What one needs …
What does a person need to live? Or, to put it a little differently, what is necessary for a person to have a good life? This does not mean any basic material conditions, no external factors, because a home, a car and - depending on personal demands - also a yacht may be pleasant, perhaps even very pleasant, but they are not necessary for a good life and apart from that they are more a result than a condition. What does a person have to find in itself, which competences does he or she have to have in order to achieve the above mentioned things - or even completely different ones, depending on his/her individual focus?
These are basic skills that a person must master, that he/she must be taught to give him/her a realistic chance of a good occupation, so that he/she understands how society and the world works, certainly not in every detail, but up to a level that allows an active and intensive participation in social life, without making it an obligation.
The basic skills
In the third quarter of 2020, EPALE has been committed to this topic: basic skills learning provision. The following five basic skills have been defined without any claim to completeness: literacy, health education, financial literacy, numeracy, and basic digital skills. The relevance and importance of these skills may be obvious, but it does no harm to take a brief look at them:
- Literacy – in a world and society where a significant amount of interpersonal communication takes place in writing, the ability to read and write is essential. As with any form of communication, this is a matter of interaction. Communication necessarily requires at least two parties, and the ability of one side to write is completely worthless in the relationship between these two if the other side cannot read. In our society, contracts, bank documents, invoices, all this is done in written form. An autonomous and independent life within a society without at least the ability to read and write to a certain extent can be deemed impossible.
- Health education – a connection that may not be immediately apparent. And yet, both for the person itself and for the community, it is ultimately logical that at least a basic understanding is required of how one's own behaviour can affect one's own (mental or physical) health and that of others. The prime example is that of the smoker who massively impairs his own physical health and whose behaviour also has a negative impact on the physical health of the people around him. The same applies to alcohol consumption: directly damaging to one's own physical health, indirectly in the sense of a certain social pressure on others to “have a few drinks” and thus also damaging their health. The spectrum can be much broader: an understanding of the importance of regular physical activity, the influence of nutrition on health, and the link between mental and physical health are just some of the relevant topics.
- Financial literacy – financial literacy is primarily about ensuring control over one's own life, and the impact on the environment is probably less significant here, although it cannot be completely dismissed if one assumes that one is in debt, because a person who is in debt causes financial damage to the creditor. Financial literacy means knowing that expenditures must not, in the long run, exceed income, knowing which expenses are absolutely necessary, starting with food, water, electricity, and which expenses are luxury and could therefore be omitted or at least postponed. But beyond that, it also means a basic understanding of how a capitalist society works, the system of taxes, the financing mechanisms of banks, all of this at least in its basic features. Of course not everyone has to become an accountant or a banker, but the fundamental difference for example between gross and net, the awareness that a loan costs more than the sum of money borrowed, that is general financial education.
- Numeracy – this point is, to a large extent, related to financial literacy. The knowledge that inputs should be higher than outputs is useless if the difference between inputs and outputs is not calculable. We encounter numbers in many of life’s areas, and these numbers should be manageable too, at least to a certain extent.
- Basic digital skills – the world is going digital. More and more invoices are coming in by e-mail and no longer by post, meetings are taking place virtually, vast amounts of information and facts can be obtained in seconds via the Internet - if you only know how. Digitalization has undeniably its raison d'être and right to exist, invoices sent by email reduce paper consumption, virtual meetings reduce CO² emissions, that's a fact. However, it is also a fact that digitization requires a change in people, their behaviour and habits and also their competencies. Nowadays, it is almost indispensable to have access to the Internet and to be able to use it, to know how to use an e-mail inbox or how to log in to an online meeting.
What it is actually about
Nevertheless, these basic skills are not really the issue here. It is about the framework conditions, i. e. the environment that must be available or provided to enable, initialize, stimulate and promote the learning process required for these basic skills. No human being is born with all these skills. It is certainly easier or more difficult to acquire these skills, depending on one's intellectual capacity, but ultimately everyone has to acquire them. The intelligence a person is born with cannot be influenced, but the environment can be. Ideally, all of these skills should be taught in schools, and largely, they succeed. The school as a concept has long proven its worth, and even if compulsory education is still comparatively young depending on the country (in Germany, for example, since 1919), public schools have existed increasingly since the 13th century, and the concept of school, the transmission of knowledge by teachers to children, dates back to the 4th millennium BC. Therefore, the concept itself is not bad. However, individuals do fall through the cracks, either because they do not comply with compulsory schooling or instruction, or for other reasons. What about those who went to school a long time ago or who were unable to acquire any skills at school - imagine digital teaching in everyday school life in the 1970s? In other words, how do adults acquire basic skills that they should have acquired long ago? This is where adult education comes in.
The will to change
In a constantly changing world, it is inevitable for humans to constantly change, to train further, to develop and evolve. New knowledge must be acquired and old knowledge must be refreshed. Of course, it is more difficult to learn new things as an adult, that is proven. Nevertheless, it is not impossible, that is also a fact. What’s more, the corresponding infrastructures are available, at least in our latitudes. Starting with a high school diploma via the second educational pathway, via private further education courses or even quite privately, in which the student plays the teacher and perhaps teaches his parents to read and write or improves them - in this context it is not even a matter of formal recognition (which of course does not exclude such recognition and still makes it desirable), the basic skills mentioned are only about acquiring them - by which means is almost irrelevant.
Every kind of adult education starts with the determination. There is no compulsory schooling, compulsory instruction or any other form of compulsory further education for adults, at least not a generally valid one, and this is certainly well-founded. Adult education is on offer, it is made available, and tries to create basic conditions in which learning can take place in the best possible way - it is therefore up to the will of each individual, who determines a need within him or herself, whether he/she wants to take advantage of this offer or not.
About the author: Cedric Dümenil has been working since November 2018 in the Erasmus+ National Agency, based in the Jugendbüro (Youth Office) of the German-speaking Community of Belgium, where he is responsible for the evaluation and processing of applications and projects in the fields of school education, vocational training and higher education. In addition to his work, he is also studying law at the University of Trier. In his remaining free time he is particularly interested in languages and literature.
From the same author:
- Cornered by Corona, Turning the Tide
- About the rumour of human equality: Access to education
- Media literacy – Limits and opportunities