Renate Heinisch & Edeltraud Röbe

Once upon a time, back when wishing was still possible,

there was a country whose people lived in mixed age groups. Neglecting any differentiation of age, they solely counted the years of their lives. Thus young families, youths, adults and younger and older seniors enjoyed a colorful community of frequent contact, common activities and high social cohesion.

One day a stranger appeared and pointed out a side of their common lives they hadn’t realized before: the fact of noisy interactions, misunderstandings and the need for a special generation’s space and retreat. The people paid attention to his words and soon began to concede that they would need a new order and had to change their living conditions. Instead of mixed age groups, the foreigner recommended special spaces and institutions where each generation could obtain its privacy, intimacy and special attention. Hence people invented preschools, retirement homes, working places with defined aged members, special housing models for smaller families. All of them seemed to be happy and to enjoy their respective privileged age group institutions.

Only by the time people realized that they were involved in a process which affected the lives, relationships and learning opportunities of each generation. The chances of socializing faded, young and old people separated, social cohesion changed. The older among them remembered former times and exactly the day when the stranger had come and promised a decent life. But the man who promoted the “age-cages” was already gone far away. So until nowadays, people have to make efforts to overcome separation of generations in society.


2012, the European Year, provided a framework for rising awareness of the contributions older people can make to society and for mobilizing stakeholders, policy-makers, persons dealing with educational planning, academics and umbrella organizations at all levels to promote active ageing and solidarity between generations. Parents’ Association of Baden-Württemberg with its chairwoman Dr. Renate Heinisch has initiated the project “GoAct” -“Generations in Action”, with the ambitious aim of overlooking the whole lifespan and developing a European strategy of intergenerational learning and dialogue.

Nowadays four or five generations exist in parallel and are on their way of converging. Meanwhile, several projects already sample innovative, creative, active, intercultural, reflexive and partnership-based possibilities of enhancing equity, social cohesion and active citizenship. A common ground seems to develop, positive images of age enhancing the spirit of enterprise, satisfaction and serenity and thus contributing to self-confidence, self-fulfillment and self-constitution. The “GoAct Project” is based on the assumption that education is a powerful method to change society’s understanding of ageing and to enable a dialogue between younger and older generations.

Within this broad field of the project, four topics have been identified. While they share some concerns, they yet involve different actors, agencies and approaches. They cover all specific learning activities undertaken collectively and beneficially by members of all generations and they raise awareness of intergenerational learning at individual and institutional levels, throughout all spheres of public and private life. The topics emerge from the family field, where the voyage of life begins:

  • Intergenerational learning in the field of early education (broadly involving children ages 3-10)
  • Intergenerational learning in adult education
  • Intergenerational learning in working life (and workplace)
  • Intergenerational learning in intercultural contexts
  • Intergenerational learning in families

One of the major milestones of the ”GoAct-Project” was the development of an Intergenerational Education Plan (IEP). It provides a guide for policymakers and experts in the field of education and adult education on how to raise awareness for topics of ageing and hence change the common image of ageing in society by means of education. Due to the words of the Greek philosopher Socrates: “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”, the IEP doesn’t claim for “teaching” a checklist of certain aims and measures. The IEP rather consists of stimulating impulses, questions, communication, brief background argumentation given by experts and links to examples of best practice. Intergenerational learning should be an asset of consciousness addressing different target groups: trainers of intergenerational learning, parents, politicians and policy makers, journalists, filmmakers, authors of children’s books, institutions of educator and teacher training etc. Lifelong learning needs to guide all ages through the humane voyage of life. The key process to this will be to create reflexive images of generations and age groups, of their togetherness and mutual benefit, to build a society of humanity which respects dignity lifelong, from birth to death.