COVID-19: A perilous time for adult education

As governments implement plans for post-pandemic recovery, the emphasis on getting children back to school risks further marginalizing adult learning and education. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we preserve a comprehensive understanding of the right to education, argues Daniel Baril

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As we try, slowly and uncertainly, to emerge from the pandemic, governments are defining the framework for socio-economic recovery. The deconfinement of society, the reopening of businesses, jump-starting economic growth, mass-producing a vaccine and preparing for a possible second wave of infection are all priorities.

Education is on the agenda too, as governments revise and resume school protocols. Restarting formal schooling for children and young people is, without any doubt, urgent. Last month, 275 former world leaders, economists and business leaders stressed the potentially catastrophic consequences of locking children and youth out of learning for any longer, particularly for the most vulnerable among them. Moreover, as economic recovery action plans are implemented, protecting and increasing funding for education will be fundamental in the months and years ahead. Continue reading

COVID-19: Re-connecting higher education to lifelong learning

In the post-pandemic world, institutions of higher education must find holistic approaches to re-connect with society around them, integrating a lifelong learning approach into their core missions of teaching, research and service, argue Budd Hall and Rajesh Tandon

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The disruption caused by COVID-19 to the everyday life of citizens around the world over the past six months has made it clear that that the future will entail new definitions of normal life. Most dramatically affected is the formal education system, from primary and secondary to tertiary.

What also became obvious is that local leaders, supported by local communities, found local solutions to deal with the virus, solutions that relied on local experiences, local knowledge and local resources. As schools shut down, and with digital access in many communities weak, mobile smartphones, small study circles and ‘travelling’ tutors were appropriately galvanized to support the learning of young and old alike, outside classrooms and campuses. Suddenly, the compartments of life, study, work and leisure became meaningless divisions, and learning, studying, cooking, caring and chatting were inter-mingled, almost seamlessly and effortlessly. Continue reading

Fighting racism and building a fairer future

The death of George Floyd and the protests that followed in several countries brought renewed attention to racism, its roots and reproduction. Education must be a central plank in our efforts to build a better and fairer future that does not end up in frustration and despair, writes Paul Stanistreet

@ UNESCO/Anne Muller

‘Not everything that is faced can be changed,’ wrote James Baldwin, ‘but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’

Events of the past weeks, stemming from the tragic death of George Floyd in the United States, have been a catalyst for reflection on how our societies and the people who live in them can change and challenge racism.

Anti-racism protests in major cities across the world have obliged public opinion in various parts of the world to confront past and present injustice and racism. In the United Kingdom, for example, the toppling of the statue of a seventeenth-century slave trader in Bristol prompted national reflection on the legacy of the country’s involvement in slavery and how this is taught in schools and understood in wider society. While in Belgium, a statue of King Leopold II in Antwerp was removed in acknowledgement of his brutal colonial rule of the Congo. There are calls for other statues of King Leopold II to be taken down. Continue reading

COVID-19: Act now to prevent a lost generation of learners

Jamal Bin Huwaireb reflects on the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to lifelong learning in the Arab region

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The Arab region, in common with many other parts of the world, faces significant challenges in achieving lifelong learning, notably high levels of illiteracy and education systems damaged by poverty and conflict. The toppling of governments during the ‘Arab Spring’ and conflict between and within countries have destroyed education systems in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, while seriously damaging opportunities for learning in other Arab countries. The COVID-19 pandemic is now undermining the economic activity on which individuals, families and communities depend. While people are struggling to earn, they cannot use their resources to learn. And, without learning, they are condemned to a life focused on subsistence only, with young people increasingly exposed to the temptations of criminal behaviour and terrorism.

Communities and governments seek to provide social support in the form of health and education, as well as routes to gainful employment or entrepreneurship for youths and young adults. Even in wealthy countries, there are challenges in providing sufficient resources for health, education and employment. The pandemic is placing yet more strain on budgets and institutions, and creating additional challenges and demands. Continue reading

Tackling racism through adult education

The death of George Floyd has sparked civil rights protests around the world and obliged people to consider questions of racism in their respective societies. Here, Joy-Tendai Kangere and Niamh O’Reilly of Ireland’s national adult learning organization, AONTAS, reflect on the role of adult education as a process for anti-racism

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Adult, and particularly community, education is intrinsically linked to social justice movements. As we consider the potential of education as a practice of freedom that strives for social change and a more equal society, what is our role in civil society and the adult learning community at this time? When racial injustices damage the social contract, sparking mass protests, how can we contribute to anti-racism? We have a role to play, and as bell hooks, the influential educationalist and feminist activist states in her 1996 book Killing Rage: Ending Racism, ‘All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity’.

How do we create a society in which we question dominant racist views, as well as sexist, homophobic and all ‘Othering’ discourses that serve only to dehumanize, a society where everyone listens and seeks to understand each other, where we strive for solidarity and social justice? Adult education grapples with these questions and seeks to create dialogical learning experiences, questioning inequalities, building capacity to critically think, question, understand, reflect and act. We in adult education are acutely aware of the power dynamics in the education process between tutor and learner, and the flattening of such in a community education context, whereby the lived experience of the learner contributes to the learning process. As more eloquently described by one learner as ‘bringing us to the course’, it is more than an acknowledgement of the lived experience; it questions what knowledge is valued. Continue reading

COVID-19: Building a sustainable and just future for all

While the long-term impact of COVID-19 on education will be dramatic, the future will be much more precarious if we do not focus on building systems for lifelong learning that safeguard quality and inclusiveness, writes Per Magnusson

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The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an unprecedented global crisis affecting societies and communities in a multitude of ways for which few of us were prepared.

Closing schools has been part of the strategy to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus in almost all countries around the world. With a peak of 1.5 billion children out of school in April, the number is still estimated to be around 1.2 billion, or 70 per cent of total enrolled learners (13 May). Even if many countries have simultaneously introduced programmes to allow for continuity of learning and distance learning, in varying levels of digitalisation, we can be certain this will not compensate for the learning lost when schools and education institutions are up and running in ‘normal’ times.

The school closures will undoubtedly have long-term effects for both individuals and societies. We also know that school closures will have an even more intense impact for girls, especially from the poorest and most vulnerable groups because they are the ones most exposed to domestic violence and sexual harassment, including pregnancies and early marriages. Continue reading

COVID-19: Working together to get everyone learning

Sarah Anyang Agbor reflects on the challenges posed by COVID-19 in Africa and asks how lifelong learning can help the continent respond

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Lifelong learning has an essential part to play in shaping the future of our societies. This ambition is reflected in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 vision of ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by competent citizens able to play in the global arena’. One of the aspirations of Agenda 2063 is to catalyze an education and skills revolution and actively promote science, technology, research and innovation, with the ultimate aim of building knowledge, human resources, capabilities and skills for Africa’s future. By making universal, lifelong access to quality education a reality, it aims to drive Africa’s economic and technological transformation.

The spread of COVID-19 across Africa has prompted countries to introduce mitigation measures such as border closures and social distancing. These interventions are having a negative impact on already-weak health and education systems, not to mention supply chains, markets and food systems. The lockdown has also affected day-to-day social life in African, particularly in rural areas where means of online communication is limited. Continue reading

COVID-19: The future of open online learning

The COVID-19 crisis has made online distance learning the new norm for many. It has also prompted stakeholders to be more creative and agile, in ways that could make open and online learning better and more inclusive, writes Jonghwi Park

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COVID-19 has been with us for a little over four months now. Its impact on the world in that time has been remarkable and unprecedented – a third of the world’s population have been living under lockdown, as many as 91 per cent of school students have faced schools closures in April, and 195 million people are projected to lose their jobs.   

Few areas of human life are untouched by the crisis. From techniques to prevent back pain when working from home to the challenges of home schooling, the demand for new knowledge has created an urgent need for learning, unlearning and relearning to deal with new normalcies. For those at risk of losing their jobs, reskilling or upskilling is not a choice but a necessity. Many of us face a steep learning curve in adapting to these new circumstances. This new learning, while undoubtedly challenging, is, however, critical if we are to emerge from this crisis into a better future. Continue reading

COVID-19: ‘Every crisis is an opportunity’

As the world marks the defeat of Nazism and the end of the Second World War, Paul Stanistreet asks what lessons we can learn in our current crisis from the mass programmes of social reconstruction that followed the war

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The end of the Second World War was marked around Europe by national programmes of social and economic reconstruction, as nation states sought both to rebuild and to address long-standing inequalities.

In France, the De Gaulle government put in place a massive programme of nationalization and social reform, granting women the right to vote and laying the foundations of the modern French welfare state. In the UK, fees for state secondary education were scrapped (through the 1944 Education Act) and a progressive Labour government was elected with ambitious plans to transform social security, including universal free healthcare for all (the National Health Service). Moreover, in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), following the period of occupation, a programme of economic reconstruction ensued, followed by the creation of the German ‘social state’.

The solidarity and sense of shared responsibility and sacrifice engendered in the war appears to have spurred the people who survived these cataclysmic events to reject the way things had been done before and to demand a world that was better – not just for a few but for everyone. There was a desire to recognize sacrifice by humanizing social policy, including in education, and extending people’s rights. Furthermore, there was a new appreciation of the power of the state to act for the common good. What is remarkable about this is that it was achieved at a moment when most of the countries of Europe were in economic disarray, poverty was rife and food rationing common, and governments were loaded with huge amounts of debt. Continue reading

COVID-19: Rehumanizing education and lifelong learning

The current crisis need not result in a further erosion of social and economic rights and the widening of inequalities – it also represents an opportunity to appeal to global solidarity and rehumanize lifelong learning, writes Maren Elfert

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Educators around the world are alarmed about the consequences of the COVIID-19 crisis. A lively debate has emerged on what the world might look like in the aftermath of the crisis in relation to education and more broadly. I would like to add my voice to those who emphasize that our perspective must be bigger than COVID-19 and that we should take the crisis as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and rethink our approach to education. As a recent article argued in relation to schools, ‘When the Covid crisis finally ends, schools must never return to normal’ (Sweeney, 2020), referring to the need to abandon harmful practices such as deprofessionalizing teachers, excessive testing and the culture of rankings. This discussion, of course, is related to how we organize our society and how we deal with the larger environmental, economic, social and political crisis of which COVID-19 is a symptom.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, there is potential in this crisis for the best of times or the worst of times. The crisis could offer us an opportunity to rethink and innovate our societies or to move further down the path of dehumanization of education in terms of ‘one size fits all teaching’ in schools and lifelong learning as a market commodity. Among the questions and issues that are raised in the current debates are: In light of the public health and ensuing economic crisis, will global inequalities in access to education widen, disrupting progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) (UNESCO/IIEP, 2020)? Distance education is being pushed by corporate interests (Williamson, 2020), but it bears the risk of further marginalizing disadvantaged students who do not have access to technology and who depend on teacher-student relationships (Srivastava, 2020; Parramore, 2020). For many students, school represents a place to socialize and often get the only meal of the day (UNICEF, 2020). Higher education institutions around the world are preparing for significant drops of international students, and quite a number of them will probably not survive. Will this lead to a reconsideration of education as a market model, or just to even more tightened competition? Some thinkers, such as the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben (2020a; 2020b), are concerned about the de-humanization of human beings as a consequence of ‘social distancing’. Arjun Appadurai, in a recent keynote panel of UNESCO’s ‘Futures of Education’ initiative, warned of the risk that education might be considered unimportant in these times of crisis (UNESCO, 2020). This might translate into cuts to education. Continue reading