Ensuring meaningful lifelong learning opportunities for groups at risk

Josje van der Linden

University of Groningen

PhD Awarded: 29 September 2016

On September 29 Josje van der Linden defended her PhD on ‘Ensuring meaningful lifelong learning opportunities for groups at risk’ at the University of Groningen. As the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4) confirms, lifelong learning opportunities have to be promoted all over the world, not only in the so-called Western world, but also in less privileged parts of the world where globalisation has penetrated with the accompanying requisite knowledge and skills.

The general research question for the thesis was: How can lifelong learning programmes serve groups at risk? Four sub-research questions reviewed the context of international cooperation, the needs of the learners, the professional involvement needed, and the appropriate research approach for the development of meaningful lifelong learning programmes. The fifth sub-research question was meant to extract the lessons learned to answer the main research question. The sub-research questions were elaborated in substudies using predominantly qualitative methods like case studies, interviews, observations, document analysis, focus groups and feedback meetings and also questionnaires.

The research findings stem from different contexts – more and less stable, more and less developed, more and less rich in resources –. Countries involved include Sudan, South Sudan, Mozambique, Uganda, and the Netherlands. Together, they result in a wide palette of participants, programmes and organisation types. Although the contexts are different, participants from ‘groups at risk’ possess more potential than the characterisation ‘groups at risk’ makes believe. If the experiences, resilience and ambitions of these groups form the basis for learning activities, the impact of SDG4 may go beyond rhetoric and lifelong learning will become feasible, also for them. As regular education programmes do not by default serve groups at risk, special attention must be given to policy, implementation and research for these vulnerable groups. To serve these groups, professionals in different contexts have to be prepared to go off the beaten track while benefitting from collective knowledge developed in (international) research and learning communities.