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

COVID-19: Rehumanizing education and lifelong learning

The current crisis need not result in a further erosion of social and economic rights and the widening of inequalities – it also represents an opportunity to appeal to global solidarity and rehumanize lifelong learning, writes Maren Elfert

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Educators around the world are alarmed about the consequences of the COVIID-19 crisis. A lively debate has emerged on what the world might look like in the aftermath of the crisis in relation to education and more broadly. I would like to add my voice to those who emphasize that our perspective must be bigger than COVID-19 and that we should take the crisis as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and rethink our approach to education. As a recent article argued in relation to schools, ‘When the Covid crisis finally ends, schools must never return to normal’ (Sweeney, 2020), referring to the need to abandon harmful practices such as deprofessionalizing teachers, excessive testing and the culture of rankings. This discussion, of course, is related to how we organize our society and how we deal with the larger environmental, economic, social and political crisis of which COVID-19 is a symptom.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, there is potential in this crisis for the best of times or the worst of times. The crisis could offer us an opportunity to rethink and innovate our societies or to move further down the path of dehumanization of education in terms of ‘one size fits all teaching’ in schools and lifelong learning as a market commodity. Among the questions and issues that are raised in the current debates are: In light of the public health and ensuing economic crisis, will global inequalities in access to education widen, disrupting progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) (UNESCO/IIEP, 2020)? Distance education is being pushed by corporate interests (Williamson, 2020), but it bears the risk of further marginalizing disadvantaged students who do not have access to technology and who depend on teacher-student relationships (Srivastava, 2020; Parramore, 2020). For many students, school represents a place to socialize and often get the only meal of the day (UNICEF, 2020). Higher education institutions around the world are preparing for significant drops of international students, and quite a number of them will probably not survive. Will this lead to a reconsideration of education as a market model, or just to even more tightened competition? Some thinkers, such as the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben (2020a; 2020b), are concerned about the de-humanization of human beings as a consequence of ‘social distancing’. Arjun Appadurai, in a recent keynote panel of UNESCO’s ‘Futures of Education’ initiative, warned of the risk that education might be considered unimportant in these times of crisis (UNESCO, 2020). This might translate into cuts to education. 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

The new learning frontier

As he begins his first term as Chair of the UIL Governing Board, Daniel Baril reflects on the implications of technological transformation for adult learning and education

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In my first contribution to the UIL blog, and as I reflect on global issues for adult learning and education as new Chair of the UIL Governing Board, I would like to share a high-level analysis of what I consider a major and new educational challenge. In my view, we are entering a new learning frontier, principally characterized by the fact that human and machine are learning side by side and together. This ‘human-machine learning interface’, as it was described in a recent UNEVOC document, is characteristic of the so-called fourth industrial revolution that is dawning upon us.

In this context, the education landscape is being rapidly and deeply transformed before our eyes by technological forces, and especially by the computational and digital dimensions of those forces. Among other things, new technological means are widely distributed within the population and social arrangements are being transformed by them. In our world now, any two learners are just a click of the mouse away. The questions of the place and pace of artificial intelligence (AI) in education are symptomatic of those changes pressuring our educational world. In a recent forum on this topic, organized by UNESCO in June 2019, parameters for the policy debate were proposed. They are testimonies to the nature and the magnitude of the changes taking place. In particular, AI has the potential for ‘reshaping the core foundations of education, teaching and learning’. Unlocking that potential will move the frontier of our learning world. Continue reading