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

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 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

The role of ALE: Our stories, our voice

Work on promoting adult learning and education is expanding and there are some encouraging signs. With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development approaching its half-way point, next year’s seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) will be a pivotal moment, writes Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

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This week, more than 300 representatives of civil society organizations and other stakeholders met online to kick off a five-year global campaign to promote adult learning and education (ALE) and make it more visible. We are ALE’ aims to strengthen the voice of ALE and enable civil society organizations to speak with one voice in their advocacy.

It is one of a number of positive interventions aiming to move ALE up the agenda of national and international education policy. This is essential, as, across the globe, investment in ALE is shrinking and action on ALE on the decline, despite what the pandemic has taught us about its value and usefulness. In many places around the world, the great work of previous decades in building a strong ALE sector is being undone. Continue reading

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