In Focus: People with Learning Difficulties

 

 

The executive director of the ENEA Maire Salundi and the program leader Tiina Jääger say that this program, funded by the European Union, will give the ENEA significantly better possibilities to organize adult education in Estonia. 2.7 or the four million is intended for learners that are currently unable to pay for their education. The remaining 1,3 million will be invested in developing the education structures: analyses of non-formal education, creating result-based study programmes, training of teachers for people with learning difficulties. The goal is to progress towards blended learning, which should also include a new target group – younger people.
“Considering our ambitions and the fact that we have 45 educational centres in Estonia it might seem that the four million is not a lot of money over a four-year period” Maire Salundi, the director of ENEA says. “It is never-the-less a great advancement. We are happy to reach new target groups and to invite experts to help us find ways to make the education system more effective.”

New target group – people with learning difficulties

With the support of the European Union the ENEA intends to focus on a new target group - people with learning difficulties. A presentation at the conference “Equal Opportunities for All - The Value of Adult Learning in Promoting Equality” (3.-4. December 2007, Riga) by the Norwegian Fredrik Björkmann, titled “How High is the Threshold of Learning?” gave a strong moral support to this intention.
Tiina Jääger: “We have been thinking of the importance of expanding our social web since a while. At the conference in Riga we got convinced that the new target group should be people with learning difficulties. It is time to listen to them more intently, enter into a dialogue and re-involve them in education.”
Maire Salundi notes that Estonia already has a positive experience working with people with learning difficulties. The Tartu Folk University created a programme for young people aged 18-25 who had been excluded from education. They were introduced by the “soft landing” method. Instead of being forced to sit in classrooms they were taken on guided tours and were told about the history of the city of Tartu. While walking around in the city the young people could also discuss cultural topics at large. These people got a positive learning experience and were reintroduced to life-long learning. The course was successful – of the eight participants 7 continued their studies.
Estonian non-formal education has experiences dealing with people excluded from life-long learning also in a few European Union projects. For example some projects involved unemployed single mothers, helping them to manage their lives through learning.
As the ENEA is building a more systematic approach to the education of people with learning difficulties it will also be important to collaborate more closely with adult gymnasia. People that have completed courses in non-formal education should have the opportunity to continue studying – there should be no dead-ends in education.

Debate over the employment contracts act

The plans for the new employment contract act are currently raising heated discussions in Estonia. Several parties have protested against the changes, trade unions have even spread protest leaflets in bigger cities. The changes are unacceptable for ENAE too, as they are limiting learning opportunities for adults and do not support the ideas of life-long education. A few examples:
- In non-formal education one is allowed to take up to 30 days educational leave instead of the current 7 days. This is a good change. Unfortunately the leave will still be unpaid.
- The new act would allow an employee to take up to 30 days of educational leave (formal or non-formal) per calendar year. In the current act one can take an extra leave (28 – 49 days) for graduating schools. This extra leave is not included in the new act.
Thus the situation would arise where people with lower income will have more difficulties participating in life-long education than the richer people, which is the opposite of equal opportunities for all.
The tax laws are also controversial in Estonia. On the one hand the employer should pay a special tax benefit on the employees’ study grants, which makes many employers unsupportive towards educational leaves. The learner on the other hand can deduct the tuition fees from his/her income tax.
Maire Salundi: “Estonian Education Personnel Union, the Ministry of Education and the trade unions have demanded the abolition of the special study grant tax benefit since 15 years, but until this day without success.”