“Investment in education and inclusion through education”. So begins the Education & Training Monitor 2015, DG EAC’s annual round up of education and training across the EU that measures member state’s progress in the framework of ET2020 priorities and the broader Europe 2020 strategy.
In many areas of traditional education there has been progress. For example, in Latvia the number of early school leavers has sharply reduced. In Ireland basic skills proficiency has improved, and tertiary education attainment in Romania has increased consistently in the recent years. However, the EU is lagging behind on progress in adult learning. Given the potential benefits associated with increased participation in adult learning, member states agreed on a target of 15% of 25-64 year olds participating in adult learning by 2020. There has only been limited progress over the past few years; the actual figure stands at 10.7%, with only 6 member states above the 15% target.
Social inclusion and the basic skills gap
“As the OECD Survey of Adult Skills shows, one in four adults in Europe is caught in a low skills trap - one that limits access to the labour market while simultaneously closing avenues to further education or training” it says on page 77 of the Monitor.
With one in four adults lacking basic numeracy and literacy skills, the low skills trap is still a barrier to employment and further education and training. The cycle of low skills and unemployment can be seen across the EU, and the skills gap is often the sharpest amongst vulnerable groups.
Public libraries are uniquely placed as a 'third space' for learning next to home and work/school. With a presence in every community, free from the stigma of formal education institutions and often without strict requirements for membership, public libraries engage hard-to-reach groups (such as the elderly, economically disadvantaged and the unemployed) in learning activities where other educational establishments cannot. Indeed, 24 million people participate in a non-formal learning activity in their library each year.
One of the clearest messages of the Education & Training Monitor 2015 is the need to 're-think adult education policy' in Europe. As such, we were pleased to see references to concrete policy recommendations (p80) including:
- funding learning for the disadvantaged and difficult-to-engage groups, including the inactive and the unemployed - such funding proved to be effective in developing human capital;
- providing schemes to recognise prior learning (informal and non-formal);
- engaging social partners in the planning, promotion and recruitment for adult learning.
Have a look at the video below where Ron Redmond, a retired truck driver, shares his story with us from the Ballyroan Public Library in Dublin, Ireland. He only learned to read and write properly at age 19 and says that learning how to use the computer gave him the same feeling.
Boosting jobs and growth through digital inclusion
“Skills and qualifications do not remain relevant forever…upskilling and reskilling will be needed to make sure that the skills of the working-age population do not lose touch with a changing labour market.” (p10)
The Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) shows us we have a way to go when it comes to getting everyone in Europe upskilled for the digital world. It is estimated that in the near future up to 90% of all jobs will require some level of digital skills. In countries such as Poland, the Education & Training Monitor 2015 highlights that low levels of adults participating in learning has resulted in particularly poor ICT-capacities.
Public libraries have been expanding their role in local communities enormously over recent decades, providing millions with the means to acces the Internet for the first time in their lives. 4.6 million Europeans per year access the internet for the first time in a public library. And of the 14 million adults in the EU who used a computer to access the internet at a public library in 2013, 4 million did so to support job-related activities – with a quarter of a million jobs secured jobs this way. The vast majority of public libraries offer free Wi-Fi, public access to computers and librarians trained to orientate users to the right information. Many libraries introduce the latest technologies and training for how to work with it. This can be a lifeline for people who do not have internet access at home, allowing them to reconnect digitally, upskill, and apply for jobs online.
Agnieszka Tracz, one of the librarians at the Oświęcim Public Library in Poland, tells us in this video below how the library’s new digital training programme grew from two pilot groups to over 150 participants.
This year’s edition of the Education & Training Monitor shows there is a lot of work left to be done: from putting a stop to the consistent diminishing of education budgets to creating the right indicators for success, but especially in driving progress in the field of adult learning in order to hit the 15% target in all member states by 2020.
Public libraries are already providing so many opportunities for adult learning. From non-formal courses in ICT or languages, to informal upskilling through reading and access to the internet, libraries have an important role to play. However, in the absence of a reference to public libraries in this year’s Monitor, their contribution to adult learning is not being captured. Including data on non-formal adult learning activities taking place in libraries would allow a proper benchmarking of how this type of education is helping to meet the EU’s priorities on jobs and growth. It is in the interest of all – library stakeholders and EU policy makers – to recognise how libraries’ educational activities are combatting marginalisation, reducing unemployment, improving livelihoods and boosting inclusive growth in the EU.