Indeed, the Conference took place in a very particular political moment. The European Union was about to adopt its new strategy for 2010-2020 replacing the Lisbon strategy. On 3 February 2010, the Commission adopted its Communication "Europe 2020: a strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth" (EU2020) which sets a vision of Europe's social market economy for the 21st century. More than ever, Education and Training is at the heart of the EU strategy. Following this communication and the discussions held in the Council on the 25-26 March, the European Council reached an agreement on the new strategy (to be formally adopted in June 2010). Yet the Council had still to adopt headline targets in the fields of education and social inclusion/poverty reduction.
Although education and training remain the competence of member states, we can see a growing influence of the EU. With the new strategy its impact will certainly be even stronger, as it contains for the first time two specific targets on education. EUCIS-LLL members support a stronger cooperation in education and training; they are nevertheless worried that EU policies are mainly focused on a market approach. Lifelong learning is too often seen as a tool to serve economic goals i.e. to reach the Lisbon objective to make the EU “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”. For EUCIS-LLL, Lifelong learning represents a goal in itself and serves various ambitions such as employment but also social cohesion, active citizenship or personnel development and wellbeing.
Some positive signals for more balanced EU policies exist. Under the Spanish Presidency of the European Council, Ministers of Education were about to adopt conclusions on the social dimension of education and training. This followed closely a conference organized on “Inclusive education: a way to promote social cohesion” held in Madrid on 11-12 March 2010. EUCIS-LLL appreciated such emphasize that comes in a particular moment of economic and social crisis and growing poverty in Europe. 2010 is also the European Year 2010 on fighting poverty and social exclusion. EUCIS-LLL hopes these reflections will have a lasting impact!
EUCIS-LLL conference took place in this particular context because we did wish to take part in the debates. We also wanted to stress the importance of involving stakeholders at all levels, local, national, European, International whether they are civil society organizations, social partners, public authorities or citizens.
During the conference, participants worked more specifically on four topics: active ageing and intergenerational solidarity, social innovation in lifelong learning, fighting social exclusion and poverty and mobility for all. Key speakers such as Ramón Flecha, Sociology Professor at the University of Barcelona, or Adam Pokorny, Head of the School Education Unit at DG EAC, shared some ideas with the participants during the plenary sessions. In this report, you will find a synthesis of the discussions that took place.
Michel Feutrie, EUCIS-LLL General Secretary and President of EUCEN, outlined that the workshops’ results as presented by the rapporteurs, show how important it is to work together. It contributes to establishing a stronger basis to progress in a more concerted way.
Lifelong learning is a reality but also a challenge. We all learn throughout our lives - even those who are considered as less qualified. But it remains a challenge because an important part of learning takes place in informal and non-formal settings. It is important to ensure that the individual is able to acknowledge the competences he/she has acquired outside the formal system. Their validation in the formal system represents another step; it contributes to measuring individual’s progress by giving a certificate or diploma. Validation systems vary from one country to another.
In order to make lifelong learning a reality it is important to develop a new paradigm. We need a decompartmentalized system that takes into account the various fields/forms of learning at all ages of life: a lifelong learning system. Today, there is no basis to organise such a system. And yet, only with a proper system can we offer multiple learning opportunities that are not limited to a specific area such as adult education, higher education or vocational training. This system is even more necessary that there is an increasing demand for knowledge notably in the labour market.
Furthermore individual personal and professional lives are more and more fragmented. Hence the crucial issue of managing transition points (from employment to unemployment to study to employment…). Learning opportunities need to be more flexible and accessible to all. The goal is to avoid dead-ends and to ensure the continuity and progression of individual paths. The validation of prior learning is a good example of flexible services offered to individuals regardless to their academic career.
Individual paths are more and more fragmented. This means that we need to provide stronger guidance and counselling to help individuals to build their own path. We also need to give them the capacities of managing their own paths and to be able to recognise the competences they have acquired in various settings, formal and non-formal. This has to take place as earlier as possible, starting in early childhood education. Students should learn how to make the best of what they have learned and to be able to manage their paths in a positive way. This notably means being able to make academic choices to prepare a professional career. Of course, this is a high challenge. It requires to find a good institutional equilibrium and to reinvest in the individual.