Over three days experts from the world of adult education discussed the EU's Adult Learning Action Plan, at a conference in Budapest, 7-9 March. The conference underlined the need for adult learning, more than ever before, to contribute to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe, as part of its economic recovery, and in response to its ageing, multicultural and constantly changing societies. Participants agreed that future priorities should concentrate on enabling adults cope with change and transitions in their lives and jobs. One of the main issues highlighted was how to achieve efficient expansion of the sector at a time of economic austerity.
"This is a conference which is the result of three years of very hard work on a topic that is striking for its importance," the European Commission's Deputy Director-General for Education and Culture, Xavier Prats Monné told the more than 250 participants from over 35 countries, who attended the conference along with partners from the United Nations, the Council of Europe, OECD and EU Institutions.
The purpose of the conference - accompanied by the publication of a Commission paper summarising the outcomes of the EU's action plan on adult learning - was to take stock of results achieved over the past three years of European co-operation in the field of adult learning and to use lessons and experiences learned to formulate better and more effective strategies for the future.
Despite progress, reforms, innovations in many countries and regions, the hard fact remains that the population of adult non-learners is 50 million more than it was 10 years ago. Achieving key competences, including adequate literacy, numeracy and digital skills, is still a problem among a third of the workforce, many of whom will need to upgrade their skills to remain in employment.
Adult learning experts and civil society organisations joined with social partners and representatives from public authorities across Europe in underlining the central importance of adult learning in tackling the Union's skills deficits and building a cohesive and pluralist society. As keynote speaker Ms Maria João Rodrigues, Special Advisor to the EU Presidencies and to the European Commission, put it, "Adult learning is a central task for the 21st century - vital to enabling people to make the most of their lives and jobs and therefore an essential element in the Union's EU2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth."
Participants at the conference acknowledged the success of the Adult learning Action Plan (2008-2010) in promoting the adult learning agenda in all EU countries. They gave evidence of the value of having a common reference with agreed milestones and intensive debate as an instrument for supporting policy-making and a European forum for promoting exchange of innovative ideas in the field.
The conference has given a strong impetus to the Commission's work in the field of adult learning. The orientations developed at the conference will help shape a new Adult Learning Action Plan to be launched later this year in the framework of the Education and Training 2020 strategy to support the development of a strong and responsive adult learning sector in Europe.