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: From global crisis to global citizenship

Global citizenship education has an important role to play in ensuring that the world that emerges from the COVID-19 crisis is safe, fair and inclusive, argues Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

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The spread of COVID-19 represents an unprecedented challenge for humanity. As well as taking a huge toll on healthcare systems around the world, it is also having a major negative impact on labour markets and economies. People get ill, many will die, but very many will also lose their jobs, and a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises will close.

The heaviest price will be paid by those who are already worst off, whose jobs are the most precarious and least well paid. While the virus does not discriminate, there is a danger that it will impact disproportionately on poorer people and poorer communities, thus exacerbating existing inequalities. 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

Adult education 2.0

As preparations begin for the seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) in 2022, Daniel Baril, Chair of UIL’s Governing Board, argues that we need a new generation of adult learning and education policies

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In matters of adult learning and education, we live in paradoxical times. On the one hand, learning needs are diversifying and adult education resources cover a wide spectrum of learning possibilities, formal, non-formal or informal. On the other, adult education policies strive to mobilize all available educational resources to answer different learning needs. That is why I think that a new generation of adult learning and education policies is needed, policies that would aim to draw on all educational resources to answer a wide array of learning needs.  

In my view, in our new century, two phenomena are shaping adult education. First, we are witnessing a new social demand for knowledge and competencies. In all countries, literacy and basic skills remain a major educational need and, overall, work-related training is prioritized. But, beyond those important learning domains, we can observe a wider demand stemming from many spheres of people’s daily life. In its research and normative work, UNESCO has referred to some of those growing learning needs: education for health and well-being, education for sustainable development, education for citizenship, digital skills and human rights education. The so-called twenty-first century skills are also an example of an expanding social demand for learning. Continue reading

ALE in Europe: A story of untapped potential

Adult learning and education has the potential to address a wide range of agendas, but too often its effects are limited by a narrow understanding of its purpose, argues EAEA President Uwe Gartenschlaeger

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An annual survey conducted by the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) among its members provides evidence that European ALE has the potential to deliver services and formats to tackle the key challenges the continent and its people face. However, enabling frameworks are lagging behind and are still caught in a narrow understanding of ALE as a tool for vocational up-skilling. In contrast, EAEA members demand more attention (and funding) for holistic ALE provision, including, especially, civic education, education for sustainable development and digital literacy. Besides, ALE is perceived as a vaccination against xenophobia and a powerful instrument to enable citizens to act and transform their communities and societies.

Since 2014, the EAEA has been collecting outlooks from across its membership in 43 European countries on the adult education sector: recent developments, strengths, challenges and how national policy reflects international policies and initiatives relating to adult learning at present. These country reports present a unique civil-society perspective from all over the continent. Continue reading

It’s time we lived up to our commitments on adult education

The fourth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education represents a wake-up call to countries to do more to advance participation in adult education – we need to heed it, says David Atchoarena

Published by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), the new Global Report on Adult Learning and Education GRALE 4 – is a landmark publication in the field of adult learning and education (ALE) for the international education policy community.

The report charts UNESCO Member States’ progress against the commitments made at the sixth International Conference on Adult Education in 2009 and codified in the Belém Framework for Action, with a special emphasis, in this report, on participation in ALE. The story it tells is in some ways a positive one – more than half of responding countries reported an increase in overall participation between 2015 and 2018 – but the overwhelming message is that participation is still far too low, and that progress, overall, is insufficient, particularly among disadvantaged groups. Investment too is far from where it needs to be, with one in five countries reporting spending less than 0.5% of their education budgets on ALE and a further 14% spending less than 1%. Continue reading