Adult education is an important component of the lifelong learning system. The General Conference of UNESCO in 1976 defined the concept of adult education to denote the entire body of organized educational processes, content, levels and methods, regardless of whether a person continues or replaces initial education, develops his skills and enriches his knowledge or improves his technical or professional qualifications. Such activities bring about changes in attitudes or behaviour in the perspective of an individual’s personal development as well as in the perspective of participating in balanced and independent social, economic and cultural development.
In Croatia, adult education is recognized as an important component of the education system, supported by a number of important strategic documents. The most important steps in the development of the adult education system are the adoption of the Adult Education Strategy in November 2004 by the Government of Republic of Croatia, the establishment of the Adult Education Agency by Government Decree in May 2006 (Agency for VET and Adult Education since 2010) and the adoption of the Adult Education Act in February 2007. By the enactment of the Adult Education Act the normative framework is established and legal preconditions for the further development of adult education as a full-fledged part of the entire Croatian education system are created.
The first article of the Adult Education Act defines adult education in Croatia as a process of learning of adults aimed to exercise the right to free personality development, training in order to increase own employability (acquisition of qualifications for the initial profession, retraining, acquisition and deepening of professional knowledge, skills and abilities) and active citizenship education. In Croatia, adult education relates to all forms of education for persons older than 15 years. The Act stipulates that adult education is based on following principles: lifelong learning; rational use of educational opportunities, territorial proximity and universal access to education under equal conditions and in accordance with the abilities; freedom and autonomy in choosing the manner of content, form, means and methods; respect for diversity and inclusion; professional and ethical responsibilities of andragogic workers; guarantees of the quality of the educational offer and respect for the personality and dignity of each participant.
Furthermore, the Strategy of Education, Science and Technology, adopted by the Croatian Parliament on 17 October 2014, recognizes adult education as an integral part of a comprehensive education system based on the concept of lifelong learning. It emphasizes two main goals of adult education: 1. The acquisition of transversal competencies of the individual: initiative and entrepreneurship, learning to learn, cultural expression, social inclusion (volunteer, environmental, political and other activism, adoption and application of democratic values and attitudes), parenting skills, creative and artistic evaluation and expression, development of basic economic, financial and media literacy, etc. 2. The acquisition of knowledge and skills that enable employability, greater adaptability, i.e. mobility in the labour market.
The Agency for VET and Adult Education is one of the key institutions in the field of adult education in the Republic of Croatia today. Pursuant to the Agency for VET and Adult Education Act (by which the Agency takes over the tasks of the former Agency for Adult Education), the Agency is in charge of developing the adult education system through a number of elements, including analytical, development and research activities; alignment of proposals of corresponding expert and working bodies in the adult education system; expert and advisory work towards adult education institutions; participation in evaluation, self-assessment and external assessment procedures in the adult education system; methodology for developing adult education programs; encouraging cooperation and participation in the implementation of programs and projects related to the development of the adult education system; training and professional development of employees in the adult education system.
Adult education also plays an important role at the level of EU policies, where a number of strategic documents speak of the importance of further development and improvement in this area.
The Renewed European Agenda for Adult Learning adopted by the Council of the European Union in 2011 emphasizes that adult education is a key component of lifelong learning and covers a range of formal, non-formal and informal educational activities, both general and vocational, that adults engage in after completing initial education and training.
The Council of the European Union, in Council Recommendation on Upskilling Pathways: New Opportunities for Adults in 2016, recommends, inter alia, that Member States, in accordance with national legislation, circumstances and available resources, work closely with the social partners and adult education providers in order to provide the access to education and training to adults with lower level of skills, knowledge and competences and according to their individual needs, e.g. persons who early left basic education or training and/or have not completed secondary or equivalent education, that would enable them to:
(a) acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital competence; and/or
(b) acquire a broader set of skills, knowledge and competences relevant to the labor market and active participation in society.