We all know that Adult Education and what is happening within its rich tapestry is reflective of the society we live in. In any year when I looked at the project themes funded through Grundtvig and now Erasmus + Programme they provide me with a snap shot of what is happening / and challenging in Irish society at the time. When I first began to work on the programmes in 2003, Ireland was experiencing its first wave of migration - projects funded were addressing challenges around meeting the needs of adult learners who had limited or no English, were working to address racism and promotion of interculturalism amongst communities. Alongside this our prosperous economy meant that our relatively well-resourced adult education services were engaged in reaching those most removed from education. This was reflected in the type of projects funded, that were looking to European cooperation to advance their practice around prison education, working with adults with disability, looking at effects of parent education on their children’s education, outreach approaches to engage isolated rural men and women, using art methodologies with those in recovery. There were also ground breaking projects supporting the development of artistic and cultural creativity in adult education not only developing the artistic skills of adults but as a methodology in adult learning. These projects raised the visibility of adult education work in Ireland with colleagues across Europe – we became part of and lead partners in key European networks addressing prison education/ family learning. It was reaffirming and validated the work that was being done… this was very important to the development of practice in the field.
Our more recent economic challenges have meant that the Adult Education field nationally has experienced a shift in focus and resources to those who have recently become unemployed. And while this is understandable the shift in emphasis has seen resources being taken away from our work with adults most removed from education and those marginalized within our society – this transition has been difficult for those who have felt the effects of diminishing resources and the fact that while the need for work had not gone away, there was no longer the same value being placed on it nationally.
The first time I really became aware of the impact of this change was when I went to promote the new Erasmus + programme – people I was talking to were surprised to hear that the EU programmes still prioritized and placed value on projects that were working to reach these adults that had not gone away. There was still talk of outreach approaches, tailored learning, guidance – there was still talk of Adult Education! And this was very important for them. And so despite dwindling resources, those organisations and practitioners who are working social inclusion agenda continue to look to this European Cooperation space to address the complex challenges faced by adults most removed in returning to education –EU Cooperation is more relevant than ever to the work of adult education.
Adult Education in its work to provide learning in creative, learner centred and supportive environment for learning will always feel the challenge of justifying its worth against the greater force of economic priorities. It is through working together across the wider European Adult Education Community that we can continue to raise the visibility of non- vocational adult Education and confirm its value within the overall lifelong learning spectrum at both national and European level.
At this stage in our journey, 2016, at a European level in Erasmus+ we see explicit emphasis and priority on ‘inclusive educational approaches’ for all fields of education to respond to a fractured society. We find ourselves once again coming back to this priority – not because there are extra resources to do so but because the functioning of our society demands it. This is very positive for the Adult Education field going forward because it renews our mandate to work as we have always done to reach those most removed from education, to innovate around how we do this and provide quality provision for those who need that second chance or who might only be getting their first. It is confirmation that this work is not a luxury that can be dispensed with regardless of the economic climate we find ourselves in.
For me, European cooperation is a living thing, it’s about people, it is moving, changing, adapting, responding and can be found in a multitude of spaces and media – EPALE provides another space in the EU cooperation arena - by providing another way for to everyone involved in the Adult Education to bring some of this richness to their work and to tap into the Adult Education philosophy and values through this wider Adult Education Community.
- Denise Shannon Adult Ed Project Officer