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.
While most countries reported plans to increase public spending on adult learning and education, GRALE 5 found wide diversity in public funding for adult education, with 22 countries spending 4 per cent or more of their education budget on adult education, and 28 spending less than 0.4 per cent. Forty countries reported that they did not know how much public support adult education receives, indicating a troubling gap in data.
The thematic part of the report focuses on citizenship education, in response largely to the finding of GRALE 4 that active citizenship and community cohesion were largely ignored by policymakers.
GRALE 5 suggests that that the significance of citizenship education is gradually being recognized, a trend also reflected in UNESCO’s recent report, Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education. Almost three-quarters (74%) of responding countries said they were developing or implementing policies in relation to citizenship education. The report argues that citizenship education must be a key dimension of our response to global challenges such as migration, digitalization and the climate crisis. Citizenship education is fundamental in promoting a lifelong learning culture that supports learning to live together – caring for the planet, our societies and ourselves – and in fostering democratic values and a commitment to leaving no one behind. The report calls for Member States to place adult education at the centre of efforts to achieve sustainable societies and to recognize its key role in developing integrated, holistic solutions.
We are at the halfway point of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development. Are the Sustainable Development Goals achievable? GRALE 5 shows that there is an enormous amount of work to do, and a substantial amount of further investment required, if we are to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from lifelong learning, of which adult education is the core.
GRALE 5’s call for a strong voice for adult education was reinforced at CONFINTEA VII last week, when more than 1,000 participants (including 142 representatives of Member states, civil society organizations and other stakeholders) met to affirm their commitment to adult education and to establish a new road map – the Marrakech Framework for Action – to advance efforts to harness its ‘transformative’ potential.
The report provided a useful framework for debate at CONFINTEA VII, with speakers throughout the sessions picking up its key messages, including on citizenship education, which was one of the main strands of discussion at the conference.
With the Marrakech Framework for Action, UNESCO Member States call for a right to lifelong learning. It recognizes that adult education as key for inclusion and a precondition for social and ecological justice, health and well-being, change and transformation. Among other proposals, it encourages UNESCO to continue producing transparent and reliable data on adult education periodically, through GRALE, and to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and best practice between Member States and other adult education constituencies.
The framework is a milestone in policy on adult education and an important measure of countries’ progress towards a just, inclusive, peaceful and sustainable world. In the words of UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, CONFINTEA VII is ‘a statement of intent’ that ‘requires enactment’. Robust efforts, political will and effective partnerships will be required to turn its promise into reality.
The next 12 years will be challenging if we are to meet these expectations. The strong voice raised for adult learning and education at CONFINTEA VII must continue to be heard. Indeed, it must be amplified. We must ensure that GRALE continues to play a key role in monitoring and reaffirming countries’ commitments and in galvanizing action, among Members States, civil society and the private sector.
Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter is a Programme Specialist at UIL