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EPALE summary: August-September focus on social inclusion of vulnerable groups through adult learning

ag David Mallows
Teanga: EN

/fi/file/epale-summary-social-inclusionEPALE Summary social inclusion

EPALE Summary social inclusion


EPALE Thematic Coordinator David Mallows looks back at some of the articles published during our thematic focus on social inclusion of vulnerable groups.


EPALE's thematic focus from August to September was the social inclusion of vulnerable groups. In all EU countries, social exclusion is a significant concern, with some adults particularly at risk of being excluded and marginalised. In education terms this may mean that those from lower socio-economic groups, speakers of non-standard languages, those with health or learning difficulties, early school leavers, members of ethnic minority groups, the homeless, refugees and migrants, and many others, face barriers to accessing and persisting in adult education.

Simon Broek introduced the ENLIVEN project to focus on young adults, pointing out that they are vulnerable as they transition into adulthood, from the secure school or training environment to that of the workplace. That vulnerability comes from when they have had negative educational and social experiences in school. The ENLIVEN project looked at the barriers to participation among young low-qualified adults, as well as the enablers – the strategies and structures that have succeeded in lowering institutional barriers to accommodate young adults’ learning needs.

The vulnerability of young adults to socio-economic and socio-psychological pressures can lead them to abandon their studies. Andrew McCoshan, interviewed Irene Psifidou, an education and training policy analyst at Cedefop, about their newly updated toolkit for helping stakeholders deal with early leaving from education and training. Irene began by reminding readers of the scale of the issue (early leaving still affects one in ten young adults according to Eurostat) before going on to describe the toolkit, designed by CEDEFOP following a three-year research study, which has recently been updated.

Dr Paul Downes, Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University, Ireland, called for imaginative and flexible approaches to engage vulnerable individuals and groups across Europe in adult education. He suggested that a key element in such approaches is to ensure that the education centres are in accessible locations in the local community, allowing adults to access education, and other services, in spaces where relations of trust can be built.

The September EPALE podcast considered whether adult learning, instead of reducing inequality, actually increases it. We know that adult learning participation is higher for those in higher socio-economic groups. The better trained (and remunerated) you are, the more likely you are to gain access to and benefit from adult education. This difference in participation leaves large groups excluded from well-paying jobs, and vulnerable to further changes in society. By identifying vulnerable groups we can target provision at them, ensuring that it best meets their needs. Hence adult learning can be seen as increasing, instead of reducing inequality.

In his article, EPALE Thematic Coordinator Andrew McCoshan offered his thoughts on why policies might benefit from thinking clearly about which adults actually do formal learning and the types of learning provision they access.

Simon Broek focused on what he termed ‘the myth’ that vulnerable social groups are likely to be unemployed. In fact data shows that of the 61 million adults in EU countries can be described as low-qualified, with 34 million of them in employment. Simon talked about the role of employers in upskilling low-qualified adults suggesting that as the majority of those who do not have the expected educational credentials are already in the workplace, there is a need for both individual and collective action to bring more learning to the workplace.

And last but not least, Thematic Coordinator Markus Palmén approached attendees at the Dare to Learn festival with one question: what insight or idea will they be taking home from the event. Take a look at the wide range of ideas shared by the participants.

David Mallows has 30 years of experience in adult education as a teacher, teacher trainer, manager and researcher. He was previously Director of Research at the National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy (NRDC) at the UCL Institute of Education, London and currently represents the European Basic Skills Network in EPALE as thematic coordinator for Life Skills.

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