Active ageing and the EU Grundtvig Programme

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1 International Journal of Education and Ageing Vol. 1, No. 1, 87-92, June 2010 The Association for Education & Ageing Active ageing and the EU Grundtvig Programme Anne-Sophie Parent, AGE Platform Europe, Brussels, Belgium Abstract Promoting active ageing is a key priority in the European Union for demographic and economic reasons. Over the last 10 years, the Grundtvig programme has supported many projects aimed at promoting active ageing and better cooperation between generations. It now needs to do more - especially for older people facing particular barriers to learning such as women, informal carers, people with low education and low income and others. Therefore, experience of the Grundtvig programme should be drawn upon to identify solutions to barriers to learning and to make adult learning opportunities more attractive and better adapted to older people. Information on Grundtvig initiatives must be disseminated to assist educational providers to respond more effectively to challenges posed for many older people by financial constraints, social exclusion, lack of basic skills, digital illiteracy and discrimination. Projects concerned with older volunteering and intergenerational solidarity will be particularly significant. The EU Grundtvig Programme and the ageing European society In today s context of demographic ageing and recession, promoting active ageing has become a key priority in the European Union. In July 2009, the European Commission launched a consultation to explore the possibility of having the year 2012 declared as the European Year on Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity. AGE Platform Europe is involved in a coalition of non-governmental organisations which are running a joint campaign to turn the possibility into a commitment. The Spanish Presidency organised a conference on Active and Healthy Ageing to mark the 2 nd European Day of Solidarity and Cooperation between Generations on 29 April It is clear that the concept of active ageing is now being considered as a means of ensuring greater and fairer solidarity between generations. This vision is shared and promoted by AGE Platform Europe members who consider themselves to be part of Youth on the Move, the new comprehensive education initiative recently launched by EU President Barroso as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

2 88 International Journal of Education and Ageing The objective of the EU Grundtvig-Socrates Action 3 (Adult Education and other educational pathways) Programme is to improve the quality and European dimension of adult education in the broadest sense, and to help make lifelong learning opportunities more widely available to Europe s citizens. Over the last 10 years, the Grundtvig programme has supported many projects aimed at promoting active ageing and, more recently, better cooperation between generations. However, it needs to do more and to respond systematically to what we know about the ageing society. We can celebrate the fact that life expectancy is increasing but, at the same time, need to be aware that the dependency ratio is increasing and that the number of Healthy Life Years is not improving in step with the increase in life expectancy. This means that people can expect to live longer but many of them will be in poor health and dependent on others for daily activities. At the launch of the 2010 EU Year against Poverty and Social Exclusion, Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero and EU President Barroso both stressed that, as with children and young people, older people are at higher risk of social exclusion and poverty. The Grundtvig programme needs to consider what can be done to help not only the well educated, healthy and wealthy seniors but everyone aged 50 and over to remain more actively involved in their community and adopt healthier lifestyles. Access to continuing education and training is key for everyone including the over 50s. Special attention will need be paid to those facing barriers to learning: women, informal carers, people with low education and low income, people living in rural areas, older migrants and others. Therefore, we should draw on our experience of the past 10 years of the Grundtvig programme to identify solutions that have proved useful in overcoming those barriers to learning and in helping to make adult learning opportunities more attractive to older people and better adapted to their needs. It is important also to disseminate information on the Grundtvig initiatives which have contributed to improving the capacity of educational and training providers to respond more effectively to the very diverse and evolving needs of older people and the challenges to many of them posed by financial constraints, social exclusion, lack of basic skills, digital illiteracy and discrimination. Grundtvig projects have shown that older people can face age-based discrimination at every point of the system - in access to education, funding for lifelong learning, conditions of study and notably in job-related training. When people aged over 50, or in some cases even in the late 40s, are excluded from job-related training, this can be seen to have a direct effect on the individual who loses career opportunities. It also affects society at large which loses access to part of its human capital. What should the European Union do to develop education and training programmes for older people which are relevant to their needs? In the light of the knowledge which we already have, much of which has been highlighted by the Grundtvig programme in the past ten years, we can propose that:

3 Active ageing and the EU Grundtvig Programme 89 To support longer working lives, the EU 2020 Strategy should set national targets for access to workplace training broken down by age groups and gender. The EU Equality Framework requires equal rights to employment and vocational training for workers regardless of their age. However, the European Commission has consistently drawn attention to the fact that, across Europe, the number of older workers accessing training is significantly lower than for younger colleagues. Women also tend to have lower access than men to training in the workplace. The European Commission should, indeed, propose that 2012 become the European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity. The EC proposal should encourage Member States to adopt clear strategies to promote active ageing and intergenerational solidarity in response to the demographic challenge. The Council and European Parliament should support the EC proposal. The Grundtvig programme should, consequently, be tasked to put active ageing and intergenerational solidarity among its key objectives. Moreover, the Grundtvig programme should, in particular, continue to support projects aimed at promoting older volunteering to build on the 2011 European Year on Volunteering and should launch specific actions in preparation of a 2012 European Year on Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity. Why are projects involving older people in volunteering activities important in the Grundtvig programme? Projects involving older people in volunteering activities often help retired people and people not engaged in the labour market to recover a sense of purpose in life and self esteem. They help them establish new social contacts, promote their social awareness and feeling of belonging to the community, allow them to develop new skills and competences that further activate their societal contribution and facilitate their involvement in informal learning. Senior volunteering forms a welcome counterweight to the increasing prevalence of isolation and individualism in modern societies. It also promotes greater understanding between generations when they support each other in shared activity. Mutually beneficial partnerships between volunteer organisations, trade unions, local and regional governments and employers can help mobilise older workers for volunteer activity benefiting the local community. Such partnerships help older workers to prepare for a smoother transition from employment to active retirement. Mechanisms for social dialogue and mutual learning can contribute to a greater recognition and support for such voluntary activity. The European Social Partners should adopt a strategy to promote active ageing in employment, setting targets for later life learning opportunities for older workers and special provision to support volunteering activity by them as a preparation to an active and productive retirement. They should be aware of the research studies on the depression / suicide rates of younger retirees (e.g. Morris et al.,1994 and Lewis & Sloggett, 1998) and seek to counter-balance this phenomenon. AGE Platform Europe is working with the European Trade Union Confederation (ELTUC) in this area.

4 90 International Journal of Education and Ageing What should the European Union and Member States do to establish better coordination between all partners and stakeholders involved in developing and implementing the policies and innovative projects? The EU and member states should: encourage the development of lifelong learning activities for all age groups based on greater solidarity between generations agree on guiding values, principles and ethics for later life learning activities and disseminate them widely to build support frame national policies on later life learning and devise strategies to ensure that comprehensive activities are encouraged and recognised; organise exchange of good practice and peer reviews to enable cross fertilisation between Member States and regions. The EU should: ensure that its policies and funding programmes promoting lifelong learning are genuinely inclusive and built on intergenerational solidarity carry out more research on the types and amounts of learning in which seniors participate in later life and the specific issues which they face in accessing opportunities, paying specific attention to the gender dimension and people living in rural or remote areas encourage businesses to support the lifelong learning of older workers in the framework of their corporate social responsibility schemes strengthen knowledge of the economic and social benefit of education and training policies ensure equity of access, participation, treatment and outcomes in lifelong learning opportunities. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has an article on the rights of the elderly. Member States should: take concrete actions to promote lifelong learning among seniors and remove legal and administrative obstacles preventing older adults from engaging in it (for example age limits) help the relevant actors make the most of Community funds and programmes, in particular the Lifelong Learning Programme and the EU cohesion policy instruments. For example national funding can be used as co-funding to help local actors access EU funding.

5 Active ageing and the EU Grundtvig Programme 91 What new themes (in Grundtvig projects) should be encouraged and how? The Grundtvig programme in particular should aim to: develop projects that specifically address the needs of older learners as well as projects that consider the potential and scope for intergenerational learning and cooperation strengthen the effectiveness of the open method of coordination in education and training, its impact and political ownership encourage mutual monitoring of developments in each country, moving from peer-learning to peer review, and ensure that results of peer-review activities reach policy makers and those directly concerned - such as older people s organisations help Member States to develop and put in place mechanisms for the implementation of the Education and Training 2010 Work Programme and lifelong learning strategies assist Member States to develop national targets for participation in older adult learning and indicators which take into account European objectives and benchmarks to encourage Member States (even if they have committed themselves to establishing comprehensive lifelong learning strategies) to do much more to achieve a real breakthrough in lifelong learning for older adults and to promote an age-neutral approach to education and volunteering and a vision of a knowledge society for all ages. [This article is an edited and abbreviated version of a paper given in Workshop 6, Senior citizens and adult education at the conference Grundtvig, a decade of European Innovation in Adult Learning, Brussels, January 2010] References Lewis, G. & Sloggett A. (1998) Suicide, deprivation, and unemployment: record linkage study. British Medical Journal, 317, p Morris, J. K., Cook, D. G. & Shaper, A. G. (1994) Loss of employment and mortality. British Medical Journal, 308, p Correspondence Anne-Sophie Parent, Director, AGE Platform Europe, Rue Froissart 111, Brussels, Belgium.

6 92 International Journal of Education and Ageing Key words Grundtvig programme. Volunteering. Intergenerational solidarity. Age discrimination. Copyright 2010 International Journal of Education and Ageing All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or utilised in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from the copyright holder.

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