Adult learning key pillar for development in Poltava region, Ukraine

“We are facing difficult times. We are at war and yet trying to rebuild our country. We need to broaden the services of training institutions, universities etc to keep abreast of the changes in the world around us. When the war is over war veterans will need education and training at many levels.

The legislature of Ukraine needs to make sure that salaries of teachers, researchers etc. offer sufficient incentive to stay here. As a future member of the European Union, qualifications are crucial for us to integrate, compete and welcome those who wish to return or move here.

As a key pillar in our efforts we will work to make sure that the draft law on adult education will get through Parliament."

Such were the words of Olexii Ustenko, member of the Ukrainian parliament (deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine) in his address to participants at the Roundtable on Lifelong learning organised by the Poltava municipality, the Association of Adult Education, and the Poltava University of Economy and Trade (PUET), who gathered in Ukraine on Wednesday, 15 November.

Public authorities, education and training professionals, civil society, and employer representatives were joined by representatives of other European adult education and learning institutions from Germany and Sweden, and the ETF to discuss ways to improve lifelong learning as a pillar of the regions’ development currently and for the post-war period.

The physical meeting was pre-fixed by security announcements on where to take shelter in the case of shelling which also served inadvertently to contextualise the topic of the meeting to an environment in which all those concerned are affected either directly or indirectly by the impact of aggression and war. Nevertheless, the atmosphere at the event was a lively one, full of discussion, enthusiasm and commitment to the future.

Why focus on lifelong learning?

“Why is lifelong learning chosen as the topic for today's event? Is it right to talk about this now during the war?” asked Levan Kvatchadze from DVV International.

“Without doubt. The example of successful countries that went through periods of crisis and began to recover and develop rapidly shows that, in order to achieve swift progress, along with reforms in the formal education system, great importance was given to building an adult education system and investing in it. Adulthood is the longest period of life, and adults are the largest group of people in society. So, rapid development requires investment not only in future generations (i.e. formal education), but also in adult education and training,” said Kvatchadze.

Indeed, the first speakers from the Poltava University of Economics and Trade, Pyvovarska Kseniia, Professor of Philosophy and Lecturer Trade, Shymanovska - Dianych Liudmyla, Head of the Department of Management, and Gnitiy Nadiia, Expert in nutritiology and adult education addressed the need for support to everyone in Ukraine so that they may overcome the experience of war, and particularly for veterans and their families.

The shared sentiment of all the speakers was that lifelong learning, and adult learning in particular, is fundamental to ensure reintegration into work and society and for it to succeed, at its core, efforts are needed to address mental health and well-being.

“Better cooperation between stakeholders, in particular learning providers and local authorities, is needed as well as redistribution of funding to integrate veterans in learning institutions for greater inclusion,” said Pyvovarska.

Identifying learner needs

For the development of entrepreneurship and self-employment Shymanovska called for more communication and networks between community groups, and representatives of businesses and the public sector as well as a better understanding of learners’ motivation for entrepreneurial activity including veterans.

“Strategies and upgrading of legislation must also be put in place,” she said, “ together with more formalised approaches within education and trained professional educators, coaches and mentors.”

A communication platform with vacancies and new training programmes with bonuses for self-employment was put forward as another way of helping.

Nadiia Gnitiy presented funding avenues such as international grants, local and oblast budget, and the aim to tap into other channels that include the Ukrainian diaspora, especially those who plan on returning after the war. 

“What is education and lifelong learning for adults?” asked Glazov Oleksandr, Advisor to the Head of the Poltava Regional Council on Participation and Youth Issues, replying that there is a need for social advertising and socialisation and the highlighting of good practice examples.

“We must encourage people to change and realise that adult education is normal. Some people have a negative attitude to learning at an older age which must be overcome,” he said.

Understanding labour market needs

Yuriy Matvienko, Vice-Rector of PUET, highlighted the diversity within Ukraine and its regions and that at the top level a whole layer of leaders and professionals has been lost as a result of the war. “Even needs must be identified at this level,” he said adding that public employment services need to improve monitoring and planning processes.

"Not all employers are ready to employ people with formal education,” added Matvienko.

Delia Oksana, Director of Poltava Cooperative College, reinforced the message about the lack of knowledge of the labour market and the training taking place. She spoke about the success of adult education providers within communities which mostly exist within hubs that include vocational education and training institutions. Online courses have been a key part of their outreach. Nevertheless, she criticised the absence of a mechanism for the development of adult education in communities due to the lack of legislation and strategy that would allow for greater understanding of labour force needs.

Bringing all stakeholders together

Nadiya Vlasenko, activist, and civil society representative cautioned against “adult education being narrowed down to guidance as it really needs to be broadened out and understood by all those concerned supported by public-private-civic partnerships.” E- Democracy is also needed to support the active citizens, she added.

In addition, Vlasenko and Alina Tkachenko, Director of the Institute of Day Education of PUET, drew attention to the absence of space and technical facilities for learning and that premises and education establishments need to have access for those with disabilities which includes many veterans. The ETF’s Siria Taurelli commended PUET for its choice of venue for the roundtable itself hosted in a local art museum, underscoring the importance of public spaces such as this for providing much needed civic spaces for learning.  

Tkachenko called for a communication strategy at state level because associations of adult education need to operate at local, regional and interregional levels to share information and products. Her point was supported by Taurelli who highlighted the need for commitment and engagement of local level authorities, companies, experts, teachers, social partners, and civil society for reconstruction of the human and social fabric of society particularly in the post-war era.

“The EU accession process will no doubt offer more concrete support,” she concluded.

Ukraine and the European Union

Taurelli’s presentation during the roundtable began by acknowledging education and training as a social right upheld within the European Pillar of Social Rights which is a basis of the European Skills Agenda. The latter has set ambitious learning objectives within the European Union whereby at least 50% of European Citizens should participate in a learning opportunity once per year by 2025 and 60% by 2030.

“Social fairness and equity should not be separate from economic competitiveness,” said Taurelli, continuing with an outline of the four building blocks of the European Skills Agenda which include: 1) a call for collective action bringing together multiple stakeholders e.g. government, business, social partners, civil society organisations as reflected in the EU’s Pact for skills; 2) skills for jobs; 3) tools for wider lifelong learning e.g. personal and life competences; and 4) unlocking investment.

Taurelli spoke of the importance of integrated actions that connect especially at local level to obtain an understanding of the diversity of needs. Innovation in teaching and learning is also needed to respond to them combined with quality assurance of all forms of learning formal, non-formal, and informal. 

“Governance to manage and plan all different actions and actors is essential with monitoring particularly at local level” said Taurelli.

Taurelli concluded her presentation with a call for joint forces to implement lifelong learning, the mobilisation of resources, and experimentation “building alliances, co-creation and accepting to take initiative and becoming more entrepreneurial even in the public sector.”

“More funding can be attracted at local level on top of national funding and this needs to be combined with innovation in terms of methods and the creation of new services and areas of work developing and refining professional skills to support adult learners,” she said.

Taurelli talked about 'experimentation' and how it is often more feasible at local level than at national level. "Making mistakes and failures must be an important part of finding out what is needed to get things right," she concluded.

When does adult learning start?

Some discussion occurred on the age at which adult learning starts during the presentations from the adult education centre in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, by Andrea Bernert Buerkle, and from the Boros municipality, Sweden, by Tina Lundell, respectively. There was a general agreement that it began after the age of 20 at a minimum and continued throughout life until senior years, with the moderator aptly concluding:

“Education for adults should hopefully disappear and instead be known as an open system for everyone. That would mean our mission has been accomplished.”

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