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General information about Learning Regions

Page history last edited by Randolph Preisinger-Kleine 9 years, 8 months ago

As can be seen easily by the following reports the idea of the Learning Regions has a different history in each country participating in the R3L+ project. Despite the fact that they all have received support from the EU, they found their own way to implement strategies of lifelong and collaborative learning on a regional level. In Germany for example the network Learning regions was evoked from the idea to make education more flexible in the regions in a bottom-up way. The network Learning Regions was authorized by the Federal Ministry and officially supported with EU money from the ESF funding. 200 million Euro in a mix of Federal and EU funds were given as a financial basis. Support came also from Departments of the individual states and other sources. The financing stopped after 8 years. The Learning Regions were founded as a transfer instrument to make the existing educational institutions and ways more flexible. The aim was to strike new paths in education and create modern, innovative structures making education accessible to everyone. The cooperation in education took place between all existing institutions and groups on-site. Common solutions were looked for to overcome educational obstacles and homogenize existing diversities. The Learning Region around the Lake of Constance Region is a striking example. The area is a very big region near Austria and Switzerland. The formal network was based on institutions that already existed. The goal was to spread their activities in the field of education, training, guidance and counseling. The intention was to build up all the key elements from the national side. Multiple educational paths were created where the inhabitants could participate in the educational processes. These were well used over the eight years. Formal and informal merged ever more. One of the most important activities was competence counseling which was integrated in the so called L-points (Learning-point).

 

Other initiatives worked in a bottom up way, for example the City of Dundee in Scotland: In relation to Learning, this initiative sought to pursue a policy of inclusive Lifelong Learning and recognised that one had to think creatively in this area to ensure that this was not a top-down approach, but should provide more opportunities for the local community to participate. In relation to Equality, it sought to make opportunities available to the 30% of the population who live in the most deprived communities and bridge the gap between those who are economically successful and the economically deprived. In relation to Excellence, it sought to bring together the excellence that already exists in science and culture and disseminate this all Dundee's citizens in new and innovative ways. Finally, it sought to the promote the wider benefits of existing Arts, Culture, Sport and Health initiatives in different ways to ensure that these activities were more meaningful for all Dundee's citizens and recognised that to achieve this required a more inclusive approach. The partnership wants to ensure that Dundee becomes 'a vibrant and attractive city with an excellent quality of life... which will offer  real choice and opportunity in a city that has tackled the root causes of social and economic exclusion,.... (and)  a strong and sustainable city economy' (Dundee Partnership, 2010).

 

Similarities can be seen in the way learning regions in Sweden and Ireland started to work: For example Lundaland (Sweden) is formally a non-governmental organization set up to initiate, manage and finance a Leader project within a specific territory in the southern part of Sweden where a number of grass-root driven micro-projects will be launched to create wealth in the rural areas of the territory. The word “Leader” in this context is an acronym for the French expression “Liaison Entre Actions de Developpement l’Economie Rurale”. To initiate, evaluate, support, finance and evaluate local projects, there must be a dedicated Local Action Group (LAG) set up by local and regional stakeholders from three sectors: idealistic associations, private companies, individual entrepreneurs and public authorities. These groups of stakeholders must be able to finance 51% of the micro-projects set up for the region. The educational system is not explicitly handled as a necessary stakeholder in the typical Leader project. Leader projects are bottom-up defined and the learning processes follow the pedagogical frameworks for learning-by-doing, learning-by creating and learning-by-experimentation, not learning-by-being-educated. Today, the educational system is not made a formal partner or participant in the activities performed at Lundaland. What is needed in the case of Lundaland is a model where the micro-project partners and stakeholders can draw adequate and relevant learning resources to the participants from available schools, universities and vocational training institutions.

 

Another example is Limerick in Ireland: Similar to Dundee the Learning Regions concept was influenced by economic and social factors and the political discussion around those topics. In addition to that in Ireland a continuing debate arose on social aspects of education and learning especially on the potential contribution to be made by education to promoting social inclusion. Priorities directing the development of educational policy generally reflected these challenges. Last but not least the history of social partnership as the predominant development model at national level and, linked to this, the collaborative and partnership-based nature of development structures at local and regional levels was relevant for developing Learning Regions. In Limerick a City of Learning Steering Group was established in 2003, comprising representatives of all the main education training, enterprise and development agencies; together with social partners. The main aim of the group was to support the design and implementation of a city-wide learning strategy that will enable Limerick to grow as a vibrant successful city, which recognises and strives to meet the learning needs of all its citizens’. The basic hypothesis was that if citywide interaction and partnership among all involved in the provision of education and learning is improved and enhanced, then positive outcomes can be achieved in relation to expansion of the City’s ‘social capital’ by recognising the value of personal and social development in learning; by more active citizenship, by embracing multi-culturalism and diversity and by challenging inequality and exclusion. Actions and processes in furthering City of Learning aspirations were envisaged, from the outset, as being part of a ‘Framework for Learning’. The framework was developed by the Steering Group over a 12-month period and involved consultation with a wide range of stakeholder interests.

 

In those countries Learning Regions or Cities are about to develop since about 10 years or more. Reasons for their development were changes in society and economics that happened during the evolution of societies. In other countries especially those who became a member of the EU in recent years changes happened more abruptly and the idea of Learning Regions anc Cities was adopted under conditions of a quick and deep change which is still continuing. In Lithuania (Kaunas region) for example the Kaunas Learning City network was initiated in 2000/2001. Main agents were the Institute of Educational Studies and the Institute of Business Strategy of the Kaunas Technological University, and the Municipality of Kaunas. Members of the network are local communities, schools, colleges, universities, business organizations, theatres, museums and other organizations, associations, municipality and its organizations. Goals of the network are: Teaming up all the people and organisations who were able and willing to contribute to a common purposeful activity for the development of the city; developing and supporting partnership networks among the residents and organisations of Kaunas; developing the contemporary competence of learning and disseminating and implementing newly created knowledge and innovations. From 2002 to 2007 the city made many efforts to develop the services of formal and non-formal education. The Learning City Council was founded and started its activities. Many special events – forums, conferences, and seminars – took place in the city that contributed to the dissemination of information about the Learning City and its development, promoting particularly the participation of citizens. The city was included in the European Commission Learning City projects and other international activities (in particular, the SOCRATES project PASCAL European Network of Learning Regions - PEN3RL). Encouraged by the results of evaluation research done during these activities the strategic goal of developing Kaunas into a Learning city was formulated as to enable the individual and collective learning of citizens at all times and in all places, as well as fostering the organizational learning of the city and its organizations and communities in a way that would solve problems of importance to the city, its inhabitants, communities and organizations and develop in a sustainable way those aspects. Meanwhile the network can be subdivided in different communities and there are two agents coordinating its activities: The learning city council as a coordinator and the Division of Education at the Municipality of Kaunas as an executive body. Furthermore there are scientific advisors from the KTU.

 

In Romania (Bucharest) as another example the regional level emerged in the public policymaking only after 1989, when escaping a hyper-centralised system of government and under the influence of the accession process to EU. The regional development is regulated by law, starting the way regional policies are put in place and the specific functions and the roles of different bodies in this area. Eight development regions were defined, partly following historical regions of Romania. Bucharest-Ilfov region is of particular structure. It has the highest density of population, it is the most developed region of Romania, with Bucharest one of the biggest markets in South East Region, it is attracting the highest number of workers since 1989, with the most active employers associations, professional bodies and trade unions and it is the region with the highest number of universities, graduates and qualifications offered and the lowest number of unqualified workers. The activities promoting Bucharest-Ilfov as a learning region are of a relative recent date. Since the early years of the 21st century initial and continuous vocational education and training started to be taken into account, as well as the general orientation towards the development of human resources within the region when the first Human Resources Development Program was launched. Also some other initiatives contributed to the development of Bucharest-Ilfov as a learning Region, especially the updating of the Regional Development Plan, the Twinning Light Programs providing additional resources and technical and financial management to it and the TVET multi-annual programs, developing the initial technical and vocational education and training in Romania.

 

The example with the youngest initiative is Pécs (Hungary): The Pécs Learning City-Region Forum was initiated in the Fall of 2009 by the Faculty of Adult Education and HRD of the University of Pécs. The goal was to put quality learning of individuals and groups either in formal, non-formal or in informal environment on the agenda and to support organisational learning. Networking should be promoted amongst learning providers and stakeholders, and, joint activities should be created as well as innovative practices in the field. At its first stage the Pécs Learning City-Region Forum is based on the partnership of 14 institutions and organisations in the area of the City of Pécs and of Baranya County. The main tasks at the moment are to develop a Systemic Partnership Focusing on the Learning City-Region Initiative and Regional Learning; to develop a complex Research and Development Platform, to support the co-ordination and quality development of local and regional VET services and actions.

 

Although the problems and preconditions leading to learning regions initiatives are different there are some similarities in strategies, problems to be solved by learning and problems to be solved to organize learning that means keeping the learning region working. That raises the question about their patterns of collaborating, the main actors of the regions and their work, the management of the regions and their way of quality assurance.

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