Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer isn’t only replacing Angela Merkel – she’s the president of the German adult education association

Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer has just been elected the incoming leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats. She’s an experienced politician who has served as prime minister of the Saarland, but she also has another claim to fame: since 2015, AKK (even Germans find her full name a bit of a mouthful) has been serving as president of the Deutscher Volkshochschul-Verband, Germany’s federal adult education association.

Image from the DVV website

The presidency is largely an honorific and symbolic position, but nonetheless an important one. As well as presiding over ceremonial events such as prize giving and awards, AKK has occasionally lent her voice to lobbying and campaigns. For instance, earlier this year used her standing to call on the federal government to offer better support to integration courses for refugees.

Overall, my impression is that she hasn’t been such a high profile personality as her predecessor, Rita Süssmuth (also from the CDU). I’m not sure what happens if and when AKK becomes the next federal Chancellor, though I imagine that at that stage she would have to resign from her role in DVV.

Still, it’s quite a coup to have Merkel’s successor as your president. There is a trade-off between getting too close to a particular serving politician and their party on the one hand, and ensuring that adult education visibly has the standing and recognition that it needs. Hopefully DVV will continue to attract support from senior policy makers, and get this balance right.

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Funding learning through training accounts: what French workers study

In 2015, the French government introduced an entitlement of up to 150 hours of free tuition with paid leave from work for all those active in the labour market. Workers had to select from a wide range of approved courses, all of which had to lead to the award of  a recognised qualification. The system has been tweaked since then, but the compte personnel de formation (CPF, personal training account) system now seems to have settled down.

cpf

The Ministère du Travail has now released the list of certificates taken most frequently by workers in 2017 using their CPF. The top five are:

  1. Test of English for International Communication
  2. BULATS Business Language Testing Service
  3. Certificat de connaissance et compétences professionelles, which largely assesses existing learning
  4. Passeport de compétences informatique Européen, known elsewhere as the European Computer Driving Licence
  5. TOSA, a test which allows you to assess your computing and digital skills

The first thing to say is that these are mainly tests or examinations. The routes by which people progress towards the certificates will vary enormously, but as the CPF gives you paid leave to learn, presumably they will involve attendance at courses of some kind.

Second, two topics stand out: the importance of language and computing are both very clear. Both can be understood as involving skills and knowledge that workers hope can help protect employment security at a time of globalisation and tech change. Of course, other topics also attract large numbers of participants: specialist driving certificates and a mandatory management qualification make it into the top ten.

So far, the CPF seems to have been free from the misuse that scuppered Individual Learning Accounts in England. Central regulation of approved qualifications clearly has some benefits. Looking at these topics, though, it seems very likely that the CPF is being used to fund training that would have taken place anyway, or is even producing more people with some qualifications than the labour market requires. Finally, I’m not clear how the CPF impacts on equity and inclusion; if it has positive effects in this domain, then that can be set in the balance as well.

Rachel Whiteread’s Nissen Hut – commemorating a 1930s work camp

Rachel Whiteread is one of Britain’s most ouststanding artists. I first encountered her work in the form of a plaster cast of some bookshelves, a theme she later explored for her Holocaust Memorial in the city of Vienna. I find her work haunting, thought-provoking, and inspiring, so I was thrilled to hear that the Forestry Commission had asked her to produce a WW1 memorial in Dalby Forest.

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Whiteread’s hut, from the 14-18 Now website

Whiteread’s memorial takes the form of a Nissen hut, which had been mass-produced for the services as a cheap and quick means of housing the fast-expanding number of recruits. You have to take a bit of a walk to reach it, but for most people a stroll through Dalby will be no great hardship. As you would hope and expect,the result is well worth the effort, and its pristine whiteness will darken as it experiences the wonders of Yorkshire weather.

The irony, though, is that Nissen huts came to Dalby well after the War ended. And when they came, their role was to house not soldiers but young unemployed men who were being ‘reconditioned’, to make them fit for heavy manual labour. Dalby was a work camp, or Instructional Centre, where the Ministry of Labour sent unemployed men to work clearing scrubland and rough pasture in readiness for afforestation.

The Forestry Commission came into being immediately after the Great War ended, and it started work at Dalby – or Allerston as it was originally known, after the village where officials stayed while inspecting the land. The Ministry of Labour approached the Commission in 1933, asking to open a camp on the site for unemployed young men from Whitby and Cleveland. The camp took its first inmates, who came from across Yorkshire, in early 1934, and it continued to run until war approached in 1939.

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A 1932 postcard, showing the layout of Dalby work camp

As the postcard shows, the 200 or so inmates were housed in Nissen Huts, each of which held 20 men. The camp also had a sports field, tennis ground, swimming pool, classrooms, sick bay and welfare hut which also served as library and cinema. It was remote, with a long tramp to the nearest piub; one visiting journalist complained that he had to open and close 14 gates on the country lanes to reach the camp.While the inmates were mostly too young to have served in the War, some of the staff had military exerience. After 1939 the huts housed prisoners of war.

Whiteread’s sculpture, as wall as being a fine piece of public art, also serves as an act of public history. Needless to say, if you want to know more about the wider work camp system of which Dalby formed a part, you should just read my book. But even if you don’t, let me encourage you to take a walk in a fine bit of forest.

Coercion and adult education: the case of Austrian asylum-seekers

Austria has many wonderful qualities and I’ve always enjoyed visiting and learning from it. But I’m not so comfortable with a recent announcement by the country’s Bundeskanzler Sebastian Kurz, who plans to link welfare benefits for asylum-seekers with their competence in German.

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Deutschkurs, from the website of Caritas Wien

To date, monthly social welfare payments for Austrians and asylum-seekers alike are a minimum of 863 Euros (£768/$983) for a single person. In future, asylum-seekers will receive 563 Euros (£501/$641) until they achieve B1 in German, though an exception will be made for those who can speak English to at least level C1 (see here for a full explanation of the language levels).

Previously, attendance at a language course was required only after a positive decision on asylum. I reckon at least a year is needed for someone from a different language tradition to achieve B1 in German, quite possibly longer. And that is assuming that (a) you are literate in your own language and (b) can find a course in the first place. Effectively this measure places asylum-seekers in a waiting room, where they will inevitably struggle to survive until they can leave a course with a nice neat certificate.

Bundeskanzler Kurz has justified the change with reference to the 2015 ‚refugee wave‘. This group was disproportionately composed of young adult men, and Kurz claims that a high proportion have preferred welfare to an apprenticeship. Even if there is something in his claim (if so, much of it is due to the slow rate at which asylum claims are being processed), the decision will also affect children, single parents and older asylum seekers.

The new requirement is also being introduced at a time when support for language courses has been cut. In the last year Austria recognised 22,000 asylum seekers; yet there are only 7,000 places available. And when the Catholic adult education provider in Steiermark offered its own courses, it was roundly attacked by Kurz’s coalition partner, the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs.

This is among a number of migration-related measures introduced by the government, which is a ‘blue-black’ coalition of Kurz’s conservative Österreichische Volkspartei with the right-populist Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs. Remarkably, some of these measures have been directed against migrants from elsewhere in the EU (but not, significantly, against migrants from Switzerland).

Times have clearly changed in the Alpine paradise since I posted a rather positive and optimistic analysis of Austria’s adult education partnership and its achievement. The  coalition’s decision seems to me wrong in principle and likely to backfire in practice. Meanwhle, I have great sympathy for those adult language teachers who will be faced with the practical consequences, and with those migrants who no doubt will be roundly denounced for failing to integrate.

A Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act for the USA?

New Picture

Learning and training accounts continue to attract attention from policy makers interested in widening participation in adult learning. A wide variety of voucher and credit schemes have now been trialled, from the UK’s Individual Learning Accounts through France’s Compte personnel de formation to Singapore’s SkillsFuture Credit. All have in common the idea of incentivising learners through financial support rather than funding providers (though obviously the two are not mutually exclusive.

Now comes the USA’s turn. Following the Democrats’ success in the mid-term elections, two members of Congress have announced their intention to introduce a Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act. If passed, the law will enable States and public agencies to create systems of employee-owned accounts to help meet the costs of participation in training.

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Mark Warner (Democrat, VA), one of the two member of Congress who sponsored the Act

Eligibility is restricted: those who are entitled to an account must be workers aged 25 to 60, with incomes of up to $82,000. The accounts themselves are to be paid for by a combination of employers and workers together with matched federal funding of up to $1,000; and the sum is to be exempt from taxation. It can be only spent on training costs, not including food or accommodation.

There are also restrictions on the type of training that is eligible. The training must meet certain criteria; the intended outcome must include a recognised post-secondary credential , and the provider must belong to a number of specified categories (including community colleges, industry associations, and labour organisations).

This is a potentially interesting development, and I look forward to seeing how it develops. I don’t know enough about US politics to guage its chances of success, but it chimes with at least one Trump goal, which is to boost the employability and skills of US workers. It is not, though, confined to funding work-related training, and it is focused on the lowest-paid, so it could be quite significant in widening participation in types of learning that workers can choose for themselves.

If it comes off, the Act will add to our understanding of credit and voucher systems in adult learning. So watch this space.

Adult education goes to Hollywood

nightschool

Recently my Sunday newspaper reviewed Night School, a comedy with a touch of romance set in Atlanta. It’s plot centres on a high school dropout who for linked reasons of career and the heart returns as an adult to study for his General Education Development (GED) Certificate.

In spite of its highly-regarded cast and an established director, the film isn’t likely to win an Oscar or become a cult classic. The movie website Rotten Tomatoes summarised it as a ‘disappointingly scattershot comedy’ while the New York Times found it a ragged comedy’ and the London Times attacked its ‘long out-dated streak of sexism’.

Much as I love films, I’ve not seen it and have no plans to. But I certainly think it is an interesting phenomenon and would love to know how audiences respond to its setting, as well as to its fundamental belief that a motley group of mid-life American oddballs will see adult education as the solution to their problems.

With few exceptions, it’s unusual for adult education to feature as a central plot device in a mainstream movie, let alone one that is currently playing at my local Odeon and Vue theatres. As Emily Yoshida wrote in her review, this makes the film stand out all the more, by portraying

A group of working class Americans optimistic enough to believe that a high school diploma might be the key to turning their lives around, no matter how far into them they are.

Whether this good-hearted intention is enough to rescue the film from its frailties is a matter of opinion. I’ll watch it if and when it turns up on tv, terrestrial or streamed, but until then even the hook of a (black ) Hollywood take on adult education won’t part me from my money.

More interesting for me is the way in which the filmmakers make assumptions about audience understandings of adult education; and the possible impact of the film on audiences’ attitudes towards adult education. Meanwhile, you can watch the trailer here.

Yet more gongs for leaders in lifelong learning

Every time I publish a post on adult educators and the honours system, generous readers point out the names I managed to miss. Here is the latest crop:

Mary Stuart, vice chancellor of the University of Lincoln

Maggie Dawson, former chief executive of the WEA Cymru, following a long career in adult education in South Wales, has an OBE

Stella Hardy, active as a voluntary officer in the WEA South Eastern District and a member of the Advisory Council on Adult & Continuing Education, received an MBE in 1980.

Rob Humphreys, recently retired as Director of the Open University in Wales where he moved after heading up Dysgu/NIACE Wales following a career in adult education at Swansea University, has a CBE.

Ruth Spellman, who became chief executive of the WEA in 2012, was awarded an OBE in 2007 for services to workplace learning

Mary Stuart, Vice Chancellor at Lincoln University, who formerly worked in the Centre for Continuing Education at Sussex University, was recently awarded a CBE.

in addition, a number of national directors of the OU have been honoured (including Peter Syme in Scotland and Rosemary Hamilton in Northern Ireland) as well as Will Swann, the OU’s director of students.