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Can Adult Education be a means for promoting 'Happiness' through quality learning?

Mahira Spiteri


Can Adult Education be a means for promoting 'Happiness' through quality learning?

Sustainable happiness is happiness that contributes to individual,

community and/or global well-being without exploiting other people, the

environment or future generations. (O’Brien, 2005)




Adult learning is often portrayed as being essential in order to keep up with changes at the workplace. Such changes create the context for the provision of flexible pathways to skills acquisition and personalized career pathing. Adult learning is here valued for its ability to address challenges facing the workforce, such as skills gaps, employee diversity and talent retention, and is considered a must to succeed in a constantly changing world of work. Yet this creates a very skewed perception of the potential of adult learning, in that it portrays it as being instrumental to work demands, rather than the actual fulfilment of learners. What about the potential of adult learning in engaging people in tasks that provide them with fulfilment, energy, happiness and what Csikszentmihalyi termed as “flow”?


Details of the online discussion: 11 July 2018 | 10:00 CET | Dr Vincent Caruana


This online discussion will consider three questions (1.5 hours per question):

Question 1: From your experience what is the link between adult learning and wellbeing and happiness? How is lifelong learning connected with the pursuit of happiness?

Question 2:As lifelong learning is increasingly commodified in the global marketplace, learning has become more of an individual goal and responsibility”. (Gouthro, 2006). To what extent does the emphasis of linking educational initiatives with potential financial gain impact on the pursuit of happiness? Negatively? Positively? Otherwise? Does this create a skew towards individual success as opposed to developing community-based learning initiatives?

Question 3: What is the role of adult educators in thinking through and taking up with our learners complex issues connected with the pursuit of happiness? How can one affirm the role of adult education as linked to the good life within communities and broader social goals in face of the increasing influence of the marketplace?


Dr Vincent Caruana has for the past 30 years been very active in the Social and Development NGO scene, both locally and at a European level, having co-founded Malta’s first Fair Trade Organisation and Malta’s Network of Development Organisations.  He is an established mentor and trainer of various Civil Society Organisations, and is also experienced in project management and monitoring and evaluation. He is also a member of the President’s Foundation for the Well-Being of Society.

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Cristina PEREIRA portretas

Dear all,

As a representative of the portuguese NSS but also as an institution that works directly with VET at the policy level, this is ANQEP's perspective on the subject.

According the report “How’s Life in 2017?” from OECD, there is a connection between well-being and happiness and education. Education is a tool to achieve a better position in well-being index. That’s why education is one of the aspects considered in this report.

The 2017 edition shows how inequalities harm well-being perception.  In 2017, in all OECD countries, in general, inequalities have many faces and they interact creating disadvantages. One of those faces is related to school attendance. People with lower qualifications are less likely to have access to life opportunities and skills that enable them to be healthier, to obtain better jobs, to provide better living conditions for their children and even to rely on public institutions. Inequalities are bigger for migrants not only in schooling attendance but also in conditions to use theirs skills. This reports advance that “in several cases, migrants are also unable to make the most of the skills that they bring with them: almost 30% of migrants with a tertiary degree are overqualified for their jobs, compared to 20% of the native-born. In addition to poorer working conditions migrants also face poorer living conditions: 1 in 4 migrants report being exposed to air and noise pollution in the area where they live, compared to 1 in 5 of their native-born peers; and 41% of migrants live in sub-standard or overcrowded housing, compared to 27% of the native-born. Migrants also report worse health, lower social support, and lower subjective well-being than the native-born in most OECD countries assessed.

Specifically considering the situation in Portugal and the educational features, this report says that the country’s performance is mixed: “while only 47% of working-age adults have attained at least an upper secondary education, among the lowest in the OECD, students’ cognitive skills at age 15 are above the OECD average level”. So, Portugal still needs to improve conditions to promote adult education, so people can get a better well-being perception.

Indeed, the same conclusion was described by other recent study from OECD, untitled “Skills strategy implementation: Guidance for Portugal”. This study shows that raising skills is critical to Portugal’s economic success and social well-being.

The study “Word happiness report 2018” also highlights the need for Portugal to improve with regard to the perception of well-being. Worldwide, Portugal is ranked 77th out of 156 countries, despite having risen 12 places compared to 2016. In terms of Europe, Portugal appears to be the fourth least happy country.

Therefore, the investment Portugal needs to do in adult education is big and justifies the importance of a new Governmental Program - Qualifica Program – target to adults without upper secondary education. This program combines training with process to recognition, validate and certificate prior learning.
Silvija Karklina portretas
Having seen wonderful examples of happy adult learners sharing their experience after either a completion of a course or having their skills validated, I can reaffirm the great approach that Qualifica centres have taken to promote adult education in Portugal is bringing satisfaction to adult learners. Silvija
Vincent CARUANA portretas
This post brings up a crucial point to our debate - inequalities! It is important not to fall into the trap of seeing "happiness" and well-being as individual pursuits. Structural inequalities are often a barrier to individuals and communities reaching their full potential.  Same for the environmental injustice identified here in that "1 in 4 migrants report being exposed to air and noise pollution in the area where they live, compared to 1 in 5 of their native-born peers." 
Maria Idźkowska portretas
Dear Participants of this discussion
According to my experience, wisdom is a link between learning and happiness. Wisdom, especially its deepening - it is an ideal that can be aim throughout life. Wisdom it is about searching for meaning, sense in life - although we do not always get an answer to the questions posed.

All the best

Maria Idźkowska - Poland, employee of Voluntary Labor Corps from Warszawa (I take care of young adults and labour market for them)

Maria Idźkowska portretas
I would like to ask You,  if education is necessary to become wise? How do we know if we or others have wisdom? 
All the best Maria Idźkowska, Polan, Voluntary Labor Corps, Warszawa (young adults)
Małgorzata Mazurek portretas
From my experience of a language teacher, I believe that learning a language is more effective when students have positive feelings about it, when they know why they are doing it, when they have their own learning goals, and a feeling of responsibility for the learning process. Learning becomes a pleasure and something people long for. If we add a sense of achievement when ceratain skills are mastered and a conversation in a foreign language becomes possible, then I guess we can say that this process contibutes to well-being of a learner in general, not only in the classroom. Mastering a language is strictly connected with the ability to connect, communicate and interact with other people which is a vital element of human life, which is why I believe language learning has a great impact on one's well-being or even happiness. And on the other hand,  when unsucessful, it can contribute to difficulties in communication, for example, when staying in a foreign country, which can lead to loneliness, depression or other issues.
Anni KARTTUNEN portretas

I am an education policy specialist from Finland with over 20 yrs of experience from the field of AE. I started working as a language teacher for adults, many of whom had undiagnosed dyslexia. At our first encounters in the class room, these individuals were very timid - scared even - and wanted to be invisible, so that they would not have to engage in the class room activities. Soon, as I asked them about their language learning experiences, they confessed that they had been deemed stupid and/or lazy as children and often felt humiliated in front of their peers.

As little time went by, I noticed clear signs of dyslexia in the group of "invisibles". I carefully approached these individuals and asked if they ever considered they could have dyslexia or if they ever were diagnosed. All of them just looked a bit surprised and confused. None of them had any idea that they could be suffering from a relatively common difficulty. 

They were guided to initial dyslexia diagnostic tests and I provided them alternative ways to learn a new language and to make their competences visible (e.g. no written tests). I especially remember one lady with a husband and two kids. She had struggled with foreign languages and writing all her life and really feared that she would not be able to get her VET qualification due to these problems. Eventually, she got almost full points (grading scale 4,5 out of 5) and as she got the results, she started crying of happiness and relief. For the first time in her life, she realized she was not stupid or lazy, but a smart capable woman with an undiagnosed problem, which had cast a shadow over her entire life and career.

The next day she told me that her entire family had celebrated the test results together with her and her husband bought her a bottle of champagne.

A few years later, she wrote me an e-mail, thanking me for noticing her - seeing her and her potential. Due to the newly gained self-confidence, she had moved on with her career to a managerial position, which she never even dreamed of before. 

This is the power of Adult Education as provider of happiness - long term happiness and a means to make people and their competences visible in a safe learning environment.
Monika Schmeichel-Zarzeczna portretas
Hi everyone,
My name is Monika Schmeichel-Zarzeczna, I am a librarian and EPLAE ambassador in Poland.
At the beginning of this discussion, I would like to quote a quote that accompanies me very often:

„Education is no longer confined to a particular age, that is, only a part of life; co-existent throughout its length, it represents an attitude and a dimension of life. It is an attitude enabling us to keep in touch with realities and not simply a preparation for work and responsibilities.”
René Maheu

In this context, learning is presented as a value that allows us to adapt to the changing world. Understanding the surrounding reality makes us feel safe, and only a person who feels safe can grow and be happy. Learning helps us to develop our ability and get the best out of life.