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

Credit: Pixaby

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

Lifelong learning in dangerous times

As COVID-19 closes schools, colleges and universities around the world, it is critical that educational solutions, such as online and distance learning, do not widen the digital divide, argues Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

© UNESCO

The COVID-19 developments have urgent implications for educational institutions worldwide, and ask serious and urgent questions of education ministers, leaders, teachers and learners.

As closure notices go up outside schools and other places of formal and non-formal education, the challenge we face is how to ensure the continuity of learning through a period of unprecedented disruption.

We need to offer learners robust, innovative solutions relatively fast and to create opportunities for online teaching platforms to reach all, rather than only a small group of learners. Continue reading

Fostering joyful learning in Espoo

Espoo, in Finland, was one of 12 cities to receive the UNESCO Learning City Award at the second International Conference on Learning Cities in Mexico in 2015. Annica Isacsson and Annika Forstén explain what makes Espoo special

© Jussi Helimäki/Espoo
Espoo cultural centre and tower in Tapiola

In 2015, UNESCO recognized the Finnish city of Espoo for the outstanding progress it had made in implementing the ‘Key Features of Learning Cities’ since the first International Conference on Learning Cities in 2013. The Key Features describe a learning city as one that effectively mobilizes, creates and reinforces individual empowerment and social cohesion, and economic and cultural prosperity, in addition to sustainable development. In fact, the United Nations has invited Espoo to become a pioneer of sustainable development by attaining the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2025, five years ahead of schedule.

Espoo aims to ensure that all citizens can fulfill their potential, succeed in the uncertain world of the future and participate in the development of their local communities. Learning, creativity and innovation are fostered from an early age. For example, in 2019, Tapiola Sinfonietta, the city’s orchestra, invited all expectant parents in the city to its regular concerts so that their children could experience the positive influence of music while still in the womb. And Espoo’s systematic approach to collaboration between artists and schools has been extended to early education centres, giving all children the opportunity to interact with professional artists and foster creative minds. 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

© UNESCO/Monkatan Suvarnatap

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?

© UN Photo/Christophe Herwig

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

Make the right to education a reality for all

As we mark International Day of Education, David Atchoarena urges countries to redouble their efforts to ensure no one’s right to education is denied

Today is International Day of Education, a moment not only to celebrate education’s powerful contribution to sustainable human prosperity, progress and peace, but also to assert its wider value – as a human right and as an important public good.

It is an opportune time to consider both what we have achieved in realizing the right to education and how far we have to go to ensure this right is realized for every woman, man and child, wherever they live in the world, whatever their background or personal circumstances.

The global challenges we face are enormous. Some 258 million children and youth still do not attend school, four million children and youth refugees are out of school, and 773 million adults around the world cannot read or write, most of them women. In too many cases, disadvantaged and marginalized groups remain excluded from participation in adult learning and education, as the new UNESCO Global Report on Adult Learning and Education points out. Their right to education is being denied. This is unacceptable. 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

Leave no one behind: Fighting poverty through lifelong learning

Konstantinos Pagratis reflects on how education can support the global struggle to end poverty

© UNESCO/Iason Athanasiadis

Last week, the world marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 – to end poverty in all its forms everywhere – and to highlight the complex, multidimensional nature of the challenges we face in achieving it.

Education is not a silver bullet when it comes to ending poverty, but it has a crucial role to play, both in securing SDG 1 and in fulfilling the commitment made by Member States in signing up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: to leave no one behind.

UNESCO believes that the fight against poverty demands the strengthening of individuals’ capacities through education, which represents a source not only of employment but also of pride, dignity and agency. As Audrey Azoulay, the Director General of UNESCO, observes, ‘for each year a girl spends in the classroom, her future income will increase by 10 to 20 per cent’. Continue reading

Acting together for refugees and migrants

World Refugee Day 2019 is an opportunity to reject the language of hate and express our solidarity with those living in exile – it is also a chance to think about how education can support migrants and refugees in making better lives for themselves, writes Konstantinos Pagratis

Two Burmese refugee boys at a temporary shelter in Thailand © Seipoe/Shutterstock

World Refugee Day, which falls every year on 20 June, promotes awareness of the plight of refugees and reminds us of our common humanity, of the commitments we have made and of the urgent need to keep them. At UIL, it prompts us to reflect on the kinds of educational opportunities available to refugees and migrants and the best approaches we can take in helping them integrate and flourish in their host societies.

The 2018 Global Compact on Refugees and the 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report, Building Bridges, Not Walls, highlight relevant international efforts to integrate migrants and refugees into the formal education system. But there has been too little action, at the local, national or international level, to address the educational needs of migrating, displaced and hosting populations, or to coordinate actions to ensure education supports people in entering the world of work and participating fully in their host communities. Continue reading

Learning to live differently: Climate change and lifelong learning

As we mark World Environment Day 2019, Jennifer Kearns-Willerich argues that lifelong learning must be at the heart of our efforts to live sustainably

© UNESCO

The significant gap between where we are today and where we want to be by 2030 is nowhere more evident that on the issue of climate change.

As the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report, Education for people and planet: Creating sustainable futures for all, observed, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s call for ‘urgent action on climate change’ to ‘support the needs of the present and future generations’, is some way from being heeded, with environmental sustainability a still-distant prospect and the gears of policy still seemingly stuck in neutral when it comes to the climate crisis.

Education and lifelong learning, the report contended, have a central role to play ‘in the creation of a green and inclusive economy with sustainable models of production and consumption, and new and retooled sectors, industries and jobs’. They also have an important part to play in changing hearts and minds and galvanizing political will. Continue reading