From the 10 years of Nordic-Baltic cooperation experience to new intentions for the coming 10 years

23. maijs, 2003


Anita Jākobsone

Uzstāšanās konferencē "A Human Touch - Adults Learning with a Difference" 2003. gada 11. maijā

Honourable Secretary General Nordic Council of Ministers, Honourable Minister!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear conference guests and participants!

The Baltic Nordic Lifelong Learning Conference has been opened today in Riga. This is an emotional moment. Ten years ago we could not imagine such thing happening. But exactly 10 years ago, on 9-10th of May a significant event took place in Riga – a round table discussion on adult education in the Goethe Institute, with participants invited by the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Association of Adult Education and the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science. In autumn the same year 15 persons from the Baltic States were invited by the Nordic Folk Academy in Goteborg to participate in an adult learning course. They came back full of Grundvig’s enlightenment ideas, which matched with the people’s educational needs of that time in Latvia.

This year the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian adult education associations celebrate their 10th anniversary. They were established with the support of the German government, they have grown and become stronger by gaining experience and receiving moral and material help from the governments of Nordic and other European countries and adult learning associations.

The results of Baltic Nordic co-operation can be evaluated in different contexts.

First, in the context of political, economic and social changes which have taken place in the Baltic and Nordic countries.

As a response to these changes, non-formal adult education in the Nordic countries has been looking for ways to promote employment and employability. An important issue is how to expand local and regional partnerships in order to facilitate balanced and sustainable development. Demand has grown to motivate and guide socially excluded and less advantaged persons towards learning and to provide equal access opportunities to them.

In the Baltic countries important tasks of adult learning have been to facilitate the restructuring of the economy, inter alia, restructuring of labour market and to support the establishment of civil society. Institutional networks of adult education have been formed in which private companies and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) are the majority but entities financed by the state or local governments are less represented.

Nordic countries and also Estonia have been most active in developing lifelong learning legislation. Over the last 10 years a good indicator how to measure the efforts undertaken by the states to adapt educational policies to the inhabitants’ needs has been to look at the dynamics of lifelong learning legislation in the respective countries.

Allocation of financial resources has changed but in Latvia and Lithuania financing for non-formal education, unfortunately, is not included in the state budget for education.

Secondly, I want to mention the participation of Nordic and Baltic countries in the development of international adult education policy.

The decade was introduced by a report of the UNESCO Commission headed by Jacques Delors “Learning: The Treasure Within in the 21st century” (1996). The four pillars forming the foundation for education in the 21st century are:

1) Learning to Know;

2) Learning to Do;

3) Learning to Live Together;

4) Learning to Be.

These issues have to be addressed throughout a person’s life.

Later, the 5th World Adult Education conference in Hamburg (Confintea V, 1997) continued to address accessibility to education. The European Commission’s Memorandum on Lifelong Learning (Commission Staff Working Paper “A memorandum on Lifelong Learning” (2000) and the following EC Communication “Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality” (2001) initiated discussions on basic skills, accreditation of non-formal education, and the equal importance of formal, non-formal and informal learning. The Dakar initiative „Education for all” once again highlighted the importance to foster education from “the cradle to the grave” and the importance of equal rights towards it.

In the above mentioned international discussions the Baltic and Nordic countries have emphasised the importance to keep a balance between labour market-oriented education, participation in civil society and self-fulfilment-oriented education in non-formal adult education. We know that the opinions of OECD, UNESCO and EU vary on this issue.

Integration and accession into the EU have greatly influenced the character of Nordic and Baltic cooperation, and it is important that we have a common stand towards EU lifelong education policies.

The main concepts of international policies in the context of adult learning in the last decade can be summarised by the following key words: knowledge based society, accessibility, assessment, equality, employability, civic participation, self-fulfilment.

Values and value-oriented adult education, which always has been an important issue in the Baltic Nordic dialogue, is comparatively much less stressed in other international policies, though awareness of the importance of personal and national, professional and other identities is more and more increasing in the modern plural world.

Thirdly, the Nordic and Baltic cooperation during the last 10 years needs to be analysed separately.

Many of you present here, certainly have your own personal opinion as to the results of Nordic and Baltic cooperation in the non-formal adult education.

In my opinion the main achievements are:

  • Common understanding of the importance of lifelong learning in a global knowledge based society – personal self-fulfilment, participation in civil society and labour market,
  • Interaction of adult education and lifelong learning policies in our own countries and in Europe,
  • Understanding of different lifelong learning development trends in Nordic and Baltic countries,
  • Information about experience of other countries (legislation, institutions, resources),
  • Co-operation mechanisms,
  • International co-operation network,
  • Common projects,
  • Learner- centred teaching approach.

These are achievements. Now some words about obstacles and keys to success, how they are perceived by myself and my colleague Toms Urdze.

Obstacles for co-operation

Co-operation seems to be a very easy task: You meet and get to know each other, share information and experience, find common issues, and start working together. In life it isn’t that easy.

Looking back, also the Nordic Baltic co-operation had to overcome several obstacles, especially in the early years.

Unequal partners

It was a co-operation between people and societies separated by 50 years. There was a risk that one side becomes a permanent donor, and the other side becomes a permanent receiver. Co-operation was a great challenge for adult educators in the Baltic countries: they had to obtain their colleagues’ trust, develop a reputation as reliable partners and eventually to become real dialogue partners.

Lack of information

At the beginning nobody knew how much the Baltic and Nordic societies differ:

Understanding of human rights and freedom, communication culture, concept of democracy, methods of solving conflicts and problems, planning and project management, and so forth.

Also the co-operation partners did not know much about the traditions of adult learning, legislation, strategies, institutions, content and methods of adult education.

Language and communication barriers

The majority of Baltic people could hardly speak any foreign language. It was a nightmare – to meet with nice and intelligent people and not be able to have any discussions and exchange information. Therefore translators and interpreters were used, and we can only admire the patience of Nordic colleagues when they were trying to understand what was said.

Also the approach to discussions was different: adult educators from the Baltics initially considered that long talking about what and how to do it is unnecessary, they immediately wanted action. But the Nordic colleagues only gradually started to understand, that deficit of resources for adult education essentially changes all action plans – none of the “ready-made recipes” could be straight away used in the Baltic countries.

Weakness of non-governmental organisations in the Baltic countries

Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian adult education national umbrellas and other local organisations always tried to be good and reliable partners to their Nordic colleagues, but often an understanding attitude of the Nordic partners, flexibility, personal support and voluntary work was the key to overcome problems.

Success factors


The facilitators of the co-operation process from the very beginning had a clear vision of creating a common Baltic Sea region, and adult education as an important factor in it. I doubt that many people in the early 90-ies believed that the Baltic Sea countries could become such an important region within Europe; therefore I think that this long-term vision cannot be overestimated.

Long-term investment

The successful development of the Nordic Baltic co-operation has been possible, because Nordic political decision-makers understood the importance of long-term investment, and long-term strategy. I am convinced, that this investment has started to payback and will do even more so in the future. An important role in the development of adult education in the Baltics, as well as in the process of creating and strengthening the regional network has the Nordic Folk Academy, the “Baltic See Dialogue”, the NFA rectors Arne Carlsen and Carine Abreu Fardby.

The Nordic Baltic co-operation has not always run smoothly. There have been misunderstandings, communication problems, and other set backs. Patience and a clear leadership have been the keys to overcome these problems and to continue working towards the vision.


It is easy to say that you want to have a co-operation based on equality. It is much harder to implement it into practise, especially, when the involved partners are so much different as they were, when the Nordic Baltic co-operation process started. The Nordic Baltic co-operation in adult education is one of the few examples I know, where equality of partners was not just a name, but the most important aspect of developing partnership and setting-up the agenda for common activities. Obviously it wasn’t possible to speak about equal partners for a long time – the frameworks and maturity of the players were too different. But placing the idea of equality on top of the working agenda fostered the development process of the partners and was one of the main factors for achieving equal partnership in the long run.

Face to face

In my opinion an important factor of success was the provision of numerous meeting opportunities. To meet people, to get to know each other, to make friends – this helped to overcome distrust, to formulate common issues, and eventually, to build a strong and functional network.


Many people have played an important role in making the Baltic Nordic cooperation a success story. I would like to mention two persons whose input in the process has been most important: Antra Carlsen, NFA project leader, who incorporates the above mentioned visions, competences and virtues, and Sigrun Rostad, adviser for adult Education, Nordic Council of Ministers, who has been a wonderful link between the practitioners and decision-makers in this co-operation.

Theory and practice

Knowledge and experience was acquired and adapted simultaneously. Therefore, today we can speak not only about successful Baltic Nordic joint education projects, but also cooperation in writing teaching manuals, making analytic reports, training educators on adult education in the Baltic inside and outside universities.

Some conclusions

The first conclusion sounds like a paradox but it is essential. Summing-up the 10 year Nordic Baltic co-operation experience in non-formal adult education, we can say that

1) Adult education cannot change the course of history.

But it can foster changes in people’s consciousness and action and thus influence the economic, social and political structure of the society.

We, adult educators of the Baltic countries, wished that education would become the driving force in our countries, and would result in a triumph of intellectual freedom of people, creativity, honest professional work and democracy.

We were inspired by Grundvig and the ideas of the enlightenment period.

Today we understand that for the Baltic countries these ten years have been the age of enlightenment transferred into the modern open world, and changes need the time they need. We were inpatient and day-dreamers but maybe this trait formed the strong basis for our co-operation and motivated our partners to support us as much as they did.

2) Baltic and Nordic countries have common experiences in non-formal adult education, which forms a common learning platform.

The capacity of this partnership has reached a very high level and this potential should be used to promote the interests of the Baltic and Nordic people in the EU and elsewhere.

Intentions for the coming 10 years

This is the main objective of this conference, and it should be reflected in the final conference document.

The conference should summarise the achieved results and indicate new adult learning arenas in order to foster economic growth and civil society, in order to provide recommendations for the coming 10 years for the future Nordic Baltic cooperation in lifelong learning.

For this purpose a comparative analysis of lifelong learning in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden has been produced by Jonas Sprogoo, The Danish University of Education.

The report gives a short presentation of the countries, summarises answers given in the national overviews, it also introduces a number of questions to be discussed in this conference:

  • Is it possible to trace a specific Nordic/Baltic dimension in regard to lifelong learning?
  • Are the differences of/within the regions sought maintained and is it possible/desirable in relation to EU?
  • Is the Nordic understanding of lifelong learning different from the one proposed by the EU, and is there a Nordic contribution to EU lifelong learning policy?
  • Are the Baltic countries lifelong learning strategy influenced more by EU than by the Nordic countries and what are the consequences of such a choice?

Discussions about lifelong education policies and strategies have always been important in all our countries. There are good practices in each of the countries, which indicates that initiatives are actually launched and are working according to the plans set forth by each country.

At the same time, the report recognises, that there is no common lifelong learning definition yet worked out and the countries are using to a large extent the definition provided in the “Memorandum on Lifelong Learning”.

For example in Latvia, the meaning of lifelong learning has still to be clarified and implemented in the respective educational policies and legislation.

There are many common questions to which we need to find answers. The author of the report has listed the following:

  • Definition of lifelong learning suitable for each individual country.
  • Integration of primary, secondary and adult education into a comprehensive lifelong learning.
  • A supervising body to co-ordinate lifelong learning strategy and policy.
  • Integrating alternative lifelong learning strategies in accordance with the educational tradition.
  • Specific target areas as well as overriding social goals.
  • Alternatives to a „totalitarian” concept of lifelong learning.
  • How to „bring learning closer to home” and maintain the democratic aspects of non-formal and informal learning.

Speaking about the future development of lifelong learning, I think, we have to look at the new challenges in education – global, national, regional and local:

  • The role of lifelong education in a holistic world, and how to preserve values in societies overloaded with the technologies.
  • The need for new basic skills – “ hard” and “soft” skills.
  • Access to education: motivation to learn and social inclusion.
  • Assessment and accreditation of formal, non-formal and informal learning.

In my opinion, further discussions on issues concerning the development of international co-operation between Baltic and Nordic countries and co-operation within and outside the EU are also of great importance.

Main issues could be:

  • How to bring the policies of international institutions as UNESCO, OECD, EU closer together and how to create a common lifelong learning platform.
  • How to improve mechanisms of implementation and evaluation of EU educational programmes, valorisation of best praxis in order to make these programmes more appropriate to the needs of people and the possibilities of project implementers.

There should be more discussions about the following issues:

  • Perhaps innovations in learning methods and technologies are overrated, if it is considered, that still there is no satisfying solution found in regard to access to learning.
  • Should it be only the right of decision makers, national agencies and project leaders to assess the effectiveness of EU educational programmes? Maybe we should rather involve the participants, teachers, consultants, local government and government officials, research and statistic institutions.
  • How to ensure that the EC fulfils its legal commitments? We all know that response to reports and payments are often not in accordance with the agreements.
  • Are the EU education programmes and its implementation mechanisms effective enough in order to promote democracy and civic societies in the accession countries?
  • Another important issue is the large amount of unpaid work that has to be invested by mainly project-funded NGOs participating in EU programmes. To underline this point it is worthwhile to mention, that all accession countries have a lack of capacity to utilise the pre-accession funds.

In order to utilize the experience and potential of the Baltic Nordic cooperation support from the Nordic Council of Ministers and the respective governments is important. But equally important is that the Baltic States’ Ministries of Education take a more active part in this co-operation and make wider use of its qualities.

Last but not least.

The biggest challenge for each of us personally and for the Nordic Baltic co-operation is:
To Learn to Be.
This is always a new challenge.
Let us take it! And be responsible for it.

All together and each individually!

Thanks to the Nordic Council of Ministers and everybody, who has supported the Baltic Nordic cooperation over the last 10 years. Thank you for learning and sharing!

Thank you for your attention.

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