Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
One Step up: European Agenda for Adult Learning
Launch Conference on European Agenda for Adult Learning
Brussels, 28 February 2012 (Madou Auditorium)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today to mark the launch of the European Agenda for Adult Learning. Adult learning is an essential step in the lifelong learning process, and I am very happy to see its importance so clearly emphasized by the Ministers of Education of all the Member States. This Agenda – and the Council Resolution adopted by the Ministers in support of it - marks therefore a renewed commitment to adult learning at EU level.
Today we are really taking a big step forward. We have gathered representatives of national authorities, stakeholders, and agencies responsible for the implementation of the Grundtvig programme. If we all work together I am sure that this Agenda will make a real difference on the ground. You are only half-way through these two days of seminars, discussions and analysis of good practices, so I will not take too much of your time. I just want to let you know how much I appreciate your work, and how important I believe it is.
The EU has long attached great importance to the concept of lifelong learning. This is because in a modern economy a good basic education, essential as it is, is no longer enough. New skills must be acquired. Old ones must be upgraded. Human beings, living ever longer lives, seek constant mental stimulation – indeed, they need it for their ongoing mental health. Learning must continue throughout one's working life, just in order to keep up with technological change and the demands of a job market that is in constant evolution.
This is the key to a flexible, adaptable, and above all employable, workforce. The key therefore to sustained economic growth. It is also the key to making our societies more inclusive. Too many of our citizens leave school with little or no qualifications – and nowadays, this means with little or no chance of finding a decent job. Adult learning is for them the best chance of leaving behind unemployment, poverty and exclusion. Truly, it is never too late to learn and, through learning, to turn one's life around.
Education and training policies are pro-growth policies. And today, as we grapple with an unprecedented economic crisis and its dramatic social repercussions, education and training are absolutely vital for building a lasting recovery and a sustainable future prosperity.
At EU level, we are sparing no effort to put this message across. Education and training are at the heart of "Europe 2020" – the European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. We are urging the Member States to continue investing in their education and training systems – not despite the crisis, but because of it. And we have chosen to lead by example by proposing a significant increase in the share of the EU budget devoted to education and training in the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework – on which I will say more in a few moments
[The importance of adult learning]
Because of the situation we find ourselves in, tackling youth unemployment is the first priority, as clearly stated at the latest European Summit. But Europe's demographic trends are such that adult learning is the challenge for the medium- and long-term. To succeed – to survive, even – in the world of 2020, we must improve the skills profile of the entire population, irrespective of their age or background. We need then to keep the lifelong learning perspective in mind. We need to be far more comprehensive than in the past, embracing adult learning in all its forms as a full and equal element in our lifelong learning strategies.
We are working towards this goal within the open method of cooperation in education. We have a benchmark on adult participation in lifelong learning: it requires the Member States to reach 15% by 2020.
But we are far from it. We are not doing well. Quite the opposite. Since 2005 the rate of adult participation in lifelong learning has been actually steadily decreasing. Adult learning is the weakest link in the lifelong learning chain.
We must change this situation. “Crisis” comes from Greek: it means "a decisive moment”. And a crisis is indeed often a turning point, and it turns into an opportunity, because sometimes you are left with no other choice than doing the right thing.
If we are to achieve our target, then we must start with a more comprehensive provision of so-called "second chance" education. This means offering opportunities for upgrading qualifications – at least one step up – to those with only basic skills and reaching out to those who lack even basic competences. This is why we need to re-think the availability and quality of adult learning at all levels. And we need to raise awareness and motivation among potential participants.
In doing this we won't just be responding to an economic imperative.
Let us not forget that, just as a modern economy needs the participation of everyone, so does a democratic society. I fully endorse the emphasis this Resolution places on basic skills – starting with literacy, numeracy and ICT skills for adults who have not been able to acquire them during their initial education, in particular the early school leavers. It matters for their full inclusion in society as much as for their employability.
Promoting reading is one of my key priorities as Commissioner. Exactly a year ago, I set up a High Level Group on Literacy which looks into the issue of literacy across all ages, including adults. The group will present its report at an international conference in September, and I am confident that its recommendations will make a timely contribution to the implementation of this Resolution.
[Challenge of demographic change]
This year, 2012, is the European year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity. It is also the year when the European workforce will start to shrink, while the over-60 population will continue to increase by about two million people each year. This represents a challenge, certainly, but also the opportunity to mobilise the potential of this rapidly growing part of our population. And what better way to do it than through adult education?
All too often older people are regarded first and foremost as a problem, as a cost. Scant attention is paid to them as a resource and far too little is done to promote the intergenerational transmission of their wisdom and life experience. Adult learning will be at the heart of tackling this key challenge in the years ahead, as it is already one of the strategic objectives of the Grundtvig programme.
I am confident that the European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity will give a major boost to the cause of adult learning. We need to harness that momentum and use it to develop comprehensive learning strategies and actions at local, regional, and national level. We need our actions to have a lasting impact.
[On Erasmus for All]
This brings me quite naturally to the financial support provided by the EU's Lifelong Learning Programme – in particular its Grundtvig programme for adult learning – and in the future by the new Erasmus for All programme.
In its proposals for the next multi-annual financial framework the Commission is proposing to re-direct funds, within an overall stable budget, to increase dramatically – by more than 70% – the resources for education and training. Because we see education as our top priority, as a way to invest in the future, a key to recovery from the current crisis.
Erasmus for All is an ambitious proposal to address our common challenges and deliver on an agenda to modernise EU education as a crucial part of creating jobs and growth. And Adult education is part of this agenda.
Innovations in the programme mean that all sectors, and therefore also adult education, will be better served: there will be greater resources, coupled with the aim of having greater impact. And simplification: to lessen the administrative burden on participants, and to make it easier for smaller organisations to apply.
We want to build on the results from Grundtvig projects and partnerships. We want to ensure that the networks we have created are placed on a more stable footing. We are proposing greater use of IT platforms for networking and the dissemination of good practice. We intend to greatly increase the opportunities for the mobility of staff – because they are key to raising the quality of systems. And we want to strengthen institutional cooperation, always looking for stronger systemic impact.
Erasmus for All will truly mean more opportunities for all.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The launching of the European Agenda for Adult Learning is an important reminder of the importance of adult learning policy for the economy and society at large. It is also a call to action, because we need to deliver on our promises and ambitions. We all have our share of the responsibility in this effort.
I look forward to continuing to cooperate closely with you and your colleagues, building on what we have achieved to date, and taking the adult learning agenda forward, step by step. One big step after the other.
Thank you for your attention.