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EAEA aims at more diversity in adult education


Targeting vulnerable groups with outreach schemes involves the danger of forming problem groups and thereby reinforcing exclusion. How will EAEA avoid this pitfall in their upcoming project?

In 2012, the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) and other project partners have started the European Grundtvig Network OED – Outreach Empowerment Diversity. 17 organisations from 14 countries are involved. The project is set to last until 2014.

OED- why?

The project’s aim is to reach out to marginalised groups, especially migrants and ethnic minorities, for the development of more diversity in adult education, and especially the inclusion of learners´ voices. The ultimate aim is the empowerment of learners to become active European citizens.


The project partners work, among other things, to:

• provide a collection and analysis of good practice examples from across Europe that tackle the overlap of social inclusion and active citizenship
• analyse outreach strategies to marginalised groups and provide information to other adult education institutions on how to organise this
• improve teaching methodology for diverse target groups
• provide policy recommendations that will tackle the integration of marginalised groups.

Christina Gerlach works in Brussels at the European Office for Catholic Youth and Adult Education. Through her work she is an expert of European projects. She met EAEA’s secretary-general Gina Ebner and policy officer Ricarda Motschilnig to find out what innovations and good practices the EAEA expects from the OED project.


Christina Gerlach (top left), Gina Ebner, Ricarda Motschilnig (bottom left)

Photo: European Office for Catholic Youth and Adult Education/EAEA


Christina Gerlach: What is the innovative approach of the project partners in implementing outreach, empowerment and diversity in adult education?

EAEA: We were starting from an active citizenship approach and then added social inclusion. We believe that the combination of outreach to and empowerment of marginalized groups, especially migrants and ethnic minorities, is the innovation:

Too many migrants and ethnic minorities are still facing marginalisation. They are sometimes seen as societal problems rather than opportunities, and racist and xenophobic voices are using them as scapegoats. While we understand the complexities of the problems that these groups face and the complexities of the attitudes of the majority or indigenous societies, we think that adult education can contribute to alleviating the situation. We would therefore concentrate on low-skilled migrants and ethnic minorities and see how adult education institutions can reach out to these groups. We would also pay attention to how they can achieve a social mix in their institutions and courses and enable true intercultural dialogue and debate so that all learners can become more active.

The exchange about and the analysis of outreach and diversity strategies but also empowerment, learners’ voice and debate is innovative and will add enormously to the development of adult education in Europe.

CG:What is the project aiming at and who do you want to reach?

EAEA:The target groups are low-skilled migrants and ethnic minorities, especially Roma. Therefore the OED project works towards a better integration of various disadvantaged groups.  It calls for more diverse adult education institutions, stronger involvement of a diverse group of learners and the facilitation of a stronger intercultural understanding of the diverse groups for each other. We want to reach adult education providers, trainers and policy-makers in order to facilitate change and make empowered and active citizens based on their learning and development a reality.

CG: What type of good practices are you expecting from the project?

EAEA: We have a whole collection of very exciting good practice examples that demonstrate outreach and empowerment. We have categorised them in 5 principles:

1. Learners’ Voice and choice: A training centre in Spain is an outstanding example of outreach and empowerment of a Roma community, where the main difficulties to access adult education experienced by Roma families have been overcome through their own involvement in the decision making spaces of the school. Roma and non-Roma people are now learning together and the Roma community is increasingly recognising and valuing their own culture.

2. Didactical coherence: Here, good practices include individualised instruction. Ideally, students are allowed to learn at their own speed and progress individually with the help of electronically assisted learning, to experience their own learning progress themselves (empowerment) while at the same time being able to interact with the group. In sum, the students have contact and undergo social learning without becoming demotivated about their own level of learning by ‘social comparison’.

3. Allowing Professionals to Exchange Roles: Good practices of teaching using learners’ own expertise are grouped here.

4. Spatial Coherence: Natural learning environments such as the ‘Schrebergarten’, an allotment garden typical of Germany and Austria is an example of an innovative and new learning space to be discovered and used by adult learners. We champion explorative and courageous ‘ideas of space’ to be used in adult learning.

5. Holistic offers:  Focusing on target groups threatened by exclusion when planning learning schemes involves the danger of contributing to forming problem groups and thereby reinforcing mechanisms of social exclusion. There was a big debate in the OED network about this risk.

Therefore OED is encouraging and assisting trainers and adult education centers to create open and flexible structures, which meet and respond to every learner´s needs.

This means that learning settings should make participants feel comfortable with their own diversity. We are trying to involve learners in learning schemes in order to be inclusive. But most of all: learners must take ownership of their learning

We invite everyone to have a look at our publication!

CG: 2013 is the European Year of Citizens; in 2014 the next European elections will be held. What does the idea of active citizenship mean for adult education (and vice versa) and how does the project actively contribute to the development of active citizenship?

EAEA: Adult education has always aimed at enabling people to participate in society – to provide the knowledge but also and especially the self-confidence and know-how to participate and possibly change the society they live in. This is exactly what the project tries to achieve.

On the European level, there is now an emphasis on jobs and growth, also in lifelong learning, so active citizenship is taking a backseat in the policy development. However, we believe that while general attention will be directed at growth, adult learning continues its work “backstage“ for active citizenship!

CG: Motivation of learners and project partners is crucial for project work. What is the project’s approach to activating and reaching the learners?

EAEA: Outreach has no single and universally accepted definition but is an overreaching concept: education reaches out to people in different ways and jointly produces new knowledge. The project collected various examples on how this can be done: by going outside a centre or institution, making people in different locations or groups aware of what a provider can offer, organizing learning programmes in community locations, liaising and making contact with community organisations and groups, working in an informal and participative way with people outside a centre or institution and developing new learning programmes in response to identified needs. Our collection of good practice examples from 17 European countries can be found online.

CG: What are your expectations on the project’s results and how will the results be put into practice?

EAEA: We hope to have a set of sound guidelines and both policy and didactic recommendations that we’ll apply across Europe. One concrete event will be the final conference which will take place in Brussels in 2014 (very probably in June). We will also look into the possibility to organising trainings around the topic (whatever the future Grundtvig in-service trainings will look like) and to use the EAEA network to disseminate the results as widely as possible.

The project is a Grundtvig Network funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission. The project period started in November 2011 and will end in October 2014.

This article was produced in cooperation with InfoNet adult education network.

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