Going nowhere? Many disadvantaged groups that are marginalised in society are underrepresented in adult education as well./ Photo: Infrogmation

Making room for the marginalized

Interview. OED project moulded good practices of reaching marginalized groups – especially migrants and ethnic minorities – into guidelines.

Members of minority groups, adults with low educational backgrounds and other groups already marginalised in society are underrepresented in adult education as well.

A European network of adult education organizations recently collected good practices for making room for under-represented groups in adult learning. The practices reflect the experiences of adult educators working in the field and were collected from 14 European countries. Based on the practices, the project network, OED, published guidelines for European and national/regional policy-makers and for adult education providers.

The guidelines aim to offer advice on how to reach under-represented groups and empower them to active citizenship and lifelong learning. (Read the full recommendations online or a short list below in the info box).

We asked two adult education providers for first impressions about the recommendations directed specifically at practitioners.

Mia Lindström is folk high school teacher for communication and culture subjects at Västra Nylands folkhögskola in Karjaa, Finland.

Klaudius Silhar is university educator, human resources expert and President of Association of Adult Education Institutions in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Have you encountered inequality in your work in adult education?

Mia Lindström: Not as a participant. As an educator I usually try to prevent any inequalities in my classroom. Having said that, however, there might be inequalities regarding participants’ ability to cope with adult education didactic, or inequality in the fact that adult education costs money in Finland- thus not everybody is able to attend courses within adult education.

Klaudius Silhar: I have experienced inequalities on different levels: On national level, Slovakia has no steady strategy on adult education, not even a legislative definition of adult education. Our position on the European map of adult education, then, is not equal. On a regional level, the possibility for adults to participate in education differs between regions of this country. Since Slovakia lacks a financial tool for supporting adult education, the access to education is very limited especially for disadvantaged groups. For example adults with low educational background and people with small income are excluded.

What were your first impressions of the OED recommendations?

ML: Some recommendations were familiar from my work, some were new but worthwhile to try

In this case, the “Buddy programme” comes to mind, where new participants are supported by other learners to get a good start. It would probably be very beneficial if the Buddy came from the same culture as the new participant. Arranged Open Days and daycare for any children of the participants would also be worth testing, even though the latter would increase the need for more resources and funding.
I think the general principles are well known, the implementations sometimes feel like they need adjustment to local circumstances, legislation and social attitudes.

For instance, when it comes to marketing the educational opportunities for the potential participants, there is sometimes a reluctance among authorities and various agencies to disseminate anything from Adult Education. A marketing device of visiting potential participants in their homes is largely unheard of, the contact to the actual “end users” is usually carried out by some agency or other.

Participating in an AE course also tends to be tricky if the participants don’t want to lose all the state grants and supports for the duration of the course. In order for them to retain their grants, the education has to be approved by the authorities, and that is not always easy to accomplish since the agencies tend to have very strict guidelines which are not always compatible with the principles of AE.

Mind you, in this case I’m not saying that Adult Education providers are the ones needing adjustment…

KS: I think the guidelines and recommendations can be used as a practical guide not only for beginners, but also as a checklist for experienced ones.

Did you find something in the recommendations you have doubts about?

ML: There were some recommendations related to for example credit systems that will not work universally. The adult education credit system and the transfer of credits to university study points differ greatly among European countries.

KS: There are just some topics that are perhaps not very hot for Slovakia nowadays. For example we do not have many migrants, but this could change in the future.

Is there something you would like to add to the recommendations?

ML: Possibly the truism that teaching always comes down to communication and personal meetings, regardless of any guidelines. Attitude towards the learners counts the most.

KS: No, I would just underline the importance of „discovering new learning spaces“ for Slovakia.

How in practice are you going to use these recommendations in your daily work?

ML: Right now I’m not teaching any disadvantaged groups, but if and when I do in the future, the Guidelines will certainly have a place on my book shelf as reference literature.

KS: I will use them as a checklist when developing some project or programme. I plan to use them also as guide material for internal competence building discussions on the topic of inclusion in our workplace.

Project drafted recommendations for policymakers and educators

OED stands for Outreach, Empowerment and Diversity in the field of adult learning. It is a European Grundtvig network that brings together 17 organisations from 14 countries. The aim of the project, which ended last October after a two-year duration, was to address the need for outreach to marginalized groups, especially migrants and ethnic minorities. To achieve the aims the project collected and analysed good practices, drafted practice guidelines for both EU and national policy-makers and educators and organized workshops in implementing the recommendations.

Recommendations for adult educators include (read the full list online):

-Include learners’ voices in planning the studies

-Encourage participation of marginalized groups through. e.g. social media campaigns

-People from disadvantaged groups should also be represented in adult education staff as educators and other professionals.

Recommendations for national policy makers include (read the full list online):

-Reach out to under-represented groups with tailor-made learning offers

-Analyse and remove barriers of participation

-Integrate adult education in existing learning strategies and support especially community learning and non-formal adult learning.

More information on the OED network and project can be found on the OED website.