Behind the scenes: How UIL’s female staff promote its mandate

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, UIL’s gender focal point, Samah Shalaby, highlights how her colleagues progress gender equality in their work

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The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), located in Hamburg, Germany, is one of UNESCO’s eight education institutes. As its name suggests, UIL’s area of specialization is lifelong learning. Through its capacity-building activities, knowledge sharing and dissemination of data, the Institute provides support to UNESCO Member States in the field of lifelong learning with a focus on learning ecosystems, skills for life and work, and inclusive learning. UIL operates at regional, national and local levels to facilitate learning across sectors. Through its partnerships, it works towards helping the global community achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on inclusive, equitable and quality education for all.

The team at UIL – both its female and male staff – are equally committed to mainstreaming gender equality across the Institute’s activities and programmes. The occasion of International Women’s Day is an opportunity, however, to shine the spotlight on a few of the women working at the Institute, who operate ‘behind the scenes’ to shape the future of gender-transformative lifelong learning and ensure it becomes a reality. In line with the essential elements of lifelong learning articulated in UIL’s recent handbook on the theme, the UIL colleagues interviewed here address the many facets of lifelong learning as well as the diverse target groups and age brackets that the concept was designed for. They do this to promote empowerment and community engagement.

Ms Chung Dolma, for example, a specialist in family literacy, has worked at UIL for the past seven years as part of its family and intergenerational literacy and learning (FILL) programme. FILL promotes an approach to learning that considers the importance of multi-generational involvement and aims to address the literacy skills of all members of a family and a community. With UIL’s technical support, Ms Dolma points out, countries including Ethiopia, the Gambia, Mozambique and Germany have designed and implemented diverse FILL models which are appropriate to their local contexts. 

FILL also greatly contributes to advancing gender equity. The majority of programme participants, Ms Dolma explains, are women – generally young mothers, who benefit from the programme in two key ways. First, by receiving resources and support, they have the opportunity to not only promote their child’s learning but also their own. Second, by engaging fathers and other family members in childcare and education, FILL programmes highlight the importance of adults’ positive involvement in a child’s overall development. By sharing the onus of responsibility for childcare among the extended family and community, women are given more opportunities for self-empowerment. More recently, Ms Dolma and her FILL colleagues have been putting the finishing touches on a FILL course, which will soon be freely available to anyone who is interested in creating inclusive learning opportunities for families and communities.

Another major focus of UIL’s work is on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which UNESCO defines as a lifelong learning process that ‘empowers learners of all ages to make informed decisions and take … action to change society and care for the planet’. Ms Edith Hammer, a specialist in ESD, points out the importance of applying a gender-sensitive lens when building capacities in the context of climate change, noting that women and girls are the most vulnerable to its impacts. Climate education can empower women and girls with the knowledge and skills that are necessary to become leaders in climate action – within their families, communities and at the global level. Moreover, Ms Hammer stresses, women must be afforded the possibility to develop green skills, thereby giving them access to new green labour markets and green entrepreneurship opportunities.

Climate education is one of the newer priority areas at UIL, one Ms Hammer says she is proud to be a part of. ‘Within the UNESCO Global Network for Learning Cities (GNLC) and its thematic cluster on ESD, we support member cities around the world in implementing ESD at local level,’ she explains. ‘We also conduct research on cities’ engagement in climate action following a lifelong learning approach and promote gender-sensitivity in the related activities.’

Building an inclusive learning system requires a provision on quality learning opportunities for people of all ages and in diverse settings. Ms Mo Wang, UIL’s specialist in learning and education for older people, highlights the Institute’s recent work in this area, which is the result of its new cooperative agreement with Shanghai Open University (SOU). ‘The second phase of our research project focuses on higher education institutions’ responses to the learning needs of an aging society,’ she explains. More specifically, the project will examine how universities worldwide are addressing a critical global social trend that will shape societies in the years to come.

The research will also consider how gender inequality affects older generations, particularly with regard to earnings, pension coverage and caregiving responsibilities. ‘Previous research has shown that socio-economic barriers, including funding constraints, are one of the major barriers for older adults’ participation in higher education programmes,’ Ms Wang explains. ‘The second phase of the research project will therefore contribute to the development of inclusive policies and practices that support the lifelong learning of all older adults, regardless of their socio-economic background, gender or other factors.’

The second phase of UIL’s project with SOU comprises research on older people’s learning and employability, intergenerational learning and older people’s digital skills development. ‘Our aim is to identify and collect best practices from higher education institutions in the three thematic areas across the five UNESCO regions,’ she explains. ‘We also aim to advance scientific knowledge on the dynamics of the higher education sector and its contribution to the promotion of lifelong learning, particularly for the older adult population.’

Lifelong learning and adult learning and education, through their different learning modalities, have the power to change people’s behaviours and mindsets, leading to more inclusive – and gender equal – societies. In recognition of this, UIL will launch in the next weeks a new series – UIL Gender Talks – to provide a platform for dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders and audiences, who will reflect on gender issues in daily life and how lifelong learning can be structured to support gender equality. More information on UIL Gender Talk will soon be available on UIL’s gender webpage. Until then, I wish all of you a happy International Women’s Day!

Samah Shalaby is UIL’s gender focal point and a member of the Institute’s Inclusive Learning Team

The Faure report – 50 years on

The Faure report is 50 years old. While it has its faults, it remains a powerful statement of UNESCO’s humanistic vision of education and remains remarkably relevant, writes Maren Elfert, who, with Alexandra Draxler, has guest-edited a special issue of the International Review of Education on the report’s legacy

Our recently published special issue of the International Review of Education marks the fiftieth  anniversary of the 1972 UNESCO report Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow, better known as the Faure report.

Although it has its shortcomings, the Faure report contains ideas that are remarkably relevant today, and there are good reasons to revisit it at this time. Just as we find ourselves in an environment characterized by a sense of crisis, the Faure report was written shortly after student uprisings in 1968 in France and as a number of other countries began to acknowledge the deep divide between traditional society and the demands of the younger generation. It grappled with themes similar to those we struggle with today and reflected the existential fears of the economic and environmental limits to growth. It was inspired by non-conformist thinkers such as Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich, who pointed to the need to breathe new life into outdated elitist and conformist conceptions of education systems.

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Learning to be and to become

In 2022, UIL marked the 70th anniversary of its foundation. Looking ahead to 2023, the Institute’s Governing Board chair, Daniel Baril, reflects on its founding mandate and its continuing relevance to the challenges the world faces today

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UIL’s 70th anniversary was an opportunity to celebrate not only the foundation of UIL as an organization, but also of an educational project valuing the right to education for all and the lifelong learning perspective.

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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