For many years, reaching educationally disadvantaged, low-skilled people has been a major challenge of adult education throughout Europe. What is the best way to address, motivate and win these people over for learning? Who should do this and where should it ideally be done? How can people be convinced to place their trust in learning, to invest time, effort and perhaps money? In short: What are effective outreach measures?
Non-Learners, hard to engage
It is not for nothing that the group discussed here has been described as "hard to engage". Educational disadvantaged people often have the least desire for continuing education compared to other groups. A significant part of low-skilled people is employed and does not see learning as a necessity. Recent studies have also shown that continuing education on the level of basic education has a lesser impact on employment and income than continuing education at higher levels. Thus, low-skilled people are not completely misguided if they do not expect their job situation to improve significantly based on initial continuing education. However, collective data has also shown that basic education does make a difference on the labour market. Learning always pays off – as proven by the experience of learners.
Explicit appeals for more outreach
"Outreach" refers to all activities outside of formal education that identify and motivate classic "non-learners" to participate in the learning process. The magic formula to achieve this goal is being actively sought.
The ET2020 Working Group on Adult Learning with representatives from 33 European countries issued the recommendation at the end of the work year 2015 that member states should increase their efforts and intensify effective outreach strategies.
Adult learning, within the context of the revised ET 2020 priorities, has defined priorities for the coming years, namely increasing learning participation amongst population groups with the greatest need through effective outreach, orientation and motivation strategies.
The difference between need and want
Clearly adult education and basic skills education bear the responsibility for awakening the need for its offers. It has also been confirmed Europe-wide that the best basic education programme is only worth as much as its acquisition strategy: Investing further funds in a programme will result in failure if learners remain absent and the target group is unreachable.
However, there is a difference between needs and wants that becomes particularly conspicuous for the educationally disadvantaged. How can people be made aware of their wants without patronising them and taking away their responsibility? How can education and consultation services claim to know what is best for their clients? What does this mean for consultation and education principles such as voluntarism and responsibility?
Outreach activities in any form are always accompanied by this field of tension, which calls for a careful approach. Perhaps a good motto is "enticing people to learn".
A new approach and its ingredients
The initiative "Educational Guidance Austria" (“Bildungsberatung Österreich”) consists of networks in all nine federal states, which includes about 80 institutions. Approximately 185,000 consultation cases have been documented for 2007-2013. Educational Guidance Austria is now starting a new approach after performing preparatory work in the initial years in order to prospectively reach more educationally disadvantaged people.
The educational guidance service is using a range of activities for this purpose. Mobile guidance offers that seek out people such as educational buses are part of it; consultation by peers, fee-exempt phone consultation and other contemporary forms are also included. The goal is to especially reach older people from 55 years of age, who have, at the most, completed an apprenticeship as well as migrants and the unemployed.
Goals can be disruptive
Excessive orientation according to key figures can be a problem. Monika Anclin, expert for educational guidance in Styria knows: One may define target values, but these fail to adequately incorporate social complexity. Indicators can at times also make it more difficult to work effectively: "I cannot approach formally low-qualified people with this attitude of deficiency and label educational offers as such if I want to reach these people. Basing offers on statistics and not on complex social realities of daily consultation work puts people into boxes. In so doing, I assign educational goals to my consultation clients that they perhaps would not assign to themselves." Respect for the living situations and wishes of learners should always be more important than statistics.
Guidance as working "in-between"
Ruth Großmaß, retired professor at the Alice Salomon University in Berlin, describes guidance as working "in-between" – between social functional areas such as education/the labour market and individuals. Guidance needs also often develop in transitional situations.
It, therefore, seems logical for exchange and networking to be central aspects on the pages of consultation providers. These providers cooperate with persons and bodies that are already involved with the target groups. Educational guidance in Styria works closely with NGOs and communities whose clients include educationally disadvantaged adults. The federal state of Salzburg has increasingly interwoven adult learning with educational guidance. After all, networking comes very close to the "magic formula for outreach".
Brochure in German: Initiative Bildungsberatung Österreich 2015-2017
Die Initiative Bildungsberatung Österreich (short description in German)
Author/Editing of original article in German: Birgit Aschemann/CONEDU
Picture: CC0 Public Domain Devanath/pixabay.com | silhouette-1229849_1280.png