A statement of intent: GRALE 5 and the Marrakech Framework for Action

The understanding of adult learning and education affirmed in GRALE 5 and at CONFINTEA VII is only the start – we must continue to make our voices heard, writes Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

UNESCO’s Fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE 5), subtitled‘Citizenship education: Empowering adults for change’, was launched on 15 June during CONFINTEA VII, in Marrakech, Morocco.

GRALE 5 shows that although progress has been made, notably in the participation of women, the picture overall remains uneven. Vulnerable groups, those who stand to benefit most from learning opportunities, are the least likely to access them. The education of migrants, refugees and displaced people remained a low priority for most countries, while around two-thirds of countries reported no improvements in the participation of people with disabilities or prisoners. Some countries reported that participation of rural populations had declined, while participation of older adults had decreased in 38 of the 159 surveyed countries. Continue reading

The right to lifelong learning: Making it a reality for all in Europe

Lifelong learning can empower individuals, support sustainable economic growth and contribute to just societies. That is why the EU is focused on making it a right for all, writes Maya Ivanova of the European Commission

The right to lifelong learning is an investment in our future – an investment that pays dividends many times over by helping people to maintain and acquire skills, to participate fully in society and to manage successfully transitions in the labour market. Today, European Union (EU) countries are firmly committed to making the right to lifelong learning a reality for all. The road ahead hides hurdles, but also opportunities. Having embarked on a journey towards universal access to lifelong learning, the EU can offer insights valuable beyond the continent.  

The world of work is undergoing a fundamental shift. Although it is not easy to picture exactly the jobs of the future, understanding the driving forces that shape our tomorrow can help us prepare for the challenges ahead. Continue reading

How to make adult education transformative: Asking the right questions

The challenges facing education demand responses that are genuinely transformative. But how should we understand transformative education and what can we do to promote it, asks Katarina Popović.

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The crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic inspired a wave of new and revived concepts, ideas and practices in education. The need for a new approach had been highlighted in response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and our likely failure to deliver against Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education by 2030. Continuing educational disparities and exacerbated gaps and setbacks underscore the urgent need to promote adult education and lifelong learning for all.

One of the ideas born out of this sense of urgency is ‘transformative education’, which UNESCO defines as teaching and learning ‘geared to motivate and empower happy and healthy learners to take informed decisions and actions at the individual, community and global levels’. The concept dominates discussions about post-crises education and is perceived as a panacea for many of today’s problems in education.

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Adult learning and education, work and a sustainable future

Without robust, high-quality and relevant adult learning and education programmes, we are in danger of neglecting our workforce and reducing the chances of a sustainable future, argues Paul Comyn of the International Labour Organization.

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Adult learning and education (ALE) serves multiple purposes in many different local and national community contexts, one of which is to support adults to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will enable them to look for and find work, either in paid employment or through other livelihoods. Employability is a key concept that underpins the work of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which it defines as the ‘portable competencies and qualifications that enhance an individual’s capacity to make use of the education and training opportunities available in order to secure and retain decent work, to progress within the enterprise and between jobs, and to cope with changing technology and labour market conditions.’

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ALE, climate change and good living: A Southern perspective

Repairing our broken relationship with the planet means radically rethinking how we understand the process of education and formation, argues Timothy D. Ireland

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Grand international conferences such as CONFINTEA provide an opportunity for the international community to weigh up what has and has not been achieved in the previous decade or more and, on that basis, to agree to new signposts and guidelines for the coming years. CONFINTEA VII will perhaps go down in history as the conference which took place at one of the most delicate and critical moments in recent history, since the beginning of the series in 1949. While the sanitary crisis caused by COVID-19 has gained more space in the press, the unravelling crisis which refuses to go away is that of climate change and global warming. At times like this, education is generally indicated as part of the solution. In 2022, there is a feeling that education is no longer part of the solution but a major part of the problem: more of the same will only deepen the crisis and aggravate our problems.

Over the last decades, we have seen what Paul Stanistreet calls the ‘depoliticization of education and the grim instrumentalism of neoliberal conceptions of its purpose and value’, in which the focus of education has no longer been that of preparing people for life but only for the world of work. In a similar vein, José Mujica, the former president of Uruguay, describes the process as that of transforming people into consumers and not into citizens, despite the ongoing discussion on global citizenship. The crux of the question is the relationship between the human and natural worlds, or between humanity and other forms of life. For the Brazilian Indigenous leader and philosopher Ailton Krenak, ‘Everything is nature. The cosmos is nature. Everything that I can think of is nature’. The world into which Indigenous people have resisted being incorporated is a world which has converted nature into ‘resources’ to be exploited in such a way that the market becomes ‘everything that is outside/beyond us’. Krenak returns to one of the concepts to which we have delegated the power of attempting to reduce human aggressions on the planet – sustainable development – which he describes as ‘a myth invented by the major corporations to justify the assault which they penetrate on our idea of nature’. The COVID-19 pandemic is not an externality but an organism of the planet, a virus, which has launched an attack on ‘the form of unsustainable life which we have adopted by our free choice’: a living example perhaps of what the English poet Tennyson called ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’. We have developed a style of life which has become divorced from the living organism – Earth – characterized by its attempts to suppress diversity and to deny the plurality of forms of life, existence and habits. Continue reading

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

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