What is new about Germany’s national strategy for continuing education?

Well, the first thing that is new is the fact that it exists at all. Under the German federal constitution, responsibility for education lies with the individual states (Länder) and the federal government (Bund) is cast in a largely supporting role. The new strategy is the first of its kind, jointly produced by the Bund, the Länder, employers, and labour unions.

“Sharing knowledge, shaping the future, growing together: National Strategy for Continuing Education”

The rationale offered for this spirit of cooperation is digitisation. One much-cited study claims that a quarter of German employees work in occupations at high risk of replacement through the new technologies, and that report is duly mentioned in the new strategy.  The focus here is on workplace skills as a means of tackling the challenges of digitisation for individuals and enterprises alike, with a particular focus on small and medium sized firms and on the least skilled workers.

The strategy sets out ten ‘action goals’, and commits the partners (federal ministries for education and labour, Länder, employers, unions) to putting them into practice. These goals are:

  1. Supporting the transparency of continuing education possibilities and provision.
  2. Closing gaps in support , putting new incentives in place, adjusting existing support systems.
  3. Strengthening comprehensive lifelong educational advice and skills guidance, especially in SMEs.
  4. Strengthening the responsibility of the social partners.
  5. Testing and strengthening the quality and quality evaluation of continuing education provision.
  6. Making visible and recognising workers’ prior skills in vocational education.
  7. Developing continuing education provision and certification.
  8. Strategic development of educational institutions as skill centres for vocational continuing education.
  9. Strengthening continuing education staff and preparing them for digital change.
  10. Strengthening strategic foresight and optimising continuing education statistics.

if anyone wants more detail of these broad goals and their implementation, let me know.

Imp-lementation starts after the summer break. Responsibility for overseeing progress against these goals is being handed to a national committee of the partners, which is charged with producing a joint progress report in 2021. At the same time, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has been asked to produce a national report on continuing education in Germany.

Those who look for a broad and civic approach to lifelong learning will not find it in this strategy. Its focus is aimed entirely at change in continuing vocational education, with a view to reducing the rigidities of Germany’s skills system, and promoting greater labour flexibility flexibility in the face of tech change, and digitisation in particular. As a strategy for upskilling, though, it’s an enormously interesting development, and given Germany’s wider influence in Europe and beyond, it’s worth watching closely.

Germany’s National Strategy for Continuing Education

For the first time, Germany now has a national strategy framework for continuing education. In Germany’s federal system, responsibility for education policy lies with the Länder, who are understandably reluctant to cede ground to the federal government. To date, each Land has developed its own policies for adult learning and education, albeit in consultation with the other Länder as well as with other partners.

In this post, I am summarising the official press release announcing the new strategy. I’ll look at the strategy, and comment on it, next week. Meanwhile, I hope you find this outline useful.

Anja Kurbiczek, Federal Minister for Education and Research

The new federal strategy has been agreed, following protracted negotiations, between the federal education ministry, the Länder, trade unions, employers’ associations, and the federal labour agency. Decisive in creating the new consensus was the shared concern over Germany’s ability to seize the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and in rparticular to adapt to global developments in digitisation.

According to Anja Karliczek, the federal minister for education and research, the new conditions require a pervasive culture of continuing education. “Continuing education in one’s career must in future be part of everyday working life”. More specifically, the government plans to create a digital platform for vocational continuing education, improve the validation of informal learning, and raise significantly the state loans for learners.

The press release is available at https://www.bmbf.de/de/nationale-weiterbildungsstrategie-beschlossen—gemeinsam-fuer-eine-neue-8860.html

Brits in Europe – a new target group for adult education?

A friend sent me a link to a story from a local newspaper in Westphalia, just to the west of Bielefeld. Reporting on a speech by the leader of the local Volkshochschule (VHS, adult education centre), the headline reads: “Brexit drives Brits to the VHS – course fees becoming more expensive’.

VHS Ravensberg

Senior staff at VHS Ravensberg launch their Easter brochure (image from the Westfalen-Blatt)

Whatever the headline might make you think, the story desn’t seek to blame the Brits for raising course fees. Rather, it summarises Ravensberg VHS’s yearly report, which notes that the reduced numbers of asylum-seekers entering Germany have had an effect on demand for adult basic education, and encouraged the VHS to offer its integration courses in workplaces, so as to reach foreign workers.

In the process, Ravensberg VHS has discovered a new target group. “50 percent of the people who take the naturalization test with us, are currently British,” says VHS leader Hartmut Heinze. In Germany, the VHS are reponsible for administering both the test of citizenship knowledge and the language competence assessment, so I speculated that this growth in British candidates is similar elsewhere as people try to manage uncertainty.

As for the rise in tuition fees, that was a more or less logical consequence of the VHS orgnisers’ decision to raise payments to course leaders. Learners will now have to pay 2,40  per 45 minutes of class time instead of 1,90. That’s quite a hike, but still a lot cheaper than the typical course fee in the UK.

 

 

 

 

Financing adult learning in Germany: the changing balance between public and private

The Bertelsmann Foundation has published a report on the financing of continuing education in Germany between 1995 and 2015. The broad headline finding is that although the system has enjoyed rising overall levels of income, the balance between private and public funding has shifted steadily over that time.

“The state withdraws from adult learning”: changes in public funding by sector, 1995-2015

The report begins with a brief history of adult learning since 1945, in order to illustrate the new significance of adult learning in the contemporary knowledge society. They then propose that participation in adult learning is a prerogative of those who are profiting from modernisation and the knowledge society. At the same time, the costs of learning increasingly fall on the individual or their employer; and participation is seen as a virtue which then legitimates the rewards enjoyed by the successful.

The authors’ evidence for this broad social trend is not all new, but the report does provide a new analysis of funding data. This is no easy task; estimating public spending alone involves adding together figures from different sources (federal government, Länder, Gemeinde/communes) concerning learning support of different types, from local funding for adult education centres to loans and grants for training master craftsmen (apologies for the gendered language, but it’s in the original).

The report confirms that the lion’s share of public education funding is allocated to schools, followed at some distance by higher education. Interestingly for a Brit, the initial vocational training system receives slightly less funding than adult learning (€21.8bn in 2015 as against €26.9bn). Note, though, that the adult learning figures include continuing vocational training.

When it comes to the balance between public and private funding, the sectors are very clearly differentiated. Adult learning in 2015 was 77% funded from private sources, compared with 43% for vocational training and 18% for higher education. Moreover, only in adult learning has public funding fallen since 1995, by 43%, though it has been more than replaced by funding from individuals and their employers.

The share of public and private funding, 2012: outer circle = public funding, inner circle = private sources

The authors remark on the contrast between public policy announcements on the increasing necessity of learning through life with the reduced public funding for adult learning. A broader and more inclusive approach to lifelong learning, which does not simply meet the immediate short term needs of the enterprise or individual career, requires both an increase and a rebalancing of public funding.

Germany has a relatively generous approach to adult learning, which remains stronger and better funding than in most European countries. Yet it too seems to be experiencing trends that are socially damaging and economically at odds with its policies around the fourth industrial revolution. The Bertelsmann report is a helpful intervention which will inform policy debate and has already attracted press attention but the significance of its analysis goes well beyond the case of Germany.

Finally, a brief note on language. The authors say in a footnote that they use the words Erwachsenenbildung (adult education) and Weiterbildung (continuing or further education) interchangeably. Some German colleagues would probably challenge the idea that these are synonyms, but that’s another issue.

The report is available at: https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/fileadmin/files/BSt/Publikationen/GrauePublikationen/LL_Hintergrundstudie_Weiterbildungsfinanzierung1995-2015.pdf

Germany’s Volkshochschulen are celebrating their centenary – but who are they?

1919 was the first year of the Weimar Republic, and of course the year in which Germany concluded a peace deal with the Allies. It also witnessed the foundation of many Volkshochschulen, a term which literally translates as People’s High Schools (or universities) but is usually understood to mean adult education centres.

The VHS in Cologne

The VHS are widespread across Germany; the total number in 2017 stood at 895, but most of these will have several centres in their local area. The vast majority are part of the local government system, with the Gemeinde and Kreisen (urban councils and rural districts) playing the dominant role. Overall political responsibility for education, including adult education, lies constitutionally with the Land, with the federal government playing an important supporting part.

Adult basic education, including literacy courses and refugee integration programmes, are an important component of the typical VHS offer. Languages remain the largest programme area (Hamburg’s VHS even offers courses in Plattdeutsch, which I usually think of as a dialect, but some argue is a language). Beyond that the range would be very familiar in most Northern European countries, from local history or adult work skills through ICT to creative writing.

As elsewhere the majority of learners are women (around three-quarters nation-wide). Most fall within the 35-64 age group. My personal impression is that both patterns may have changed slightly since 2015, as the vast majority of the refugees taking integration courses are young men.

Annually the VHS are said to cost around 1.35 billion euros a year. Around 198,000 people are employed in the sector, 95% of whom are on part-time or casual contracts.

Figures from https://www.hr-inforadio.de/programm/das-thema/100-jahre-vhs-fuenf-dinge-die-sie-noch-nicht-wussten,volkshochschulen_fakten-100.html

Adult learning as embarrassment: more adult learning in crime fiction

I’ve polished off another German crime novel, which I bought in the Oxfam shop in Bonn. It features a middle aged male detective, Adalbert Kluftinger, who is rather set in his ways, and lives in the picturesque but socially conservative southern region known as the Allgäu. And as in so many German Krimis, up pops adult education. Twice.

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The Allgäu town of Kempten, image licensed under Creative Commons

On the first occasion, Kluftinger heads to the local university for applied science to interview a witness, who happens to be lecturing at the time. After getting lost on the campus, Kluftinger walks through a door into the lecture hall, where everyone assumes that he is a pensioner who has come along out of interest. Far too embarrassed to explain otherwise, he waits until the lecture is over.

This episode assumes that the reader knows of the German practice of Seniorenstudium, under which for a small fee, older adults may attend courses as ‘Gasthörer‘, or ‘guest listeners’. In Kempten, as in my old haunt of Cologne, the fee is €100 (or up to €300 per semester depending on the number of courses taken), and the university doesn’t separate older adults from others who register (online) as Gasthörer. But in practice, most such associate students are older adults, and the scheme is a popular one.

The second occasion involves a dancing class. Frau Kluftinger, a dance lover, has enrolled herself and her husband for the course, which inevitably involves him in humiliation at the hands of the tutors. I’d like to think that most adult teachers don’t enjoy humiliating their weaker learners, and the novel turns the tutors – an ultra-camp German male and an Italian woman whose grasp of German grammar is weaker than mine – into parodies. it isn’t clear in the novel who the course provider is.

The novel is called Laienspiel, which I understand as roughly equivalent to ‘Amateur Dramatics’, and the plot involves wicked goings on around a community performance of Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell. It’s a novel with a lot of humour, and it exploits adult education in order to emphasise the awkwardness and discomfort Kluftinger feels with the unknown, uncertain, and unpredictable. And it’s another example of the way in which adult education serves so often in German krimis as an unremarkable backdrop to dramatic events.

I wonder, though, whether we have underestimated the importance of embarrassment in adult learning. Or rather, in deterring some people from taking a formal course, with the risk that others will judge you for needing to ‘return to school’, or that you will show yourself up in some way by making mistakes in front of people who seem more confident and competent than you. Perhaps this is one more reason why remote forms of learning, where no one sees you fail, attract some people ?

Integration courses in German adult education: who participates?

German adult education provides relatively generous (compared with other European nations) opportunities for migrants wanting to develop their language skills and integration prospects. A 2018 study, called Who Visits the Integration Courses?, reports on a survey of participants. While many are migrants of all kinds, the courses increasingly include those who have come to Germany as refugees.

The survey covered 606 participants, equally divided between those from the previously dominant participant groups (EU migrants, migrant workers, existing migrants’ families) and refugees. The sample were following 42 different courses spread across five different states.

  • The majority of refugee participants were male (80%) with an average age of 30. The non-refugee group were slightly older, and a majority (56%) were female
  • The refugees came from 19 different countries, with 71% from Syria, while the non-refugee migrants were largely from central and south-eastern Europe
  • A quarter of refugee participants and a sixth of the other migrants had spent less than ten years at school
  • A high proportion of the refugees were Arabic speakers, followed by those who spoke both Arabic and Kurdish
  • Three quarters of the refugee participants had some competence in English, and a quarter in French, as foreign languages; the non-refugee migrants showed a broadly similar foreign language profile, though with a slightly larger number clsiming some prior knowledge of German
  • Both groups of participants made considerable use of digital translation services, with Google Translate predominating

While the refugee group shows considerable diversity, and thus a range of different needs, the authors identify a clear sub-group of disadvantaged learners, who have relatively short schooling, limited occupational experience, and little foreign language competence. This group is mainly male (70%) and from the near/middle East, followed by participants from central/south-eastern Europe.