Community of adult education supporters met in a virtual environment
COVID-19 has shaken us – our beliefs, habits, established ways … We survived the first wave with a few scratches, by plunging headlong into the unknown and by moving the seemingly immovable. What we could not do then, we postponed until autumn – with the concern that things might become even worse. Well into autumn, we realised that excuses were no longer an option and that radical change was inevitable. Being open to change and taking a proactive stance to it was no longer just evidence of a flexible mind but rather a condition for survival. We saw that things will not get any better (or rather, as they were before) in the future if we do not break free from the bonds of the restrictions and embrace the freedom within the realm of possibility, however differently that might be perceived. Serious stuff, no doubt about it. And how were we supposed to have a nice time considering all this?
We managed, though. Not only as individuals but as a community – at the AAEC on 17 and 18 November 2020. Excitement over the event is based on the completed evaluation questionnaires, comments in Zoom and personal messages received by the organisers. Since the contributions were recorded in advance, we could keep to the schedule. There were many of us, over 330 on the first day, for which we are extremely thankful. We believe that through our joint efforts, we managed to infuse the collective consciousness with a bit of positive energy, which is sorely needed due to the inevitable change mentioned above – including in (adult) education.
The transformation of education goes hand in hand with the digital transformation into which we were all suddenly thrown. Simply transferring the existing methods to the virtual world is not enough. Much more is needed, perhaps even paradigm shifts. Suddenly, everything has become open, or at least is supposed to be: people have “open minds”, there are open educational resources, programmes, organisation … as well as legislation. Based on big data, learning pathways are automatically generated and adapted to the individual’s characteristics and needs. On the other hand, they are subject to needs – not today’s, but of the future – for competences in society and the labour market. Man and artificial intelligence together – not tomorrow, but already today and – for life! All this and a lot more was discussed in the contribution by Mitja Jermol, MSc. Thanks to the highly commended lecturer and topic, the participants became open to completely new approaches and are looking forward to additional information from this field. (All presentations mentioned in this article are in Slovenian language.)
It is better together and in harmony – even when the times are difficult
An evaluation of the experience with AE in the first wave of the epidemic (see the contribution by Dr Tanja Možina) produced many findings and recommendations for further development with regard to adult education centres, secondary schools and third age universities. They concern systemic actions and policies, development and professional work, training and upskilling, ICT equipment and tools and monitoring and evaluation. The participants praised the structure of the study produced in collaboration with the Department of Educational Sciences at the Ljubljana Faculty of Arts and the method of presentation. Some proposed that an evaluation from the participants’ point of view should be carried out as well.
From this contribution, the persistence and enthusiasm of the educators and other AE stakeholders are evident. This view was complemented by the panel discussion among the directors of all three public institutions related to AE: the Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for Vocational Education and Training, the National Education Institute Slovenia and the SIAE. Janez Damjan, Msc, Dr Vinko Logaj and Andrej Sotošek, MSc, called for more integration and mutual communication to bring about better coordination and equal treatment of AE – not only during the epidemic but in general. The participants wanted even more concrete advice and praised the fact that the representatives were willing to attend this discussion, which should serve as a foundation for further cooperation.
Stability and regularity are the prerequisites for successful action
The foundations for public service in adult education have been laid by the updated Adult Education Act (ZIO-1, 2018). The drafting of implementing regulations followed, and two of these found their place at this year’s conference. Tanja Vilič Klenovšek, MSc, presented the Guidelines for Implementing Guidance, while Katja Dovžak, MSc shed light on the process of drafting new standards and norms for the funding and provision of public service in adult education. On 4 December, a good two weeks later, the Rules were published in the Official Gazette. They become final on 1 January 2021, which confirms the introductory words of Minister Dr Simona Kustec that the public service will enter into force early next year. This is becoming increasingly clear these days, while at the event itself, the participants claimed that there was a lack of concrete information.
A (new) regularity is also being established at the European level, where some updated and new strategic documents have been adopted: the European Skills Agenda, the European Education Area, the Digital Education Action Plan and others. These documents are based on the European Pillar of Social Rights, whose first out of twenty principles promotes the right to quality education, training and lifelong learning for everyone. The resolution for AE is supposed to be drafted next year, during the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
At the AAEC, Ema Perme noted that the recommendations at the European level are oriented towards sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience and that it is up to the Member States to use these foundations to develop holistic national skills strategies and to put them into practice in a balanced way. European actions are supported also by the new 2021–2027 multiannual financial framework, which was presented at the AAEC by the new Head of the Service for the Implementation of Cohesion Policy at MESS, Janez Žužek. Katja Dovžak, MSc, provided additional information on the planning of MESS within the framework of the 2021–2027 European Cohesion Policy and until the end of the 2014–2020 Operational Programme period.
Many encouraging things are also being prepared in the context of the new Erasmus programme, which was introduced – together with the EPALE platform – by Ana Stanovnik Perčič from CMEPIUS. UPI Žalec AEC colleagues and their partners presented a great example of an Erasmus+ project – Quality Blended Learning.
The two virtual stands (The Chain Experiment in Kindergartens and Knowledge for Excellence in Non-Formal Education) were created, because the two adult education providers requested an opportunity to present themselves at actual stands in the foyer of the AAEC venue. Since we switched to the virtual environment, we decided to present them using videos. This was done without any regard for affiliation with individual adult education associations, which resulted in their unequal representation. This merits criticism, which is why we are already working on a solution. Early next year, we are going to hold a competition for best practice examples, which we will – virtually or perhaps even in person – present at the next annual conference. This idea needs to be fleshed out further, but we will certainly respond to any participants’ initiatives in a proactive manner.
Over the course of two days, we listened to 23 lecturers who placed 16 contributions. In addition we highlighted several values that should shape our future. Let us conclude with a word cloud and the hope to meet live next time, but including approaches that have proven successful through this year’s experience.
Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik, MSc (firstname.lastname@example.org), SIAE