The Role of Adult Education in the 21st Century: An Indispensable Key

by | Nov 2, 2019 | Learning

Man and woman participate in adult education

Elderly population, increased digitization, changes in employment, high levels of migration and climate change. The challenges in today’s Europe are many, but not insoluble. How can adult education help us to develop a knowledge society that is able to cope with the challenges of our time?

In this article, I present some of the challenges we already see and will see in the future of Europe. As well as how the transformational opportunities and benefits of education of adults can help solve these challenges.


Challenges adult education can solve

So, what European challenges does education of adults help solve?

The updated EAEA Manifesto 2019 outlines the challenges of the future in Europe where adult education can play a key role.

Firstly, we see a shift in the population. People are getting older and want to be active and healthy for longer.

Increased digitalisation creates demands for new skills and competences for employees, citizens and consumers.

In countries that have had significant changes in employment and have few opportunities for retraining, we see high unemployment – especially among the youngest and oldest citizens.

In recent years, Europe has faced a high level of migration, which has posed great challenges for many countries. These challenges have led to a divided population: supportive European citizens on the one hand and a defensive or hateful reaction from critics on the other.

Finally, a challenge that not only poses a huge threat to us in Norway and in Europe: climate change and other environmental challenges. We need to adapt to achieve more sustainable economies, societies and lifestyles.


The opportunities and benefits of adult education

The EAEA Manifesto outlines not only the current European challenges, but also the transformative opportunities and benefits of informal education of adults. As well as what power and joy learning can provide.

Here is 9 opportunities and benefits of informal adult education:

1. Active citizenship and democracy

People who participate in adult education also participate more in the community by voting, working as volunteers or taking active roles in the community. Adult education is the tool for developing critical thinking.

2. Health and well-being

Adults who participate in learning activities have a healthier lifestyle and enjoy life more. Adult education contributes to personal development and self-realization. The health of our society depends on lifelong learning.

3. Life Skills for Individuals

Adult education transforms lives. It provides new job opportunities, creates pathways for further learning, activates adult artistic passions and builds new social networks.

4. Social affiliation, equity and gender equality

Adult education supports greater social mobility and equalizes social inequalities. Adult education brings together people from different paths and stages of life. This contributes to democracy and social peace.

5. Employment and work

Workplace learning is one of the main drivers for adult participation in lifelong learning. Adult education increases innovation and productivity among employees, entrepreneurs and volunteers – making companies more successful.

6. Digitalisation

Adult education helps close the digital gap and gives individuals digital expertise. This is the key to personal development, employment, social inclusion and active citizenship.

7. Migration and demographic change

Language and community education and intercultural learning create inclusive societies and cultures. Seniors who teach are more active, healthier and work longer. Intergenerational learning enables the older and younger to benefit from each other’s knowledge.

8. Sustainability

Adult education provides the skills, information, debate forum and creativity to develop new approaches that are necessary for sustainable development. A paradigm shift is only possible through critical, conscious and innovative citizens.

9. Adult education and European and international politics

Adult education contributes to the most important European and international strategies in growth, employment, innovation, equity, social cohesion, active citizenship, poverty reduction, climate change, internal market, migration, peace and more.

If you want to read about the research behind these points, you can read the entire EAEA manifesto with the research basis here.


Adult education provides an innovative, equal and sustainable society

We have now seen that Europe has a number of challenges where adult education will be an important part of the solution. Adult learning is not only beneficial to the individual but also to society as a whole and economies. Through adult education, we can create a more innovative, equal and sustainable society where people have the skills and knowledge needed to live and work healthy and productive. As well as take an active part in cultural and civic activities throughout their lives.

In other words, adult education is an indispensable key that we need to address the challenges that Europe has today and will have for years to come.

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Frida Sundbye
Forfatter: Frida Sundbye

Forfatter: Frida Sundbye

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