Memorandum on Intergenerational Learning

Radu Szekely


Lifelong Learning, Vocational Education and Training, Active Ageing, Solidarity between Generations, and Sustainability are concepts that have been described for more than a decade as fundamental in the definition of a growth strategy for the European Union. These concepts are also seen in the wider global context as drivers of social justice and sustainable development. Intergenerational Learning has only recently entered the discussion, and there is a more limited understanding of what it truly represents. There is, however, agreement among major stakeholders that it could, in view of the scarce resources available for education in EU Member States, be an answer to several of the challenges faced today. In fact, the untapped potential that individuals of all ages and all walks of life have in terms of transferrable knowledge and skills, combined with their willingness to share these as part of voluntary or remunerated activities, may lead to a model of education where participants are empowered to exchange both skills-for-jobs and skills-for-life. What Europe needs is a coherent set of policies to make this empowerment possible.

On 11 April 1996 the world was told by a former President of the European Commission that “…in confronting the many challenges that the future holds in store, humankind sees in education an indispensable asset in its attempt to attain the ideals of peace, freedom and social justice. As it concludes its work, the Commission [UNESCO’s International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century] affirms its belief that education has a fundamental role to play in personal and social development. The Commission does not see education as a miracle cure or a magic formula opening the door to a world in which all ideals will be attained, but as one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war.” (Jacques Delors in ‘Learning: The Treasure Within’).

In 2000 the European Commission issued a Memorandum on Intergenerational Learning to initiate a broad consultation on the topic of widening access to learning, and a year later the Communication “Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality” set clear targets for EU Member States, putting adult education at the core of the new Europe. Policies for building a knowledge society have been shaped and are being continuously reshaped, placing social responsibility, cultural diversity and citizens’ participation high on the agenda. Policy makers and the civil society have worked relentlessly to establish a stronger connection between education and prosperity, access to social security, environmental wellbeing, and solidarity. Consequently, considerable efforts have been made – at local, regional, national and European levels - to ensure that participation levels in lifelong and lifewide learning sustain significant increases.

More than a decade later, in times of a major economic crisis, where austerity measures and unemployment affect human and social development, the paradigm has changed. The value of education in securing the EU 2020 objectives of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth is clear. Education is once again rightly harnessed as the solution to the problems of unemployment and poverty caused by economic recession. The “Education and Training 2020” strategic framework has set targets that not only aim to make lifelong learning and mobility a reality, but also to enhance creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in order to respond to some of the economic challenges that we face in the aftermath of the economic downturn. But the strategy has not been designed exclusively to reach employability: promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship remain high among the aims of ET2020.

In line with Europe 2020, the New Skills for New Jobs initiative sets out to promote better anticipation of future skills needs, to develop better matching between skills and labour market needs, and to bridge the gap between the worlds of education and work.

The “Re-thinking Education” Communication correctly underlines that strengthening partnership and flexibility is important for modernising education in Europe. Cooperation and partnership increase the flexibility and relevance of learning and improve efficient use of resources. These should be promoted across and between all levels of policy making and implementation (national, regional, local), between public and private actors, and in all contexts and forms of learning, in pre-primary education, schools, VET, higher education and adult learning. But in our quest for refinement of job-skills and with the speedy changes in the labour market realities, this puts an immense burden on the school systems. Close cooperation between the public and private sector, and with the voluntary and community sector, can mobilise private resources and share the costs of learning, and can be particularly crucial to attracting vulnerable and disadvantaged groups into learning and offering low-threshold and targeted support. Effective partnerships and cooperation, however, require a shared vision among stakeholders, often demanding consultation mechanisms and sharing of responsibility. Most importantly, this approach needs to be supported by the creation of structures that give easy access to integrated learning services, by new modes of delivery of learning content, by learner-centred programmes, and effective outreach strategies.

Finally, the report “Active Ageing and Intergenerational Learning”, which resulted from an in-depth analysis of the Intergenerational Learning approach at European level, has made a series of recommendations to the European Commission and policy makers in general. Among these are; the urgency of placing Intergenerational Learning at the core of policies designed to facilitate the achievement of the objectives of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET2020) and to promote the fact that Intergenerational Learning is primarily a purpose-driven activity and not an informal exchange, and encourage its use in enhancing partnerships between education and training institutions and the broader society.

This Memorandum takes up the main aspects of the policy documents, reports and communications above. Its purpose is to launch a European-wide debate on a comprehensive strategy for implementing Intergenerational Learning at individual and institutional levels, and in all spheres of public and private life, with their economic, political, social and cultural dimensions.

Key messages

The European Commission, through the voice of Commissioner Androula Vassiliou, has defined Intergenerational Learning as all purposeful learning activity undertaken by members of two or more generations in a mutually beneficial way, occasionally or on an ongoing basis, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences. This is the working definition initially proposed by the European Network for Intergenerational Learning and adopted in the current proposal for a Memorandum on Intergenerational Learning as a starting point for discussion and action.


Intergenerational Learning is not therefore just one aspect of education and training; it can become the guiding principle for provision and participation across the full continuum of learning contexts. As was the case with Lifelong Learning after 2000, the coming decade may see the implementation of this vision, in fact the return to what was the norm until recently, when generations learnt from each other continuously, in various contexts, sharing responsibility for their own learning and for each other’s learning and development. All those living in the European Union, without exception, should have equal opportunities to adjust to the demands of social and economic change and to participate actively in the shaping of Europe’s future, making use of the knowledge and skills of their peers, sharing their own knowledge and skills with others, in a spirit of solidarity and co-development. The EU citizen must re-appropriate the right to learn and to share their learning, taking pride in their chance to build upon prior learning, and link competences and qualifications gained across different phases and contexts of life, both leisure and working life, inside and outside formal education and training. This must happen not only at the initiative of policy makers, but in partnership with them, and through the active participation and initiative of the private, community and voluntary sectors – and of individuals.

The implications of this fundamental change in perspectives and practices deserve and justify the debate proposed. The European Network for Intergenerational Learning (ENIL) will ask its members and associates, but also stakeholders at European level and in Member States who are responsible for their education and training systems, to take part in this debate. ENIL intends to draw up a report in early 2014 based on the outcomes of this debate and take up the findings within the framework of its advocacy work.

The six key messages below offer a structured framework for a debate on putting Intergenerational Learning into practice. These messages are based on experience gathered at European level through the research conducted by the European Network for Intergenerational Learning on projects run through Community programmes and on the results of the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations (2012). Each key message includes a set of questions whose answers should help to clarify priority areas for action.

Key Message 1

Intergenerational Learning is a flexible pathway to guarantee universal and continuing access to lifelong learning, for gaining, renewing and transferring the skills needed for sustained participation in the European society.

Questions to be answered

  • —How can Intergenerational Learning be used to relieve current pressure on education budgets?
  • —How can it inform curriculum organisation and content in a spirit of partnership between sectors?
  • —How can the private, community and voluntary sectors be motivated to take part in Intergenerational Learning and update adults’ skills and competences?

Key Message 2

Intergenerational Learning opportunities can be generated as close to learners as possible, in their own communities, further lowering the barrier to participation by using approaches that involve more than one generation from the same family, from the same neighbourhood or from the same workplace. New programmes and methods must be developed, but facilities already in place can be used through cooperation with social partners.

Questions to be answered

  • —What kinds of projects and provision already exist that could offer promising ways forward and examples of good practice?
  • —What kinds of incentives will encourage different entities to co-operate and exchange good practice at multiple levels, including the transnational level?

Key Message 3

Intergenerational Learning can ensure that Europe’s most important asset – its people – contributes to the re-launch of its economy and to ensuring high standards of living for all by encouraging them to invest their own knowledge, skills and time in the replenishment of Europe’s skills pool, including skills related to entrepreneurship and social responsibility.

Questions to be answered

  • —How can young people’s specific skills be integrated into workplace based training schemes? How can employers be motivated to support training for entrepreneurship?
  • How can postponing the retirement age be accompanied by a scheme to train new workers? Would the economic sector and Trade Unions react positively to such a scheme?
  • —How do employers already provide models, time and flexibility for taking part in Intergenerational Learning?

Key Message 4

Intergenerational Learning can harness the efficient use of volunteers’ time and resources to reduce the burden on the public budget, especially in relation to social costs and care.

Questions to be answered

  • —How much of the work already done by volunteers can be used as a flexible learning path and recognised formally as training and career development?
  • Is a return to a mutual care model among population desirable?

Key Message 5

Intergenerational Learning can serve as a basis for bringing generations with different economic status and different economic needs together for an exchange of knowledge and competences accompanied by mutual support in other areas of life, for example through intergenerational lodging schemes or social reintegration schemes.

Questions to be answered

  • —How can mutually beneficial “learning partnerships” between elderly and young people be developed safely and efficiently so that old people would agree to open up unused living spaces to young people or families in need of lodging?
  • —Should housing development schemes be required to include an intergenerational learning dimension?

Key Message 6

Intergenerational Learning is a way of supporting people to re-establish a balance between work life and family life by creating opportunities for groups (families, community groups, clubs) to learn together in different contexts without the immediate expectation of a learning outcome but focusing on quality leisure activities.

Questions to be answered

  • —How can families be encouraged to spend quality time together through Intergenerational Learning methods?
  • —Can Intergenerational Learning be used to support all ages in their process of learning for a long life (transfer of skills and attitudes between generations)?

Working together to put Intergenerational Learning into practice

The debate to be launched through this proposal for a Memorandum takes place at a crucial point in time, simultaneously with the approval and launch of the new EU funding programmes for education, research, culture and cohesion. Although comprehensive and coherent strategies for the implementation of Intergenerational Learning have not yet been developed, there is wide evidence that working together in a variety of partnerships is an essential means of putting any learning policy into practice. The new funding programmes create real opportunities to form partnerships between ministries and public authorities, on the one hand, and the private sector and social partners, on the other, to form public-private initiatives. However, unlike in many other cases, working together effectively in this case will mean going beyond existing efforts to build bridges and pathways between different parts of existing systems, and creating a person-centred rather than learner-centred approach, where the individual is empowered to be learner and educator at the same time, two parts that – at least at the level of provision of education – remain, today, relatively disconnected from each other. This aspect of transferring the responsibility of learning and of educating others from systems to individuals underpins the debate about the six messages above.

The outcomes of the debate to be launched in early December 2013 will help to define priorities and directions for the European Network for Intergenerational Learning, but also to finalise the Memorandum on Intergenerational Learning that will be used as a strong advocacy document and presented to the European Parliament and European Commission for consideration in the beginning of 2014.