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Konferencē "A Human Touch - Adults Learning with a Difference" 2003. gada 13. maijā

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Dear colleagues, honoured guests, Ladies and Gentlemen!

It is an honour for me to be given the opportunity to close this important conference "A human Touch - Adults Learning with a Difference" here in Riga today. I especially want to thank the Nordic council of ministers, the city of Riga and the Latvian Ministry of Education.

Latvia, close friend of Sweden with the beautiful city of Riga, is now rapidly regaining its traditional beauty (and former splendour). Today Riga represents a new and strong modern development, a centre of education, communication and finance.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have all shown remarkable progress in incorporating information technologies in their development. That is yet another reason why it is so appropriate to locate this conference in Riga. New technology will play an important part of the changing of adult learning in the future.

Latvia, not just a close friend but also a neighbour with which Sweden as well as all the other Nordic countries has important historical links from the time when water united more than separated.

My previous link to the Baltic countries, somewhat more recent, was when I as a member of the social democratic youth was involved in a Baltic project back in 1994. We were in Klaipeda, Lithuania, exchanging political ideas about the environment and different educational policies. Our co-operation involved issues of organisational character as well. The development within the Nordic-Baltic co-operation has since expanded greatly, to all our benefit and joy. This brings me to the important issue of Life-long learning:

Life-long learning

When it comes to LLL I think we all share great expectations concerning the main themes of the conference:

motivation, access and integration.

These three are important, not only from an economical point of view, but also from a human perspective - development of ideas and democratic values. Values worth being repeated.

One of the aims of this conference is to summarise the results from 10 years of Nordic-Baltic co-operation and form a platform for adult learning in the Nordic-Baltic common education space. As the Comparative Analyses show we do share a common view on several aspects of lifelong learning strategy.

In a knowledge-based economy we must support and encourage the life-long learning of every individual. If life-long learning is to be a real possibility, it demands an infrastructure that takes into account that each and everyone has different abilities, needs and wishes.

Our success rests on three pillars. Firstly, we must acknowledge the skills and competencies of people regardless of how the knowledge is gained. Secondly we must provide counceling and guidance when people face choices. Finally we must be flexible. Individuals have different wishes, needs and ways of learning.

This has to be done in close co-operation with working life as well as with individuals. The challenge for the Swedish government is now to make life-long learning possible for everyone.The individual should have the opportunity to work and at the same time have access to learning. The challenge is to make it happen. Individuals have vast amounts of knowledge, gained outside the formal system. Through validation we can acknowledge and value their skills and the individual may find new pathways in life.

Co-operation within the EU

One characteristic of modern society is the growing importance of international co-operation in education and other areas. A sphere in which globalisation is already very apparent, with long traditions of contact across national borders. For centuries, the students, teachers and researchers of Europe have turned to schools, colleges and universities in other countries. They have gone for study visits abroad. Hereby they contributed to the spread of new ideas, knowledge and experience. The Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and Gruntwig programmes are important actors in this field today. As an example, I can mention that in the last ten years we have seen a substantial increase in numbers of Swedish students who use their grants and allowances to study abroad.

Education and research policies are primarily a national sphere of responsibility. Nevertheless, in recent years education and research have gained greater prominence on the international political agenda. This of course has to do with the widespread growth of international co-operation, but also with the fact that education and research have become the main forces in the renewal of our societies.

At its Lisbon meeting, the European Council established a new strategic objective for the Union for the next decade: ”to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”.

To reach this objective of the European Union we must ensure that the development when it comes to the lifelong learning follow a certain path. In order to face challenges such as the increase in number of older people and new requirements of the labour market, we need a society that includes everyone and excludes no one on the basis of lack of education.

Co-operation is an absolute necessity. We have a common history of co-operating. We will have to co-operate even more in the future. One of the aims of the Swedish presidency was the membership of the applicant countries.

The Swedish presidency focused on the three ”Es”; Enlargement, Employment and Environment.

The Union is devotes considerable energy to the task of creating full employment. In a somewhat longer perspective it will most probably have to turn its attention to forestalling shortages of qualified manpower in vital sectors. Increasing demand for skilled and highly qualified labour will require the expansion of the educational system and measures to stimulate interest in education and training at all levels.

As the report to this conference shows; we are closely linked to each other ideological as well as in our objectives. If we speak with one voice we can influence the EU policies on various matters. It is my strong conviction that we should do so.

To end

My warmest thanks to all participants and to all of you who contributed to the success of this conference. A special thank you should go to the organisers, who have done an excellent job in preparing this conference.

There is no doubt that there is a good basis to build on, when we now conclude. I am confident that the various discussions will prove useful and rewarding in our common work in the future. The warm and generous atmosphere here in Riga makes this work all the more pleasant.

Thank you for your attention.

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