While adult education has been pushed further to the margins during the pandemic, its potential contribution to the creation of healthier, happier and more inclusive societies has never been clearer, argues Jamila Razzaq
The long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education and learning remains to be seen. It is clear, however, that, across the world, formal systems of education have not been able to reach every learner in this crisis. Underlying structural issues in terms of priorities, roles and delivery models for education systems and services have been exposed by the crisis. Ineffectual and under-resourced mechanisms for alternative pathways to learning, inadequate connection between homes and schools, missing links between education and other social services, and under-developed practice in self-directed learning have all been highlighted in the search for viable solutions in the current situation.
In some parts of the world, learning from home through online and distance learning became the new norm during lockdown, as teaching and learning activity in physical classrooms became impossible to maintain. This shift in provision has opened up the possibility of further development and investment in alternative, non-formal and family-based learning pathways. The solutions adopted during the pandemic can be integrated into education systems to ensure learners have greater opportunities to learn through multiple pathways.
Throughout the crisis, policy and practice in education and learning has been focused on the disruption to the formal education of children and young people, while education and learning opportunities for adults have been pushed further to the margins. Existing adult education programmes have either been halted or obliged to operate a reduced service. This has coincided with increased demand for robust, relevant and innovative adult learning services, driven by unprecedented changes in the social environment and by the way world of work and business operates. More and more adults need to update their skills and knowledge for both their work lives and their social lives. Reimaging adult education in the framework of lifelong learning and making it responsive, relevant and valuable for individuals, businesses, organizations, communities and societies is an urgent priority.
One opportunity emerging from the crisis is to focus greater attention and invest more in online and distance learning infrastructure for formal education. This infrastructure can be used as a launching pad for flexible delivery options for adult education. As well as being used as delivery mechanisms, these platforms can also facilitate wider utilization of existing resources developed in different parts of the globe and the integration of multiple stakeholder groups, from learners to local business representatives, employers, technical and vocational education providers, enterprise accelerators, higher education sector, ministries at the centre and on tangents of human resource development, and global agencies working on education, workforce development and youth engagement.
These stakeholders can inform and shape adult education provision, furthering the principles of inclusion, equity and quality for all learners. These digital and distance learning platforms can help in creating different educative sites more suited to the different schedules and learning needs of participants. This effort to mainstream digital and distance learning options during the pandemic period can invigorate the landscape of adult education and learning if linked, deliberately and thoughtfully, with action, policy and lasting cultural change in this domain.
COVID-19 crisis has not only exposed the pervasive issue of equity and inclusion in social systems all over the world but has also amplified inequalities and disparities, hitting hardest those who are already at the margins. Beyond the headlines concerning ill-equipped social services and staggering economic losses in the face of current pandemic, the vulnerabilities of individuals, communities and countries with no buffer zones to which to retreat, isolate and recover have been further exacerbated. The burden of this reality on collective human conscience cannot be eased without building equitable systems and services that work for all. It is critical that we emerge wiser from this crisis, as this pandemic may not be the last one we face, and all nations must realize the need to prioritize health, education and secure livelihoods for all their citizens. Adult and youth education and learning initiatives are essential if we are to re-vision, re-imagine and rebuild our societies to be healthier happier and more inclusive..
Jamila Razzaq is a programme specialist at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning