Trends and prospects for continuing education in the National Report on Education 2020

The current issue of the National Report on Education “Education in Germany 2020” was presented at a press conference in Berlin

The report provides information about developments in all areas of education - from early childhood education to continuing and adult education. It is published every two years and is supported by official statistics and social science studies. Education and training over the course of life is presented using key findings and figures at the input, process and output level and is based on indicators. This year's 'In focus' section is entitled "Education in a digitalised world" and highlights the underlying conditions, developments, and requirements for development. With support from data, a basis is offered for the discussion surrounding the needs for action and options for action in this area; an area which has received further impetus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time, the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) [Deutsches Institut für Erwachsenenbildung, DIE] was among the authors and staff involved with the National Report on Education 2020 and was responsible, in particular, for the section "Continuing education and learning in adulthood". The extensive redesign of the section aims to take account of the diversity in the quaternary education sector.

I am a teacher or manage continuing education – what does the National Report on Education offer me?

The report's target audience is broad: education and training policymakers, administrators, and the general public. Over 24 pages, the report seeks to meet the needs of all target groups by systematically presenting representative findings and figures on continuing education. It may, however, be difficult for teaching and management personnel to find precisely what they need in their specific spheres of activity. The information, which in most cases is highly aggregated, can still be used in practice, for example, to gain a comprehensive summary of the continuing education sector, and in light of this to contextualise own work, target groups and participants, profiles of organisations and offers, as well as development strategies. The report also provides pointers to the areas which science and policymakers regard as the key challenges for the education sector. This may serve as guidance for the development of programmes and offers and, in the medium to long-term, may support the acquisition of, and applications for, third-party funding.

Increasing participation rates – increasing significance of continuing vocational education and training

While no major changes are evident in the participation rates in formal education activities and in informal learning activities of adults, participation in non-formal education activities has risen to the highest value reported to date at 52 per cent of all those aged 18 to 69. This increase is due in particular to what remains by far the strongest continuing education segment - company-based continuing education and training. Accordingly, most of the continuing education and training activities are being delivered by company-based providers. Most of the hours of continuing education are delivered by commercial providers which, in addition to government and community providers, primarily serve the segments of individual occupation-related continuing education and non-occupation-related continuing education.

Participation opportunities for adults remain unequally distributed. Employees in small businesses, in sectors which tend not to engage in continuing education and training (for example gastronomy and accommodation providers), in part-time work and performing "simple" unskilled work are less likely to have the opportunity of continuing education provided by the employer. A total of 54 per cent of all companies supported continuing education in 2018 in terms of release from work and or payment of training costs. Particularly active in this respect are the sectors of education and teaching (87 per cent), health and social care (81 per cent) and public administration (85 per cent). As part of the National Continuing Education Strategy of the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), a comprehensive package of measures was agreed in 2019 which, for example, set out to promote the continuing education and training activities of medium-sized companies in particular. The strategy came not a moment too soon. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and its associated economic consequences, it is expected that it will be even harder in the future for smaller businesses to be active in the area of continuing education and training. The extent to which these measures will be effective remains to be seen.

Regional disparities deserve special attention both despite and because of digitalisation and the coronavirus pandemic

Despite the increasing digitalisation in all areas of life and therefore also in the continuing education and training sector, face-to-face formats continue to dominate in this sector and in learning for adults. While digital media certainly supplements these formats, they generally only replace them in rare cases. The accessibility of continuing education and training providers in the regions therefore remains a key requirement for adult learning. The simple logic of the market dictates that commercial and company-based providers tend to focus on those regions which are most densely populated and have strong economies. This means that, in this respect, government and community providers are able to compensate for inequalities. While both types of providers have facilities spread across Germany, strong regional differences are still evident. The federal states in the east generally tend to have fewer facilities. Participation in continuing education and training is also lower in eastern Germany. Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, what has previously always been cited as the exception has come to pass in that face-to-face formats are being replaced by online formats. Those living in rural areas with a poor internet connection or even in the city with low broadband speeds and low data volumes are categorically excluded from the digital provision. Also, those with only minimal digital skills or who are unwilling to learn how to use digital media, will not participate in digital continuing education and training.

Spotlight on continuing education and training: quality management, satisfaction of participants and many positive impacts

Participants in non-formal education and training activities assess their experiences and what they have learned overall as very positive - with little variability. Participants in non-occupation-related continuing education training are particularly satisfied, although they do not regard what they have learned as being highly applicable now or in the future. The assessments are generally positive and can be regarded as quality characteristics of the teaching-learning process in continuing education and training. Much is being done to ensure quality on the part of providers, even if the efforts made appear to be externally motivated in part. The implementation of quality management systems is largely stipulated by legal requirements and has already been completed in 80 per cent of all facilities.

There is a high level of satisfaction with the education and training activity even if the direct applicability of what has been learned is assessed less positively. The focus here is therefore on additional gains from continuing education and training which may be having a positive effect on the individual and on society. This includes for example, a high level of involvement in civil society and increased employment opportunities and job security. Participants in continuing education and training publicly funded under Book 2 and 3 of the Social Code also have increased employment opportunities. In this case, there are stark differences between individual occupational groups, and these are likely to become more pronounced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Negative developments are to be particularly anticipated in those occupational groups unable to continue to pursue their work activities due to measures taken to contain the coronavirus pandemic and for whom, even beforehand, continuing education and training resulted less frequently in employment (for examplein administration, camera and sound technology, acting, dance and movement, as well as teachers working in extra-curricular educational institutions).

Continuing education and training paves the way to integration for migrants and refugees

Integration courses are a key tool for the federal government in promoting integration. They are intended to deliver both German language as well as history, law, culture and basic values. Two tests are used to assess attainment. The aim is for a language test to be completed at language level B1 and for the "Living in Germany" test to be passed. Since 2016, however, fewer and fewer of those attending the integration course are completing it with level B1. The percentage of orientation courses being passed is also falling. The reason for the falling completion rates is due, in some cases, to the challenging learning backgrounds which participants arrive with, but it is also due to the support required by educational personnel who face huge challenges in terms of cultural differences. It is not just integration courses which have a major role to play for migrants when they arrive in Germany in terms of education and training. This is evident in the growing proportion of participants from a migration background in formal education and training activities which they are using to allow them to complete missing qualifications or to retrospectively have their foreign qualifications recognised.

Finish one report on education, start the next

For the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE), the focus of this year's report was the redesign of the section on continuing education and training. This redesign work will be continued in the next issue in 2022. One of the key questions will be how the requirements of policymakers and of practitioners in terms of education training reporting can be more effectively and systematically integrated. The most important requirement for this is dialogue. And we would like to start this now with you! Do you have any questions, comments or suggestions about the National Report on Education, and the section covering continuing education and its findings? If so then please add a comment or contact us.

Source: (networking website of the humanities and sciences in Germany), revised by iMOVE, December 2020