The Inclusive Lifelong Learning Conference gave critical impetus to the implementation of the Marrakech Framework for Action and reinforced CONFINTEA VII’s view of adult learning and education as a condition for a hopeful future, writes Daniel Baril, Chair of the Governing Board of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning
In my closing remarks to last week’s Inclusive Lifelong Learning Conference in Bali, I tried to capture the spirit of the work undertaken by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and its partners in shaping the conference and its outcome document, the Bali Manifesto. Reflecting on the moral and policy challenges of inclusive learning and education throughout life I recalled that adult learning and education has always been about hope: hope for each individual to be able to complete basic education successfully and, most importantly, to learn to read and write; hope for each adult to be able to learn what each person must know in order to fulfill their responsibilities, grow as a human being and engage in society and the world of work. In a sense, adult learning and education is a condition for hope.
That is especially true in societies in which knowledge and competencies are a necessary condition for personal and societal growth.
The Bali conference came at a critical juncture in the development of adult learning and education policy thinking. One year after CONFINTEA VII – the Seventh International Conference on Adult Education – and a few months after the Transforming Education Summit, the event looked forward to the SDGs Summit in September and the UN Summit of the Future, to be held in 2024. It was a key strategic moment to give impetus to the implementation of the Marrakech Framework for Action (MFA) – the outcome document of CONFINTEA VII – and, more generally, to strengthen the focus on adult learning and education in the major education policy debate that will define the agenda for the decades ahead.
The MFA represents, for our time, the actualized expression of the hope that through their learning, and through the knowledge, skills and competencies they acquire, adults can be hopeful about their future lives and ongoing sustainable development.
It makes the following foundational commitments for an inclusive and comprehensive vision for adult learning and education:
- In our contemporary world, adults must acquire knowledge and develop competencies in a wide spectrum of domains. Through the MFA, UNESCO Member States recognize this educational challenge and commit to prioritizing literacy, vocational training, sustainable development education, digital skills, health education, global citizenship education and transversal skills.
- To meet that strategic learning demand, we rely on diverse learning sites and environments to create a truly comprehensive and dynamic ecosystem of learning. The MFA, therefore, recognizes the contribution of an array of educational resources and spaces, including community centres, formal institutions, vocational centres, libraries, museums, worksites, public spaces, cultural institutions, sports and leisure organizations, peers, families, cities, etc.
- Inclusive education is a core objective of the MFA. To achieve it, UNESCO Member States committed to creating more flexible learning pathways and a more robust and comprehensive prior learning validation and recognition system, and to bridging learning sites to support adult complex learning trajectories.
- The MFA is the expression of a commitment to a renewed and actualized vision of adult education, culminating in a new right to lifelong learning: a right to learn at any age, what we need to know, in any relevant learning site and through learning pathways and educational means adapted to all learners.
The Inclusive Lifelong Learning Conference built on these foundations by focusing on a key strategic dimension of the MFA: inclusive learning.
Participants called for the promotion of inclusive lifelong learning ecosystems that effectively cater to the needs of all learners, especially vulnerable and marginalized individuals and communities. Through the Bali Manifesto, they urged the implementation of comprehensive lifelong learning policies, and the creation of inclusive learning spaces, curricula, learning pathways and learning materials. They emphasized the importance of increased public investment in lifelong learning.
The manifesto outlines the key areas of action necessary to realize this vision of inclusive lifelong learning; and participants committed to work towards a future where inclusive lifelong learning is accessible to all individuals.
There can be no doubt that, if adult learning and education is to be, for all people, a condition of hope, we must make sure that accessing knowledge and competencies through learning is framed as a public and common good. Consequently, inclusive learning becomes an essential strategic condition for a hopeful future for all.
In our complex time, inclusive learning policies are tools that can be used to bring everyone on board; everyone’s capacities are needed to face the challenges we confront as a human family.
In that regard, the discussion at the conference reminds us that inclusivity is about keeping alive that hope for a better future for all and, more specifically, as it is prioritized in the Bali Manifesto, for women, older people, ethnic minorities, Indigenous people, migrants, rural populations, and people with disabilities.
For adult learning and education to fully play its role as a condition for a hopeful future, it must be inclusive. This is for me the main message of this conference, alongside the proposed ways and means to concretize it.
‘Unity in Diversity’ is the moral and political call galvanising action on education in Indonesia. In that spirit, I would say that the aspiration to provide lifelong learning for all should be anchored in inclusive policies which respect the diverse needs of all adult learners.
Daniel Baril is Chair of the Governing Board of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and Director General of the Canadian Institute for Cooperation in Adult Education. This post is based on his closing remarks to the Inclusive Lifelong Learning Conference, held in Bali, Republic of Indonesia, from 3 to 6 July 2023.