This month saw the 8th edition of the Lifelong Learning Week (LLLWeek) in Brussels to discuss and find solutions to the many challenges lying ahead for our modern societies, through this year’s theme ‘’Lifelong Learning Culture: a partnership for rethinking education”. Last week, from 3 to 7 December, , an array of CSOs and NGOs, along with educators, teachers, policy-makers, learners, politicians, researchers and field workers came to discuss educational priorities and the tools available at national and European level. There is a need to tackle key challenges within the European education agenda related to building synergies between Education and Culture, in light of the recently released proposal for the Revision of the Key Competences -for Lifelong Learning - which does not extend to non-formal and informal education within the wider definition of learning environments.
With this in mind, Lifelong Learning Week (LLLWeek) aims to raise awareness of lifelong learning’s capacity to bridge the gaps between culture and education, in relation to employment, social inclusion, diversity, citizenship and digital skills for the future. Through three main thematic strands the LLLWeek hosted a number of conferences, workshops and roundtable discussions on learning environments, validation, recognition and accreditation, and holistic approaches to active citizenship through education and culture.
To kick start the LLLWeek, on Monday the LLL Civil Society Forum took place as well as the LLLWeek Reception, during which an interactive session was held around a discussion on how CSOs could demand greater empowerment on policy-making and how to further the role of education and culture in fostering a sense of belonging in Europe. Through a fishbowl conversation facilitated by SOLIDAR Foundation there was an exchange of questions and answers about how civil society is working with EU institutions to foster culture through education, and if non-formal education is doing enough to cooperate with formal education - elitism within formal education and too little resources and funding for CSOs were identified as some of the many barriers hampering greater access to European values - to achieve inclusive education, critical thinking or creativity in learning and teaching.
The reception that followed included the LLLAwards presented to educational projects such as the “Education and Innovative Pedagogy”: Historiana eLearning Environments by EUROCLIO for its work in developing digital tools and the empowerment of citizenship educators, along other winning projects linked to social inclusion and democracy.
The issue of sustainable funding remains one of the main concerns for CSOs, if they are to continue working in education and lifelong learning, and so EU spending was also among the topics discussed. It is also why the third meeting of the Lifelong Learning Interest Group of the European Parliament gave CSOs, members of the European Parliament and stakeholders from all sectors of education and training the opportunity to discuss how the Multi-annual financial framework (MFF) can be used to support Europe’s learners.
The meeting at the European Parliament, attended by Mr Jyrki Katainen, European Commission Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, scrutinised the MFF and its role in strengthening the accessibility and quality of education, as well as the quality of training and lifelong learning, through the Erasmus + programme.
Jyrki Katainen assured the meeting that the next MFF would bring the highest share of investment in human capital, which would be essential for improving people’s resilience when faced with rapid technological evolution. Katainen stressed the important role of Erasmus+, which he hopes in the next programme period will benefit more VET learners and teachers, while also adding a reference to the strong social investments that the proposed InvestEU programme will promote, as well as synergies between ESF+ and Erasmus+ for supporting disadvantaged groups.
The LLLWeek was also an opportunity to present our CLAN project, which started as an initiative to provide low skilled or unskilled adults with the ability to identify transversal skills acquired throughout their lives and which have not been recognised and validated throughout their life, with the aim of increasing their chances of employment and insertion into society. SOLIDAR Foundation introduced the CLAN initiative at the end of the LLLWeek with the Lifelong Learning Career Guidance for EU Citizens, held at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). Discussions centred on the CLAN project and other great tools to help counsellors and career managers, noting that the need for outreach is essential throughout EU institutions which have the potential to do more. The event made clear that career development and guidance are priorities for social partners, employers and citizens through collaboration and partnerships, seen from a lifelong learning perspective.
Bearing in mind the challenges of the last two decades such as ageing societies and digitalisation, as well as new ones such as migration and youth unemployment, SOLIDAR Foundation has advocated for more investment in people in order to manage the rise in digitalisation and for more research on the education needed for the future, taking into account non-formal education which will take on increasing importance in the next few years.
Overall, the LLLWeek was an opportunity to highlight the pressing need for more investment in high quality education, training and lifelong learning to reduce social inequalities and promote social justice through inclusive education and the development of tools to recognise and validate transversal skills as an opportunity to exploit citizens’ competences in the 21st century framework of needed skills. SOLIDAR Foundation will continue to advocate for improvements in partnerships and funding between people and organisations and across various education sectors as the political negotiations continue at national and European level.