To Intervene or Not to Intervene, That is the Question! (part1)

March 8, 2022 by Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik

When experiencing someone in distress, most of us cannot help ourselves but react YES! However, if this is our (re)action, we should most certainly ponder on how to intervene and to what extent. To which point is our intervention actually helpful and when does it overstep integrity boundaries and turn into oppression? There is a thin line between both effects.

My personal experience

In my early thirties, I had a painful but rewarding experience with fighting addiction. I had just started a family of my own and it hurt terribly when I realized that obviously, I did not escape the curse of alcoholism that had determined my youth. Together with my partner, we enlisted in a programme that promised to bring about a better life. It was called the ‘socio-andragogical method of curing addictions’ and was led by a charismatic psychiatrist. In the therapeutic community that he had established, people with similar life stories gathered and we learned from each other enormously. In addition, we had to read, write, hike, jog, study and eventually increase our educational level. In short, while undergoing psychiatric treatment, we actually subscribed to a healthy lifestyle.

In most cases it actually worked. Addiction from a substance was gradually replaced by ‘addiction’ from the abovementioned activities, especially if they led to success – at first on a small scale, gradually on larger ones. Personal growth, restored family, renewed ability to become a good worker and a respected member of various communities … All this happened due to increased awareness and engagement in activities for maintaining physical and mental health – far from the dark depths of addiction and disturbing relationships.

I was active in this program for more than 15 years – at first as the accompanying person (with flaws of my own that had to be overcome), later on as a lay therapist. The wisdom I have gained has been indispensable in my further life and work.

Awareness-raising – my mission in life and work?

Ironically enough, I spent my next 25 years or so in the andragogic (adult education) field in spite of my background in economy and information science. In 1995, I joined the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education and worked mainly in developing approaches for effective promotion of the culture of lifelong learning. From the very beginning, I was engaged in shaping the campaign called Lifelong Learning Week (LLW) and have acted since as national coordinator of what gradually became a country-wide movement. From around 70 partners and 500 events in 1996, our indicators rose up to nearly 2,000 partners and 8,000 events in 2019 (with numbers understandably decreasing in the last two years due to COVID-19).


In the past few years, this has been our mode of operation: in five weeks (usually in May and June), the whole LLW network organizes educational, cultural, social and many other events in order to draw attention to formal, non-formal and informal learning opportunities. Our partners are far from being educational organisations only. We believe that learning takes place at all stages and all walks-of-life; therefore, LLW events are omnipresent. In addition to venues across the whole country, there are the so-called Learning Parades – days of learning communities. At 12-15 public places in major Slovenian towns, providers present their learning offer at stands and on stages, and there are performances by successful learners. Lots of colours, music, playfulness but also relevant information and guidance draw the attention of passers-by.

Through recurrent LLWs and some other campaigns, we have been attempting to address the widest public and convince them to participate in learning. We are promising joy and empowerment, better chances at work and in life in general … We are trying to ‘sell’ the idea that learning is the panacea for all problems. With special care, we are focusing on vulnerable target groups: people with low educational levels, the unemployed, migrants and Roma people, adults with various forms of impairment, young adults who have dropped out of school and have no employment, workers at risk of losing their jobs – in short, people in distress.

It would be great to have clear evidence on how many people – due to LLW events – feel inspired and/or encouraged to enlist in learning. Especially if they identify with our role models – successful learners who are the best advocates for our cause. Their life-stories – at national and local level – are the most attractive part of the national LLW opening and other events. They are media favourites as well, since they enable identification. Unfortunately, no such longitudinal research has been conducted yet.

However, official statistics on participation shows worrying results: from 16.2% in 2010 the share of 25-64-year-olds participating in adult learning has dropped down to 8.4 % in 2020. Lack of time, money, information, and unfortunately, no interest in learning (maybe due to bad experiences during schooling) – these are the most common reasons.

Even worse, research on actually acquired knowledge and skills (PIAAC survey) on adult skills, i.e. literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technologically rich environments) shows an even more disturbing portrait of the Slovenian adult population. To put it dramatically – a nation in distress.

Through learning, could they actually better their lives?

To be continued...

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