A new interest in cultural education? Observations from Germany

Marion Fleige, Inga Specht

CultureCultural education must have an impact on each stage of a person’s life and contribute to more educational equality. This was announced by Federal Minister of Education Johanna Wanka in a keynote speech on cultural education in June 2014 at the “Culture educates” dialogue forum in Berlin. The key points of such a concept are also included in the current coalition agreement which continuously result in new initiatives on a federal and state level. The observable new public interest in cultural education provides chances to re-emphasise a core area of adult education.

Cultural education goes beyond satisfying economic interests

Cultural education comprises a wide range of programmes in adult and continuing education which can be found in the areas of the arts, arts and crafts, design, cultural history daily life-culture and intercultural education etc. Cultural education should guarantee the involvement of citizens from all social classes in cultural programmes in the broadest sense, and help individuals to develop open-mindedness and perceptiveness, to sharpen the senses, and to support creativity and creative activity). Cultural education is about spending free time in a free, creative, imaginative, sensory, energising way (cf. Gieseke 2005; Fuchs 2006). It goes beyond satisfying economic interests and solving societal problems, even if it is often seen in this perspective. Nevertheless, it can be expected that cultural education contributes to developing skills that can be used in all areas of life including professional contexts as a side effect.

Recent political and societal discussions in Germany manifest a new interest in cultural education. In 2007, a study commission presented a report “Culture in Germany” which also covered the field of cultural education. Organisations like the German Culture Council as the “umbrella organisation of Federal Cultural Associations” and the Institute for Cultural Policy of the Cultural Political Society, emphasise the importance of cultural education. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) funds programmes for educationally disadvantaged children and young people in educational institutions, associations and networks. Since this year the BMBF also funds pilot projects for continuing education of artists and cultural professionals who are involved in cultural education. Moreover, the first draft of a law for the “funding and development of culture, art and cultural education in North Rhine-Westphalia” was passed which is the first of its kind at a state level. This year’s keynote speech of the Federal Minister of Education Johanna Wanka forms a further milestone in political initiatives for cultural education in Germany.

Even transnational organisations are involved in this. In 2013, the OECD presented its own report on arts education. The EU Commission supports the European discussion with the framework programme “Creative Europe”. Moreover, cultural education has been the subject of two of the World Conferences organised by UNESCO. After the first meeting in 2006, the “Seoul Agenda: Goals for the Development of Arts Education” was the outcome of the meeting in 2010. The UNESCO is also providing support to turn international discussions into national strategies and funding initiatives.

“Cultural education handbook”

Cultural education research has also been boosted, which is organised across all areas of education in the cultural education research network and can be seen in the comprehensive “Cultural education handbook” (Bockhorst/Reinwand/Zacharias 2012) that appeared in 2012 as well as the related platform “Kubi-online.de“. Moreover, particular issues of scientific journals addressed topics in cultural and arts education. Meetings and conferences on cultural education, its subjects and learning locations are held. And forums are being established where players from science, practice and further education come together in order to help and sustain these activities. This includes two academies for cultural education in Remscheid and Wolfenbüttel. This year, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is hosting its second workshop on “Research in arts education” with scientists from Germany and abroad.

For the practice of adult education, the new interest in cultural education provides the opportunity to establish itself even more as the essential field of continuing education that it has in fact become during the past decades. Moreover, the current situation provides an opportunity to everyone engaged in the field to foster the academic and professional discourse on cultural education for adults.

Flexible forms of learning

In Germany, cultural education contributes to the provision of adult and continuing education according to the continuing education legislation in the federal states. Local funds are being invested in the institutions, such as adult education centres or confessional providers. Currently 16.2 percent of the overall programme of the institutions are programmes in the area of arts and culture (cf. Horn/Ambos 2013). The programmes range from systematic-receptive (presentation on cultural history or high culture) to creative (drawing, painting etc.) to comprehensive-communicative (intercultural encounters) approaches. They cover a variety of topics, learning forms and learning locations (cf. Gieseke 2005). In addition, other providers which in fact have other tasks than adult education and are hence referred to as “assigned” providers (e.g. opera, museum, theatre) (cf. Gieseke et al 2005) also contribute to the spectrum. At the same time, adults participate in cultural artistic practices in associations, choirs and theatre groups as well as in flexible forms of learning, cultural events and cultural meeting opportunities for adults.

However, there is a great demand for cultural education in arts and culture where support is given by adult educators in organized adult education settings. The sponsors and institutions for public adult education react to this by providing a continuous programme of open classes, as well as a professional discourse and programme innovations. At its 17th forum for adult and continuing education in December 2014 in Bonn, the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) will award its innovation prize to the institutions and sponsors for their programme innovations.

In the next few years, it will remain a challenging task of the further education institutions to promote cultural education by conveying techniques and knowledge as well as aesthetic experience and enjoyment, and developing programmes for this. Here, adult educators could very much use strong support from associations, politics, civil society and the media in order to re-emphasise this field of adult learning.


Bockhorst, H./ Reinwand, V.-I./ Zacharias, W. (Eds.) (2012). Handbuch Kulturelle Bildung. München: Kopaed.

Fuchs, M. (2006). Kulturelle Weiterbildung. In: GdW-Ph 37.

Gieseke, W. (2005). Transformation der Kultur ohne Bildung? – Situation der kulturellen Bildung. In: ibid. et al. (2005), pp. 21-30.

Gieseke, W./ Opelt, K./ Stock, H./ Börjesson, I. (2005). Kulturelle Erwachsenenbildung in Deutschland – Exemplarische Analyse Berlin/Brandenburg (Europäisierung durch Kulturelle Bildung. Bildung – Praxis – Event; vol. 1). Münster et al.: Waxmann.

Horn, H./ Ambos, I. (2013). Weiterbildungsstatistik im Verbund 2011. Bonn: DIE. URL: http://www.die-bonn.de/doks/2013-weiterbildungsstatistik-01.pdf [18.09.2014].

European InfoNet Adult Education, 17.09.2014