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EU Travels Blog Series 2022 - Bergen, Norway

31 May 2022
"As Norway is a country with a social democratic history, I was keen to learn about methods used by the Norwegian councils and municipalities engage in and promote adult education" - Aisling Meyler, Research Officer at AONTAS

On Tuesday 16th May, I flew to Bergen, Norway to meet with representatives from the RegALE Network. The RegALE means “Regional Capacity for Adult Learning and Education project” and it aims to increase the impact and sustainability of regional or local adult education organisations. It does this by setting up or strengthening networks among these organisations – like AONTAS – and with regional and local authorities.

Red and grey buildings with pointed roofs against a cloudy blue sky in Bergan, Norway. This is the traditional style architecture, heavily influenced by German architecture
The project looks at increasing the capacity of the organisations involved (and of their target groups/members) to respond to their challenges, to build cooperation, and to promote an adult education culture in their cities or regions.

Aisling presenting to colleagues in Bergan, Norway. Photo courtesy of Larissa Learning City

As a Research Officer at AONTAS, my hope from the trip was to gain insight into the different ways partners collaborate with different groups to improve lifelong learning participation.

As Norway is a country with a social democratic history, I was keen to learn about methods used by the Norwegian councils and municipalities engage in and promote adult education.

As the trip progressed, I was surprised to learn about the extent of collaborative efforts across municipality, State, NGO and private sectors in supporting learners, adult education, and lifelong learning activities.

These collaborative efforts and their impact produce a highly integrated model of support for those engaged in lifelong learning.

There were a several partners from Norway participating at the event including Vestland County Council, regional and local authorities dealing with lifelong learning policies in the region of Vestland, Norway, adult education providers, adult education associations, public administrators and technical advisors working at regional and local levels who deal with adult policies and practices, and adult education trainers.

I was so impressed with Vestland’s Introduction Programme for migrants. This is where people coming into the country as refugees receive housing and welfare support, a salary, Norwegian language and cultural classes, career guidance, and opportunities for work experience in their desired employment area.

Aisling and colleagues from the RegALE Network. Photo courtesy of Larissa Learning City

There were several staff members coordinating the trip from the Vestland County Council who had been refugees and/or completed the Introduction Programme who then gained employment in the Council. Adult education is at the forefront of the Introduction Programme model. The career guidance offered is holistic in nature, its remit expanding far beyond employment or education pathways.

Quiet library that facilitates Norwegian language cafes for migrantsDelivered by staff with backgrounds in psychiatry, it uses a trauma-informed model, and is cognisant of the challenging histories that many people accessing the programme may have.

The testimonies from the Council staff members with a migrant background really spoke of the life-changing opportunities offered through the programme. The Council’s rationale for this type of integration model seems to be about filling gaps in employment sectors where gaps and skills shortages persist. They see the migrants coming into the country as an opportunity to fill these gaps and so they invest in the system. With an unemployment rate of 2%, this approach seems to be working. I believe Ireland has a lot to learn from this.

This trip, and the workshops I participated in, provided me with many ideas to help my work as Research Officer with AONTAS. Vestland County Council acknowledges that it still has a long way to go in terms of supporting migrant learners, especially with migrant education qualifications and employment histories from other countries being better recognised and embedded.

The trip has also provided me with contacts from across a European network of adult learner advocates and organisations who shared best practice on collaboration.

In Ireland, I am thinking of the potential for greater collaboration across sectors to best support learners across the country. I am inspired by the practical and efficient ways in which migrants coming into Ireland could enter into a far better-integrated system, which would be of huge benefit to Irish society as a whole.

The group of visiting RegALE Network members in Bergan, Norway. Photo courtesy of Larissa Learning City. 

This trip is part of the RegALE network and the ERASMUS+ “Key Action 3 - Support for policy reform”. Countries participating include Belgium, through the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA); Germany, through Volkshochschulverband Baden-Württemberg; Estonia, through Estonian Non-Formal Adult Education Association (ENAEA); Greece, through Hellenic Association of Adult Education (HAEA); and Sweden, through Vuxenutbildningen Borås.

For more information, contact our Ecem Akarca, AONTAS EU Projects Officer, at: eakarca@aontas.com