The Nordic Adult Education Seed in the Latvian Soil – an article

Written by Elīna Maslo and Dmitrijs Kuļšs


Cooperation with the Nordic countries[1] since 1991 has served to convey the essential ideas of adult education into the minds of academia, policy makers and education providers in the Baltic States: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. At the beginning of the 1990s, Latvia had already strong education traditions and fertile soil to thrive new ideas supported by society and, in particular, by the education sector. At the same time, it has been a struggle with the legacy of Soviet-era period and a time of unique opportunities for designing and building a strong adult education sector based on the experience of countries with long-standing traditions.

Twenty-five years ago, geography, politics, economics, culture and social norms changed drastically in Eastern Europe. While learning has always been a value, the country faced an unpreceded expansion of learning since the so-called “singing revolution”. Becoming an independent and democratic state requires reforms, including educational. The education system depended on adjustments to the new economic and social realities. Hence, Nordic countries have shared their experiences with the Baltic States in the field of adult education.

Nordic-Baltic cooperation has been a unique experience. It has played an important role in the development of adult education and learning in Latvia. The research showcases international cooperation (influenced by UNESCO, OECD etc.) in the Baltic region and its influence on adult education policy since the restoration of the political and economic independence (Jõgi, Gross, 2009; Märja, Jõgi, 2000; Jõgi, 2012). However scant data are available that describes the Nordic-Baltic cooperation supporting adult education.

According to experts who witnessed it, the transformation of the adult education system in Latvia was complex and not likely to progress fast without the involvement of Nordic and other European countries. Anita Jākobsone, the former chairperson of the Latvian Adult Education Association (LAEA) describes the transformations in the first ten years after the restoration of country’s political and economic independence as “travelling forward half a century within ten years” (Knudsen, 1999, 4). Sharing the knowledge, learning activities and cooperation initiatives by Nordic states have supported the change.

In this article, we analyse the influence of cooperation between adult educators in Nordic and Baltic countries in the development of adult education theory, policy and practice in the field of adult education and learning in Latvia. Capturing the transformation over time is a complex task; so is the analysis. We do not measure the impact of a change in the societal or educational patterns of the followed historical events. Neither we seek for causality between the cooperation activities and developments in theory, policy and practice but rather provide a notion of the complexity of the transformation of adult education in the past 25 years.

This article presents a developing image of an adult education sector in Latvia through a prism of the outcomes of more than two decades of support and cooperation with the Nordic countries. The developments in the theory, policy and practice domains expose the main features of the sector illustrated by carefully selected examples, trying to build a bridge between the beginning of cooperation and the present developments. It analyses the theoretical, policy and practice domains and presents the voices of stakeholders, including practitioners (adult learners, adult trainers, adult education institutions and non-governmental organisations representatives), policymakers and researchers.

We discuss developments in three main areas: (1) practice of adult education and learning in Latvia, (2) adult education and learning theory, 3) education policy. Each section covers three cycles: competence development and learning decade (1991-2002); a period of cooperation, capacity building and sharing experience (2002-2008), and the time of sharing knowledge, common decision making and creating new knowledge (2008-2015) (Carlsen, 2015).

We begin with a short description of the context of Nordic-Baltic cooperation. The theoretical framework is followed by a description of the research method. Consequently, the three discussion areas and links between them are discussed. Conclusions present main points of the analysis.


Research questions

The article addresses the following questions:

  • How did the cooperation between adult educators in Nordic and Baltic countries influence the development of adult education theory, policy and practice in Latvia?
  • How did this cooperation develop at personal, institutional and policy levels?
  • How have researchers, policymakers and practitioners experienced this development?
  • What was the following development of theory and implementation of policy?



A history of educational activity in the country is far-reaching. In the mid-19th century, the idea of national schools became popular; “the first awakening of the Latvian nation is linked to the so-called “Neo-Latvian” (from Latvian: Jaunlatvieši) movement in 1869. The activities of the Education Committee of the Riga Latvian Society bring forth the idea of further education and establish the ideological precognitions for the higher education” (Carlsen, 1997, 8). The idea of education spreads and grows stronger during the last decade of the 19th century. “Establishing of schools and organising courses that would deal with national culture, literature and history prove the need […] for education” (ibid.).

During the Soviet time, people tried to preserve their national identity by meeting in folk song and dance groups, learning crafts and choirs. It is the form of popular adult education since Latvia restored its independence in 1991. “The Baltic [educational] tradition has been interrupted for 50 years, with adult education was mainly promoted through continuing vocational education. In a soviet era, liberal adult education existed in the form of musical groups, dance groups and crafts courses – but it was never thought of as education, simply as leisure activities” (from the interview with Antra Carlsen in Vallgårda, 1999, p. 8). “From its origins, adult education in Eastern Europe was viewed very broadly. This today [1984] typically encompasses not only the school-type provision at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels, and the considerable training in business and industry enterprises, which we are accustomed to, but also a widespread provision of non-formal adult education through libraries, houses of culture, trade unions and village clubs, people’s and workers’ universities, societies for the popularization of science, political party organisations, amateur art, music, theatre and folklore groups, mass organizations for culture, education and physical culture, and many other” (Kulich, 1984, 3).

At the beginning of the 1990s, Latvia´s political system has been transforming into a fully-fledged market-oriented democracy. “Since the restoration of full independence in 1991, Latvia had had to cope with the threefold challenge of the consolidation of independent statehood, the cultivation of democracy and transformation to a market economy” (Buligina, Jākobsone, 1996, 155). It was a new process, “a process of transformation from socialism to capitalism, from totalitarian to a democratic society, and from a planned to a market economy” (Märja, Jõgi, 2000, 100).

It was the time when Nordic-cooperation started. There was no functional adult education system, the population had low income, experienced instability at work and at the same time had many opportunities to try out new things and to develop.

As Arne Carlsen, the former director of the NFA in Gothenburg explains in his interview with Anna Vallgårda (Golden Riches, 1999) the idea for the Nordic-Baltic cooperation was born in a car after the conference in Sønderborg in spring 1992. Arne Carlsen and Dorte Jeppesen, the former consultant for the Nordic Council of Ministers, discussed the Singing Revolution that had taken place a year before: “We said to each other that the time had come to enter into Nordic-Baltic cooperation on democracy, liberal adult education and formal education. This led to FOVU financed study trip of an editor of Lline, Eeva Siirala, and myself to investigate the possibilities to establish such cooperation. That May we travelled to the [education] ministries of the three Baltic countries, where we found considerable interest in the idea. That same summer I held a six-week course at NFA – four weeks at the academy, and a fortnight’s study trip by a coach in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Taking part in the course were most of the key persons from the ministries, central administration, and continuing teachers´ education providers from the universities” (from the interview with Arne Carlsen in Vallgårda, 1999, 10). Arne Carlsen was among those starting the networking and cooperation in which many scattered initiatives fund a forum and which enabled Baltic-Nordic liberal adult education cooperation to gain continuity and to develop (Vallgårda, 1999).

In 1992, the Nordic Council of Ministers established a Nordic think-tank for qualification requirements in Europe that involved the analysis of Nordic models of adult education. A group of researchers, journalists, policymakers and teachers helped the process. One of the think-tank members, Anette Wolters, a former department leader of the Danish School of Administration describes that period as a very busy time for Nordic and Baltic adult educators, administrative personnel and trade-union members. It was the time of transformations: the concept of lifelong education was born by the need to build democratic values and ensure competences in the labour market.


Theoretical framework

Transformation in adult education study in a country-in-transition requires a dynamic notion of key phenomena and understanding the links. In the study presented in this article, we presume that the world and the reality are socially constructed by active people. As pointed out by Berger and Luckman, this relationship is reciprocal: society is a product of human; the human is a social product (Berger, Luckmann, 1966).

In order to study the transformations, we have collected reflections of experts who were actively involved in the development of adult education in Latvia. They possess the unique knowledge about the study questions due to their personal engagement in the cooperation with Nordic countries (Meuser, Nagel, 1997; Jõgi, Karu, Krabi, 2008).

According to the experts, the development of adult education had a huge influence on country-level developments. Thus, the transformative nature of the learning of adult educators is salient. For the purpose of the article, learning is the use of “prior interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience in order to guide future action” (Mezirow, 1991). “Transformative learning involves learning to think critically by questioning assumptions and expectations that shape and influence what we think and do” (Mezirow, 2006, 24).

Latvian educators adapted the humanistic notion of adult learning (UNESCO, 1976) with an individual in the centre. According to Latvian pedagogical dictionary, “adult education is a multi-dimensional process oriented at adults and ensuring personal development of the individual and her or his ability to compete in the labour market during the course of a lifetime of a person” (Pedagoģijas terminu skaidrojošā vārdnīca, 2000, 128). While learning is agency-centred and education is structure-centred (Jarvis, 2004) we use the term “adult education” referring to a system and policy level and “adult learning” referring to theory and practice.

In their report on adult education, Ilze Buligina and Anita Jākobsone considered that “the basic task […] is to develop a systemic approach to the forming of adult education policies. We need to create conditions which would allow the continuing education of every individual. This should be understood not only as an improvement in qualifications, re-qualifications and the continuing education of professionals but also as the harmonious development of personality in the context of lifelong education” (Buligina, Jākobsone, 1996, 261-262).

Similarly, Larissa Jögi and Marin Gross wrote in their analysis of the development of the professionalisation of adult educators in the Baltic States, “the main function of adult education is not only to help adults and organisations to adapt to the changes, to the market economy and to labour market, by helping them to create the necessary knowledge and competencies, but also to develop readiness to learn and readiness to continuous self-improvement, as well as the ability to guide the process of personal and professional development” (Jögi, Gross, 2009, p. 230).


Research procedures

In order to identify the transformations in adult education in Latvia and to detect the possible influence of cooperation activities with Nordic adult educators, three types of empiric material have been collected. It comprises expert narratives (oral and written), materials developed for practitioners, research and policy documents in Latvian, English, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, German and Russian languages.

Interviews have been conducted with the key Latvian experts[1], who have been involved in the cooperation with Nordic countries in the field of adult education since 1991. During the interviews, three main questions were asked:

1) Adult learning (education) in Latvia since 1991: What are the main changes that you recognise (as a researcher, practitioner and policymaker)?

2) How did the support and involvement of Nordic countries influence these changes?

3) Which changes were short-term and which remained in adult learning theory, practice and policy?

The interviews were conducted using a problem based on semi-structured and narrative approaches. In the interviews, relevant data sources were identified. Experts also shared their private data archives with unique materials, for example, newsletters of the NFA employees called “Dialogue. Informasjonsblad om folkeopplysning og voksenundervisning i Norden” (1991-1997), its Baltic edition “Baltic Sea Dialogue” (1994-2002), the journal “Golden Riches – Nordic Adult Learning” (1998-2000) and teaching materials for adult educators “KomPas” (2003), “Art of planning” (2004) and “Agade” (2006).

A literature search helped to identify the main sources of research reports and policy documents.  Among those, the reports of the research on Nordic-Baltic cooperation in adult education, policy documents and documents describing the context of the cooperation. Nordic-Baltic key activity documentation was accessed through a personal archive of Antra Carlsen and Riksarkivet in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The collected material was systematised chronologically in theory, practice, policy categories[2] and analysed by applying a qualitative content analysis method (Kuckartz, 2012).


1. Developing practice of adult education and learning

The next three chapters describe the process of developing practice and theory in adult education, as well as the developments in the country’s educational policy. We start with a short description of main activities provided for practitioners in the frame of Nordic-Baltic adult education cooperation, which according to our experts have had an influence on the development of the adult education field in Latvia. Then we look at the theory developed in adult education as a research discipline. And finish up with a summary of those changes that happened in Latvian politics in the field of adult education.

Competence development and learning decade (1991-2002)

In the early 1990s, Nordic countries provided learning opportunities for Latvian adult educators – both inside and outside Latvia. Nordic Folk Academy opened its learning activities on adult education practice for Latvian adult educators. In 1992, the first summer academy was organised for Baltic adult educators. At the first academy policymakers from the Baltic countries (employees of public service) were invited to learn about the Nordic way of organising adult education. The following year it provided learning about teaching theory and methods. In 1994, a winter academy was organised with the aim to give the municipality employees a possibility to learn about system and organisation development of adult education.

At the same time, in Riga, several Nordic institutions were established to promote cooperation between Nordic and Baltic countries and to give people an opportunity to learn Nordic languages and culture. In 1990, the Danish Cultural Institute was opened. It also became responsible for Europe’s contact with the three Baltic states. The first Danish language courses were offered at the Danish Cultural Institute. In 1991, the Nordic Information Office was opened and functioned as an information point about Nordic countries, the Nordic model of society, and education opportunities in the Nordic countries. Latvians went to Nordic Folk High schools, Nordic universities and other educational institutions to study languages and to learn democratic and civic values.

In 1996 – 2001, NFA started to offer regular courses for teacher trainers, staff responsible for organisation and development and NGO leaders. The main topics chosen by participants themselves were sustainable development, training methods in adult education, and leadership and management for non-formal governmental organisations. Courses took place for two weeks at the NFA and included study visits and on-site practice.

Conferences and meetings were also regularly organised where adult educators could meet, discuss the challenges and opportunities of adult education practice, and to establish new contacts for further cooperation. For example, in 1999, “The third sector and the State promoting lifelong learning” conference was organised in Tallinn (Estonia). The participants searched for new ways of cooperation and suggested further actions to promote a dialogue between the State and NGOs.

The question of the role of NGOs in the development of adult education was raised by all the interviewed experts. NFA provided courses for leaders of non-governmental organisations – labour, sports and youth organisations educating adults. In the end-1990s close relations between the Nordic and Baltic adult education umbrella organisations for the Study Associations have been established (Bjerkaker, 2002, 6). Regular meetings took place since the first conference on non-formal education in Tromsö (Norway) in June 1997. The regular NGO meetings created an exchange of experiences and strengthened the cooperation. Later on this ground, the cooperation activities with NGOs in Western Russia will be developed.

In 1993, the Latvian Association for Education of Adults (LAEA) was established with the support of German and Nordic satellite organisations. Anita Jākobsone tells in her interview: “LAEA was founded on 4th December 1993. Before 1993 the term ‘adult education’ was not used at all in Latvia. German Folk School International relations unit (DVV International) has played a crucial role in LAEA establishment by organising in 1993 an open discussion with institutions in Latvia that might have been interested in cooperation in the field of adult education. Education and Culture ministries, the Latvian Knowledge Union, LGA, and Latvian Trade Union Association were present as well. Very soon after, LAEA was established with the support of DVV. I became the chairwoman of the LAEA board and stayed in this position for approximately 7 years. Cooperation with DVV has led to closer cooperation with Baltic and Nordic countries. In Estonia, adult educator’s association ‘Andras’ has been established and had good cooperation sites with LAEA. In parallel, Nordic Folk Academy has been actively developed in Scandinavia that also approached Latvian partners and organised study visits (2-3 weeks) to familiarise us with AL practice and some theory in Nordic countries and to make contacts.” A priority of the work was on the provision of non-formal learning for personal improvement and the labour market.

Adult education associations were also established in Estonia and Lithuania. Together with LAEA the Estonian non-formal adult education association and Lithuanian adult education association became the main partners for the NFA in developing the new project, new initiatives and courses, new adult education programmes.

In 1994, the NFA launched a newsletter for adult educators in the Baltic states. It informed both Nordic and Baltic adult educators about the activities in the field, reported project results and helped to establish new cooperation initiatives. The newsletter was thematic oriented and topics such as adult education culture, development of new initiatives in adult education, adult education research, sustainable development, democracy, NGOs in adult education, labour market[3].

Cooperation, capacity building and sharing experience (2002-2008)

The next decade of the cooperation between adult educators in Nordic and Baltic countries is characterised as “the decade of change, increasing openness and new opportunities; and as the decade of growth and development within the field of adult learning” (Carlsen, 2002, 17). According to all experts, the most important point in this time period has been a Nordic-Baltic project “Learning 4 Sharing” – three years long development project, supported by NCM within the working programme for cooperation with Areas Adjacent to the Nordic Region (2000-2002). During the Nordic-Baltic NGO network meetings in 1999, the need for a new course for Baltic adult educational practitioners was discussed. A resource person group of about 10 members was established and represented by Folk High Schools, Study associations and municipal adult education institutions, coordinated by the NFA. Estonian Non-formal Adult Education Association, Latvian Adult Education Association and Lithuanian Association of Adult Education became partners. A group of 32 participants has created: 8 Nordic and 24 Baltic participants.

The goal of the project has been to provide the possibility for Baltic adult educators to create the training modules for adult education practitioners. The modules were to be elaborated to join an education session with the Nordic adult educators, using experience and knowledge acquired from the previous training projects. The modules were to be tested in practice in the Baltic countries in meantime between the international and national sessions. A competency-based approach to the training of trainers was very new back then.

The “Manual for Adult Educators” (Carlsen, Irons, 2003) describes products of the project, path forwards in the new course, highlights of the project, success stories and lessons learned by participants and the international teams. In the foreword to the Manual, the former director of the NFA, Carina Abrén, writes: “Today it means even more than before, because of the enlargement of Europe that brings us closer in another way than before to the Baltic states. It means that the exchange and common learning have now an extended area for sharing. From this project, we all have an excellent product or products in non-formal and formal adult learning, and this is a way to learn. The experiences of the project mean for all of us an important contribution to systems and practice in the field of adult learning” (Carlsen, Irons, 2003, 6; italic in the original).

In 2004 Latvia joined the European Union. The projects started in the frame of Nordic-Baltic cooperation initiatives continues. For example, the work started in the project “Learning 4 Sharing” continues in the Grundtvig 1.1. project “A Good Adult Educator in Europe” (AGADE) (2003-2006), funded by the European Commission. In the focus are the innovative elements I the curriculum of adult education: “a modular training framework, approaches based on competencies and challenges that practitioners face in their everyday work, learning materials tailored to participants’ needs (Jääger, Irons, Varga, 2006, 5). The number of participants is increased with Portuguese and Hungarian partners joined the Nordic and Baltic colleagues.

In 2006 a resource book is published as a result of the new project “AGADE. A Good Adult Educator in Europe” (Jääger, Irons, Varga, 2006). It consists of 13 chapters describing different processes of building and developing curricula in different countries. Adult educators from Portugal, Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Lithuania, Ireland, Hungary describe their experiences in developing the outline of a training device for adult educators, going through different steps to curriculum formulation, reflections on being adult educators, the problems with self-directness, experiences in working with learning styles, distance education,  blended learning, learning diaries as a tool for reflection, feedback to learners, video tapping, critical creativity and a variety of practical problems in adult educators´ everyday work.

From 2000 adult educators for Northwest Russia are participating in the cooperation initiatives. Baltic adult educators now have the possibility to share their experiences with Russian colleagues. For example in 2003-2005, Latvian adult educators participate in the development project together with Russian adult educators. The ALLA Project united the efforts of about 50 Russian NGOs from four regions of Northwest Russia (Karelia, Leningrad Region, Pskov Region and Novgorod Region) to promote the development of local civic society through educational activities. The project partners should define their position in the local community, clarify their missions and build up their learning capacity through extensive experience exchange with Baltic and Nordic partners. Two resource books were published in result of this project: Handbook “Как навести порядок в работе нашей организации» and «Искусство планировать» (2004). According to the experts, the Nordic adult education model was useful in post-soviet countries because it provided the space for dialogue – something Baltic and Russian people wanted to learn. Arne Carlsen writes in one of the Baltic sea dialogue” about Nordic Popular Enlightenment: “Discussions at an equal level among people, where rules for a non-power-based discussion had to be respected, like not interrupting, letting everyone speak, respecting the best argument, etc. This true dialogue was also linked to the upcoming new democratic societies, peasants given access to political life, but had no experience in taking part in political decision-making, and therefore had to acquire the necessary knowledge by creating new forms of their own” (Carlsen, 1994, 19).

Sharing knowledge, common decision making and creating new knowledge together (ongoing)

One of the examples of that experience has been shared across the borders is the book published in 2000 “The Rope. Stories of adult education”, edited by Toms Urdze. The book is one of the results of the project “Further Training for adult educators/teacher trainers from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Northwest Russia “Democratic Methods in Teaching Adults” (1996-1998), initiated by Baltic adult educators and the umbrella organisations for adult education in Latvia and Lithuania, coordinated by the NFA and supported by NCM.  In the book, adult educators from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Northwest Russia tell their stories. A story written by Anita Lanka starts as follows: “I have worked as a university teacher for the last 15 years. My students accept me and my boss is satisfied with my work. On the whole, my life did not seem so bad. My work was usually too busy to spend much time reflecting. I worked out the content for a didactic course and tried to present it in the most appropriate way. Every year I would change aspects of the course, add new ideas and theories. My attention was always focused on the content of the course, the knowledge and new theories I thought were necessary for my adult students – I did not think much about the process of teaching. But deep down, I felt that there was something that was not allowing me to achieve real satisfaction from my work…”  (Urdze, 2000, 17). Here Anita reflects on her teacher identity and thereby teaching style changing while participating in a course in experiential learning.

Brita Lønstrup explains in the introduction to the book, that story is used in “The Rope” not to remember the events from the childhood, but the story is used “in the opposite dimension of time; the storyteller tries to find her identity in the future” (Lønstrup in Urdze, 2000, 3). This publication tells us a story about adult educators developing their own identity.

In the following years Latvian adult educators’ identity grows stronger, the contacts established in the 90s are used to develop and conduct new projects, there are regular meetings between Nordic and Baltic adult educators, as well as between Baltic adult educators. For example, Baltic adult educators meet at the Baltic Summer Schools – now getting traditional. The last summer school is held in Estonia under the title “Journey of adult educators towards the professionalization: Pattern or pathway?”. The umbrella organisations[4] for adult educators meet every year. The last meeting was held in Tallinn, were umbrella organisations met at the seminar “Nordic-Baltic civic society meeting”. Among participants, Folk High School Association in the Nordic countries, Baltic Adult Education Umbrella Organisations, Nordic Folk High School Council, Association of Swedish Folk High School Teachers, Swedish Embassy, FOLAC “Folkbildning – Learning for Active Citizenship”. The work pointed out at the conference on 10 years of cooperation between Nordic and Baltic adult educators continues. Among other adult educators work on:

  • the development of a European basic model for validation of foreign professional competence,
  • designing social-economic intervention projects for the rural population,
  • developing European Summer Academy for adult educators in the three Baltic states focusing on sustainable development and implementation of concepts of intercultural learning,
  • projects for sustainable development and modern information technologies;
  • developing and connecting the best practice of learning cultures for lifelong learning,
  • adapting adult education in prisons,
  • developing online projects for adults,
  • developing courses for ecotourism,
  • promoting active citizenship in Europe (Sprogøe, 2003a).


2. Developing adult education and learning theory

The developments, in theory, supported practical implementation. Anita Jākobsone said at the conference devoted to 10th anniversary of cooperation between Nordic and Baltic adult educators: that “knowledge and experiences were acquired and adapted simultaneously. Therefore, today we can speak not only about successful Baltic-Nordic joint education projects but also cooperation in writing teaching manuals, making analytic reports, training educators on adult education in the Baltic inside and outside universities” (Jakobsone, 2003, 16).

Competence development and learning decade (1991-2002)

As mentioned in the chapter on the development of the practice of adult education in Latvia, to give the Baltic adult educators a possibility to learn about Nordic adult education experience, Nordic Folk Academy offered a number of learning opportunities for Baltic adult educators. Among those persons are the researchers, who later developed the theory on adult education in Latvia. One of the summer schools held at the NFA, (summer school in 1993) was aimed at adult educators and trainers and focused on the forms, methods and philosophy of adult education. A six-week (four weeks of theory and two weeks of study visits[2]) course aimed to provide inspiration and promote information exchange between the trainers and leaders from the Baltic adult education institutions and universities. Approximately 100 Nordic teachers and lecturers were involved in the summer academy, supported by Nordic Council of Ministers and other institutions.

At the same time, NFA began to host Baltic research scholars from all three Baltic states, including Latvia. Three-month research scholarships were granted by the Nordic Council of Ministers for scholars (teachers from the universities, municipality employees and policymakers) doing research in adult education and sustainable development (Dialogue – Baltic, No. 3, 1994). The scholars lived at the NFA, were supervised by its lecturers and used the library of the academy to conduct their research projects on adult education. These research projects, together with other cooperation activities have provided a good foundation for the further development of adult education theory in Latvia.

Among other cooperation activities are the cooperation projects between Nordic and Baltic universities. In her interview, Dainuvīte Blūma, said that since 1990 literally all adult learning experience in Latvia was connected with the Nordic countries, “ because the Nordic countries came up with the idea; both theoretically and practically it started with the Nordic countries” (From the interview with Dainuvīte Blūma).

For many teachers and teacher trainers in Latvia, the cooperation with Nordic countries started with a TEMPUS project on the development of further teacher education in 1994. “Training of teachers in keeping with contemporary requirements and activation of pedagogical thought in Latvia”[5] project was “to transform curricula and teaching materials to that students might be stimulated toward greater activity and toward democratic participation in the training of their teachers” (Bluma, 1997, 113). According to Blūma, transformations of the educational system must begin with the training of teachers. Thereby the project established discussions at all related levels: in schools between students and teachers, among teachers, between university students and their lectors, among the lectors, etc. “The purpose was to activate pedagogical thought in order to ensure that changes in the country’s educational system be based on the demands and requirements of real life” (Bluma, 1997, 113).

The second “Improvement of ongoing education for teachers at Latvian Universities” TEMPUS project was implemented in 1994-97 and involved a number of pedagogical universities in Latvia and abroad[6]. It aimed to promote a teacher training and to prepare new courses, programs and teaching materials for theoretical, psychological and pedagogical aspects of teaching, and to promote the establishment of a democratic decentralised system of further education for teachers.

As a result of the two projects participants highlighted important pedagogical ideas still used in the education of teachers:

  • shift from teacher to the student-centred pedagogy;
  • transfer from authoritarian to democratic teaching methods;
  • transfer from passive listening to creative action;
  • an integrated approach to the learning process;
  • promoting adult teaching methods;
  • self-evaluation;
  • strengthen the teacher’s role in culture;
  • changes of societal values and readiness to participate in this change by virtue of the teacher’s intelligence and professional abilities (Bluma, 1997, 121).

A Nordic-Baltic project “Activity plan of the Nordic Council in the area of ongoing education of teachers” (1997-2000) followed up the work of the TEMPUS projects. It helped school administrators and teachers to learn to develop curricula through cooperation between teachers,  administrators and the students.

In 1995, the University of Latvia establishes a department of adult education[3] that developed the first master’s programme in adult education. In 1996, an adult education group was established to conduct the training of teachers at universities. The training courses allowed the university teachers to learn about theoretical aspects of adult education, to improve their teaching and to undergo training in Nordic countries.

In the interview, Dainuvīte Blūma describes the nature of the cooperation in the Nordic-Baltic projects: “We learned not only adult learning theory as such, but we also got insight in the whole educational philosophy behind the adult learning theories and practical activities. It gave us the possibility to develop our own theories” (From the interview with Dainuvīte Blūma).

The theory about teachers as adult learners was developed in the above-mentioned projects. Unlike the authoritarian educational system existed in Soviet times, the new study courses were developed based on the ideas of professional self-esteem development of teacher trainers, as well as their ability to make independent decisions. “Young educators must be prepared to elaborate and defend their ideas, to make decisions, to undertake responsibility, to change and to adapt to a changing world. They must be able to analyse their work and to improve themselves during the course of that work. They must have a sense of satisfaction over their participation in pedagogical processes and over the results of the work they and their students do” (Bluma, 1997, 115). These ideas were according to the experts developed on the basis of the adult education philosophy, accesses through the work of Ebbe Vestergaard, Jens Kristian and Britta Lønstrup (Vestergaard, 1995; Vestergaard, Kristains, 1995; Lonstrupa, 1995; Lønstrup, 2002). Teachers as adult learners became a new research field (Bluma, 1997, 2012; Ivanova, 2009; 2012).

In 1999, Tatjana Koke published the first book on adult education in Latvia: “The Development of Adult Education: Most Characteristic Features“[4] (Koke, 1999). Here, Koke analyses the notion of modern adult education and its characteristics. Through the evaluation of the experiences of Western Europe, Koke in her book suggests the most suitable ways for the development of adult education in Latvia.

Cooperation, capacity building and sharing experience (2002-2008)

The above-mentioned project “Learning 4 Sharing” has been important both for the development of practice in adult education in Latvia, as well as for the theory development. All experts interviewed in the study report this project as very important for the development of adult education in Latvia. It was organised in a way, that the development of theory and practice followed each other. “What we have learnt from the Nordic cooperation project ‘Learning for Sharing’ along with the openness to learning is that we need to provide more learning opportunities people. But this has to be done with a rationale, including clear objectives and result evaluation criteria. Mr Sturle from Norway, for example, has helped us to think very pragmatically of what is a good adult educator. All variables defined can be measured, thus, clear and helpful. The results have been published that were not only on board in Latvian context but also in the southern EU member states.” (From the interview with Tatjana Koke).

In the result of the project, a new course was developed for adult educators. In 2003 a Handbook was published (Urdze, 2003). The curriculum was developed around the following main themes: the theory of adult education (how adults learn, practitioners research, philosophy of non-formal education in Nordic and Baltic countries, introduction to andragogy), adult education management and marketing, methods in adult education, methods in language teaching, distance learning, civic education) minority teaching, activating community), problem-based learning, project method, work with audience, feedback, communication skills and etc. The handbook

In Latvia, the product is The Adult Education Practitioner Training: 160-hour training course for adult educators. The three main competencies were pointed out in the research behind the handbook:

  • planning and organisation of education programmes,
  • implementation and supervision of teaching and learning processes,
  • process and result evaluation (Carlsen, Irons, 2003).

To foster these competencies, the educators focused on following personal and professional development criteria: self-esteem, tolerance, responsibility, communication skills, empathy, flexibility, knowledge about how adults learn and understanding the psychology of adults, knowledge of methods in adult education and learning, skills to prepare value-based (democratic and humanistic) programmes, planning and organisation skills, knowledge of the subject, the ability to motivate for learning before, during and after the learning process, developing the learning environment in accordance with students´ needs, skills to activate the learner, skills to self-reflection and critical thinking (Carlsen , Irons 2003).

Sharing knowledge, common decision making and creating new knowledge together (ongoing)

According to the experts, learning opportunities provided in the various cooperation projects made the basis for future developments in Latvian research on adult education and learning.

In 2008 the first issue of a new journal “Studies for the Learning Society” is published by the Department of Adult Education of Tallinn University and Baltic Region Association for Research in Adult Education (BARAE). “Studies for Learning Society” focuses on current tendencies and problematic issues, research, policies, strategy and innovations in adult learning and education and continuing professional education. Three volumes have been published (2008, 2012 and 2015).

The first issue consists of articles from five different countries on issues of transformations of adult education and lifelong learning in the Baltic countries, adults attitudes to learning, understanding experience of adults and experts in adult education, incorporation of learning strategies in adult distance learning, cognitive style and experiences of working environment in small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as learning from teaching practice as reflected in teaching cases. These themes are seen from the andragogic, sociological, and phenomenological viewpoints and perspectives of human and lifelong learning in a multidisciplinary perspective. In 2012 the journal focuses on discovering possibilities and perspectives in higher education, in 2015 – on learning and skills of young adults.

Research in adult education and learning has been conducted at the pedagogical universities of Latvia. In 2010 the University of Latvia established a doctoral school focusing on lifelong learning research. Research has been conducted on the following themes with respect to adult education:

  • Adults learning strategies for further education (Norvele, 2007)
  • Adult education as a fundament for lifelong learning (Stašāne, 2007)
  • The humanistic approach in the research of adult’s ICT competencies (Birziņa, 2007)
  • Professional development of high school teachers (Baranova, 2012)
  • Learning for personal development in folk high schools (Babajeva, 2013; Babajeva, Koķe, 2013)
  • The development of an adult’s self-experience in the learning process (Brigmane, 2014)
  • The learning outcomes approach in formal second chance education (Kuļšs, 2014)

In 2013 Ingrīda Muraškovska presented the doctoral thesis “Research of Adults´ Lifelong Learning” (Muraskovska, 2013). In this research, Muraškovska aimed to develop the lifelong learning model which meets the sustainability requirements. The developed model, criteria for evaluating the implementation of lifelong learning, suggestions for its improvement is used in the development of policy documents.

Latvian researchers participate in all five networks of ASEM LLL hub and develop adult education further.

3. Policy

This section reviews the Latvian adult education policy from 1991 to 2015. It reflects upon transition stages from concept development to the ‘right to learn’ as a basic human right (Belanger, Duke, & Hinzen, 2007).

A post-soviet country’s political culture started to change rapidly since the early1990s. Democratic institutes, such as the parliament, government and justice system have been put in place. In turbulent times roughly described by lack of resources even for the basic needs, adult education has had low but nevertheless increasing priority in the policy agenda. A primary ‘problem identification’ (Nakamura, 1987) component of the policy cycle was missing. To this end, adult education policy required to go through problem identification and a better understanding of the benefits of a functioning adult education system.

Competence development and learning (1991-2002)

An OECD review (2000) has identified a gap between the policy of adult education and its implementation. This includes institutional and support structures. The 1994 national programme for education designed by the Ministry of Education comprised seven measures for systemic developments in adult education (Jelenc, 1996). Dictated by the need of establishing a solid legal base for adult education these measures often address improvement of strategies and policies rather than tangible learning opportunities. In order to implement these measures, the national programme comprised also international cooperation, partnerships and networking.

Cooperation, capacity building and sharing experience (2002-08)

Countries in the neighbouring regions had provided support for the capacity building of stakeholders of adult education policy and implementation. While efforts are needed to involve adult educators into the policy discourse on adult education (Milana, 2010, 47) it has proved to be difficult without the latter.

The European Association for the Education of Adults reviewed adult education trends in the EU member countries and beyond, identifying key issues requiring the development of new policy – report (EAEA, 2006).

Explicit lifelong learning strategies have been adopted by the majority of European countries. Some countries[5] did this recently in response to the European policy agenda (Europe 2020, Education & training 2020). The majority has developed their lifelong learning strategies before 2007, the year of publication of the Action Plan on Adult Learning.

In 2005, the Latvian Parliament has adopted a long-term conceptual growth model called ‘A person in the first place’ (Saeima, 2005). It assigns educated people – through education at all levels – a role of the State’s safety and economic growth.  Human as a driver idea is similar to those proclaimed in the Nordic countries.

The question of lifelong learning as a guiding principle has been raised by the government in 2006. A Lifelong learning strategy 2007-13 based on the conceptual growth model has been adopted a year later (Lifelong learning strategy). The strategy defined formal and non-formal education, including adult education for various target groups including those at risk of exclusion. The strategy was amended in 2009 to reflect the change due to the economic crisis.  Amendments have noticeably decreased the focus from liberal education towards labour market driven training. This was linked to scarcity of funds.

Despite the efforts, the final report on the implementation of the strategy admits the failure to ensure funding that allows promoting adult education. It also notes an unbalanced provision of adult education in different regions. Despite a declared target of 12.5% by 2013, statistical data (Eurostat, 2015) shows a decline of participation of adults (25-64) in learning from 6.9% in 2007 to 5.5% one year after completion of the strategy.

In terms of structural support, the launch of the strategy was supported by the newly introduced unit within the education ministry in 2003. It has been responsible for the development of adult education in Latvia until dissolved in 2012. The responsibility of adult learning remained within the ministry by responsible officers.

Creating and sharing knowledge (2008-2015)

In 2014, the principles of a lifelong learning strategy were integrated into the national education strategy 2014-20. It focuses again mainly on the supply to the labour market.


Conclusions: transformations initiated by enthusiasts

According to McLeish (1998) “educational change” and “reform” do not capture the essence of the link between political, social and economic transition and the radical democratisation of education systems. “Educational systems do not change simply because there is a change in national government. Factors that spark both “macro-level” and “micro-level” transitions often consist of a complex interplay of global and local political, economic and social forces – including the influence of international development assistance agencies” (Mebrahtu, 2000, 11).

In Latvia, this link is easy to grasp because the changes were made by the individuals rather than by the system. All experts report problems with a lack of support from the country. “I shall say that we experience big difficulties because of the lack of [adult] educational low and the official policy in this field. It is difficult to work when there is no official support. There were enthusiasts who worked in their fields”.  (From the interview with Dainuvite Bluma). For example, a program for the education of adults is developed but it was impossible to implement it due to lack of funds. During the administrative reform, the structure of regions has collapsed together with most regional adult education centres.

Toms Urdze, who arrived in Latvia in 1995 after studying adult education in Germany, tells about the enthusiasts in his interview: “What I saw when I arrived, was a huge enthusiasm, people were caring a lot about the adult education. There was also a lot of enthusiasm in the field of non-governmental organisations. There were a big hope and the motivation to work on it”   (From the interview with Toms Urdze).

The notion that the changes were made by enthusiasts, is also supported by Tatjana Koke, she told in the interview, that there were many attempts to develop the low for adult education. Unfortunately, in the developmental policy of the state there always were other priorities that made the accepting of this low impossible. “But I think, that the fact that there have been work done on this low, helped the people to come through with the initiatives in the practise. There was many activists, professionals, and yes – enthusiasts – who moved the adult education forward” (From the interview with Tatjana Koke).

As well does Anita Jakobsone: “In 2013, the conference devoted to the celebration of the LAEA 20th anniversary and Latvia’s entry into EU took place. At that time I had already analysed AL developments in Latvia. I have concluded that the situation is ‘normal’. Infrastructure in regions still exists. Liberal and market-oriented AL elements are visible. There are no ‘strong barriers’ in the legislation against supply and development of non-formal education, but also no strong financial support from the state to AL. In contrast to Estonia that finances AL through the Popular Education League (grants, criteria) for more than 10 years, there is no comprehensive funding model of AL in Latvia. Unfortunately, support of EU structural funds since 2004 has not improved the situation as the channels of funding for AL have not been mainstreamed” (From the interview with Anita Jakobsone).

In the 1990s, Latvia began the transformation to an independent state and democratic society. These transformations included building a completely new educational system, especially in the field of adult education there was much work. Seeking after an alternative approach to adult education, Latvian researchers looked at the experience of other European countries, especially Nordic countries. According to experts, Nordic countries in the 1990s were very open to sharing their knowledge and experience. In the early 90s, they provided the ground for future developments in adult education in Latvia by creating the possibilities for Latvian adult educators to learn. It was possible because of the support of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

In the cooperation with Nordic countries learning opportunities were created for adult educators where they had the possibility to learn about and to experience in practice the complexity of adult education. The Latvian adult educators learn about theory and practise of adult education by applying the new knowledge in their everyday work. About participation in one of the projects Bluma says: “From the very first day, inspired by Danish colleagues, we worked with students and with their teachers at the same time. Simply because we didn’t have time to wait for teachers finishing their education” (From the interview with Dainuvite Bluma).

As Toms Urdze pointed out in his interview, Nordic-Baltic cooperation was remarkable because of the long-term projects. There was time to build strong cooperation contacts with Baltic colleagues and with Nordic colleagues. In the three years long projects there was time to understand the needs, to plan the work carefully, to analyse the process and to reflect on the results. Cooperation was sustainable.



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[1] Denmark, Finland, Island, Norway, Sweden

[2] Study visits were to folk high schools, study associations, youth schools, day high-schools, competence development centres, professional education centres, ministries and cultural institutions in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

[3] Chaired by Dainuvite Bluma

[4] In Latvian: Pieaugušo izglītības attīstība: raksturīgākas iezīmes (Koke, 1999).

[5] e.g. Estonia, Latvia, and Bulgaria


[1] Antra Carlsen was among participants at the first Summer Academy for Baltic adult educators in 1992 at the Nordic Folk Academy in Gothenburg. Back in 1992 she was both student and teacher. She taught adult education and learning terminology and developed a dictionary of the terminology for Baltic adult educators. In 1993-2004 she has been project leader for the Nordic-Baltic cooperation projects at the NFA, where she actively participated in developing and coordinating the new cooperation activities for Baltic and later also Northwest Russian adult educators. In all these years, she was one of the editors of Baltic Sea Dialogue – the newsletter for Baltic adult educators. Today she is the head coordinator at Nordic Network for Adult Learning (NVL).


Dainuvite Būma is professor emeritus, Dr. Paed., at the University of Latvia. She has been working at the University since 1996 and has been involved in teacher pre-service and in-service education. She had the challenge and great opportunity to actively participate in the crucial change process in Latvia after regaining independence in 1991. Being the Latvia’s coordinator in several international cooperation projects in education, which were involving also Nordic Partners, she had a opportunity to learn and introduce adult education theories in teacher education and among adult population in general. Since then her research interests have been on students as adults and adults as students. She was a head of the first Adult education department in the University of Latvia. Under her guidance the master degree curriculum in adult education was developed. Dainuvite had been involved as expert on Gruntvig projects in adult education in EACEA and in national education projects on in-service education of teachers and education managers.


Anita Jākobsone is doctor of Philosophy, is today a regional director at DVV International responsible for Ukraine, Moldova and Belorussia.  In 1993-2000 she was the leader of Latvian Adult Education Association. Anita is known as a person who has been actively involved in organising adult education activities, teaching, policy making, editing local and international publications and sociological research, an internationally recognised expert and UNESCO Latvian National committee educational expert. She has been leading more than 30 international cooperation projects in lifelong education and adult education, including citizenship education, professional education, second chance education in Latvia, Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova, Tadzhikistan. Anita have been coordination several Nordic Folk Academy projects in Latvia. She has also been leading international projects of the German Folkhighschool association in Latvia and in other countries.


Tatjana Koķe is Dr.habil.paed. Vice rector for Education at Riga Stradins University, professor of adult education, senior researcher at the University of Latvia. In 2007-2010 she was Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Latvia. Tatjana was involved in the development and expertise of Lifelong learning policy documents in Latvia, Estonia and Portugal. She has been the Board member of European Adult Education Association (2006-2008) and Vice president and member of the Council of International Bureau of Education, UNESCO (2004-2008). Since 2008 she is the UNESCO International Bureau of Education editorial board member of journal “Prospects”, quarterly review of comparative education, Springer. Under her supervision seventeen doctoral students have earned PhD degree in Education. Since 2011 she participates in the Asian – European Education and Research HUB of Lifelong learning, implementing research financed by European Social fund on Development of Teachers Professional Competence for Working in Interdisciplinary environment to link learning closer to Life and Develop Students’ Entrepreneurship.


Toms Urdze is today trainer at He leads seminars about issues related to learning, planning, change facilitation, and personnel leadership. Toms is born and grown up in Germany. There, after graduating from the Latvian Gymnasium in Muenster, he turned his attention to studying adult education at the University of Oldenburg. After moving to Latvia in 1995, he devoted himself to adult education. Much of his work has been with Latvian Adult Education Association, of which he was chairman of the board for three years, Toms has participated in various international education projects. Hi is author of a number of books on learning and training related topics. He created the – one of the most popular online resources for training and leadership in Latvia. Hi is a European Commission experts and sessor for projects in the fields of adult education and e-learning.


Indgrīda Muraškovska has worked with the doctoral research on adult’s lifelong learning (2013). She developed the lifelong learning model, criteria for evaluating of the implementation of lifelong strategies and suggestions that can be used in developing policy documents.


Sarmīte Pilāte is current director of Latvian Adult Education Association since 2010. Work experience includes international cooperation in the field of Lifelong learning: teaching experience of adults, coordination of many EU Lifelong Learning projects from 2002;  co-author of several education programmes and methodological materials.


[2] Se the overview of activitites at the blog

[3] The themes of “Baltic Sea Dialogue”: “New Nordic-Baltic initiatives in the fields of adult education and culture” (1994), “Nordic-Baltic efforts in the fields of adult education and popular enlightenment” (1994), “Adult Education in Lithuania, similarities and differences with the Nordic Countries” (1994), “The development of adult education” (1995), “Adult Education Research in the Baltic” (1995), “Baltic Umbrella-organisations” (1995), “Nordic Experiences within Baltic Co-operation” (1996), “Teacher Training in the Baltic Countries” (1996), “Environmental Education in Baltic Countries” (1996), “Democracy” (1997), “Labour Market Training in the Baltic Countries” (1997), “NGOs in adult education & environmental education” (1998-1999), “Openness in adult education” (1999-2000), “Networking” (2000), “Personal development – competence development” (2001), “Partnerships” (2001), “Roles of the Adult Educator” (2002), “10 years of Nordic-Baltic Cooperation (2002)”.


[4] Nordic-Baltic non-formal education umbrella organisations cooperation consists of following organisations: Danish Adult Education Association, Estonian Adult Education Association, Icelandic Adult Education Association, Latvian Adult Education Association, Lithuanian Association for Adult Education, Norwegian Association for Adult Learning, Swedish Adult Education Association.


[5] Among participants in this project: Jan Jakobsen from the Royal Danish School for Educational Studies at Odense, Denmark, Lennart Badersten from the Department if the Lund University at Malmö, Roger White from the Department of Education of the University of Western England at Bristol, as well as seven institutions of higher learning in Latvia with train teachers: Kārlis Dobelis from the Liepāja Pedagogical University, Amandis Podiņš from the Daugavpils Pedagogical University, Uldis Švinks at Latvian Academy of Sprots Pedagogy, Aloida Gavare from the Rēzekne Teachers Istitute, Juris Stabiņš from the Rīga Pedagogical University and Dainuvīte Blūma from the Department of Education and Psychology of the University of Latvia (Bluma, 1997, 114).


[6]  Among participants Ņina Petrauska from Liepāja Pedagogical University, Inta Laurena from Daugavpils Pedagogical University, Uldis švinks from Latvian Academy of Sports Pedagogy, Rūta Cipija from Rīga University of Pedagogy and Educational Management, Dainuvīte Blūma from Department of Education and Psychology at the University of Latvia, Ingemar Holgerson from Kristianstad University, Roger White from University of Western England in Bristol, Jens Jakobsen from Royal Danish School of Educational Studies in Odense.