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 7: Flemish formal adult education: (g)rowing against the stream?

Ellen Boeren and Ides Nicaise


Flanders is an outlier in terms of the share of formal adult education in its overall provision of adult education. Recent legislation has indeed aimed to streamline and strengthen formal adult education, contrary to the trends in neighbour countries (the Netherlands in particular) where governments have deregulated the sector and dismantled large public institutions (Doets et al. 2008). The Flemish approach also seems to ignore Gibbons’s (1994) statement about the growing importance of contextualized, non-formal and informal learning in the knowledge-based society. It is worth examining the rationale underpinning this atypical policy. Should it be attributed to old-fashioned views of the role of the state in the education sector? Or is this a voluntary strategy with the aim of boosting participation, especially among socially disadvantaged groups? Our hypothesis is threefold. Firstly, not all forms of formal adult education can be substituted with non-formal learning – as the second-chance and social upgrading functions in particular involve long pathways along a ladder structure. Secondly, the Department of Education sees catering for ‘life-wide’ learning (languages, arts, hobbies, etc.), as opposed to lifelong learning for employability, as one of its missions. Thirdly, formal education, which is the main policy instrument of the government, aims to redistribute opportunities to lower-educated groups.

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