On 22 October 2015, several European officials and key players in education and adult learning met in Luxembourg for a conference entitled 'Family Learning – Best Practices Across Europe'. Organised by the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU, this conference is part of the implementation of the European Agenda for Adult Learning and the Education and Training 2020 strategic framework. The participants discussed policies and 'best practices' of family learning activities in different EU Member States. The goal of family learning activities is to allow parents to accompany children and adolescents in their learning while reacquainting themselves with education and training.
In his introductory speech, Luxembourg's Secretary of State for National Education, Children and Young People, Marc Hansen, stressed the crucial role of parents and family in the education and training of their children.
'Breaking the vicious cycle of intergenerational transmission of poor literacy and academic failure'
'In Luxembourg, as in many other European countries, there is a vicious cycle of intergenerational transmission of poor literacy and academic failure that must be broken down', Marc Hansen declared by way of introduction. To break this cycle, he stressed the need for an integrated approach, a lifelong learning perspective, and above all, the development of a culture of learning within families.
(As a reminder: according to the OECD definition, literacy is 'the ability to understand, use and reflect on written texts in order to achieve one's goals, to develop one's knowledge and potential, and to participate effectively in society.' ed.)
'This need was also confirmed by the findings of two European conferences under our Presidency', said Mark Hansen. He referred to the ESL conference, which underlined the need to involve parents in the prevention of academic failure, and the conference on diversity and multilingualism in early childhood education and care, where it was held that the promotion of multilingualism requires the participation of parents as primary educators of children.
'All this allows you to understand why Luxembourg has put Family Learning at the forefront of the implementation of the European Agenda for Adult Learning in Luxembourg (which defines the priorities for European cooperation on education and adult learning policies for 2012-2020, ed.)', said Marc Hansen.
For Marc Hansen, implementation of Family Learning involves adopting a lifelong learning perspective and mobilising all forms of formal, non-formal and informal learning. It involves talking to children, adolescents and their families in order to promote intergenerational learning, mobilising all key players in education such as early childhood care facilities, basic education, secondary education and adult learning.
In his opinion, this approach fits in with the goals of the Europe 2020 European education policy, the 'Education and Training' 2020 strategic framework, and the European Agenda for Adult Learning'.
In terms of implementation in Luxembourg, Marc Hansen explained that the open method of coordination and the adult learning project in the context of the implementation of the Adult Learning Agenda have allowed the country 'to define an interinstitutional approach to Family Learning which meets the specific needs of multilingual Luxembourg, and to develop concepts and training tools applicable in childcare facilities, schools, high schools and adult learning'. They also allowed for a rapid response to the specific needs which have arisen with the arrival of refugees, he said.
Martina Ni-Cheallaigh stresses the importance of mutual learning and exchange of best practices between States as part of the open method of coordination
Martina Ni-Cheallaigh of the European Commission's DG for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, stated that in the EU, 60 million people lacked the skills needed in our society. According to her this is all the more dramatic because social inequalities tend to be reproduced. 'The gaps between educated families and less educated families show that significant learning takes place within families', she highlighted.
Martina Ni-Cheallaigh then explained that the EU does not have a policy as such in terms of family learning.
Family learning is nevertheless important in achieving the new priorities recently proposed by the Commission for the 'Education and Training 2020' strategic framework, which will be adopted in November by the 'Education, Youth, Culture and Sport' Council.
Finally, the speaker stressed the importance of mutual learning and the exchange of best practices between States in the field of family learning. 'This field lies within the open method of coordination: States are responsible for their own education system', she explained, adding that the Commission can nevertheless support their exchange of best practices and mutual learning.
Breaking down the artificial barriers between formal, non-formal and informal learning
Ulrike Hanemann, of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, also stressed the importance of promoting family learning and intergenerational educational approaches. According to her, this form of learning takes into account the learning that takes place outside of school and 'breaks down the artificial barriers between formal, non-formal and informal learning'. It has the advantage of simultaneously developing the literacy of parents and children, and serves primarily to prevent academic failure.
In terms of the 17 new sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN Member States at the Summit on Sustainable Development on 25 September 2015, Ulrike Hanemann explained that family learning not only fits in with the goal on education, but also with other goals, for example the fight against poverty, which is about breaking the vicious cycle between low educational attainment and poverty.
'There is no universal family learning model – we encourage countries to develop their own model adapted to their specific circumstances', the speaker continued. 'The programmes vary according to the institutional framework that is implemented and the pedagogical models that are applied. Some programmes focus on children, some on adults, while some focus on both at the same time. Some take place at children's homes, others in schools, in libraries, in the workplace, in sports facilities, and even in prisons,' she said.
Ulrike Hanemann then drew attention to the fact that most learning programmes are run by NGOs, so according to her, a funding problem exists in many countries.
In terms of their practical implementation, these are mostly done at the pre-school and school level, and in community centres. Children and parents are given separate learning sessions, and in the second phase, they carry out a joint activity, such as reading a book, visiting museums or libraries, etc. These activities also serve to strengthen the relationship between parents and children, and above all, to 'take into account the emotional component which is very important in learning'.
Finally, Ulrike Hanemann mentioned the common challenges of 'countries of the North' and 'of the South' regarding school-based learning: for example, the fact that the programmes often use a 'deficit' approach instead of relying on existing strengths and mobilising the educational potential of parents and other family members; the need to raise awareness among parents with a low level of education as far as the education of their children and their own education is concerned; the fact that schools often work in isolation, without creating links with the children's community; or the fact that governments often promote uniform solutions without taking into account the diversity of needs, target groups and contexts.