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Confintea Scholarship Essay

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Licínio C. Lima, Paula Guimarães & Nathalie Touma

Adult learning and education policies in Germany, Portugal and Sweden: An analysis of national reports to CONFINTEA VI


The chapter presents a theoretical proposal of three analytical models of Adult Learning and Education (ALE) policies. Some analytical categories and the corresponding dimensions are organised according to the ALE rationale which is typical of each social policy model. Historical, cultural and educational features are mentioned in connexion with the different policy models and its interpretative capacity to making sense of policies and practices implemented in Germany, Portugal and Sweden. The analysis includes the states of the art and the official representations of ALE produced by the respective national authorities through national reports which were presented to CONFINTEA VI (2009).


The analysis of adult learning and education (ALE) policies is a complex task, but it is crucial to understanding the multitude of supranational guidelines, governmental measures, strategies of public and private organisations, educational practices developed by schools, educational centres, social movements and civil society organisations, in addition to the study of certain individual lifelong learning dynamics.

Whenever we study educational reforms, priorities and objectives, projects and activities, ALE methods and practices in national and local, organisational or micro level contexts it is impossible to escape from certain core questions: What ALE conceptions are present? What are the priorities and goals to achieve? What are the most important concepts, methods of education, forms of organisation, administration and financing? What are the teaching methods, and who are the target groups and participants in educational activities? And on what grounds are they these and not others? Why is there not always consensus on these options? What are the dominant approaches and interests at national, local and international level? Who has the power to shape the educational guidelines that are followed by most national, regional and local governments? Why is public funding available for certain ALE activities but not for others? What are the most influential international and supranational organisations and how do they build and spread ← 29 | 30 → their political agendas for ALE? What is the role of the state, civil society and the market in developing the policies and practices of ALE?

Considering that learning and education are cultural, socially constructed phenomena, its political nature, i.e. its politicity, is always based on worldviews, on choices that depend on certain agendas and certain interests. Even when, as now, the consensus seems evident and is apparently shared worldwide, resulting in ALE policy guidelines we call hegemonic or dominant guidelines, there are always other possibilities, divergent interests, alternative projects. There is always political activity (politics), not only in the state context but also dependent on different conceptions of the role of the state in social policies. This political action gives rise to decisions and choices that are then translated into legislation, programmes and measures, educational conceptions and learning modes, forms of regulation and provision of education we generically call education policy.

This means that ALE policies always result from discourses and practices, guidance and actions, the global setting of priorities and rules not only located in the transnational and supranational level (mega level) and national level (macro level), but also in concrete organisational contexts (meso level) and even through different forms of reception and action in small contexts of social interaction (micro level). Although the available resources, authority and power differ widely between these levels of analysis, levels whose scale is at a lower level, are certainly affected but not fully determined by the higher levels. The learning and education of individuals in specific contexts of social action is always influenced by the decisions of the most powerful political and institutional actors, but it is never a simple copy or perfect reproduction of these influences.

There are contextual, cultural, educational and other circumstances that can facilitate the exercise of margins of relative autonomy by states, organisations, social groups and individuals. The study of policies in action, of the recontextualisation of political decisions in different social contexts and of any distinct educational appropriations already requires empirical studies. It requires analysis of actors and educational activities in specific social contexts, which, while of great relevance in the investigation of policies and practices, is not, however, the purpose of this chapter.

This chapter will briefly introduce some analytical models of ALE social policies that can support the interpretation of the action developed by international institutions (such as the United nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – UNESCO), by supranational actors (like the European Union – EU), or by national and regional governments, public and private organisations and others. We shall only use the proposed analytical models to interpret some policy ← 30 | 31 → documents produced by government agencies from three countries of the EU that sought to offer a “state of the art” of ALE for presentation at the International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI) organised by UNESCO in 2009 in Brazil, in the city of Belém do Pará. This does not mean that the theoretical proposals presented here are not useful for the analysis of concrete ALE actions and models and lifelong education practices, just that this task would not be possible within the objectives and limits of this text.

Analytical models of adult learning and education

The theoretical proposals that are presented here have their origin in research work that was initially developed by Lima (2005) and the subject of several courses in universities in Germany and other European and Latin American countries. This research work, as well as the accumulated teaching experience, were later resumed and deepened. In this process of review and academic development, which was incorporating other authors and other theoretical approaches, the doctoral work of Guimarães (2011) is emphasised, and this led the two authors to present an integrated joint proposal on analytical models for ALE social policies (Lima & Guimarães 2011). The authors have subsequently published analytical work on ALE policies, including a historical interpretation of the Portuguese situation from the democratic revolution of 1974 to the present day (Lima & Guimarães, 2015), an analysis of certain shorter historical periods, and government programmes developed in recent years in Portugal (Guimarães, 2013; Lima 2013). They have also directed courses and seminars in various countries and have developed educational tools on the interpretation of ALE policies in various national and international contexts. With another author they also produced a preliminary analysis and comparative policy documents on the participation of EU countries in CONFINTEA VI (Barros, Guimarães, Lima, 2012). In this chapter, they decided to work in collaboration with a young researcher from Germany (Nathalie Touma) to provide an interpretation of government representations on the state of the art of ALE in Germany, Portugal and Sweden, focusing on certain categories of analysis that are set out below and which include the above-mentioned publications.

Theoretical and methodological considerations

Three ALE social policy analytical models will be briefly described, referring readers who wish to look at this proposal in more detail to the book by Lima and Guimarães (2011): ← 31 | 32 →

the democratic-emancipatory model, in which democratic participation and critical education are very important in relation to ALE actions, in particular popular and community education; the modernisation and state control model, based on public provision, the intervention of the welfare state and generally dominated by second-opportunity education guidance; and the human resources management model, in search of economic modernisation and the production of skilled labour, led by vocationalist ideologies for the production of human capital.

These are models that, thanks to their breadth, seek to understand the very different public policies adopted in countries and regions that are themselves also very different.

Despite the identification of three distinct ALE public policy models, independent of each other, it is important to note that their construction is part of a continuum or imaginary theoretical line where each model occupies a specific position. This means that the three models, although different from one another, are not exclusive and can even coexist. So cross-fertilisation or hybridisation is possible: rather than rigid and artificial possibilities of analysis, it is expected that these models can be regarded as heuristic devices for understanding public policies on ALE. The discussion on the developments in ALE based on policy documents and public policies implemented by various countries therefore shows that, in a particular period, one or two models had a higher profile than the others, or other. But the dominant character of any one model at a particular time, at the expense of the previous ones, does not mean that the subordinate models simply vanish from the scene, tending towards a marginal survival, sometimes offering active resistance and at others persisting in a restricted, muted or modest form. In fact, though many countries favour policies based on the human resources' management approach and on appeals to the market and civil society, other models are also used: some are linked to strong state intervention in the development of adult education and training systems or to engaging civil society in the promotion of various public provisions. Since there may be some crossovers in the models the reality can be marked by a considerable hybridism of policy decisions, which should be examined in light of the models proposed.

The public policy models on ALE are characterised through different categories of analysis, each of which comprises several intrinsically consistent dimensions. These analytical categories are: political-administrative guidelines, political priorities, organisational and administrative dimensions, main conceptual elements of public policies. ← 32 | 33 →

Political-administrative guidelines

These orientations relate to the laws, rules and norms that allow a public policy to be adopted. They consist of the legislative apparatus that provides the means for a policy to be implemented and include the establishment of conditions for accessing ALE initiatives and the involvement of the people attending them, the financing, controlling and evaluation of the actions proposed, and the organisation and management related to the development of these activities.

Political priorities

The political priorities concern the ends assigned to ALE, and the domains that a public policy focuses on, the relevant objectives and targets, target-groups and the amount of public funds allocated.

Organisational and administrative dimensions

These relate to the organisation, administration and management involved in adopting a public policy, including centralised and decentralised structures, the procedures and technical processes involved in carrying out ALE activities, quality assurance processes, evaluation and accountability procedures.

Conceptual elements

These are concerned with the theoretical references underlying the ends, methods and processes inherent to implementing a public policy, for instance, ALE conceptions, pedagogical models, forms of participation and assessment, etc.

The democratic-emancipatory model

One of the most significant aspects of this model is the influence of critical pedagogies that uphold an idea of education as lifelong, humanist, aimed at social development, and promoting social responsibility, a collective destiny, and democratic and cosmopolitan citizenship (cf. Lima 2005). From this viewpoint, public policies are instruments of social, economic, political, and cultural action for the state. The state is thus a determining agent for planning and intervention (Griffin, 1999a, p. 334), although open to challenge with respect to bureaucratic state control and under pressure to undertake democratic and participatory reinvention, particularly through social movements. A multi-faceted view of development (social, economic, cultural, and political) and participation (social, political, and civic) is allied to this understanding. One of the political priorities of this model is to build a democratic ← 33 | 34 → and participatory society by means of a fundamental social right: education. Concerns with solidarity, social justice, and the common good are important and justify the establishment of basic education and education for democratic citizenship programmes, and the setting up of a broad range of initiatives to promote a civic sense and a critical and thoughtful capacity (cf. Guimarães, 2011).

With respect to the conceptual elements of this model, attention is drawn to the educational (not simply instructional) nature of the initiatives, through which local cultural traditions are valued, along with the adults’ own life experience and understanding of the world. Based on ethical and political principles, often associated with participatory action-research in coordination with programmes backed by social policies (for childhood, the third age, vocational training, or for fighting poverty, including local job promotion, rural development initiatives, etc.), these actions’ chief goal is to promote critical-based education, aimed at the transformation of decision-making power, and at social change.

There is a concern here to connect the individual facet of the act of learning to the collective facet of what is learned. The goals of learning are above all of a social and indirectly academic nature. Learning starts in social relations, continues throughout life, in all its aspects, based on social needs and leading to educational programmes that are meant for adults and their perceived needs. Here, the education and learning contexts are expanding to other areas (apart from school) in life, and there is a flexibility of times and spaces in which to learn, as there is in content and methods (cf. Sanz Fernández, 2008, p. 82).

In terms of the political-administrative guidelines, the actions implemented under the democratic-emancipatory model are noted for the decentralised control of education policy and administration and for the high degree of autonomy enjoyed by the organisations that stimulate ALE actions, including those linked to civil society and social movements.

This critical education model has had a major impact in different contexts of ALE. Until the mid-20th century in Europe, workers' groups and trade unions, folk high schools, social movements, pedagogical missions, and so forth sought to build a “project to promote political and civic awareness in citizens” (Finger & Asún, 2001, p. 97). Influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment or by others that are about workers’ and trade union education, many of these projects were designed to solve the problems faced by societies and benefited from charitable and voluntary work.

For example, in Sweden, a number of bodies were created after 1868 to implement actions to promote education (folkbildning). These organisations were notable for their freedom, independence of thought and autonomy and they developed ← 34 | 35 → group activities, open classes, and other initiatives that aimed to meet specific educational needs. At first these popular education initiatives were attended by landowners, and later the workers used them as a way of gaining power (cf. Norbeck, 1979; Vallgårda & Lima, 1985; Larsson, 1998, 2001).

Among the popular education actions undertaken in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, study circles have turned out to be particularly significant initiatives in terms of fostering democracy, self-management and critical and transforming education (cf. Vallgårda & Norbeck, 1986; Larsson, 1998, 2001).

In Germany, the Society for the Propagation of Popular Education, founded in 1871, was set up to support the development of popular emancipation movements. This body worked to set up other organisations that would spread culture and knowledge, establish public libraries and increase the number of classes and presentation sessions open to the public. University outreach was also invigorated and here the aim was to disseminate academic knowledge in accordance with the principles of the Enlightenment (cf. Nuissl & Pehl, 2000, p. 11; Lattke, 2008, p. 41). This Society’s efforts, and those of others in the field of popular education, led to that very expression, popular education, becoming widespread. Popular education started out as education of ordinary people who were distinguished from those who had an erudite culture. It was an elementary, entry-level, education that expressed boundary between the various social groups and between other bodies that stimulated job-related training actions and received public funds in return (cf. Nuissl & Pehl, 2000, p. 12; Lattke, 2008, p. 41). This was how civil society gained strength, becoming self-organised and demanding, with respect to both the state and the market.

Portugal developed later and it was not until, initially, in the First Republic (1910–1926) and then after the democratic revolution in 1974, that democratic and emancipatory initiatives were developed with government support. These actions were fostered by state bodies, but to an even greater extent by non-state ones, in all kinds of projects and programmes. The popular education activities that were developed in the wake of the 1974 revolution (April 25th) elucidated this aspect, in particular the work done between popular associations and the Ministry of Education through the General Directorate of Permanent Education. Several quite separate initiatives were implemented, in particular the literacy programme, cultural and socio-educational projects, basic education actions, etc. In this complicated historical context there was an explosion of highly varied initiatives, actions included in community development projects undertaken by popular associations, by relatively informal groups that were motivated to respond to requests that emerged in local communities. ← 35 | 36 →

The modernisation and state control model

This model values education in a context of social and economic modernisation. In light of the interplay between democracy, economics, society, and culture, education policies seek to unite functions that favour the processes of accumulation and legitimation, emphasising the interventionist, dirigiste character of state action. With a backdrop of a Fordist work pattern, the state controls the means and ends of public policies, for which it profits from a mandate to achieve certain goals and outcomes that target social justice, equality, family and community solidarity, and social cohesion. As education is an essential pillar of social policies in the construction of a democratic capitalist state, it involves a set of processes that are directed at ensuring equal opportunities for everyone, especially for those who are less able to get education and training. The rules associated with increasing and expanding opportunities of access to successful education are getting more and more attention from the government. Its impact is therefore increasingly evident in practice, leading to the formalisation and bureaucratisation of processes (cf. Lima, 2005). This model stresses the functional nature of education, in which the welfare state fosters economic growth and full employment. Education, seen above all as the teaching given in school, is essential to training citizens (cf. Griffin, 1999a).

The most striking conceptual elements are related to reducing the field of adult education to formal and second chance education and to stressing the importance of targeting vocational training at promoting economic growth. This is why the conception of ALE in this model is largely reduced to the tasks of “reading, writing, and arithmetic”, to learning of an academic, educational nature and to school-type vocational training. Memorising is emphasised and read texts are the main source of dialogue with the reader. Sanz Fernández says that it therefore promotes “receiving and mastering literacy”. Seeking to “discipline the adult population” and to “educate to obey”, it advances the instrumental (not social) use of reading and writing, and the results of education practices illustrate the efforts at social control and the reproduction of social inequalities (Sanz Fernández, 2008, p. 75 ff.).

In the European countries that share the welfare state format adult education took a form that is reminiscent of the centrality of the state in the context of specific historic circumstances (cf. Guimarães, 2011). These circumstances led to some countries putting in place mechanisms for formal education (for example, instruction and compensatory education) and non-formal education (retraining and professional adaptation, promotion of social participation, etc.) that were more structured than those seen up to the 2nd World War.

But there were variations. These are evident in the political ends which aimed to integrate workers as citizens into the modern state; they were intended to meet ← 36 | 37 → the expectations of the people (and their children); and they guaranteed the public funding of education and training (cf. Esping-Andersen, 1990; Mishra, 1995; Giddens, 1999; Law, 1998; and others).

In post-war Germany, for example, adult education was directed toward new goals related to re-education for democracy, through political education (Politische Bildung) promoted by community education centres, by the education centres in the Länder, and by foundations. Companies, faith-based organisations and trade unions kept up the impetus for educational formats that already prevailed (cf. Nuissl & Pehl, 2000, p. 13). The schools, meanwhile, proposed a varied range of evening courses, lectures, courses on literature, religion, history, politics and music, the teaching of German and foreign languages, improving health, and so forth. They were voluntary activities and often involved people who already had some knowledge of the topics covered. On the whole these bodies did not offer courses that led to a diploma. Despite the range of programmes not many workers took advantage of them. It was different for boarding schools, since the content varied in terms of the trade union, religious, economic or social tendencies favoured by whoever ran them. Diversity also characterised the adults who took part in these initiatives; it was argued that these boarding schools helped to forge a high degree of social cohesion since they brought together people from different social groups (cf. Raapke, 2001, p. 188).

ALE played an important part in promoting the ideas of the Enlightenment until the 1960s and, as since then it integrated education policies, the responsibility of the state was obvious. It seemed that actions run by civil society bodies in the same decade had these goals diverted, since in an increasingly more plural context the organisations were more reliant on their ideological positions (religious and trade union related, for example) (cf. Nuissl & Pehl, 2000, p. 14).

But it was felt that the state should be responsible for stimulating a fourth sector in the education system, one that was stable and solid. This new sector included areas like continuing vocational training, political education and liberal education for adults (cf. Lattke, 2008). In 1970 the state, through the national education council, sought to incorporate different facets of the education system. It aimed to structure and organise centrifugal tendencies that were apparent in education, especially in adult education. That was when another expression emerged, continuing education (Weiterbildung), to describe the rebuilding of adult education; this expression came to include continuing vocational education, vocational retraining and compensatory adult education of a non-formal nature (cf. Raapke, 2001, p. 188 ff.). The older expression for ALE (Erwachsenenbildung) kept its association with liberal, general, civic and political education (cf. Lattke, 2008). ← 37 | 38 →

In Sweden, after World War II, popular education (folkbildning) emerged as the fundamental domain for promoting social change. In this it was a progressive force, a reformist project in development, since “the study circles have been educational arrangements which have chosen contents, forms and participants so as to promote social change” (Larsson, 1998, p. 58). But the dialectics established between popular education and Swedish society became less obvious after World War II. For example, since then the state has been supporting folk high schools and paid the monitors of the study circles, the teachers and the administrative staff. It has also given scholarships to students. It should be noted that these institutions nonetheless enjoyed a high degree of autonomy; they could set goals, decide on the nature of the education (usually comprehensive), teaching methods (usually active) and the participants, who came from various social groups (though these mostly belonged to the working middle class), and the length of most of the courses (short, medium or long duration) (cf. Vallgårda & Lima, 1985).

Meanwhile, with consolidation of the welfare state, the minimisation of social problems and increasing income earned for work led to the emergence of active social policies as a determining factor for economic stability and the promotion of full employment. As a result, training programmes aimed at integrating people into the labour market were implemented and so, as Rubenson says, the reform of adult education demonstrated the influence of the theory of human capital (cf. Rubenson, 2004). In the same vein, the successive reforms in the second half of the 20th century allowed the formal education system to expand to include more and more people. Recurrent education appeared as a basic idea used to argue that everyone should enjoy equal rights with respect to education, regardless of their social origin, gender, etc. (cf. Rubenson, 1994).

In Portugal this rationale became clearer after the Basic Law for the Education System and Portugal's membership of the European Economic Community (EEC). In terms of priorities, therefore, we should note the return to educational guidance and second-chance education, i.e. compensatory education. This return was confirmed by the emphasis given to second-chance education in evening classes. Supplementing the endeavour to modernise the economy, this rationale downgraded issues of literacy, basic education and popular education. These were areas of intervention seen, as far as public policies were concerned, as being generically incompatible with the idealised place and coveted status of an EU country whose main challenges were identified with its economic modernisation and in relation to infrastructure, with the efficacy and efficiency of public and private management, increasing productivity, and internationalisation and competitiveness in the economy (cf. Lima, 2005). ← 38 | 39 →

The human resources management model

This model stresses the withdrawal of the state that is justified by the internationalisation of the economy, global competition, and diminishing public resources (cf. Guimarães, 2011). Despite the problems arising from an adverse economic, social, and political context, public policies favour the maintenance of redistributive principles, given that lifelong learning remains a way of providing education and training (a function of the state) and that it embraces the concern of preserving the state’s strategic ability to establish policy, albeit on an increasingly short or medium-term basis. But the state is also losing control of the purposes of education. The reduction of its ability to determine the results of these policies has become clearer, despite the efforts to regulate and the adoption of measures of enforcement (cf. Griffin, 1999a, 1999b).

Although education retains an important collective dimension, the individual acquires new responsibilities. Among these are “learning to adapt oneself” to the changes being faced, and “being able to choose and decide” about the best options for the social and economic transformations taking place. This is where we find education and economics drawing closer, in an appeal for greater productivity, competitiveness, and flexibility; and it is in this context that we find an understanding of education (training and learning) as an investment, with frequent analogies between training and financial capital. In these policies, learners are those who “learn throughout life” in places and at times outside the school context, and those who are “better educated”, that is, those who have spent more time at school, and are “better trained” in terms of knowledge and skills related to the workplace. Some degree of interaction between the school and the lifelong learning strategies outside this organisation is thus sought. Although they have different emphases, these policies are backing the maintenance of state involvement, while they denote a distance from training policy and planning and a nearness to “government strategies” (Griffin, 1999a, p. 339).

The human resources management model focuses on the acquisition of competences (which are not promoted in the provisions currently available in the education systems). The term competence may embrace a wide variety of meanings; here, it is taken to be something that adults should have, because it is believed that each individual must have the “competence needed to compete”, namely to gain employment (cf. Lima, 2005). Despite its relevance, competence has been viewed as knowledge acquired by each individual from his/her experience in different non-formal and informal contexts. Above all, it has a utility value. It shows that individuals are able to carry out a specific task. In addition, competence has been seen as measurable ability and knowledge that has yet to be assessed and formally ← 39 | 40 → documented. Consequently, learning is to convert one-self “into one of the most attractive investments for businessmen and one of the priority claims (besides pay and health) of workers”. In this scenario, “the productivity and competitiveness of economic agents are based on their ability to process and apply knowledge effectively” (Sanz Fernández, 2008, p. 94).

In Germany the possibility of establishing a permanent training market was discussed in 1984. It would be linked to giving adults qualifications with the aim of combating unemployment. Although it was not fully followed, according to Nuissl and Pehl, this discussion marked the start of the steady withdrawal of the state from ALE by instituting competition between promoters of adult education, at federal level and within the states (Länder). But even today the Länder retain certain control and regulatory functions, typical of the welfare state (cf. Nuissl & Pehl, 2000).

Since then, according to Raapke (cf. 2001), though deregulation has not been complete, there have been important reductions in the financial, material and human resources bestowed on adult education. These reductions had an unequal distribution: in some places ALE seemed to strengthen its position since some public organisations still had some budgetary independence, but market mechanisms appeared to rule in others. But the overall responsibility of the state declined and it now has fewer responsibilities for adult education; in fact it was often argued that adults should take charge of their own education and training and that state support could only be justified in very special circumstances or for particular social groups. So training for the common interest involved some tension, since the state and local authorities still controlled and funded some initiatives, though this represented only a small part of continuing education (Weiterbildung).

In Portugal the policies adopted from the end of the 1990s, like adult education and training, which can be related to this model, tended toward modernisation “so as to respond positively to the so-called challenges of European integration, requiring the state and public administration to make a greater structural effort and devise active policies for integration and convergence”. These concerns were not completely unknown in Portugal since, even in the 1950s, the significance of modernisation and the content of measures dependent on efforts to develop the economy were discussed. But after Portugal joined the EEC and adopted policies influenced by guidance issued by this supranational body, the emphasis was on ideas like “useful learning”, “acquisition of skills to compete”, “lifelong upskilling” and “education for employability”. It was asked to adopt measures that were “instant and short term that chose ‘trainability’ over education, and individual ← 40 | 41 → responsibility over social responsibility and collective destiny, as pillars of the proposed policies” (cf. Lima, 2005, p. 46).

The recognition of learning acquired throughout life became a central issue in policy discourses in recent times in Sweden. This involved several risks. With respect to the Northern European models of the welfare state and adult education, in the last twenty years universalist and focused on employment, they have faced two threats, according to Rubenson. The first concerned political discourses in which education was strengthened as long as it considered the needs of the market and individual responsibility in adapting to the challenges that the knowledge economy entailed. In these discourses the needs of individuals, especially those arising “from the needs of the labour market”, were the starting point for planning the provision of education. The second threat was linked to lifelong learning as public policy and individual project. In this context the collective efforts of the social movements and the associations that were promoting the study circles, for example, were downplayed and the traditional connection between civil society and popular education came out weaker (cf. Rubenson, 2004, p. 44).

This reasoning is based on the idea popular in political discourses that Swedish society, like other countries, is at risk and so the skills of its people are important to the construction of a knowledge economy. Everyone should have the competences that make them employable, and in this context the recognition, accreditation and validation of competences are essential. The skills that people develop during the course of their life should be utilised. In this regard, Andersson and Fejes state that the validation of competences was introduced into the discourse and public policies in Sweden in 1996, thereby increasing the chance of gaining qualifications. It also allowed education and training to develop to be more useful and relevant to people, since “there was no need to learn what was learned in the past”. Competence took on a new meaning, stressing its usefulness (cf. Andersson & Fejes, 2005).

Analytical categories and dimensions

The three analytical models briefly presented here simultaneously comprise heuristic dimensions of research and didactic dimensions. They should be viewed as proposals open to social research and to the historical, cultural and educational diversity of the different contexts under study. This means that there may be a need to increase the number of models or to build sub-models and specifications within some or all models now presented. They are not the realities and political specificities of ALE that are expected to integrate perfectly into the ← 41 | 42 → three analytical models proposed, instead they are the analytical models that should prove sufficiently open and flexible to handle the multiplicity of social policies of ALE.

A greater degree of openness is required in the case of aspects which are indicated below for each of the four categories of analysis presented earlier (Table 1). The inventory offered by the authors is merely indicative, in terms of both theoretical consistency and empirical occurrences in various contexts that have been studied over the last decade. Just as policy documents such as the national reports submitted to CONFINTEA VI are often marked by a certain “rhetoric” (Keogh, 2009, p. 9), by normative and mobilisation aspects that are typical of the role historically played by UNESCO (Milana, 2014), by dominant approaches and concepts of fashion, so, even in the case of our interpretation of instruments, it is necessary to avoid the nominalist approaches that reduce complexity, contradictions and paradoxes present in political speeches to the search for certain words or concepts. It is not, for instance, because legislation or a government report repeatedly mentions the words democracy and participation that they can immediately be integrated in the democratic-emancipatory model. There are, of course, several concepts and very distinct practices of democracy and participation, so it is necessary to understand the political-educational rationale and the historical and cultural context in which these concepts should be interpreted. In practical terms, it is more plausible to find practical situations that are characterised by the need to muster different analytical models simultaneously rather than a single pure and internally consistent mode. ← 42 | 43 →

Table 1: Analytical policy models of ALE (Adapted from Lima & Guimarães, 2011)

← 43 | 44 →

← 44 | 45 →

← 45 | 46 →

← 46 | 47 →

National reports as policy documents and representations of ALE

National reports submitted to CONFINTEA VI are ALE policy documents that are particularly useful for drafting a preliminary analysis based on the three analytical models proposed by Lima and Guimarães (2011). Indeed, these documents represent rational choices made by government authorities in each of the participating countries as to what in that historic moment they understood to be the organisation, priorities and the development of ALE. They are, therefore, government representations of social policies of ALE that have been adopted internationally, involving historical and cultural aspects, and perhaps some diversity of policy guidelines. In each national report we can find normative statements and implicit and explicit definitions of ALE as a field of policy and practices. The limitations of these documents are, moreover, those which depend on the greater or smaller distance between policy statements and the dominant social representations on the one hand, and effective and practical achievements in terms of specific activities and projects of ALE, on the other.

Political-administrative guidelines

As mentioned before, Germany has a tradition in the field of public policies on ALE (Nuissl & Pehl, 2004), as stated in the report under consideration. In line with this expression and with that tradition, this domain refers to processes that happen after primary education and carry on throughout life but not including higher education. Over the past four decades, public policies for this sector have been framed by the Deutscher Bildungsrat of 1970, which states that ALE is the “the necessary and lifelong complement to initial education (…), the continuation or the recommencement of organised learning following completion of the training phase of whatever length” (Germany, 2008).

This broad definition of ALE could fit a wide range of policies. The role assigned to the state of defining values and principles of action plays a part in this finding, particularly when the report in question states that

“The activity of the state in the area of continuing education is generally limited to the stipulation of principles and basic parameters and to the introduction of rules to ensure that continuing education is properly organised and supported” (Germany 2008, p. 147).

It goes on to say that “Continuing education is less regulated by the state than other areas of education. The field of continuing education features a high level of pluralism and competition among providers” (Germany, 2008, p. 147). This raises the possibility that aspects of a range of ALE policies are likely to be found. ← 47 | 48 → This likelihood is reinforced in the document under review since it mentions the intervention of other local actors such as non-governmental and non-profit organisations that could be closer to democratic and emancipatory policies and critical adult education practices of a participatory and transforming nature. But the German report emphasises the implementation of activities by state and non-state organisations related to work and employment, both commercial and non-profit. Therefore, although it can be said that in terms of principles and values the possibility is mentioned that the principles of three different models of public policy could be adopted, stress is nonetheless placed on aspects consistent with the models of modernisation and state control and of human resources management.

The range of entities involved in the public provision of ALE and the implementation of very varied provision indicates the importance accorded to the intervention of the Länder. The Länder have expertise in setting priorities and specific targets, taking into account the local dimensions in educational provision. This is why instances arise that can play a significant role in establishing and controlling the public provision (Germany, 2008, p. 156), in monitoring and evaluating the educational provision and in setting up local networks (Germany, 2008, p. 152). Because of the contextualised nature of the intervention of the Länder, possibilities of alternative intervention with respect to the state may arise. However, due to the centrality ascribed to the economic development in public policy on ALE in this country, there seems to be a strong relationship between the state and entities related to vocational training, private, for-profit and sectoral, which can be seen, for example, in the level of funding allocated to this sector (Germany, 2008, pp. 161–173). This option seems to favour the adoption of public policies to modernise and control, coordinated with other human resources management policies that cater to concerns about economic growth and increased productivity.

The Portuguese report differs from the other two because it takes adult education to mean “adult education and training”. In keeping with this expression, this document only gives importance to basic education, i.e. to school certification, and to vocational training by obtaining the professional qualification and there is no mention of other sectors such as local development, which has a long history in this country, popular education, socio-cultural activities and so on. This preference for a more restricted expression for ALE certainly comes from a lack of tradition in public policy, as well as the intermittent and discontinuous nature of many of the programmes implemented in Portugal in the last five decades (Lima, 2005).

In implementing ALE public policy, the state seems to be a key player in the context of just one action programme, the New Opportunities Initiative. Accordingly, the focus is on central government bodies in the formulation and ← 48 | 49 → adoption of this policy strategy. While the two other reports talk about different levels of intervention, central and local, the Portuguese paper highlights the role of public state bodies at central level, with no mention of other agencies, state or non-state, in the definition of public provision.

It says, however, that to achieve the goals of ALE public policy, other state and non-state entities, commercial and non-profit, are involved, but does not address the role of these organisations in other areas of ALE, nor is any kind of autonomy foreseen in the design, development or evaluation of provision included in the New Initiatives Opportunities. Moreover, it is envisaged that local-level entities should develop public provision, although the report in question does not make it clear what tradition these entities have in ALE, or what interaction can be achieved between a pre-defined intervention programme that has strict operating rules and these entities, with their knowledge of the localities in which they operate. It thus seems to note an instrumentalisation of various entities regarding political purposes chosen based on problems that seem to have a national meaning, such as the Portuguese “educational backwardness” and the lack of competitiveness of the national economy, without any consideration of the needs, expectations and motivations of local promoters and individuals.

As for the Swedish report, this has been drafted in a country with a long tradition in ALE public policy, particularly in the context of popular and non-formal education (Larsson, 1998). Regarding state action, there is a commitment to coordination between principles and priorities, actors and different levels of intervention. The report under consideration stresses the role of the state in setting policy priorities and intervention strategies. In this regard, it says that,

“The role of the state is to create the opportunities for versatile learning and the national strategy to support both organised and non-organised learning situations” (Sweden, 2008, p. 4).

While the state has the task of establishing the principles, values and guidance of public policies, it is at local level that the public provision is developed, specifically the setting of goals and the educational outcomes to attain. Thus, ALE in this country is decentralised (Sweden, 2008, p. 3), as it is locally, in the municipalities that public provision is organised and implemented.

Like the German and Portuguese reports, this document also states that the purpose of the educational policies is to make Sweden a nation with a lifelong learning system of high quality, directed at economic growth and in line with the model of public policy for modernisation and social control. But, unlike the two other reports, there is a strong emphasis on ALE, which this document identifies as “adult education” on promoting social justice, democracy and citizen participation ← 49 | 50 → (Sweden, 2008, p. 4). Thus, it stresses interaction between the collective and individual dimensions of education, between promoting economic development and enhancing democracy, and between achieving equal opportunities and meeting the interests and educational needs of citizens. While the state retains the tasks of establishing priorities and developing public provision, through, for example, the allocation of funds (Sweden, 2008, pp. 13–15), this report contains a clear focus on the individuals, their interests and motivations, and their social and personal development. In this context, the intervention of local ALE entities has proved to be essential. There seems to be a commitment to interaction between the state, which provides conditions for the development of ALE policies, and local authorities, very varied, whether state or non-state, and the individuals in developing relevant learning that is useful to them (Sweden, 2008, p. 5), under the democratic and emancipatory guidelines and in light of other modernisation and social control guidance.

Political priorities

Participation in ALE arises in the three reports in question as a key political priority. This priority follows the trend of increasing adult participation in ALE actions recorded in many other countries (Bélanger & Federighi, 2001) particularly noticeable from the 1990s. In line with this trend, the reports in question underscore the importance of maintaining and increasing levels of participation, though in different ways.

In the German report, the main priorities identified suggest there are public policies that seek to create a comprehensive system of lifelong learning, which can refer to a combination of models, with the spotlight on democratic and emancipatory policies. In this regard, it says that adult education aims “to enable [people] to develop their personal, professional and social prospects free from the daily pressures of work in a way that extends beyond merely updating their skills for the workplace” (Germany, 2008, p. 171).

This document highlights the need to encourage all citizens to take part in ALE, by accomplishing equality of opportunities and respect for the voluntary nature of participation by adults. It also looks closely at strategies for the social inclusion of certain social groups, such as the elderly, the 50-plus initiative (2007), and immigrants, with reference to the 2005 Immigration Act and the National Integration Plan, 2006. It also includes the development of provision in areas as diverse as combating poverty, basic education, vocational training, environmental education, for example, in the context of UN Decades and political and civic education (Germany, 2008, pp. 158–160). ← 50 | 51 →

Many of these initiatives are intended to strengthen inclusion and social cohesion and share the educational goals specified by the state, in order to build an integrated lifelong learning/training/education policy. Note however that this report also emphasises that increased participation in ALE should consider economic development, particularly when it states that “Continuing education and lifelong learning are key prerequisites for the strengthening of innovative potential in Germany” (Germany, 2008, p. 160). This emphasis falls on the priorities of modernisation and social control and human resource management. At the same time, the focus of various programmes on the elderly and immigrants is based on a desire to make the German economy competitive within Europe and worldwide, and there is a perceptible stress on the role of ALE in increasing productivity and flexibility of the individuals in the labour market. These concerns clearly approach the human resources management approach.

The Portuguese report mentions the aim of increasing participation rates in ALE by increasing the levels of basic education and vocational qualification certification of the Portuguese population in an effort to accomplish modernisation and social control policy guidance. That purpose is stated in a single programme: the New Opportunities Initiative. This purpose is supplemented with another that envisages ALE public policy interacting with economic development strategies such as the National Employment Plan and the Technological Plan (Portugal, 2008, p. 2), in which case the concern with the principles of modernisation and social control and human resource management is evident.

These purposes arise in the context of globalisation and the restructuring of the Portuguese economy, also in keeping with the lifelong learning perspective established by the EU as part of human resources management principles, and with values related to social cohesion aimed at the integration of different participants in ALE, in line with the modernisation and social control and democratic and emancipatory models.

In September 2017, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) will offer six CONFINTEA Research Scholarships for a period of one month each to researchers from UNESCO Member States and/or Associate Member States.

Prospective scholars will be able to benefit from using UIL’s knowledge base and resources for their research in the area of lifelong learning with a focus on adult and continuing education, literacy and non-formal basic education.

Since the UIL Research Scholarship Programme was launched in 2012, a total of 43 scholars have taken part. Participants are selected on the basis of their potential to produce articles, research papers, programme tools or policies that can be shared with decision-makers and that will have an impact on the education sector in their home countries. UIL particularly welcomes applicants from the Global South.

We encourage this year’s scholars to use background data from the third Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) in their research, including comparative studies of data from GRALE I, GRALE II and GRALE III.

UIL began publishing UNESCO’s Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) in 2009 in order to monitor development on adult learning and education in UNESCO Member States. GRALE reports are reference and advocacy documents, providing information for analysts and policy-makers, and reminding Member States of the commitment they made at the 2009 Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI) in order to assist in monitoring the implementation of the Belém Framework for Action (BFA).

The third edition of GRALE assesses global progress in implementing the Belém Framework for Action (2009) based on monitoring surveys completed by 139 UNESCO Member States. Bringing international partnerships together ensured that existing data sources – such as the UNESCO Institute for Statistics data on literacy – were employed to devise 75 questions covering the five areas of action outlined in the Belém Framework for Action: policy; governance; financing; participation, inclusion and equity; and quality. The survey questionnaire was available in the six UN languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish).

GRALE III monitoring survey data is available in SPSS (quantitative dataset only) and Excel (quantitative and qualitative dataset) formats; knowledge of data analysis methodology and experience in the use of statistical software packages (such as SPSS, STATA, and R) is therefore an advantage.  

UIL will provide each scholar with a workstation and access to the considerable resources of its unique library. In addition, scholars will have a chance to exchange knowledge with other scholars, UIL staff and its external partners. They will work under the supervision of a UIL specialist, but they should also be prepared to work on their own initiative.

Scholars will be expected to present the research they have undertaken at UIL. Furthermore, in the months following completion of their scholarship, they must report on follow-up activities and the results of their research. Upon completion of their scholarship, participants will be eligible to join UIL’s Alumni Network.

UIL will arrange and pay for health insurance, accommodation close to the Institute, and a return economy ticket to Hamburg, Germany. Additionally, scholars will receive a lump sum of €500 contributing to other costs incurred before, during and after their research stay at UIL (such as visa costs, transport, and daily subsistence).

In order to apply, please submit the following:

  • A cover letter
  • Your research proposal
  • An up-to-date CV

Interested candidates are asked to submit their application by 31 May 2017 to UIL Research Scholarship Coordinator Ms Lisa Krolak, at: uil-lib@unesco.org.

Postal applications may be sent to:

Mr Arne Carlsen

UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning
UIL Research Scholarships
Feldbrunnenstr. 58
20148 Hamburg

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