The main professional event of the LLW 2020, the 24th AEC, attracted around 80 participants from 30 European countries. Of course, the health situation prevented us from meeting live. However, because it only takes a click on the computer to participate using Zoom, the number of participants was higher than when subject to time and money restrictions. Naturally, the 25-member Slovenian delegation led the way among the participants. In addition to SIAE colleagues, it also included representatives of the LLW network and ISIO centres – Slovenian Guidance Centres.
The AEC was connected to the PLA event taking place within the EAAL project. For the last two years, we and the other EAAL national coordinators have been choosing current topics to learn about and thus improve the approaches in our respective countries. We form PLA groups according to our “flagship” areas of work in which we then contribute our expertise and practical examples. As such, in April 2018 in Luxembourg, Slovenia actively participated at the PLA on awareness-raising and AE guidance (more here).
It seems these two topics are inexhaustible (and closely linked), because we also highlighted them at the February meeting of the EAAL national coordinators and thereby outlined one of the four PLA themes in the current phase of the project. At the European Commission’s request, SIAE assumed the task of coordinating this first meeting and co-designed its content together with five other EU countries: Bulgaria, Iceland, Poland, Slovakia and Spain. We were confident that the event would take place live in May, alongside the national opening of the anniversary LLW. In the end, however, it was hosted as late as 15 and 16 September in a digital environment – due to Covid-19.
Unprecedented organisational challenges were added on top of the content-related challenges.
This was our first Zoom event featuring international participation and a large number of participants. We were able to predict many of the issues in advance, but otherwise we concluded that some things simply cannot be controlled and that we would need to have faith – in technology, in the person in charge of its functioning and in the fact unique to our present times: we are all experiencing the same unknown circumstances where perfection as a value was replaced by flexibility, mutual support and understanding – even when there are hold-ups. This attitude brought us closer, got us through both days and put us in a good mood. The anthem to lifelong learning and the presentation film about Slovenia, which were received very well by the participants, also contributed.
The event’s main programme included introductory speeches about the latest developments in adult education at the European level and in Slovenia. We also discussed the drawing up of the new Resolution on the Adult Education Master Plan and the fact that the LLW were in full swing at that time. We shared our experiences with the virtual opening of the LLW (4 September) and the Learning Parade (9 September). Afterwards, we listened to eight thematic presentations from Slovenia and the above-mentioned countries over the course of the next two days. At the same time, the Zoom Chatroom was bustling with activity, as the lecturers were supported by comments and questions from other participants. The discussions were also lively.
Only an integrated holistic approach guarantees success.
Reaching and raising the awareness of specific educationally deprived groups of adults, guidance and validation of prior knowledge and skills, their social-educational-professional inclusion … all of this will succeed only if this is a partner effort based on effective approaches/tools, with adequate financial support and carried out with competent providers.
We need to be aware that this is not just a challenge for the educational department but also for the social, health care, economic and many other departments. All efforts should be run in coordination at the national level, with smart strategies and measures in place. A lot of interest was expressed in our Adult Education Master Plan – both the current version and the one being prepared for the period 2021–2030. People wanted to know how to even convince the other departments to cooperate and how this is done in our country. We had to admit to ourselves that plenty of untapped potential still exists, which we are addressing at this very moment.
On the other hand, having the (co-)operation of the regional/local level is vital, because it is closer to the people and knows their needs and other circumstances as well as any challenges of the respective environment. We concluded that our partners in these efforts include not just the unemployed but also the employers and the employed who are forced into reskilling and upskilling by the precarious conditions. The most important target group in all countries is adults with a low level of education and inadequate skills. Individual countries also point out other groups as being educationally deprived. For example, we spoke about the rural population in Poland and the Roma in Slovakia.
We mentioned the complementary roles of the formal, non-formal and informal learning of adults. We also noted the need to build bridges – with a developed system of validation that supports the transition and improvement of knowledge and competences.
Attention was drawn to the counsellors having a proactive stance, because waiting indoors for a guidance client is simply not enough. It is necessary to go to the places these adults frequent, where they are socialising, sometimes even “hiding”. In this, personal contact and various other forms of raising awareness are vital, for example festivals for the promotion of learning, guidance and validation. The stories of peers who were able to get a higher education or skills through learning, increasing their employability as well as social inclusion, really make an impact.
To sum up, we who participated at the PLA often found that we are similar – in our attitudes and challenges and in some cases even in the actions we take. Such cases served as confirmation for us. There were also the occasional eureka moments. The experience of one person had meant insight and a new idea for someone else. And this is the very purpose of these meetings!
Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik, MSc (email@example.com), SIAE