change at a trainings’ lunch, in critical engagement with humanity’s futures in a webinar, out on the streets standing behind the youth or when an older adult learner returns home with a just transition pamphlet to read it out to their grandchild.
Collaborate across Borders, Now
The climate crisis is an unprecedented challenge for humanity across the world. From a global perspective, European adults belong to the most privileged adults and hence, carry a certain (historical) responsibility in paving the path for change. We cannot solely trust the future generation to lift us out of crisis. This crisis requires inter-generational accountability and cross-sectoral cooperation that acts in solidarity with communities that are and will be on the frontline of crises. This moment in history is not only a turning point, paving the way for Europe’s digital and green transformation (European New Skills Agenda). It is also the time that reminds society to rethink priorities and take action to prevent the ecological and social destruction of what we hold dear.
Non-formal Adult Learning and Education is fundamental in preparing today’s adults, decision makers, and role models to become resilient agents for change, equipped to encounter the challenges of the climate crisis’ and other crises to come.
Take a look at the infographic!
 The SDG’s highlight the vital contribution of education for sustainable development that includes sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.
 Environmental Competences: Understanding the impact of daily actions on the environment (e.g. ways food is produced and consumed, energy, recycling, waste reduction) – understanding the concept of sustainable development and how it connects environmental, social and economic elements.
About the author
Jana Ahlers is working as a policy assistant at the European Association for Adult Education, while pursuing an Erasmus Mundus Master in Education Policies for Global Development. She is a European civil society advocate, a trainer and climate justice activist with a commitment to transformative adult learning.