EU Travels: “One of the most multicultural cities in the world and an ideal setting to share best practice with Adult Education professionals from Europe and beyond”

28 Sep 2022
Kalianne Farren, AONTAS Research Officer for Learner Voice, travels to Brussels to attend the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) Younger Staff Training.

Brussels seems to be a city of many sides, from the famed EU-Institutional quarter of the city teeming with young international bureaucrats, to the bohemian Flemish quarters, where native Dutch-speakers flaunt the francophone supremacy of the city, to the various suburbs hosting large diasporic communities, such as the African quarter of Matonge, or Schaerbeek, home to large Moroccan and Turkish communities. With two out of three Brussels residents born abroad, the city is a true melting pot, making it a hotspot for music, art and culture.

Kalianne Farren, AONTAS Research Officer, back row second from the right
This gave a sense of life imitating art (or at least work!) when I joined twelve other professionals from across Europe to attend the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) Younger Staff Training. The programme brings together young adult education professionals to network and exchange ideas around policy and advocacy. This year, the programme focused on guidance for learning and careers. Having taken part in last year’s training online due to travel restrictions, I was eager to get the full experience of the training in person this year. As a researcher working on the National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum project, my main role includes travelling around Ireland asking learners about their educational experience, and I was sure that a deeper knowledge of guidance, progression, and gaining skills for employment would have a positive impact on my work.

The EAEA are the voice for non-formal, liberal adult education in Europe. They link and represent European organisations directly involved in adult learning. They also promote adult learning and access to, and participation in, non-formal adult education for all, particularly for groups currently under-represented. AONTAS is the national representative for the EAEA in Ireland, and AONTAS CEO Dearbháil Lawless sits on the board of the organisation. Having provided support for many projects in partnership with the EAEA in my three years at AONTAS, I was excited to see what the week would bring in terms of gaining knowledge and making connections with my European peers.

In the true spirit of adult education, the training programme was diverse and interactive. Morning peer-learning sessions on guidance, advocacy and project-writing allowed us to learn from each other, compare systems and best practice, and identify points and similarities in our work. An emphasis on inclusion of underrepresented groups and growing the status of adult education in our respective countries was shared by all participants.

These group sessions were followed in the afternoons by study visits, conferences and a visit to the European Parliament where, in a particularly poignant moment, our Ukrainian colleague unfurled a Ukrainian flag to take a picture in front of the Parlimentarium building.

That adult learning is crucial for democracy and citizenship was made very real in that moment. This notion of adult education as crucial for the building of thriving, peaceful societies was also touched on in Dr. Kate Smyth’s blog on her trip to KVS Finland, where she discusses the concept of Bildung in Adult Learning. Colleagues from countries outside the European Union on the training, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Norway, spoke of shared values of democratic participation, empowerment and social and political progress in their ethos of adult education. Despite coming from all corners of the continent of Europe, our shared values and visions created a true sense of comradery (that, and our obligatory evening pilgrimages for Belgian beer and frites!)

It was fitting that during our week in Brussels, president of the European Commission Ursela Von Der Leyen announced, in the 2022 State of the Union, that 2023 would be “the European Year of Skills”. This declaration seemed to speak of an opportunity to put adult learning front and centre on the European map, meaning the work of the EAEA and the collaboration of adult education advocates and providers across Europe would be even more crucial.

In a closing Q&A session, EAEA General Secretary Gina Ebner spoke of the progress that has been made in raising the status of adult education in recent years, through European-wide initiatives like the European Skills Agenda and the European Agenda for Adult Learning. Judging by the enthusiasm of my fellow participants and the great work ongoing across Europe, I can agree that optimism seems the way forward!

To read more about AONTAS’ work at European level, click here

To read more about the National FET Learner Forum, click here