Towards becoming the most integrated and sustainable region by 2030: Nordic collaboration in adult education – how can we support social inclusion?
Social sustainability in a country or region is not possible without having the whole population on board; no one should be left behind. It means that a wide range of policies and initiatives need to be implemented: to ensure interconnectedness and include the remote areas; to ensure democratic values and critical use if ICT possibilities; and to bridge the digital divide and ensure equality by raising the level of basic digital skills of adults and young people.
Nordic vision 2030 and the role of learning
The Nordic prime ministers approved the Nordic Vision in 2019. The global goals have been on the agenda for several years already but by approving the Vision 2030, the Nordic countries in cooperation have decided to move faster and have set an ambitious goal to become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030[i]. The three components in this vision should be closely interlinked, and basic skills improvement play an important role in all of them.
- Competitive Nordic region is not a reality without innovation and full use of digital potential. It is a region based on knowledge, innovation, mobility and digital integration.
- Socially sustainable Nordic region is an inclusive, equal and interconnected region with shared values and strengthened cultural exchange and welfare.
- In addition, the third component in the Nordic vision, green Nordic region, demands updated and relevant skills and competences in order to ensure the transition to green society and sustainable economy.
The cooperation in adult learning follows the priorities set by the Nordic governments. The Nordic agenda for the competencies of the future[ii] aims to better prepare people of all ages for the society that lies ahead. Everybody in the Nordic Region should have the knowledge and skills to cope with a more complex future. In addition, just as importantly, to meet the world with open and critical minds and be equipped to work with other people.
Nordic collaborative effort on adult learning
There are similarities and differences among the Nordic countries[iii]. Each country has its own way of structuring and organising adult learning. The strength is that we have a possibility to share and learn from each other and to do it regularly and systematically. Another issue that is important to know when looking at how policies are shaped and changed, is that the Nordic countries have a strong public sector and a long tradition of designing learning offers for people with low levels of education.
There is a tradition that the social partners contribute when it comes to competence policy and long-term strategy development. Finally, the resent policy and practice development in the Nordic countries is strongly influenced by the 2020 situation, and the pandemic, and quite understandably puts a special focus on the basic digital skills, bridging the digital divide and enhancing social inclusion, on the recognition of skills and competences, and reskilling and upskilling.
The Nordic Network for Adult Learning[iv] (NVL) is currently involved in all of those strategic areas through several networks.
Who is the winner?
When we need to discuss the challenges or propose solutions to the decision makers in the Nordic countries, we try to find the arguments that help making the benefits of learning visible. Adult education providers try to link learning to other policy areas, like health, employment, local and regional development, etc. The return on investment cannot always be measured in monetary terms. NVL and our networks´ view on the benefits of having good basic skills and continuously developing them could be summarised like this:
- Individuals get better possibilities to stay informed, participate in learning and in society, get or stay employed, stay connected, have access to health services, have critical approach to information, become better and greener consumers, etc. It is important to show the role of learning in relation to other sectors and actions that are in the public attention, like health, like environment, like integration.
- The education system can reach more people, be flexible in when and how to provide learning, can provide better access to on-line resources across the institutional boarders, etc. Better quality of provision can be ensured.
- The benefits for workplaces and working life is competitiveness, innovation, increased use of AI, using all kinds of competences of the employees, being able to recruit people across branches / sectors of industries. As the result - profit.
- The benefits for the society in general are democracy, welfare and stability.
Evidence and inspiration for digital inclusion
The Nordic Network for Basic Skills[v] started its work in 2017 before the Nordic vision 2030 was approved. The specific goal for the network during 2018 – 2019 has been increasing the participation of low-skilled adults in basic digital skills learning. The importance of the network and the need for joint development work in this field has only grown since it was established. The initial goal of the network – to increase the number of participants in adult education is highly relevant. The goal of 70% of 16 - 65 year olds in Europe having the appropriate level of basic digital skills by 2025 really calls for action.
The network results are being used for developing the policy and practice of basic skills provision in the Nordic countries, and this work is highly relevant for implementing the Nordic Vision 2030. It contributes to several UN goals for sustainable development, in particular SDGs 4, 8 and 10. An equal society is based on everyone having equal rights regardless of, e.g., gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, disability or descent. Basic skills level influences the population’s participation in social, economic and political life, and leads to inclusion. Good basic skills guarantee that people are aware of their rights and opportunities and can reduce inequality within the country or social clusters in big urban areas.
The network starts with collecting and analyzing the facts, and with presenting a Nordic SWOT analyses[vi]. Then the learning examples are selected and presented in order to illustrate the opportunities and strengths. It is important to show what works, and how the positive effects can be enhanced. The mutual learning aspect is a very strong driver for the development of provision in the Nordic countries. NVL’s task is to organize the exchange of experience about the methods of assessment, organization of the outreach process, validation methods and tools, quality assurance, etc.
Then we look at the challenges shown by the existing practices, and can point out and recommend the improvements or changes needed. Out of a wider spectrum of learning examples and possible improvements, the Nordic Network for Basic Skills comes to an agreed set of Nordic recommendations. The whole set of recommendations has a high level of relevance because all countries support them. For the national level and further development work, the countries can select a few areas to focus on, and get support and inspiration from the learning examples from other countries.
The final report from the network forms the basis for a policy brief[vii], which can be taken to the Nordic and national decision makers. The current Nordic policy context is favourable for upskilling and re-skilling initiatives. There is a long lasting tradition of investing in learning, and the action plan[viii] supporting the Nordic vision 2030 is under implementation. Besides, the importance of learning and social inclusion has been enhanced by the pandemic. This is a golden moment to really step up the initiatives for upskilling and inclusion. In this context the following recommendations from The Nordic Basic Skills Network are of highest priority.
- Increase efforts to create and maintain a lifelong learning system
A lifelong learning system should be flexible and able to quickly adapt to digital changes in the labour market and in society. The government must ensure that the general population is always equipped to engage in digital society in a wise and safe manner. National lifelong learning systems must increase their flexibility to be able to adapt quickly to digital changes and to the opportunities and challenges these changes can create. The system should take into account the wide disparity in the population’s digital skills levels and be able to provide adequate training for each individual.
- Renew all efforts to bridge the digital divide and promote digital inclusion
The increasingly rapid pace of digital development is transforming our work, society, and our everyday lives in many ways. Although this transformation offers many possibilities, it also poses a serious risk of marginalization for groups of people who lack the basic digital skills needed to profit from digital innovation. Increasing the basic digital skills of the population is crucial in order to bridge the digital divide and promote digital inclusion in every aspect of life.
Another Nordic network focusing on the competence development and contributing to the SDG goals 4 and 10 is the NVL network of social partners, representing the employee and employer organisations “Nordic network of social partners – Learning for and at work”[ix]. The social partners strongly support the recommendations in the field of adult basic skills in the Nordic region and state that “[..] the digital competence has become a basic competence in today's working life. The network supports the conclusions linked to the need for strengthened basic digital competence. [..] in order for individuals to be able to further develop, a good knowledge base is required. Basic competence is needed in order to profit from competence development. Continue to strengthen the digital skills of adults - but also other basic skills such as literacy to ensure opportunities to learn and re-learn throughout.”
The network of social partners also point out the need for increased focus on general competences, such as creativity, cooperation, ability to change, which will increase in importance in the future. These are skills that help to cope with a more complex future.
The Nordic Vision calls for action and a high level of ambition for the Nordic Region to become the world's most sustainable and integrated region by 2030. Specific goals have been set in the Action Plan 2021-2024. Nordic cooperation in adult learning and NVL play an important part of the Nordic Council of Ministers' efforts in lifelong learning. NVL will continue to promote lifelong learning in the Nordic region, among other things by developing and implementing strategies according to the Nordic priorities, by creating cross sectorial and cross country exchange of experience, and creating knowledge base for decision makers. And we will be happy to stay in touch and work together with colleagues from all over Europe.
The report provides an overview of the Nordic situation on the topic of basic digital skills and summarizes opportunities and challenges in a Nordic SWOT analysis. Based on the analysis, a number of recommendations are formulated that address the policy level in the Nordic countries and examples from all Nordic countries are presented.
The Network for Basic Skills, part of the Nordic Network for Adult Learning (NVL), has written this report with representatives from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
This policy brief is prepared by the Nordic Network for Adult Learning (NVL) in order to highlight a number of challenges across the Nordic countries in regards to basic digital skills and provide recommendations that are relevant for collaborative actions at a Nordic level. The policy brief is based on a survey and analyses conducted by the Network for Basic Skills for Adults.
The NVL network “Competence in and for working life” consists of representatives of the social partners (employee- and employer organisations) in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The network has functioned as a platform for the exchange of experiences and knowledge, with different perspectives on the theme development of qualifications for employees. The ambition has been to highlight the different dimensions, which either weaken or strengthen the opportunities for learning in working life, and show examples of this. The results of this work during the years 2018-2020 is presented in this final report. The network presents its collected recommendations, which point out some prerequisites, considered by the members as important for the development of competence in working life.
About the Author
Antra is the head-coordinator of the Nordic Network for Adult Learning, established by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2005. The network unites all the Nordic countries and works according to the strategy of the NCM on adult educators’ competence development, VPL, guidance counselling, education for sustainable development. NVL is responsible for creating and coordinating thematic networks with the goal to gather evidence as well as compare the situation in the fields of adult education in the Nordic region. The results from NVL support the development of policy and practice of AL. NVL strives to involve education organisations and social partners in the dissemination and development activities. 1995 – 2005 Antra has been a project leader for Nordic – Baltic co-operation under the NCM. She has a degree in English Philology.
[vi] https://nvl.org/content/basic-digital-skills-for-adults-in-the-nordic-countries Nordic SWOT analyses summary p.21.