Thank you for a lovely meeting at the annual EPALE conference.
We covered a wide range of subjects, and that matters.
Not just in terms of the possibilities within the field of adult learning, but also in terms of each nation’s self-perception and work with learning in general.
The EPALE platform is a tool, one that still requires some learning - perhaps even life-long learning, considering all its nooks and corners and digital obstacles.
Our efforts to develop a common platform - a meeting place that transcends national boundaries, perceptions of learning and working methods - is a labour of patience.
Fortunately, it seems that we are approaching new fertile ground and new timeframes that will transform the toolbox from a rigid framework to something more flexible, so that it can also function as a soft tool that we can care for with respect and dignity - because essentially, what it does is enable our curiosity of one another.
At the EPALE conference, I asked with my usual cheeky candour whether we even needed EPALE. I don’t hesitate to ask myself similar questions on a daily basis.
I can wake up some mornings and look myself in the mirror, asking myself whether I, today, in this moment, wish to be part of the society I live in and whether I, today, in this moment, can live up to being a citizen of my country, of Europe, and of the world.
Being a citizen comes with so much responsibility, not least because we are all guideposts - big and small - for the next generations, to the stranger on the bus, the young cashier in the supermarket, the school pupil, the old lady on the park bench, our colleagues, our friends and our family. Every single person we encounter leaves their mark on us, and we return the favour. This is important everyday learning we give to each other; informal statements on life, unwritten books that can nevertheless be immensely impactful and deserve to be treated with respect for what they essentially are: Lessons from the lives of others.
Every human being on this planet is a formula in life-long learning; a progression of the human race as we take after each other and learn, re-learn and unlearn again.
In the same vein, I often ask myself whether EPALE can live up to its purpose; can we truly create a springboard from which we speak the same language on curiosity and mastering the basic skills of life, but in different ways and across national boundaries?
The same question is being asked around Europe in general. Why do we need communities, and do we really belong with the neighbours we have and the ones who have chosen to come together with?
We can only answer for ourselves as individuals, and that makes our choices all the more courageous and critical.
In Warsaw, we brought together anyone interested in ways to master the basic skills of life and formulas for learning. One individual brought their experience in e-learning. Another brought their ministerial thoroughness. Some brought Erasmus and others came with basic and soft learning approaches. Common to all of them, no matter their responsibility or stance, was a commitment to take this meeting seriously and a commitment to regard learning as the basic premise for being a functional member of society.
When we discuss adult learning, the range of obligations, offerings and methods is as broad and diverse as the many cultures we hail from. That is the strength of a learning community that extends across nations.
We use the toolbox differently, and we interpret and think differently about EPALE as a toolbox. Nevertheless, once we’ve unpacked all its contents and spread out the possibilities on the floor and closely examined them, we discover a few rusty bent nails, some sawdust, a box of used matches, an old crumpled receipt and a set of values at the bottom of the toolbox; a place so far down that it rarely gets tidied up and where the values can end up being overlooked in the dark.
Down there lies a longing for a common language and a will to boldly believe that we continue to develop throughout our lives; that knowledge passed from one person to another is our only path to liberty and democratic citizenship. A few years ago, I told a group of hopeful young people that “An informed people can never be subdued.” To me, the concept of civic education and the trust it inherently places in citizens, the state, national associations and the world in general is a grip that must never be slackened. It’s a living library that’s found within all of us. It’s a fundamental pillar of the societies united in this “European experiment”, which EPALE is an important component of. To some of us, this manner of thinking is old, and the concept of civic education is a legacy we take for granted. To other nations, it is a more recent idea, still making its way through people, ways of life, legislation and democratic institutions.
In Warsaw, we spoke a great deal over coffee about what we really wanted to achieve with each other and EPALE; about the desire to eliminate the barriers to learning and to lean on each other for strength and support - also in the political sense - through the experiences we have all acquired through our different responsibilities.
That learning is quite simply the idea of engaging with people earnestly, face-to-face. That learning creates a language for the unknown, for what we fear, for what we love, for what binds us together.
That learning and the freedom to learn is to stand in front of the mirror - also in an EU context - and to dare say yes; today, in this moment, there is an opportunity for learning.
To me, it is an unquestionable fact that without education, be it civic, formal or informal, there would not be such openness between the countries we collectively refer to as Europe. And in my view, that’s not where the road ends, because ultimately, every bit of learning that transcends borders brings the world together, making us understand the value that our differences create.
When 28 different nations meet to take this fact seriously, the world shifts a little in the direction of the trust that unites us all despite the differences and obstacles between us.
That’s why it is important that all of us who work with adult learning must stubbornly continue to form bonds with each other, accepting our diversity and the occasionally conflicting visions each of us pursue in our professional lives as civic educators, teachers, managers, influencers, politicians, clerks and, quite simply, human beings.
Thank you for coming this year. And thank you for the great responsibility each of you have taken on in your home countries and in your own way.
Astrid Søe, Denmark