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“Adult education as health promotion only works as a supplement to other health welfare services. It has to be built on voluntary participation and common interests.”

Learning & teaching

How can the health benefits of adult education be promoted?

Authors: Tuomas MacGilleon Published:

“Adult education as health promotion only works as a supplement to other health welfare services. It has to be built on voluntary participation and common interests.”

The Danish Adult Education Association is working on this question and will now share some of the observations it has made so far.

Plenty of research suggests that taking part in adult education is very good for your health in general, and for your mental well-being in particular.

While this is easy to accept, many adult education organisations are struggling to make the public and decision-makers aware of these health benefits.

The Danish Adult Education Association (DAEA) has created an initiative, which could increase the knowledge and usage of non-formal adult education on a national level.

DAEA’s Development Consultant Celia Skaarup shares some experiences about the project.

1. Do the groundwork: collect facts and figures

“We started off by mapping what kind of health-related activities we had under our umbrella, as well as gathering documentation and research evidence to get an overview of the connection between health, well-being and adult education.

The mapping part proved to be difficult, as the non-formal adult education field is very diverse. The biggest problem was that the organisations did not realise how many health-related activities they offered. Finding this out required phoning all of our member organisations and discussing the subject in greater detail.

As a result, we concluded that, of 1,800,000 people, at least 400,000 take part in health-related activities yearly within the non-formal adult education sector. This figure only includes activities with a direct focus on health, such as yoga, water exercise, cooking lessons or mindfulness.

We also published a report (in Danish), on the research that has been done about this subject. Unsurprisingly, one of the main points suggested by research was that mental and physical health are connected to each other.

Furthermore, another key ingredient for well-being is social interaction. These three aspects are intertwined, and you should not focus on just one but on all of them.”

2. Find out what your strengths are

“Often all the previously mentioned elements of well-being (physical and mental health plus social interaction) are present in the activities that non-formal adult education providers offer.

You can also easily apply the catchphrase of the A-B-C mental health campaign to adult education; ‘participating in meaningful activities with other people gives you mental health’ is exactly what is happening in voluntary group activities.

Working with mental well-being is something that non-formal adult education providers are really good at.

Adult education centres are already used to working with different marginalised groups in relation to poor health, such as elderly people, people with mental health issues, addiction problems or handicaps.

It is easy to engage people in activities, which are based on ideas of peer-to-peer learning, being equal and sharing.”

3. Reach out and sell your story

“Stress and anxiety are growing problems, not only in Denmark. The whole mental health discussion is something non-formal adult education providers should tap into.

As an umbrella organisation, we are trying help our member organisations to get information out there and inspire people to get in contact with each other. We are now putting together a catalogue of case studies. The idea is to collect 10 examples of health and well-being activities in non-formal adult education.

One target audience is the municipalities – to make them think of what kind of local issues they have and what sort of collaboration they could have with our member organisations. Another key group is the different patient organisations.

Non-formal adult education providers do not have to reinvent the activities they offer, but they do have to sell the idea again and again. We need to make people aware of what we do.

Based on previous experiences in collaborating with the adult education sector, patient organisations and municipalities, we know that there is a lot of synergy that can be achieved. At the same time, however, we know that adult education as health promotion only works as a supplement to other health welfare services. It has to be built on voluntary participation and common interests.”

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Tuomas MacGilleon is a freelance journalist based in Tampere, Finland. Interested in science and how it affects our everyday lives. Contact: Show all articles by Tuomas MacGilleon
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