Challenges of the Countryside – a rural literacy programme for adults in Slovenia

Country Profile: Slovenia


2.072.000 (2013)

Official language


Total expenditure on education as % of GDP

5.68 (2011)

Access to primary education, total net enrolment rate (NIR)


Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 99.91%
Male: 99.81%
Both sexes: 99.86%

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 99.70%
Male: 99.73%
Both sexes: 99.72%

Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleChallenges of the Countryside (a rural literacy programme for adults in Slovenia)
Implementing Organization Ljudska univerza Velenje (Adult Education Centre Velenje), a non-profit education and training provider for young people and adults in Slovenia.
Language of InstructionSlovene
Programme PartnersAndragoški center Slovenije (Slovenian Institute for Adult Education), and Kmetijsko gozdarska zbornica Slovenije (Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry of Slovenia). Funding: Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, the European Social Fund and the Employment Service of Slovenia.
Annual Programme Costs8,500 EUR
Date of Inception2005

Country Context

The 1998 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) found that more than three-quarters (77%) of the Slovenian population performed at below the international average for literacy skills. The results of the study – the first-ever national survey of adult literacy in Solvenia – caused shock waves among Slovenian politicians. The government’s response was strongly centralized, increasing public funding, introducing new laws to promote adult education and establishing new educational goals, to be achieved by 2020. These included a 19% participation rate in lifelong learning among people aged between 25 and 64, and an 8% participation rate in non-formal general education. The government also aimed to ensure that half of adults who had not attained elementary school-level qualifications reached that level by 2020 and that 65% of the population aged 25–64 had at least four years of upper-secondary education (Adult Education Master Plan 2014–2020).

In 2013 12.4% of Slovenes participated in adult learning. The proportion had fallen since 2010 when 16.2% participated – a drop attributable to the difficult economic environment (Education and Training Monitor, 2014). Nevertheless, only four countries in the EU ranked higher: Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands (UIL, 2013: 112). The improvement was possible because of funding from the European Social Fund, active employment policies subsidising the education of unemployed people, and initiatives such as the Agency for Education of Employees, which was established in 2009. The latter is a training fund run by regional chambers of commerce which requires members to contribute one per cent of their income for training their employees. Despite initiatives of this sort, private funding has decreased, with the take-up of adult learning by individuals and companies continuing to depend largely on whether or not the courses are funded in full by the government.

One problem with taking a centralized approach is that success depends to a large extent on the strength of local and regional capacity. Only 12 out of 212 communities in Solvenia adopted annual adult education programmes, and many local communities had neither the financial capacity nor the personnel to provide access to non-formal primary education without substantial state support (UIL, 2013: 72).

Rural parts of Slovenia are the least developed in terms of literacy proficiency. This means that people living in rural communities are less able to participate in social activities or progress in the labour market. Ljudska univerza Velenje, with the support of the the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education (SIAE), developed its rural literacy programme in order to provide these communities with training in literacy and sustainable development. Teachers on the programme are trained by the SIAE to support locals in finding and taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the environment they live in, with a view, ultimately, to improving their social and economic situation.

The SIAE is the main national institution for research and development, quality improvement, guidance and validation, and promotional and informative activity in the field of adult education in Slovenia. It drafts professional guidelines and evaluations, monitors the development of the adult education system, develops various non-formal and formal types of learning, and develops programmes to improve adult literacy, paying particular attention to improving the access of vulnerable groups of adults to education and learning.

Programme Overview

Challenges of the Countryside, a rural literacy programme for adults in Slovenia, was developed by the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education in 2005 in response to the adult literacy problems highlighted in the IALS survey and an assessment of the educational needs of adults in the Slovenian countryside drawn from the 2005 research project, Development of the educational model for literacy development and sustainable development of the rural areas in Slovenia. The research revealed that a large proportion of the rural population in Slovenia lack the skills necessary for active participation in society and the labout market (only 10% have functional literacy skills, while 42% have completed only primary-level education). Surprisingly, in light of these problems, more than 70 per cent of adults surveyed remained motivated to take up further learning opportunities, perhaps because of the high rate of unemployment in rural areas. The research also found that while there is an appetite for learning there are not enough learning opportunities and appropriate learning programmes for this group of adults.

The research highlighted a number of features characteristic of the target group:

Taking these findings as a starting point, the programme aims to improve basic skills and competences (in literacy, numeracy and ICT) and social skills, to promote lifelong learning and develop active citizenship among unemployed and low-educated people in the countryside.

The programme offers opportunities to learn self-sufficiently and uses project work as a pedagogical approach, embedding basic skills within the topics of sustainable development and entrepeneurship by initiating an economic activity that is environmentally friendly.

The six-stage cycle below shows the planning process of the programme:


The development cycle concludes with an evaluation of the programme, which generates new knowledge and insights as to what works and what can be done differently, and which informs the new development cycle.

Aims and Objectives

The programme aims to:

Programme Implementation

Funding and Structure

The programme was approved by the Republic of Slovenia’s Expert Council for Adult Education in 2005 and is accredited by the education minister. In order to qualify for public funding, the provider organization – Ljudska univerza Velenje – had to prove it had trained teachers and premises to deliver the programme. Funding was afterwards guaranteed by the Ministry of Education and Sport and the European Social Fund, which meant the programme could be offered free of charge to participants. As the programme is part of Slovenia’s active employment policy, unemployed participants are also entitled to maintenance support in the form, for example, of a living-costs allowance and a contribution to travel costs .

The rural literacy programme is a non-formal, 120-hour training programme that takes place, for the most part, in adult education centres or in venues in rural communities. Each group is made up of between 12 and 16 participants who meet twice a week for four or five months, and are mentored by two teachers who give the classes together. The groups focus initially on motivation, with a view to encouraging participants to get to know each other and assessing individual learning needs. An assessment of learning needs helps create an open and negotiated curriculum and supports the development of individual learning plans.



The programme curriculum includes basic literacy and numeracy skills, communication and social skills, learning to learn, active citizenship and ICT skills. This is a basic framework. The exact content depends on the characteristics of local communities and the needs and interests of the learners. For example, programme content offered Velenje included:

Approaches and Methodologies

The programme from the start acknowledged education as a joint enterprise and sought to ensure the full participation of learners in their learning. For instance, participants get the opportunity to see first-hand examples of good practice in rural entrepreneurship in their vicinity. The learning is considered successful only if learners actively participate in all phases of learning – from the selection of topics to planning, carrying out a project, and monitoring and evaluating their learning. As a result, the learning is variegated and multilayered, and that is embedded throughout the project, supporting participants to cooperate with each other, take responsibility and identify with the rural community. Participants therefore learn to define problems by themselves and to search for appropriate solutions to issues encountered during the learning process, while also reflecting on the decisions made. Teachers help them with their activities and individually support the development of their numeracy, literacy and ICT skills.

The model of the rural literacy programme:

Source: Petra  Javrh, National evaluation of the literacy programmes, SIAE, 2010

Source: Petra Javrh, National evaluation of the literacy programmes, SIAE, 2010

The motivation given at the start of the programme is crucial, particularly for vulnerable groups of adults. It is promoted through the programme’s focus on the real needs of the participants. These are often related to participants’ employment status and their interest in starting a business using the natural resources at their disposal.

Teaching Material

Teaching materials are developed by teachers to reflect the needs of the learners and the learning topics. Teachers select and adapt real-life materials as sources of learning. The Slovenian Institute for Adult Education recently (2011–2014) developed an innovative teaching tool in the form of video and audio materials, based on narration and the life stories of learners (SIAE, 2013).


The use of computers and the internet is encouraged in individual projects, and the small-group approach taken by the teachers supports this. For example, learners may design their business card on the computer. Learners who lack basic ICT skills can access a special computer literacy programme free of charge.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Adult literacy teachers in Slovenia are selected by the providing institutions (adult education centres, private education institutions, secondary schools with adult learning departments). Teachers in accredited courses (and also in adult literacy courses) in Slovenia must have a university degree, a teaching/learning qualification, and experience in adult education, especially in teaching vulnerable groups of adults. As part of their continuous training, teachers on the programme must also complete the basic training programme for adult literacy teachers (lasting approximately 100 hours). The training is free of charge. Provider organisations are responsible for the first selection of teachers, since they know the needs of the target groups. They select from teachers with a strong motivation to work with vulnerable groups of adults. During their training, teachers are introduced to literacy work methodologies, and to the characteristics of the rural literacy programme, as well as to the needs and characteristics of the programme’s target groups, with emphasis on the network of institutions relevant to the local environment.

The strong focus of the rural literacy programme is on environmental issues and sustainable growth, which is why teacher training programme includes the topic ‘challenges of the Slovenian countryside’, with emphasis on these aspects:

Enrolment of Learners

The programme’s target group is low-educated unemployed people living in the Slovenian countryside who do not participate in education and learning. The programme is designed to remove both situational and dispositional barriers to participation. The providing organisation (Adult Education Centre Velenje) prepares an introduction to prospective participants in co-operation with the employment agency. Teachers introduce the programme and the content, and, when possible, former learners join them. Before it begins, the programme is introduced to relevant local organisations (such as the local chamber of agriculture and forestry and local women’s groups). Provider organisations also use the local media, though this has had limited success. Experience sugggests that personal introductions and word of mouth are more effective approaches. The rural literacy programme is free of charge for participants and for unemployed participants monetary contributions (transportation costs) are guaranteed.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

An individual learning plan is designed for each student at the beginning of the programme and a formative assessment of the agreed learning outcomes is carried out at the end. The rural literacy programme is an accredited course and participants receive a publicly recognised certificate. Tthe Adult Education Centre Velenje validates prior learning and participants in the rural literacy programme are encouraged to validate their knowledge and skills. Learners on the programme are also encouraged to undertake other, mostly non-formal, courses leading to national qualifications or other learning progression routes. A national evaluation of adult literacy programmes in Slovenia confirmed that the new educational needs that emerged in the course of the programme are an indication of long-term effects of the programme.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The programme is supported by the European Social Fund which means that the Adult Education Centre Velenje must submit a report to the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, including data on various aspects of the programme (actual costs, demography of the learners, etc). During 2009–2010, the ministry commissioned a national evaluation and renewal of adult literacy programmes in Slovenia.

Impact and Challenges

Between 2010 and 2013 approximately 500 low-educated adults from rural areas participated in the rural literacy programme free of charge. A national evaluation of adult literacy programmes in 2010 revealed that the rural literacy programme contributed significantly to the learners’ self-determination and participation in social activities. Three quarters (76%) of participants between 2005 and 2010 said they got to know their living environment better, while 83% thought they had a better chance to succeed in their local community, and 87% realised new opportunities for themselves within their community. Teachers reported that participants had acquired new communication, social and interpersonal skills. The most significant benefits, according to the teachers, were: new knowledge and skills, self-determination and the motivation to undertake further education (Evaluation report of adult literacy programmes in Slovenia, SIAE, 2011).

The main outcomes for participants on the progamme included:

The programme’s impact on personal development is best illustrated through the story of one of the programme’s participants: Mrs SM joined the programme in May 2010, attending until the end of June 2010 and completing the planned 120 hours of training. At the beginning of the programme, when participants had the chance to talk about themselves, she explained that years ago she had lost her job as a saleswoman in a shop and had been without a job ever since. Her family owns a small farm, which meets the needs of the family, but she wanted to acquire new knowledge that could be used in the preparation of domestic products (bread, baked goods, homemade meat products, herbs, etc). She said that in addition to her lack of relevant knowledge, she also lacked confidence and, above all, the courage to enter the market with her products and start selling them.

Soon after joining the programme Mrs SM defined her goal: to sell her own products at the farmers’ market in Velenje. She pursued it by acquiring skills in both arithmetic (useful in costing products) and literacy (useful in drafting product descriptions, recipes, invitations and offers). On the computer course she designed her business card and a presentation on her family’s farm. She became aware that she also lacked communication skills, and knowledge of foreign languages, production and processing techniques, sales methods, and so on. After completing the programme, she took further courses and became an active member in two societies (the Society of Rural Women and the Fruit Growers’ Association).

She encouraged her husband to join the programme so that he could acquire knowledge about supplementary work opportunities and obtain the permits required for supplementary activities on the farm. Finally, their efforts allowed them to sell their products at the farmers’ market in Velenje and thus achieve her goal. Mrs SM still sells her products at the market. She has now expanded her choice of products to include traditional products made in her region. She and her husband acquired all the certificates and permits they needed to sell products from the farm. She is constantly exploring for new possibilities for the expansion of her business, including the sale of milk and pumpkin products. In 2011 the family farm received a special award from the Slovenian Institute for Certification in Agriculture and Silviculture for its homemade salami.



Lessons Learned


Raising the level of literacy is one of the goals of the Adult Education Master Plan for the period 2014–2020. This provides a strategic policy base for future provision and development. Adult literacy provision in Slovenia is based on research findings and development work carried out over a period of time. Slovenia has been participating in the second round of PIAAC and the results will be published in May 2016. This could well trigger further development in this area, including the development of sustainable provision.



Ljudska univerza Velenje (Adult Education Centre Velenje)
Ms Mirjana Šibanc
Ljudska univerza Velenje, Titov trg 2, 3320 Velenje, Slovenija
Tel: +386 3 898 54 50
Fax: +386 3 898 54 68
info (at)

Andragoški center Slovenije (Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, SIAE)
Ms Estera Možina
Andragoški center Slovenije (Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, SIAE)
Smartinska 134a, Ljubljana. Slovenija
Tel: +386 1 5842 560
Fax: +386 1 5842 550
info (at)