Employment is promoted as life expectancy increases across Europe and pension ages are rising.
There is a difference between the northern and the southern part of Europe with regard to participation of older in the labour market, the people in the Nordic countries work longer. But there are many that fear that they will not be able to stay in their current jobs until they can retire on a decent pension. Making a transition to a second carrier involves education.
The challenge for Lifelong learning systems in Europe is twofold
With regards to the demographic change and its impact on education systems in Europe, the Member States can no longer afford to be without an efficient adult learning sector, integrated into their lifelong learning strategies, providing participants with increased labour market access, better social integration and preparing them for active ageing. The overall challenge for lifelong learning systems in the Member States is two-fold: to increase the overall volume of participation in adult learning, and to address the imbalances in participation in order to achieve more equitable outcomes. This means motivating, encouraging, enabling and supporting the adults least likely to participate in learning in all its modes, formal, non-formal and informal. This requires targeted public investment to reach those who have been least well served by education and training systems in the past. And from statistics we know that the group which is particularly vulnerable are older people.
A correlation between participation in LLL and work among older
Since 2005 there has been a downward trend in adult participation in lifelong learning. There are, of course, strong differences between countries, with the Nordic countries showing the highest participation rates and South-Eastern European countries the lowest but the general trend is that the participation declines with age. What is interesting to note is that countries with a high overall lifelong learning participation rate tend to also have high participation rates for older workers (55-64). So if we need people to stay longer on the labour market the first step is to motivate people and lift the barriers to participation of older people in learning and training. While post-initial education and training needs an increasing amount of attention, it is not enough to focus only on this level if lifelong learning participation is to be effectively enhanced. Lifelong learning systems should provide people with flexible learning opportunities throughout their lifetime, interlinking learning in formal settings with skills and competences acquired at the workplace and in civil society (i.e. ‘life-wide’ learning).This can be done by improving the quality of information and by exploiting the learning potential of places like community centres, sports clubs, cultural institutions, as well as of institutions of initial education and training. This also includes developing high-quality guidance and information systems, based on a more learner-centred approach, as well as targeted financial incentives to individuals and support for the establishment of local partnerships.
Enhance learning opportunities for older
The 2012 Joint Report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of the Strategic Framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) emphasised the slow progress towards the establishment and implementation of lifelong learning strategies. It concluded that obstacles to LLL persist, such as limited learning opportunities inadequately tailored to the needs of different target groups; a lack of accessible information and support systems; and insufficiently flexible learning pathways. One of the priority areas for European cooperation in education and training in 2012-14 is enhancing learning opportunities for older adults and intergenerational learning. The coming period will therefore be critical to adapting the LLL systems to respond to the challenges of the demographic changes and to ensure that they are aimed at sustainably equipping the entire population, including the older cohorts with competences and opportunities for self-directed learning throughout life.
Dana Bachmann is Head of the Adult Education; Grundtvig unit at DG EAC. She is responsible for adult learning policy and for the implementation of the Grundtvig strand of the Lifelong Learning Programme. From 2008 to 2011 she worked at the European Court of Human Rights and previously she managed diverse projects in the field of environmental law in Central and Eastern Europe.
Tapio Säävälä has been working in the field of education since 1985. He started his career as a Special Needs Education Teacher, and worked as a School Headmaster and as a Senior Adviser in the National Board of Education in Finland. He joined the European Commission in 2002 to work on lifelong learning policies and key competences in particular. In 2006-2011 he worked on school education policies focusing on curriculum development. Currently, he is Deputy Head of Unit responsible for adult education policies and the Grundtvig programme.