Building learning societies in Southeast Asia

As preparations begin in earnest for CONFINTEA VII, it is critical that Southeast Asia continues to contribute to the global movement for adult education and lifelong learning as part of a sustainable future, writes Ethel Agnes Pascua-Valenzuela

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Lifelong learning plays a significant role in building a learning society and, therefore, supporting a nation’s economic development. Because of this, there is growing awareness in Southeast Asia of the importance of lifelong learning and of engaging stakeholders on issues of sustainable development. 

Interest in developing lifelong learning systems took root in Southeast Asia in the early 2010s, when the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) established the SEAMEO Regional Centre for Lifelong Learning in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. The centre functions as a setting for countries in the region to share knowledge, strengthen national educational strategies, train teachers, and expand cooperation between universities and civil society in order to enhance literacy and lifelong learning opportunities for all. Continue reading

Adult education for a change

Adult education has a critical role to play in combatting climate change, not only in supporting changes in behaviour but also, and much more crucially, in giving people the means to challenge, change and galvanize political will, argues Paul Stanistreet

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You know that moment in a disaster movie when a TV anchor conveys the terrible news that the world is facing a catastrophic threat and hope is all but lost. Well, it happened yesterday for real. The funny thing is, hardly anyone noticed.

4 April 2022 may go down as one of the darkest days in the late history of humanity, a marker not only of our inhuman treatment of one another, the harrowing cruelty of war, but also of our failure to act on climate change, despite a mountain of evidence and the starkest warnings yet from climate scientists that we are passing the point of no return when it comes to staving off its worst effects. Continue reading

Now more than ever, we must defend our right to education

Adult education is about more than learning, argues António Nóvoa, former Permanent Representative of Portugal to UNESCO. International Women’s Day is a reminder that it is also key to delivering on our commitments to human rights.

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We live in a strange time. Every day we reaffirm our commitment to human rights, and every day we deny them. And we seem unable to understand the importance of considering new rights, especially in relation to the planet and access to the digital sphere.

We live in a strange world. Every day we reaffirm the importance of gender equality, and every day we deny it, through gestures, words and silences. And we seem incapable of understanding that, today, equality rhymes with diversity; it implies ensuring freedom of identity and gender orientation. Continue reading

A new social contract for education

The Futures of Education report is a chance to depart from our current ‘unsustainable path’ in education, and build new relationships, with each other, with the planet, and with technology, writes David Atchoarena

On 10 November 2021, the much-anticipated UNESCO report, Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education, was launched in Paris at the organization’s General Conference. It was prepared by the International Commission on the Futures of Education under the leadership of Her Excellency Madame Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

The report follows in the tradition of the Faure Commission’s 1972 report, Learning to Be: The World of Education Today and Tomorrow, and the Delors Commission’s report of 1996, Learning: The Treasure Within. Due to the rapid changes in our globalized world and the rising importance of education and lifelong learning therein, this year’s report could not come at a better time. Global challenges such as the climate crisis, technological and demographic change, and inequalities further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic require urgent action. The world is at a turning point, the members of the International Commission on the Futures of Education argue: we can continue on the current ‘unsustainable path’ or radically change course. How we respond to these challenges will determine what future lies ahead. Continue reading

Part of the solution: Lifelong learning and climate action

The United Nations COP26 climate conference is an opportunity not only to galvanize political leadership but also to reflect on the role of education and the contribution of lifelong learning to climate action, writes Paul Stanistreet

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The future isn’t what it used to be. Whereas once we imagined a future of chrome-plated, high-tech convenience, limitless space exploration and driverless vehicles scudding across the commuter-crammed skies of cities, it is now difficult to imagine any kind of long-term future human civilization as we know it. Our habits of production and consumption, our ways of living, without any sense of planetary limitations, and our fetishization of economic growth are incompatible with human survival. Humanity faces unparalleled global challenges, with the future of the climate at their heart, and the warnings, from the United Nations and others – and the consequences of further inaction – are dire.

The need for international cooperation is pretty much unprecedented; greater, I would say, than it has been at any point since the United Nations was created to promote and facilitate it. The COP26 climate change conference, held this week and next in Glasgow, is an opportunity for leaders from across the globe to discuss ways of combatting the effects of climate change and, crucially, of minimizing further warming. Yet it comes at a moment when the spirit of global cooperation has been in retreat. As UN Secretary‑General António Guterres noted last month, vaccine nationalism in the richer parts of the world is putting global recovery at risk. The pandemic has not been the cause of nationalism, of course – as in many other cases, COVID-19 has highlighted an area in which we need to do better – but it has demonstrated how the leaders of the developed world can struggle to act in a genuinely cooperative, multilateral way, even when it is in their interests to do so. Continue reading

Closing the digital divide: It’s about more than access

As the world marks International Literacy Day 2021, Esther Prins considers what it would mean to narrow the digital divide and how we can foster a more creative and critical use of technology for all

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The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed stark inequalities in access to educational opportunities, particularly those requiring digital technologies. The 2021 International Literacy Day theme, Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide, offers a chance to reflect on digital access and why it matters for human potential.

When we hear about the ‘digital divide’, we typically think of having a smartphone, other mobile devices or a computer, plus reliable and affordable internet. But access involves much more than these physical resources. In this post, I discuss more complex ways of conceptualizing access. We cannot close the digital divide only by increasing broadband internet, technology ownership and technical know-how. Youth and adults must also be able to use digital tools creatively, critically and strategically to produce new knowledge. Continue reading

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

Learning, caring and engaging: Adult education and sustainable development

The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development is an opportunity to create a culture of sustainable living. But it will only be successful if we find better ways to support and strengthen adult learning and education for sustainable development, argues Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

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The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development takes place from 17 to 19 May 2021. While education at all levels has experienced unprecedented interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on adult learning and education (ALE) has been little considered, certainly when compared to schools and universities. While the pandemic has highlighted the importance of ALE in coping with and emerging from the crisis, it has also deprived adults around the world of access to education, and presented providers with difficult challenges in maintaining their learning offers, with a particularly, and by now depressingly familiar, negative impact on the poorest and least-advantaged. It is important that we reflect on this and consider, in particular, the key role of ALE in sustainable development and how we can foster it. I would like to reflect briefly on the role of ALE in education for sustainable development (ESD) and in building bridges to a future that is safe, fair, inclusive and sustainable.  

Sustainable development begins with education. Agenda 21, adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, recognized the critical role that education plays in the transition to sustainable development. Education is an essential tool in making individuals aware of the issue of sustainability and providing them with related skills, while encouraging them to take actions and find solutions to the local and global challenges we face. In addition, education for sustainable development and citizenship education are strongly linked. Yet, although the question of sustainability has risen to the top of policy agendas worldwide, policy action is limited, particularly in adult learning and education. Continue reading