Lifelong Learning in Europe
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Lifelong Learning in Europe

National Patterns and Challenges

Edited by Ellu Saar, Odd Bjørn Ure and John Holford

Combining qualitative and quantitative methods in a wide-ranging international comparative study, the book explores how far the EUs lifelong learning agenda has been successful and what factors have limited its ability to reshape national adult and lifelong learning systems. The chapters also look at adults’ participation in formal education, what they see as the obstacles to taking part, and the nature of their demand for learning opportunities.
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Chapter 3: Seven types of formal adult education and their organizational fields: towards a comparative framework

Günter Hefler and Jörg Markowitsch


Within research and policy analysis on lifelong learning (LLL), formal adult education pursues a double life. While the concept of formal adult education remains a poorly understood oxymoron, it has become firmly established as a category within statistics on lifelong learning. However, difficulties immediately arise with the interpretation of statistical data. What do we actually know, when according to the Adult Education Survey (2005–2007) participation in formal adult education is ‘high’ in the United Kingdom (UK) (15 per cent), ‘moderate’ in Austria and Estonia (4 per cent) and ‘low’ in Bulgaria and Hungary (2 per cent)? In English, ‘formal education’ is typically used as a synonym for ‘initial education’ (UNESCO 1979; 1997, p. 47). When childhood and, much later, adolescence were constructed within European societies (Aries 1962; Kamens 1985), being in school became the defining criteria for childhood and youth, and adulthood began with the end of initial education. Adults returning to ‘school’ literally lose their adult status, becoming ‘students among students’. Against this background, early twentieth-century ‘liberal’ adult education could define itself in clear opposition to initial, formal (and vocational) education: the modern nation-state, having gained control and systematized education late in the nineteenth century (Ringer 1979; Müller et al. 1987), was not prepared to weaken its power to classify citizens by allowing new parties to provide educational credentials (Meyer and Rowan 1978; Ramirez and Rubinson 1979).

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