In November 2016, the Federation and Länder proclaimed the National Decade of Literacy and Basic Education 2016–2026 (Nationale Dekade für Alphabetisierung und Grundbildung), which takes up the findings and results of the “National Strategy for Literacy and Basic Education of Adults 2012–2016” (Nationale Strategie für Alphabetisierung und Grundbildung Erwachsener) that was launched in 2012. As a broad social alliance the strategy includes, among others, the local authorities (Kommunen), trade unions, churches, the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit – BA) and Volkshochschule associations. The goal of the National Decade is to raise the reading and writing skills as well as the level of basic education amongst adults in Germany. Increasing the number of participants in corresponding educational measures is seen as one of the key factors for its success.
The goals of the Decade are set out in a joint policy paper on the National Decade for Literacy and Basic Education 2016 to 2026 by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF) and the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (Kultusministerkonferenz). This policy paper is flanked by a 10-point programme of the Länder for the National Decade for Literacy and Basic Education, with which the Länder participate in the implementation of the Alpha Decade with their own measures in their respective areas of responsibility.
With the "Report of the Federal Government on the Progress of the National Decade for Literacy and Basic Education 2016 to 2026" (‚Bericht der Bundesregierung über die Fortschritte der Nationalen Dekade für Alphabetisierung und Grundbildung 2016 bis 2026‘), the BMBF informed the Bundestag about the implementation status of the Alpha Decade as of October 2019. The report shows how BMBF project funding contributes to developing and testing innovative approaches to adult literacy and basic education, particularly in work-oriented and life-world contexts.
In 2022, the Standing Conference’s Working Group on Continuing Education published the second report of the Länder on the National Decade. The report shows that the Länder are making a significant qualitative and quantitative contribution to reducing functional illiteracy among adults in Germany with these fields of action and confirmed that the Länder are implementing and promoting the measures agreed within the framework of the National Decade. The central finding remains that it must be made easier for functionally illiterate people to gain access to existing learning opportunities.
Provision to Achieve a Recognised Qualification during Adulthood
Applicants for evening classes for the acquisition of a higher education entrance qualification (Abendgymnasien) must provide evidence of a vocational qualification or evidence that they have been in employment for at least two years. They must also be at least 19 years of age in the school year in which they enrol and have obtained the Mittlerer Schulabschluss. Applicants who cannot provide evidence of the Mittlerer Schulabschluss or an equivalent qualification have to complete at least a half-year preliminary course teaching mainly German, a foreign language and mathematics. The Länder may adopt special provisions on examinations for admission to and on the qualification for the preliminary course. Course members must be in employment except during the last three half-years. The admission conditions for Kollegs are the same as for Abendgymnasien. Those attending such schools are not allowed to combine their study with work.
Applicants will be admitted to Abendrealschulen (evening secondary schools leading to intermediate qualification) who are employed at the time of their admission or were employed for at least six months, who have successfully completed the educational programme at a Hauptschule or compulsory full-time schooling and have reached the age of 18.
Applicants will be admitted to Abendhauptschulen (evening secondary schools leading to intermediate qualification) who are employed at the time of their admission or were employed for at least six months, who have completed compulsory full-time schooling and are not yet in possession of the envisaged qualification or an equivalent qualification and have reached the age of 18.
The principles and objectives for the assessment of performance and the examinations in courses leading to school qualifications are comparable to those that apply in the secondary sector.
For information about how adults can attain school-leaving certificates through the so-called Zweiter Bildungsweg (second-chance education), i.e. evening classes and Kollegs, see the section on main providers of adult education. The Volkshochschulen also offer courses in this area.
Provision Targeting the Transition to the Labour Market
In addition to upgrading training measures funded under the Upgrading Training Assistance Act (Aufstiegsfortbildungsförderungsgesetz – AFBG), continuing vocational education and training also includes retraining and adaptation training. Benefits from the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) in accordance with Book Three of the Social Code (Drittes Buch Sozialgesetzbuch – Arbeitsförderung) and Book Two of the Social Code (Zweites Buch Sozialgesetzbuch – Grundsicherung für Arbeitsuchende) can be received by unemployed persons or persons threatened by unemployment, but also by employed persons. In particular, people who want to catch up on vocational training or who have not worked in their learned profession for more than four years, for example, due to unemployment, raising children or caring for close relatives, or for whom a professional reorientation is necessary for health or labour market reasons, can also receive support. Further training oriented towards vocational qualifications can also be completed step by step via partial qualifications or training modules. Partial qualifications oriented towards vocational qualifications offer the possibility of achieving a vocational qualification by means of subsequent qualification. In these cases, the vocational qualification requires successful completion of the final examination on the basis of special approval by the competent body (so-called external examination). If necessary, support can also be provided for the acquisition of basic skills prior to preparation for vocational qualification-related further training (e.g. skills in subject matter, information and communication technologies) as well as for catching up on the lower secondary school leaving certificate or a comparable qualification.
The basic prerequisite for the promotion of continuing vocational education and training is, on the one hand, the necessity of the continuing vocational education and training: it aims to secure or further develop the individual's employability in order to achieve the longest possible professional integration in the labour market or to avert the threat of unemployment. Prior to the start of continuing vocational education and training, counselling must be provided by the Employment Agency or the Job Centre. In addition, the continuing vocational education and training provider and the training measure must be approved for funding. If the legal requirements for funding are met, the interested party receives an education voucher from the employment agency or job centre. Holders of education vouchers can choose freely from among the continuing vocational education and training providers approved for employment promotion in accordance with the agreed educational objective.
Subsidised continuing education and training costs include, for example, course costs, travel costs, if necessary costs for accommodation and meals away from home, costs for childcare and the continued payment of unemployment benefit as unemployment benefit in the case of continuing vocational education and training (Arbeitslosengeld bei beruflicher Weiterbildung) or basic security benefits under Book Two of the Social Code. Employers who release employees for qualification periods can – depending on the size of the company – receive wage subsidies.
Funding for continuing vocational education and training is generally a discretionary benefit provided by the Employment Agency or the Job Centre, to which there is no legal entitlement. An exception to this is the legal entitlement to funding for continuing vocational education and training to catch up on a vocational qualification and for continuing vocational education and training with the aim of catching up on a secondary school leaving certificate or comparable qualification.
Provision of Liberal (Popular) Adult Education
In terms of size general and political further education remains an important continuing education sector with an especially broad range of subjects. There are usually no entry requirements for continuing general and political further education courses.
Teaching Methods and Approaches
As in the school sector, the teaching staff take responsibility for teaching in their classes, taking the background and aptitude of each participant into consideration.
The use of new information and communication technologies as an effective tool in self-organised learning is also becoming an increasingly important aspect of adult education/continuing education. The majority of distance learning offers are supported online, either in full or in part. Many initiatives and projects have been launched to promote the use of these technologies.
Other Types of Publicly Subsidised Provision for Adult Learners
Continuing vocational education and training
Continuing vocational education and training is targeted at groups with the widest possible range of educational qualifications, from unemployed people with no school-leaving or vocational qualifications to executives.
Only some of the courses for continuing vocational training are designed to lead to qualifications which are recognised by law or awarded by industry's self-governing organisations (chambers).
Continuing education in the academic and creative field at higher education institutions
Entrance and admission requirements
The entry requirement for continuing education in the academic and creative field at higher education institutions is usually that participants have a degree, though sometimes continuing education courses are also open to applicants who have achieved the necessary skills through a period of employment or another means. Master’s study courses providing further education require, as a rule, a first higher education degree followed by relevant skilled work experience of at least one year.
For study courses providing continuing education in the academic and creative field which lead to a higher education degree, the observations on the first cycle programmes apply.
Continuing education in the academic and creative field leads to certificates and, in the case of study courses, higher education degrees as well.