Meditations on an emergency

The devastation caused by floods in Europe is a wake-up call with regard not only to climate change, but to lifelong learning too, writes Paul Stanistreet

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At the time of writing, the death toll from the sudden, catastrophic flooding in western Germany and Belgium has passed 170, with many more people reported missing. Thousands have lost their homes, after two months of rain fell in just two days, causing buildings to collapse and large swathes of terrain to be submerged under water. Roads crumbled and landslides reshaped the topography, all in a matter of hours. It was a demonstration both of the ferocious destructive power of nature and of the reality of the climate emergency.

Experts predict that extreme weather will become more common as a result of climate change. For people in the Global North, largely sheltered from the worst effects of the climate crisis that have thus far fallen disproportionately on the poorest, the events of the past week have been a shocking, heart-rending lesson. As Malu Dreyer, the Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate, noted, climate change is ‘not abstract any more. We are experiencing it up close and painfully’. There are no safe places; no exemptions for the wealthy. Continue reading

A year in the life: ALE, GRALE and the Futures of Education

We have reached a moment of potential transformation in adult education. We need to seize it, argues Paul Stanistreet

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The next year will be formative for the field of adult learning and education (ALE).

Preparations are underway for the seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII), in all likelihood in summer 2022. Meanwhile, the fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) is being finalized, to be published in late spring next year. Add to this UNESCO’s Futures of Education commission, which will report at the end of this year, and the fast-approaching midway point in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and it is clear that this is a moment of potential change in education, and in adult education in particular, which I believe we need to grasp. The enormous challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the changing work environment, demographic shifts and, most critically, the climate crisis, mean that more of the same is no longer an option we can responsibly pursue. Continue reading

‘The best of both worlds’: What the pandemic can teach us about inclusion

The largest remote learning experiment in history has taught us many lessons, among them the need to embrace change and apply our new understanding of the benefits of blended learning to foster a more equitable future, writes Niamh O’Reilly

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Urgent calls to return to on-site learning neglect the potential of blended learning to increase and widen access. While education systems are notoriously resistant to change, the COVID-19 pandemic, almost overnight, forced a seismic shift to remote learning across further and higher education. This change brought issues of educational inequality into sharp focus; those with resources and skills had an advantage in taking the step into uncharted digital learning territory. Marginalized learners, meanwhile, faced not only existing obstacles stemming from structural inequalities but also new challenges arising from online learning.

Yet, emerging data from Ireland’s National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum suggest that thanks to Irish state investment in addressing digital poverty, support needs and improved pedagogy, many marginalized learners now want a future in which blended learning, a mix of both online and in-person learning, is prevalent. Given the scale of the impact of COVID-19 on existing educational disadvantage, it is prudent to pause and take stock, lest we waste the insights gained from this global online learning experiment. At this pivotal point, we must grasp the opportunity to create a more equitable education system by building on lessons from those who experienced this monumental change, the learners. Carving out a new, diverse, more inclusive landscape is possible if the education system is open to learning. Continue reading

Learning, caring and engaging: Adult education and sustainable development

The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development is an opportunity to create a culture of sustainable living. But it will only be successful if we find better ways to support and strengthen adult learning and education for sustainable development, argues Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

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The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development takes place from 17 to 19 May 2021. While education at all levels has experienced unprecedented interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on adult learning and education (ALE) has been little considered, certainly when compared to schools and universities. While the pandemic has highlighted the importance of ALE in coping with and emerging from the crisis, it has also deprived adults around the world of access to education, and presented providers with difficult challenges in maintaining their learning offers, with a particularly, and by now depressingly familiar, negative impact on the poorest and least-advantaged. It is important that we reflect on this and consider, in particular, the key role of ALE in sustainable development and how we can foster it. I would like to reflect briefly on the role of ALE in education for sustainable development (ESD) and in building bridges to a future that is safe, fair, inclusive and sustainable.  

Sustainable development begins with education. Agenda 21, adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, recognized the critical role that education plays in the transition to sustainable development. Education is an essential tool in making individuals aware of the issue of sustainability and providing them with related skills, while encouraging them to take actions and find solutions to the local and global challenges we face. In addition, education for sustainable development and citizenship education are strongly linked. Yet, although the question of sustainability has risen to the top of policy agendas worldwide, policy action is limited, particularly in adult learning and education. Continue reading

ALE for change and a future worth living in

We will only achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we focus more policy attention on adult learning and education. CONFINTEA VII could be a catalyst for this change, argues Rajesh Tandon

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Over the past 12 months of the pandemic, millions of citizens around the world have ‘unlearned’ old ways of being, while learning new behaviours. For rural communities in India, lockdown created greater reliance on local sources of food, water and preventive health care. For urban communities, the restrictions caused huge disruption as people’s very lives and livelihoods depend very largely on mobility, ‘out-sourcing’ and co-habitation. Millions of workers returned to their families in rural areas as employment was suddenly cut off. Many millions acquired digital hardware for the first time and learned to ‘get online’.

Families, communities and societies continue to learn new ways of being in order to navigate the changes affecting them. These new ways of being, in effect, create new changes in communities and societies. If change is inevitable and necessary for the evolution of life and community, so too is the criticality of learning to navigate change. Continue reading

The role of ALE: Our stories, our voice

Work on promoting adult learning and education is expanding and there are some encouraging signs. With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development approaching its half-way point, next year’s seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) will be a pivotal moment, writes Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

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This week, more than 300 representatives of civil society organizations and other stakeholders met online to kick off a five-year global campaign to promote adult learning and education (ALE) and make it more visible. We are ALE’ aims to strengthen the voice of ALE and enable civil society organizations to speak with one voice in their advocacy.

It is one of a number of positive interventions aiming to move ALE up the agenda of national and international education policy. This is essential, as, across the globe, investment in ALE is shrinking and action on ALE on the decline, despite what the pandemic has taught us about its value and usefulness. In many places around the world, the great work of previous decades in building a strong ALE sector is being undone. Continue reading

The gender digital divide: Increasing women’s participation in digital learning

The move to online learning during the pandemic has disadvantaged women who typically have less access to online and digital technology than men. As the world marks International Women’s Day, Annapurna Ayyappan and Samah Shalaby reflect on how we might begin bridging this divide

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This year, International Women’s Day falls at a critical time, as the world confronts the unprecedented educational challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. To ensure learning continuity, most of the world has rapidly adopted emergency approaches, particularly through a shift to online learning. However, a large number of learners are still being left behind. While the shift to online has demonstrated the usefulness of technology in advancing learning opportunities, it has also revealed gaps in education systems, including in non-formal adult education. This post highlights one particular gap which jeopardizes equitable access to learning and the empowerment of half the world’s population – the gender digital divide.

Worldwide, women are less likely to know how to operate a smartphone, navigate the internet, use social media and understand how to safeguard information in digital media. This lack of digital skills is apparent from the lowest skill proficiency levels, such as using applications on mobile phones to the advanced skills such as coding computer software. In addition to the lack of digital skills, women are confronted with various barriers to digital access, such as affordability, social and cultural norms, financial independence, and cyber safety. This lack of access and skills is more severe among the women who are older and/or less educated than their peers, poor, or living in rural areas and developing countries. Thus, the digital skills gap intersects with, and is compounded by, issues of poverty and educational access. Continue reading

Achieving our potential: Libraries, literacy and learning throughout life

Libraries are a great resource when it comes to learning, says Stephen Wyber of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

Stuttgart library, Germany

When we talk about infrastructure, we tend to think of roads, railways, cables and other physical networks crossing the landscape, enabling economic activity and growth. But the term can be extended to other areas that provide people with ways to achieve their goals, such as culture, research, and, of course, learning.

This blog looks at the last of these – the infrastructure for learning, throughout life. In particular, it considers the role of libraries both as providers of support and as partners and platforms for others, and looks at how to make the most of the unique characteristics of libraries as public, non-commercial, well-known and trusted community spaces. Continue reading

It’s time to embrace not just the lifelong but the life-wide dimension of learning

To truly achieve sustainable development, writes Norman Jackson, we must embrace, consciously and fully, our experiences and what we learn and become through them.

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Humankind has always engaged in lifelong learning, but it has meant different things at different points in time. This will always be the case. In this period of rapid transformation, contemporary society obliges people to learn and to keep on learning throughout their lives. The world is complex, hyper-connected and increasingly turbulent. It is also fragile, and cannot be sustained if we carry on using it in the way we have.

The idea that lifelong learning can be harnessed in the service of preserving our presence on this fragile planet is gaining more traction among sustainability’s strategic planners. Remedies to the myriad threats to our survival can be found in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Education has its own goal – SDG 4 – which calls on countries to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ (UN, 2015). SDG 4 advocates a new role for education: to educate the world in ways that encourage behaviours that support sustainable development. Continue reading

At the tipping point: Education in the age of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic could come to be seen either as an important turning point for humanity or a huge missed opportunity, a landmark in the decline of human civilization. The choice, in the end, is ours, writes Paul Stanistreet.

As the 51st World Economic Forum (WEF) meets virtually to discuss rebuilding trust, making ‘crucial’ choices and reforming systems in the context of the agenda WEF founder Klaus Schwab describes as the ‘great reset’, it is clear that we are living through times of profound change and challenge, in some respects unprecedented in human history.

And whether you welcome this for reasons of social justice and the promotion of equity and equality, or see as it a threat to entrenched systems of advantage that must be carefully, and, if necessary, coercively, managed, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a rare moment in the human story when we have an opportunity to read the map, change direction and do things differently. Continue reading