And not just books, but also much more, such as games, puzzles, online tools… – all to be used to study and create, was waiting for the guests of the study visit to the Netherlands at the Zoetermeer Forum. We learned that, in addition to the Zoetermeer Library, the building hosts around 45 other partners, including the Zoetermeer AEC, Literacy House, a Reading and Writing Foundation unit, the social work centre, schools, non-government organisations, etc. With joint forces and strong support from the local community, they provide opportunities to develop basic skills to the approximately 120,000 inhabitants of Zoetermeer. “Language (with emphasis on Dutch) and digital skills are the most important, as well as everything else needed for a quality life”, said one of the institution’s representatives. They also provide a safe and encouraging environment – especially for immigrants, so they can integrate into society as seamlessly as possible, eventually gain employment, share their talents with others (e.g. culinary, musical, etc.), helping them to establish and strengthen social networks. Zoetermeer Forum employees visit homes and raise awareness that for the well-being of a family, lifelong learning of all family members is crucial, and the best way to – happiness! For that, they rely on a wide network of volunteers, which eventually also includes the learners, following the principle that whoever receives knowledge, should eventually also share it to the best of their ability.

The exchange of experiences confirms what we already know, opens new possibilities, and warns of potential traps

The study visit, also called PLA is an integral part of the EAAL project implemented in all EU member states. We do not always carry out the same activities, but some things remain the same: our target groups are adults with a low level of education and with poor basic skills. We help the participants obtain these skills through participation and collaboration of various stakeholders on national, and especially local level, since we believe that the lack of those skills extends to all areas of life. The event in the Hague (and Zoetermeer) in the Netherlands on 25 and 26 February, was hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science, which is also in charge of coordinating the implementation process for the EAAL project in that country. The participants were national EAAL coordinators from nearly all EU states.

The main part of PLA focused on the exchange of experience, views, and examples, concerning the networks of stakeholders providing opportunities to develop basic skills. How to establish these networks, what requires special attention, how to ensure their continuous growth, how to maintain them and keep motivated – on an institutional as well as personal level? The pieces of paper on the walls intended for our views were soon covered with writing. First, we listened to the presentation of the Count on Skills project, used to promote the development of literacy, especially reading, in the Netherlands. This project (which has been running since 2012 and is currently in the final 2016–2019 phase) is based on strong collaboration of various departments (education, culture, science, social affairs, employment, health, well-being and sports, internal affairs) with local communities and stakeholder networks on a local level.

And what did we learn?
A common mission, clear vision, concrete goals, optimal distribution of roles and responsibilities, defined financing, mutual benefits and broader effects – all are crucial in establishing the network, as well as later in the process. Partnerships should be wide-reaching, because while homogeneous ones are easier to manage, heterogeneous ones broaden horizons and better reflect reality. When searching for partners, one must look beyond the established flows, and provide continuous training to all involved (including the volunteers!). The formula for success includes regular evaluation of achieved goals, flexibility, and continuity. And the success should truly be based on small, but firm steps that happen with strong political support on national and local level.

This is only the tip of the iceberg we addressed in the Hague, which we will continue to tackle in April at a similar event in Luxembourg. There, our attention will be focused on the meaning of collaboration in the awareness-raising, promotion, and guidance in adult education. Slovenia is among the countries contributing plenary presentations, and we also plan to record a short documentary. There are plenty of reasons to follow our progress!

Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik, MSc (, SIAE