Adult education trends in 2020
Although the situation of adult education is fundamentally dependent on the respective country, there are some trends that can be witnessed across Europe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an overarching topic across countries, as it forced some adult learning and education providers to close their doors, but also enabled others to accelerate their transition to digital learning.
A year of closing programs and unexpected new beginnings
There have been no major shifts in the past year in adult education policies, as many countries have run strategies and programs until 2020 and have yet to decide on the priorities of the upcoming year. Nevertheless, some countries reported that the adult education sector was supported by some emergency policies and funding opportunities that were put in place to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.
Adapting to crisis: mapping future skill needs
2020 was a year of rapid adaptation. The long foreseen but slow move into digital learning was suddenly accelerated to ensure the provision of learning in the first place. The pandemic led many organisations to apply changes to their work programs and acquaint learners with new types of learning formats. The drastic change revealed the lack of digital infrastructure and skills across Europe and once again demonstrated that many adults are missing basic and life skills. While health literacy and critical thinking became a priority during the crisis, many adults were educationally alienated by a lack of financial means or competing priorities, especially those from a lower socio-economic background, the unemployed, low skilled and minority groups. Evidence shows that outreach and access have been dramatically complicated by the crisis.
2020 Policy Trends
In a year dominated by adaptation to the COVID crisis, many of EAEA members centered their work around local policies and projects, supporting learners on the ground. Only a few organisations were consulted on the European Pillar of Social Rights and often its implementation was not directly witnessed by EAEA members. Upskilling Pathways continued but has not been mentioned by adult education organisations and providers as a political priority during the last year. Both examples show that visibility is key to ensure that European policies are known, recognised and referred to on the local level. The Sustainable Development Goals, on the other hand, continue to have an important role, as they are increasingly interlinked with local and national policy frameworks.
A need for recognition (and elevated financing)
EAEA members across Europe repeatedly reported cuts in funding and depicted the financial difficulties that many of their learners faced, due to the COVID-19 crisis. In some cases organisations had to terminate employment contracts of their staff or completely close their provision. Emergency funds were only available in some cases and mainly directed at employment-directed training courses, leaving the non-formal learning sector behind. One major obstacle of financing is the lack of recognition of non-formal adult learning. Subsequently, validation schemes are perceived as an opportunity not only to support the sector financially, but also to increase participation and access for those with competing priorities.
A demand to enhance the voice of civil society
Involvement of civil society is entirely subject to the country. There is no visible trend in terms of heightened involvement of civil society or new opportunities for involvement throughout COVID. In some cases governments consulted civil society groups in their emergency response plans, preparing the way for more recognition and hence, funding. Many organisations would recommend their government to establish closer ties with civil society.
It is clear that adequate, widely accessible and quality adult education should be a priority for governments coping with the consequences of the crisis. It is no longer a secret that citizens demand governments to prioritise investment in adult learning. (CEDEFOP survey 10.11.2020) The country reports are herewith, not only a window into the experience of European adult education providers, but also a call to action to make lifelong learning a reality for all.