Meditations on an emergency

The devastation caused by floods in Europe is a wake-up call with regard not only to climate change, but to lifelong learning too, writes Paul Stanistreet

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At the time of writing, the death toll from the sudden, catastrophic flooding in western Germany and Belgium has passed 170, with many more people reported missing. Thousands have lost their homes, after two months of rain fell in just two days, causing buildings to collapse and large swathes of terrain to be submerged under water. Roads crumbled and landslides reshaped the topography, all in a matter of hours. It was a demonstration both of the ferocious destructive power of nature and of the reality of the climate emergency.

Experts predict that extreme weather will become more common as a result of climate change. For people in the Global North, largely sheltered from the worst effects of the climate crisis that have thus far fallen disproportionately on the poorest, the events of the past week have been a shocking, heart-rending lesson. As Malu Dreyer, the Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate, noted, climate change is ‘not abstract any more. We are experiencing it up close and painfully’. There are no safe places; no exemptions for the wealthy. Continue reading

A year in the life: ALE, GRALE and the Futures of Education

We have reached a moment of potential transformation in adult education. We need to seize it, argues Paul Stanistreet

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The next year will be formative for the field of adult learning and education (ALE).

Preparations are underway for the seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII), in all likelihood in summer 2022. Meanwhile, the fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) is being finalized, to be published in late spring next year. Add to this UNESCO’s Futures of Education commission, which will report at the end of this year, and the fast-approaching midway point in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and it is clear that this is a moment of potential change in education, and in adult education in particular, which I believe we need to grasp. The enormous challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the changing work environment, demographic shifts and, most critically, the climate crisis, mean that more of the same is no longer an option we can responsibly pursue. Continue reading

‘The best of both worlds’: What the pandemic can teach us about inclusion

The largest remote learning experiment in history has taught us many lessons, among them the need to embrace change and apply our new understanding of the benefits of blended learning to foster a more equitable future, writes Niamh O’Reilly

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Urgent calls to return to on-site learning neglect the potential of blended learning to increase and widen access. While education systems are notoriously resistant to change, the COVID-19 pandemic, almost overnight, forced a seismic shift to remote learning across further and higher education. This change brought issues of educational inequality into sharp focus; those with resources and skills had an advantage in taking the step into uncharted digital learning territory. Marginalized learners, meanwhile, faced not only existing obstacles stemming from structural inequalities but also new challenges arising from online learning.

Yet, emerging data from Ireland’s National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum suggest that thanks to Irish state investment in addressing digital poverty, support needs and improved pedagogy, many marginalized learners now want a future in which blended learning, a mix of both online and in-person learning, is prevalent. Given the scale of the impact of COVID-19 on existing educational disadvantage, it is prudent to pause and take stock, lest we waste the insights gained from this global online learning experiment. At this pivotal point, we must grasp the opportunity to create a more equitable education system by building on lessons from those who experienced this monumental change, the learners. Carving out a new, diverse, more inclusive landscape is possible if the education system is open to learning. Continue reading

ALE for change and a future worth living in

We will only achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we focus more policy attention on adult learning and education. CONFINTEA VII could be a catalyst for this change, argues Rajesh Tandon

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Over the past 12 months of the pandemic, millions of citizens around the world have ‘unlearned’ old ways of being, while learning new behaviours. For rural communities in India, lockdown created greater reliance on local sources of food, water and preventive health care. For urban communities, the restrictions caused huge disruption as people’s very lives and livelihoods depend very largely on mobility, ‘out-sourcing’ and co-habitation. Millions of workers returned to their families in rural areas as employment was suddenly cut off. Many millions acquired digital hardware for the first time and learned to ‘get online’.

Families, communities and societies continue to learn new ways of being in order to navigate the changes affecting them. These new ways of being, in effect, create new changes in communities and societies. If change is inevitable and necessary for the evolution of life and community, so too is the criticality of learning to navigate change. Continue reading

The role of ALE: Our stories, our voice

Work on promoting adult learning and education is expanding and there are some encouraging signs. With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development approaching its half-way point, next year’s seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) will be a pivotal moment, writes Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

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This week, more than 300 representatives of civil society organizations and other stakeholders met online to kick off a five-year global campaign to promote adult learning and education (ALE) and make it more visible. We are ALE’ aims to strengthen the voice of ALE and enable civil society organizations to speak with one voice in their advocacy.

It is one of a number of positive interventions aiming to move ALE up the agenda of national and international education policy. This is essential, as, across the globe, investment in ALE is shrinking and action on ALE on the decline, despite what the pandemic has taught us about its value and usefulness. In many places around the world, the great work of previous decades in building a strong ALE sector is being undone. Continue reading

The gender digital divide: Increasing women’s participation in digital learning

The move to online learning during the pandemic has disadvantaged women who typically have less access to online and digital technology than men. As the world marks International Women’s Day, Annapurna Ayyappan and Samah Shalaby reflect on how we might begin bridging this divide

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This year, International Women’s Day falls at a critical time, as the world confronts the unprecedented educational challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. To ensure learning continuity, most of the world has rapidly adopted emergency approaches, particularly through a shift to online learning. However, a large number of learners are still being left behind. While the shift to online has demonstrated the usefulness of technology in advancing learning opportunities, it has also revealed gaps in education systems, including in non-formal adult education. This post highlights one particular gap which jeopardizes equitable access to learning and the empowerment of half the world’s population – the gender digital divide.

Worldwide, women are less likely to know how to operate a smartphone, navigate the internet, use social media and understand how to safeguard information in digital media. This lack of digital skills is apparent from the lowest skill proficiency levels, such as using applications on mobile phones to the advanced skills such as coding computer software. In addition to the lack of digital skills, women are confronted with various barriers to digital access, such as affordability, social and cultural norms, financial independence, and cyber safety. This lack of access and skills is more severe among the women who are older and/or less educated than their peers, poor, or living in rural areas and developing countries. Thus, the digital skills gap intersects with, and is compounded by, issues of poverty and educational access. Continue reading

COVID-19: ‘This programme saved my life’

Family literacy programmes can be a lifeline for disadvantaged parents and caregivers who are struggling to support their children’s learning during the pandemic, write Anna Kaiper-Marquez and Esther Prins

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A recent New Yorker/ProPublica article chronicled the immense challenges facing children in poverty who are studying remotely during the pandemic. Shemar, a 12-year-old in Baltimore, Maryland (USA), lived with his grandmother. Having completed little schooling in then-segregated South Carolina, his grandmother was unable to get online or supervise Shemar’s online schoolwork. She is not alone: millions of caregivers – across all socio-economic strata – have struggled to monitor and guide their children’s education during the pandemic. 

What if this grandmother and other caretakers had access to family literacy programmes where they could further their own education, such as digital or print literacy, while also learning how to support their children’s education? Family literacy programmes are not a panacea to fix poverty, racism, under-funded schools, the digital divide, and other causes of educational inequalities. Yet they do have great potential to serve as a community resource and educational safety net for families like Shemar’s. Continue reading

COVID-19: Challenges and opportunities in prison education

The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges facing already over-stretched prison services around the world, but the crisis is also an opportunity to do things differently, particularly in prison education, write Marie Macauley and Lisa Krolak on International Day of Education in Prison

An inmate chooses a book from the prison library. HMP Wandsworth, London, United Kingdom.

With more than 11 million people in prison worldwide and prison populations increasing rapidly, many prisons around the world were already at crisis point, unable to provide basic services such as education, when the pandemic struck. The crisis has highlighted the challenges prisons face, but it is also providing impetus for change.

Education in prison can provide prisoners with the opportunity to learn new skills and give them a renewed sense of purpose. Research has shown that prisoners who participate in education and training programmes are less likely to return to prison. They are also more likely to find employment on release.

Most countries provide formal primary and secondary education and vocational training to prisoners free of charge. Some countries provide access to higher education, whether through distance-learning or in the prison, at the prisoners’ own expense or financed by private grants. Prison libraries also play a key role in enabling access to information and reading materials to inmates. Continue reading

COVID-19: It’s time to prioritize adult education

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

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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. Continue reading

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