“Nothing for them without them!” was the message heard most often at the Building Bridges in Adult Education international conference, which among other subjects discussed the issue of greater inclusion of vulnerable groups in adult education. The issue is often on the agenda of events of this type, whether at the local or national level, or more recently, as a result of the refugee crisis, at the international level above all, but it seems that it is never exhausted. The reasons vary: there are more and more vulnerable people, to say nothing of those already harmed, and the measures aimed at them often unfortunately fail to reach them, or if they do, it is soon shown whether they are at all suitable and whether they will genuinely bring change. This can only come from within, from the hearts and minds of people who find themselves on the margins, and who can improve their life circumstances only on the basis of deep insight.
It is therefore vital to raise awareness among vulnerable population groups, a process that begins with the recognition of values, needs, desires and dreams. It continues with the setting of objectives, the search for opportunities and the building of self-image in a dialogue with “allies”. The latter group is or can be all of us working in the various fields of adult education, as we encourage, advise, educate and support, and contribute at the level of the profession and policy to minimising the obstacles and maximising the paths to success. It also encompasses those who are most attuned to the needs and abilities of educationally deprived population groups. Help can also come from former members of these groups who have already overcome the obstacles, or at least the majority of them, and can be role models.
Promoting the development of basic skills is a priority of the EAAL
The European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) is aimed entirely at vulnerable population groups, particularly the unskilled and those with poor qualifications. Slovenia embarked on the implementation of the agenda through promotional events (Learning Parade: Days of Learning Communities, 2013-2015) and case studies of best practice (video publications 1–4, 2012-2014). This year we began introducing EAAL professional events for encouraging and developing basic skills in adults. Together with the organisers we presented them to a professional audience at the 19th Adult Education Colloquium, in conjunction with the national opening of EPALE Slovenia, and summarised them in the fifth video publication with the telling title of I Can, Therefore I Am.
The series of 21 EAAL professional events encompassed a wealth of professional debate by the most diverse stakeholders at a local level, but each event also featured a practical demonstration of teaching for chosen target groups. The purpose was to investigate the current situation, the existing programmes, forms of cooperation, networking, partnerships and other processes for raising the level of basic skills among the adult population, and the challenges, which in the majority of cases were defined by educators not for the participants, but with them. This gave rise to recommendations, which will guide the process of implementing the EAAL in the new period of 2015-2017.
EAAL events were aimed at four vulnerable groups: young adults, the unemployed, refugees and the rural population. Although these are apparently separate groups, one of the key findings was that deprivation can often be manifold. This demands a holistic approach, as it is not enough for example to train the unemployed to gain vocational skills while neglecting other skills such as written and spoken comprehension, self-initiative, entrepreneurship, development of their own identity, and the ability to empathise and coexist with others.
Connecting is key
“Education is not and cannot be a lonely process,” was the message at the Adult Education Colloquium, where organisers of EAAL events emphasised that developing basic skills requires networking on the part of all stakeholders in the local environment. “As adult educators we can play a connecting role and become a driving force in this process,” was the logical conclusion at the colloquium. These are of course endeavours that are originally aimed at the vulnerable, but they also concern all of us, as the dividing line between marginal and mainstream is thin and easily shiftable.
The process of implementing the EAAL in Slovenia will continue. Seven new professional events are anticipated in 2016, and will deal with the aforementioned four groups, while focusing in particular on the issue of employability. The closing event on 1 to 3 June in Ljubljana will be international. We will host members of the European Basic Skills Network (EBSN), and representatives of the European Commission and perhaps even the OECD. The conference will be entitled National Policy: Local Implementation, and will be an excellent opportunity for us to show what we have already done in this field in Slovenia.
“I Can, Therefore I Am” is our maxim, and is also the title of a film that examines an element of this issue. Let it inspire you!
Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik (firstname.lastname@example.org), MSc, Slovenian Institute for Adult Education
Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik works in the field of promotional and information activities at the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education. She is the national coordinator responsible for the implementation of the European Agenda for Adult Learning. Her primary interests include promotional approaches and promotion of integration and cooperation of stakeholders in adult learning.