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

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

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‘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: 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: Finding solutions that work for all

Educational interventions to address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic need to acknowledge the realities of life in the most disadvantaged communities if they are not to exacerbate existing inequalities, argues Rakhat Zholdoshalieva

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The magnitude of the global health crisis, and the long-term impact it is likely to have on the economy, society and education, was unimaginable just a few weeks ago. Such crises spark understandable fear and anxiety, as we come to terms with the impact both on our physical and psychological health and on our economic, financial, environmental and social life in the months and years to come.

As someone who works in adult learning, with a focus on youth and adult literacy and people who experience multiple forms of discrimination and disadvantage, I observe that many of our evolving solutions, advice, lessons and reflections ignore the reality of life for many children, youth, adults, families, communities and regions around the world. In times of massive disruption, disorientation and anxiety at global level, it is more important than ever that we do not lose sight of those who historically have been out of sight and out of mind when it comes to policies and actions. Continue reading

COVID-19: The case for prioritizing adult education

Since the start of the pandemic, crisis management in education has focused on children and young people, but adult education is just as critical in times of crisis, argues Daniel Baril

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The COVID-19 pandemic is shaking our societies, and testing our capacity to act, to the limit. Each major sector of society must contribute, whether through caring for and supporting those infected, stopping the spread of the virus or ensuring the supply of essential goods and services to cloistered families. Much is demanded too of the education sector, especially given governments’ decision to close schools and other educational establishments.

Ministries of education have encouraged educational institutions to use online and distance education to ensure ‘continuity of learning. However, adult education has not yet caught the attention of governments. Public adult education services are conspicuous by their absence from the first wave of government decisions, and concern about continuity of learning for children and young people has not been extended to adults. Continue reading

Multilingualism: The language of sustainable development

In a world increasingly globalized, multilingualism is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Supported by mother tongue-based multilingual education, linguistic diversity brings a number of benefits to learners but also to society as a whole. Growing evidence suggests that multilingualism can effectively contribute to sustainable development and to peace, argues David Atchoarena

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Since the year 2000, the world has been celebrating International Mother Language Day on 21 February. Linguistic diversity is an invaluable part of the heritage of humanity. About 7,000 languages are spoken around the world. Yet, 2,680 of them are in danger of disappearing, and many more are already gone.

In that context, offering education and learning opportunities in the mother tongue is essential to transmitting and preserving traditional knowledge and culture in a sustainable way. Children, youth and adults require learning opportunities that are relevant to their lives and needs. This also includes having access to an education in their own language. Evidence shows that such provision contributes to improving learning and developing confidence and self-esteem. Continue reading

Raising our voices, telling our story

While everyone agrees that adult education has major social, economic and civic benefits, it remains a marginal concern for policy-makers. How, asks Sir Alan Tuckett, can we convince governments to make policies that live up to their commitments?

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Adult learning and education makes a difference. It enhances people’s dignity and strengthens civil society. It supports the development of skills for the world of today’s work and the capacity to address the challenges of rapid technological, industrial, ecological demographic change. It fosters inter-generational learning, and enriches learners’ engagement with arts, respect for diversity and difference. Studies show its positive health impact, its contribution to the resettlement of offenders, and the way it enriches later lives. Most importantly adult learning and education gives a voice to people too often silenced in the debates that shape our future. In the words of Rethinking Education, adult learning and education fosters the common good.

All this is endorsed by international conference after international conference. The International Labour Office calls for universal lifelong learning; the World Economic Forum argues that lifelong learning is of key importance in responding to the development of robotics, artificial intelligence and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) surveys of adult skills, administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), are modified to recognise the breadth of learning relevant to twenty-first century work. Governments sign up to major commitments to improve literacy, to secure the right to education for women as well as girls, and to no one being left behind. Continue reading