Learning behind bars: Realizing the benefits of prison education

Achieving lifelong learning for all means paying particular attention to vulnerable groups: while the benefits of prison education are clear, too few prisoners have access to quality education programmes, argues Marie Macauley

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Education is widely recognized as a human right, yet it is a right from which prisoners are routinely excluded. The benefits of education for prisoners are well established. It gives them the opportunity to broaden their knowledge and acquire new skills that will facilitate their sustainable (re)integration into the labour market and society, while, at the same time, reducing recidivism and the attendant economic and social costs. Yet prisoners’ education remains overlooked and under-valued. Within the framework of its programme on inclusion, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) has been studying and supporting prison education policies and programmes in different parts of the world. As the person responsible for UIL’s programme in this area, I visited the Fleury-Mérogis correctional facility (France), the largest prison in Europe, with 3,300 prisoners, to document their experience, understand the challenges they face, and identify good practices and lessons for other institutions and countries.

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Seize the moment: Financing adult learning and education

With the UN’s Transforming Education Summit just days away, Daniel Baril, chair of the committee responsible for the final declaration of CONFINTEA VII, reflects on its important commitment to better financing of adult education and why Member States need to start delivering on it

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At the closing session of the seventh UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) in June, representatives of UNESCO Member States adopted by acclamation the Marrakech Framework for Action (MFA). Commitments expressed through the MFA will guide the international debate on adult education for the next 12 years and will be among the measures by which national policies will be evaluated. Implementing the MFA is now the task awaiting national governments.

Before its final adoption, the MFA had been submitted to an extensive consultative process. First, the CONFINTEA VII consultative committee made recommendations on a preliminary draft. Second, an online public consultation gave all stakeholders the opportunity to comment on a modified draft. Finally, before being tabled at the conference, Member States had the chance to comment on a final draft. This consultative process validates the MFA as the legitimate expression of an international consensus on priorities in adult learning and education (ALE). Continue reading

A statement of intent: GRALE 5 and the Marrakech Framework for Action

The understanding of adult learning and education affirmed in GRALE 5 and at CONFINTEA VII is only the start – we must continue to make our voices heard, writes Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

UNESCO’s Fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE 5), subtitled‘Citizenship education: Empowering adults for change’, was launched on 15 June during CONFINTEA VII, in Marrakech, Morocco.

GRALE 5 shows that although progress has been made, notably in the participation of women, the picture overall remains uneven. Vulnerable groups, those who stand to benefit most from learning opportunities, are the least likely to access them. The education of migrants, refugees and displaced people remained a low priority for most countries, while around two-thirds of countries reported no improvements in the participation of people with disabilities or prisoners. Some countries reported that participation of rural populations had declined, while participation of older adults had decreased in 38 of the 159 surveyed countries. Continue reading

The right to lifelong learning: Making it a reality for all in Europe

Lifelong learning can empower individuals, support sustainable economic growth and contribute to just societies. That is why the EU is focused on making it a right for all, writes Maya Ivanova of the European Commission

The right to lifelong learning is an investment in our future – an investment that pays dividends many times over by helping people to maintain and acquire skills, to participate fully in society and to manage successfully transitions in the labour market. Today, European Union (EU) countries are firmly committed to making the right to lifelong learning a reality for all. The road ahead hides hurdles, but also opportunities. Having embarked on a journey towards universal access to lifelong learning, the EU can offer insights valuable beyond the continent.  

The world of work is undergoing a fundamental shift. Although it is not easy to picture exactly the jobs of the future, understanding the driving forces that shape our tomorrow can help us prepare for the challenges ahead. Continue reading

How to make adult education transformative: Asking the right questions

The challenges facing education demand responses that are genuinely transformative. But how should we understand transformative education and what can we do to promote it, asks Katarina Popović.

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The crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic inspired a wave of new and revived concepts, ideas and practices in education. The need for a new approach had been highlighted in response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and our likely failure to deliver against Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education by 2030. Continuing educational disparities and exacerbated gaps and setbacks underscore the urgent need to promote adult education and lifelong learning for all.

One of the ideas born out of this sense of urgency is ‘transformative education’, which UNESCO defines as teaching and learning ‘geared to motivate and empower happy and healthy learners to take informed decisions and actions at the individual, community and global levels’. The concept dominates discussions about post-crises education and is perceived as a panacea for many of today’s problems in education.

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Adult learning and education, work and a sustainable future

Without robust, high-quality and relevant adult learning and education programmes, we are in danger of neglecting our workforce and reducing the chances of a sustainable future, argues Paul Comyn of the International Labour Organization.

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Adult learning and education (ALE) serves multiple purposes in many different local and national community contexts, one of which is to support adults to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will enable them to look for and find work, either in paid employment or through other livelihoods. Employability is a key concept that underpins the work of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which it defines as the ‘portable competencies and qualifications that enhance an individual’s capacity to make use of the education and training opportunities available in order to secure and retain decent work, to progress within the enterprise and between jobs, and to cope with changing technology and labour market conditions.’

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Lifelong learning at the crossroads: Migration, diversity and inclusion

Transnational migration is changing the demography of receiving societies, driving the issue to the top of the policy agenda. Yet, despite their profound vulnerability and the economic potential they represent, migrants are still routinely denied access to the lifelong learning opportunities they need, writes Shibao Guo of University of Calgary

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As globalization intensifies, migration has been adopted as a strategy by many to compete for the most talented, skillful and resourceful in order to help build a knowledge-based economy, ameliorate labour shortages, and mitigate the effects of an ageing population. As such, migration has risen to the top of the political agenda of many countries that are involved in this process as a source, transit or destination country, or all three simultaneously. Unlike earlier forms of migration which tend to be unidirectional, the contemporary mobility of migrants is conceptualised as multiple and circular occurring across transnational spaces.

Because of its transient nature, it is almost impossible to know exactly how many transnational migrants there are around the world. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimated that, in 2020, about 281 million people, or 4 per cent of the world’s population, lived outside their countries of birth, up from 173 million in 2000. In addition, the world’s refugees and asylum seekers have doubled in number from 17 to 34 million over the past two decades. Continue reading

Lessons from the pandemic for the future of lifelong learning systems

Investing in lifelong learning and strengthening it against future shocks is essential to enabling people and societies to adapt to the changing world of work, writes Francesca Borgonovi of the OECD Centre for Skills

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The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst health crisis in a century. It has caused deep shocks and scars in economies and societies throughout the world. The pandemic continues to cause major difficulties for businesses and to challenge individuals around the world, creating disruptions to trade and labour shortages at a time of increased energy prices. At the same time, the recovery plans that many countries put in place to heal the scars of the pandemic could now be threatened by the war in Ukraine, the associated geopolitical instability and its consequences for the global economy.

Now, more than ever, it is important to invest in lifelong learning to ensure that individuals and societies will be able to navigate and integrate into a rapidly changing world of work. Learning from the past two years is critical to strengthening the resilience of lifelong learning systems to future and ongoing shocks.

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ALE, climate change and good living: A Southern perspective

Repairing our broken relationship with the planet means radically rethinking how we understand the process of education and formation, argues Timothy D. Ireland

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Grand international conferences such as CONFINTEA provide an opportunity for the international community to weigh up what has and has not been achieved in the previous decade or more and, on that basis, to agree to new signposts and guidelines for the coming years. CONFINTEA VII will perhaps go down in history as the conference which took place at one of the most delicate and critical moments in recent history, since the beginning of the series in 1949. While the sanitary crisis caused by COVID-19 has gained more space in the press, the unravelling crisis which refuses to go away is that of climate change and global warming. At times like this, education is generally indicated as part of the solution. In 2022, there is a feeling that education is no longer part of the solution but a major part of the problem: more of the same will only deepen the crisis and aggravate our problems.

Over the last decades, we have seen what Paul Stanistreet calls the ‘depoliticization of education and the grim instrumentalism of neoliberal conceptions of its purpose and value’, in which the focus of education has no longer been that of preparing people for life but only for the world of work. In a similar vein, José Mujica, the former president of Uruguay, describes the process as that of transforming people into consumers and not into citizens, despite the ongoing discussion on global citizenship. The crux of the question is the relationship between the human and natural worlds, or between humanity and other forms of life. For the Brazilian Indigenous leader and philosopher Ailton Krenak, ‘Everything is nature. The cosmos is nature. Everything that I can think of is nature’. The world into which Indigenous people have resisted being incorporated is a world which has converted nature into ‘resources’ to be exploited in such a way that the market becomes ‘everything that is outside/beyond us’. Krenak returns to one of the concepts to which we have delegated the power of attempting to reduce human aggressions on the planet – sustainable development – which he describes as ‘a myth invented by the major corporations to justify the assault which they penetrate on our idea of nature’. The COVID-19 pandemic is not an externality but an organism of the planet, a virus, which has launched an attack on ‘the form of unsustainable life which we have adopted by our free choice’: a living example perhaps of what the English poet Tennyson called ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’. We have developed a style of life which has become divorced from the living organism – Earth – characterized by its attempts to suppress diversity and to deny the plurality of forms of life, existence and habits. Continue reading

Creative writing beyond bars

As we mark World Book Day, Lisa Krolak highlights the transformative potential of creative writing in the prison context

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On World Book Day 2021, the German Prison Library Support Group (Förderverein Gefängnisbüchereien e.V.), in cooperation with the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), the Ministry of Justice of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the German reading project KonTEXT in Munich, implemented its first nationwide writing contest for prisoners. They were invited to write up to three pages on one or more of the following topics: life, freedom or hope. In the following months, prisoners submitted personal reflections, autobiographical writings, fiction, poetry, accounts of traumatic experiences, song texts, and more.

I was part of the small organizing committee and jury, reading and judging the nearly 400 entries from more than 300 inmates from 80 prisons and five juvenile detention centres from all over Germany. I can say for the whole jury that we were deeply touched by the contributions. Some made us laugh, some made us cry – but they all gave us an insight into the hopes, feelings and dreams of the authors and the reality of life in prison. We are grateful to the authors for sharing their life experiences, thoughts of freedom and hopes. It was moving to hear the silenced voices of people that society decided to lock away. Continue reading