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  • 1 Director at Ockham IPS, the Netherlands
  • | 2 PhD Open University the Netherlands, Faculty of Educational Sciences, the Netherlands
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Boyadjieva, P. Ilieva-Trichkova, P. 2021 Adult learning as empowerment: Re-imagining lifelong learning through the capability approach, recognition theory and common goods perspective. Palgrave MacMillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-67136-5

When reflecting on the relationship between adult educaEtion and empowerment, I find myself always balancing two perspectives. On the one hand is adult learning a way to empower individuals - in line with Paolo Freire’s thinking. Adult education serves social emancipation with empowerment as objective (Freire, 2000). On the other hand is ‘being empowered’ a condition to participate in adult learning - in line with Malcolm Knowles’ thinking. Adult learners are self-directed; take responsibility for their own learning; build on a reservoir of life experiences; flourish when achievements are acknowledged; prefer a practical, relevant approach; and may need to ‘unlearn’ habitual ways of thinking (in order to change behaviour) (Knowles, 1984). In other words, is adult education a solution to social inequalities, or is it sustaining social inequalities as those who are empowered have more opportunities to pick the fruits from adult education (Boeren, 2009)? This is obviously a too simplistic conception of the complex relationship between adult education, agency, and empowerment. I was therefore pleased to see the recently published book from Bulgarian scholars Pepka Boyadjieva and Petya Illieva-Trichkova ‘Adult learning as empowerment’ providing a comprehensive approach to this issue.

The book consists of two parts. The first part argues that the capability approach (attributed to Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum) is helpful both theoretically and empirically in better understanding how adult learning plays a role in empowering adults. The second part applies the approach to selected key topics such as fairness and adult learning as a public good. While the book offers a comprehensive approach to the topic, the individual chapters can also largely be read independently.

Adult education and the capability approach

The chapters altogether explore the following fundamental question: “Does adult education have an empowerment role or function as an instrument for social control?” (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, 2021, p. 299). This question is not easy to answer as empowerment should be positioned in a complex relation of the individual with the society. To unpack this complex relation the book explored different theoretical perspectives and discusses different empirical studies to underpin the theoretical explorations. It departs from the idea that individual choices are determined by societal structures and dependencies while at the same time that social developments are the sum of individual choices (concept of sociological imagination (Mills, 2000)). Hence, the relationship between social structure and individual agency should be a guiding theoretical principle in the study of lifelong learning and adult education. Through bringing together different theoretical perspectives on adult learning, the book aims firstly to conceptualise adult education and its role for both individuals and societies and secondly to develop new methodological instruments for studying the ways adult education has been implemented in different social contexts (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, 2021, p. 2). For instance, the book discusses different European level quantitative data sources (Adult Education Survey, Labour Force Survey, the European Social Survey, the European Values Study, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies and the Continuing Vocational Education Survey) and qualitative studies on adult learners (i.e. in the context of the Horizon 2020 project ENLIVEN (Encouraging Lifelong Learning for an Inclusive and Vibrant Europe)).

The aim of the theoretical exploration is to “go beyond the narrow human capital perspective which views adult education mainly as an investment and factor for improving economic production” (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, 2021, p. 268) and to develop a broader vision of human development revealing the intrinsic value and empowerment role of adult education at both individual and societal levels. It does this by bringing together ideas from the capability approach with insights from recognition theory, the political economic perspective for understanding public and private goods, the embeddedness approach, and the common good perspective.

The capability approach as presented in the book (particularly leaning on the Amartya Sen approach) departs from the idea that people have the freedoms and opportunities in choosing a life they have reason to value. It looks less at the actual achievements, but more at the degree of liberty people have in realistically pursuing achievements they would value. There are different conversion factors, such as institutional, social, familial, economic, cultural, political, and personal factors that hamper or facilitate freedoms from turning into achievements. While being widely applied to social policies and also to (formal) initial education policies, its potential for conceptualising adult education and lifelong learning is understudied. Applied to adult education, Boyadjieva and Illieva-Trichkova “define the capability to participate in adult education as a person’s freedom to be involved in adult education that s/he has reason to value. An assessment of the capability to participate would, therefore, involve analysing both constraining and enabling factors that might affect the freedom of a person to attend various forms of adult education” (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, 2021, pp. 123–124). The book shows that “the capability approach provides a theoretical framework for: (1) an understanding of adult education as a personality-driven and agency process; (2) grasping different meanings of lifelong learning and adult education for individuals and society (both intrinsic and instrumental); (3) revealing how adult education is embedded in different social and institutional contexts and how these contexts frame adult education activities and learners’ experiences; (4) a better understanding of the empowerment potential and role of adult education at both individual and societal levels” (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, 2021, p. 70).

Adult education as a common good

Next, the authors raise the question of whether adult education is a common public- or a private good. Here the authors argue that “adult education is ‘irreducibly social’, and this is the basis for its understanding as a common good” (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, 2021, p. 267). The book however acknowledges that the idea that adult education and lifelong learning are considered common goods is not uncontested, because lifelong learning is often linked to a neoliberal paradigm in which the costs for learning later in life are more and more covered by individuals and employers and less by public sources. The authors clearly advocate for seeing adult education as a common public good that needs to be sufficiently publicly resourced to provide equal opportunities and to use the benefits offered by adult education. “That is why adult education can be defined as a common good as far as there is a social commitment (from all providers of adult education— public, private, and non-profit) for organising access to it in accordance with the principle of social equity. More concretely, we argue that the extent to which adult education is accomplished as a common good in a given society/country reflects its accessibility, availability, and affordability and the commitment of society and all its influential actors to this goal. Adult education is a common good when it is accessible to a growing number of people and when policies have been implemented to reduce inequalities in and barriers to its access” (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, 2021, p. 270).

Altogether, the book makes a strong case that participation and non-participation of individuals cannot be reduced to existence or non-existence of individual agency and the occurrence of barriers that can be removed. From a capability approach, non-participation has to seen in the interplay of someone’s capability to participate in learning, the conversion factors that potentially turn this capability into a realised agency, and macro level societal structures and values. In this context, the concept of individual agency is focused on, but not idolised. On this, the book makes a good start, but more research is needed to clarify the relationship between the individual and society and how individual characteristics, conversion factors and adult education systems interact in explaining the fairness of the system providing opportunities for all. Mapping adult education systems from this perspective, allows to go beyond presenting participation rates as a (imperfect) proxy for the success of systems’ performance.

Given that the book makes use of both quantitative data and qualitative data from many European counties to support its analyses and suggestions for methodological tools make the book extremely valuable for European scholars and researchers active in European research projects on adult education. It helps to better conceptually approach adult education and lifelong learning going beyond a narrow human capital perspective which has been dominant in recent decades at European and member state level. With the pillar on social rights (European Commission, 2017), the New skills agenda (European Commission, 2020) and the Council Resolution on a new European agenda for adult learning 2021–2030 (Council of the & European Union, 2021), pushing for upskilling and reskilling, skills for life, and renewed emphasis on financing adult learning, the time is ripe for pursuing a more inclusive and holistic perspective on adult education as suggested by the authors, recalling the important agenda-setting documents such as the 1996 UNESCO-Delors report (Delors & et al., 1996), the memorandum on lifelong learning (Commission of the European Communities, 2000). The book therefore serves indeed its purpose to re-imagine adult education as a system or common facility for governments, employers and individuals to develop the social values and individual freedoms they consider important.

References

  • Boeren, E. (2009). Adult education participation: The Matthew principle. Filosofija- Sociologija, 20(2), 154161.

  • Boyadjieva, P. , & Ilieva-Trichkova, P. (2021). Adult education as empowerment: Re-imagining lifelong learning through the capability approach, recognition theory and common goods perspective. Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-67136-5.

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  • Commission of the European Communities. (2000). A memorandum on lifelong learning (SEC(2000) 1832).

  • Council of the & European Union. (2021). Council Resolution on a new European agenda for adult learning 2021–2030.

  • Delors, J. , & et al. (1996). Learning: The treasure within. UNESCO.

  • European Commission. (2017). European pillar of social rights .Publications Office. https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2792/95934.

  • European Commission. (2020). European skills agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience.

  • Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed). Continuum.

  • Knowles, M. S. (Ed.). (1984). Andragogy in action (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.

  • Mills, C. W. (2000). The sociological imagination. Oxford University Press.

  • Boeren, E. (2009). Adult education participation: The Matthew principle. Filosofija- Sociologija, 20(2), 154161.

  • Boyadjieva, P. , & Ilieva-Trichkova, P. (2021). Adult education as empowerment: Re-imagining lifelong learning through the capability approach, recognition theory and common goods perspective. Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-67136-5.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Commission of the European Communities. (2000). A memorandum on lifelong learning (SEC(2000) 1832).

  • Council of the & European Union. (2021). Council Resolution on a new European agenda for adult learning 2021–2030.

  • Delors, J. , & et al. (1996). Learning: The treasure within. UNESCO.

  • European Commission. (2017). European pillar of social rights .Publications Office. https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2792/95934.

  • European Commission. (2020). European skills agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience.

  • Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed). Continuum.

  • Knowles, M. S. (Ed.). (1984). Andragogy in action (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.

  • Mills, C. W. (2000). The sociological imagination. Oxford University Press.

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Senior Editors

Founding Editor: Tamás Kozma (Debrecen University)

Editor-in-ChiefAnikó Fehérvári (ELTE Eötvös Loránd University)

Assistant Editor: Eszter Bükki (ELTE Eötvös Loránd University)

Associate editors: 
Karolina Eszter Kovács (Debrecen University)
Valéria Markos (Debrecen University)
Zsolt Kristóf (Debrecen University)

 

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  • Tamas Bereczkei (University of Pécs)
  • Mark Bray (University of Hong Kong)
  • John Brennan (London School of Economics)
  • Carmel Cefai (University of Malta)
  • Laszlo Csernoch (University of Debrecen)
  • Katalin R Forray (HERA Hungarian Educational Research Association)
  • Zsolt Demetrovics (Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest)
  • Csaba Jancsak (University of Szeged)
  • Gabor Halasz (Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest)
  • Stephen Heyneman (Vanderbilt University, Nashville)
  • Katalin Keri (University of Pecs)
  • Marek Kwiek (Poznan University)
  • Joanna Madalinska-Michalak (University of Warszawa)
  • John Morgan (Cardiff University)
  • Roberto Moscati (University of Milan-Bicocca)
  • Guy Neave (Twente University, Enschede)
  • Andrea Ohidy (University of Freiburg)
  • Bela Pukanszky (University of Szeged)
  • Gabriella Pusztai (University of Debrecen)
  • Peter Toth (HERA Hungarian Educational Research Association)
  • Juergen Schriewer (Humboldt University, Berlin)
  • Ulrich Teichler (University of Kassel)
  • Voldemar Tomusk (Estonian Academy of Sciences, Tallin)
  • Horst Weishaupt (DIPF German Institute for International Educational Research, Frankfurt a.M)
  • Pavel Zgaga (University of Ljubljana)

 

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Hungarian Educational Research Journal
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Hungarian Educational Research Journal
Language English
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