Technical and vocational adult education was founded in the fifties and sixties. This form of education was called Education for Social Promotion. Depending on the programme a participant could obtain a certificate or a qualification. The synergy between the Education for Social Promotion and fulltime secondary education was further embedded in legislation in the sixties and seventies.
In the period 1970-1980 other forms of continuing education were developed. In 1985 a more global concept with regard to adult basic education was introduced, which was implemented in an experimental way at five places. This resulted in the Adult Basic Education Centres (ABECs), which were established by the parliamentary act of 12 July 1990. These centres target in particular adults with low skills and a low level of education and strive to teaching and improving basic competences which are fundamental in order to function and participate within society.
Education which offers adults a second chance to obtain a diploma of secondary education was established in the same period as the Adult Basic Education Centres. For a long time adults could only obtain this diploma of secondary education when they succeeded, after self-tuition, for the exams organized by the Central Examination Committee of the Flemish Community. In time various initiatives were taken which prepared adults by means of training for obtaining the diploma of secondary education. This was called ‘second chance education’. The parliamentary act of 2 March 1999 provided the opportunity to obtain the diploma of secondary education via the Education for Social Promotion at the Adult Education Centres.
Compartmentalisation and various economic developments laid at the basis of the fact that in the nineties the provision of adult education was broad but very scattered. There were too many small centres with an offer which was not very rational and unclearly profiled. The parliamentary act of 2 March 1999 initiated some important developments in adult education. An important economy of scale was carried out which implied greater autonomy, a systematic and methodical approach and professionalization. A couple of renewing impulses was given, such as the introduction of modularisation and blended learning. The parliamentary act allowed for a broadly accessible provision of adult education, which lowered the barriers to participate in lifelong learning.
The history of entrepreneurial training goes back as far as the guilds. Working with apprenticeships however constituted the starting point for the training of the self-employed where a pupil was trained on the shop floor for four days a week and took classes in a centre for one day a week.
For independent professions and SMEs an official framework for the training of entrepreneurs and for youngsters via apprenticeships was established as early as 1947. In 1959 guidance by pedagogical advisors was organised. At a later stage this task was taken over by the Institute for Continuing Training of the Self-Employed and from 1991 onwards by the Flemish Institute for Independent Entrepreneurship. This institute was established as a government agency. Since 2004 training is organised by the Flemish Agency for Entrepreneurial Training – SYNTRA Flanders – which resorts under the responsibility of the minister of work.
Overview of the current policy priorities
The Policy Note on Education 2019-2024 from the current Minister of Education, Mr. Ben Weyts, mentions some of the challenges facing adult education in Flanders and which the Minister wants to address:
"Adult education must develop an offer that provides the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to the broadest possible public and this in function of social functioning or reintegration, further participation in education, practising a profession, strengthening the Dutch language, mastering a modern foreign language, increasing literacy competences and obtaining a secondary school diploma. In addition, I will continue to focus on NT2 in adult education, which is offered in a more flexible way, as well as on bottleneck professions and lifelong learning. In adult education, an important role is reserved for the retraining of unemployed people and employees at secondary school level. I am therefore evaluating the decree on adult education. I make sure that the training courses are as modular and practice-oriented as possible, and that language and digital skills are integrated where possible.
I stimulate all partners involved to work on literacy. Within adult education, the centres for basic education specifically target low-literates. They do not only play a role in education. They are also committed to integration and civic engagement so that their students can function literately in society.
Together with my colleague responsible for Work, I am extending dual learning to adult education courses. I am creating the policy framework and regulations for this and am taking into account the specific nature of this level of education."
Following the corona crisis, the Flemish Government drew up the Flemish Resilience plan. Training and lifelong learning are important elements in it. 60 million was allocated to strengthen adult education. On 12 February 2021, the vision note Edu-Leap or 'Edusprong' was communicated to the Flemish Government, establishing the framework for the use of these resources.
Edusprong wants to give adult education a boost to become, more than ever, the player that facilitates people's social mobility through retraining, further training and qualification. Therefore, we aim for greater brand awareness, an introduction to the general public and a strong embedding in the regional context. Renewing and optimising the range of studies and the associated learning methods must give adult education a stronger labour market focus and a 21st century character. Flexibility, innovation and sustainable embedding are paramount. Strengthening the necessary digital infrastructure and methodology must contribute to the maximum realisation of the intended objectives.
To realise this ambition, we focus on four substantive spearheads: (1) Adult education plays an important role in encouraging every Fleming to engage in lifelong learning, (2) strengthening labour market opportunities through retraining and extra training, (3) strengthening digital competences and (4) focusing on qualification.
Adult education wants to play an important role in encouraging every Fleming to engage in lifelong learning. In order to realise this ambition, we are developing a training compass and providing for a Flemish-wide and phased promotional campaign. In addition, a local effective information provision with attention for disadvantaged groups will be set up in cooperation with local partners and existing initiatives.
Edusprong's ambition is to strengthen the offer in adult education in terms of sustainable labour market oriented qualification possibilities. Adult education will be able to respond more actively to local labour market needs through the accelerated development of future-oriented curricula and infrastructure, a thorough EVC policy, the expansion of flexible training options and the commitment to integrated pathways. In addition, various forms of hybrid learning are being developed in function of a flexible and differentiated offer.
With the spearhead 'Reinforcing digital competencies', Edusprong not only focuses on a customised offer for reinforcing general digital literacy, but there is also explicit attention for training for people who work independent of time and place and the targeted development of their digital skills.
Obtaining a diploma of secondary education or a sustainable professional qualification also offers young people a sustainable perspective on the labour market. Therefore, within this project, we focus on reducing the unqualified outflow through an outreach approach in cooperation with partner organisations (e.g. VDAB, Actiris, ...), a persistent course of action during the course and a thorough cooperation with the examination board.