Learning, caring and engaging: Adult education and sustainable development

The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development is an opportunity to create a culture of sustainable living. But it will only be successful if we find better ways to support and strengthen adult learning and education for sustainable development, argues Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

© metamorworks / Getty Images

The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development takes place from 17 to 19 May 2021. While education at all levels has experienced unprecedented interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on adult learning and education (ALE) has been little considered, certainly when compared to schools and universities. While the pandemic has highlighted the importance of ALE in coping with and emerging from the crisis, it has also deprived adults around the world of access to education, and presented providers with difficult challenges in maintaining their learning offers, with a particularly, and by now depressingly familiar, negative impact on the poorest and least-advantaged. It is important that we reflect on this and consider, in particular, the key role of ALE in sustainable development and how we can foster it. I would like to reflect briefly on the role of ALE in education for sustainable development (ESD) and in building bridges to a future that is safe, fair, inclusive and sustainable.  

Sustainable development begins with education. Agenda 21, adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, recognized the critical role that education plays in the transition to sustainable development. Education is an essential tool in making individuals aware of the issue of sustainability and providing them with related skills, while encouraging them to take actions and find solutions to the local and global challenges we face. In addition, education for sustainable development and citizenship education are strongly linked. Yet, although the question of sustainability has risen to the top of policy agendas worldwide, policy action is limited, particularly in adult learning and education. Continue reading

At the tipping point: Education in the age of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic could come to be seen either as an important turning point for humanity or a huge missed opportunity, a landmark in the decline of human civilization. The choice, in the end, is ours, writes Paul Stanistreet.

As the 51st World Economic Forum (WEF) meets virtually to discuss rebuilding trust, making ‘crucial’ choices and reforming systems in the context of the agenda WEF founder Klaus Schwab describes as the ‘great reset’, it is clear that we are living through times of profound change and challenge, in some respects unprecedented in human history.

And whether you welcome this for reasons of social justice and the promotion of equity and equality, or see as it a threat to entrenched systems of advantage that must be carefully, and, if necessary, coercively, managed, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a rare moment in the human story when we have an opportunity to read the map, change direction and do things differently. Continue reading

COVID-19: A wake-up call to invest in literacy

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the least advantaged the hardest and highlights the harsh reality of educational inequality. As we look to rebuild, we must ensure that the global literacy challenge is finally and decisively met, writes Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development.

© Princess Laurentien

COVID-19 has disrupted education worldwide in an unprecedented way. Millions of students have not been able to continue learning in schools, universities, vocational training institutions and adult learning programmes. Many governments responded to the pressing need to provide school children with learning possibilities via online and distance learning. Virtual lessons were adopted, home learning materials distributed and education provided through TV and radio or in open air spaces. These efforts were essential and undeniably very challenging for many governments, teachers and students alike as it demanded a reshuffling not only of delivery mechanisms but also of roles and responsibilities.

The crisis also shows us, with a frightening clarity, what consequences a lack of basic literacy skills can have. Some 773 million youth and adults globally lack basic levels of literacy and numeracy, two-thirds of them female. Most of these youth and adults face multiple disadvantages. They are often unable to acquire decent jobs, suffer from hunger and bad health, cannot make informed choices, and are excluded from social interaction and full participation in society. Continue reading

Transforming education

As we mark International Youth Day, David Atchoarena reflects on the challenge of ‘transforming education’ for young people and on how we can gear their leaning not only to employment but also to sustainable development

© UNESCO

‘Transforming education’ is the theme of International Youth Day 2019, celebrated on 15 July. The focus is on making education more inclusive and accessible for all youth, in particular young women and young people from disadvantaged groups. Taking place within the framework of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, the theme chosen for this year’s International Youth Day goes beyond the usual meaning of education to embrace a vision of learning throughout life, so that youth can fully take part in a lifelong journey for sustainable development.

Although there are variations between countries and between different categories of young people, work continues to constitute an important dimension in the way in which young people see their future. However, beyond their individual situation, young people also increasingly express a concern for the future of the planet. This is reflected in their attitude and participation in society, as citizens and as workers. The meaning of work and its contribution to a sustainable path are important considerations in the way in which youth see employment. Hence, the debate about youth skills is not only about skills for work and life, it is about skills for sustainability and social participation. Continue reading

Lifelong learning and the SDGs

The SDG Global Festival of Action shows exactly why lifelong learning matters to the SDG agenda, argues Paul Stanistreet

© SDG Action Campaign

As young people around the world raise their voices to call for action on climate change, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Global Festival of Action seems especially timely.

This important annual event, which is taking place in Bonn, Germany, is intended to bring together and galvanize campaigners on the SDGs to redouble their efforts, forge new partnerships and, above all, take action to support the global movement for sustainability. The festival encourages leaders from governments, local authorities, international organizations and civil society to work closely with activists, youth advocates, the creative industry and the private sector in scaling up their efforts to make a difference to this critical agenda.

The event sends an important message: unless people are prepared to take action themselves – to campaign, lobby, make changes in their own lives and in their communities, and hold their governments to account for the promises they have made, and do so in a coordinated, coherent way – we will not achieve the SDGs. Continue reading

Making hope possible: Democracy, sustainability and lifelong learning

Lifelong learning has a key role to play not only in achieving SDG 4 on education but also in creating a climate in which progressive change is possible, writes Paul Stanistreet

© UIL

Last week, the Comparative International Education Society (CIES) convened in San Francisco for its annual conference, which this year focused on ‘Education for Sustainability’.

Jeffrey Sachs, the economist, UN adviser and sustainability advocate, gave the keynote lecture. He demanded urgent action to address the challenges of sustainability and specifically to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development targets for education. Without a major change of pace or direction, he warned, the targets for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 would not be met.

Sachs is right to urge educators to ‘raise their voices’ and’ fight harder for resources’. However, the contribution of education to the sustainable development agenda will not be realized simply by raising more taxes from the very wealthy or by demanding or securing more funding for schools, important though this is. We need to think too about the role of education in shifting the cultural and intellectual climate to a place where political will can be moved and meaningful change in the face of powerful, entrenched interests is possible. Continue reading

Making the most of lifelong learning

Malak Zaalouk, Chair of UIL’s Governing Board, explains why lifelong learning is at the heart of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – and why it should be central to the plans and policies of nation states

© Asian Development Bank

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 puts lifelong learning at the heart of the global education policy-making agenda by enjoining Member States to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

This is already important recognition. However, we have yet to fully realize the potential contribution of lifelong learning either to SDG 4 or to the wider 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This demands the development of inter-sectoral solutions to challenges such as social exclusion, poverty, climate change, mass migration and technological transformation.. Continue reading

Indigenous knowledge matters

To coincide with International Mother Language Day, UIL’s journal, IRE, is celebrating the resilience of the world’s Indigenous peoples and the contribution of Indigenous knowledge to sustainability. Its editor, Stephen Roche, explains

Today, 21 February, UNESCO and its global partners celebrate International Mother Language Day, this year on the theme of ‘Indigenous languages matter for development, peace building and reconciliation’. I am very proud to announce that, to coincide with International Mother Language Day, the International Review of Education – Journal of Lifelong Learning (IRE) will publish a special issue on ‘Indigenous knowledges as vital contributions to sustainability’.

This issue began to take shape in late 2016, when I approached Miye Tom – a Native scholar from the United States who had recently published with us – with the suggestion that she put together a proposal for a special issue on Indigenous education and knowledge. Together with two highly qualified and motivated scholars, Elizabeth Sumida Huaman and Teresa McCarty, she suggested that we not only make the special issue about Indigenous knowledge, but also approach Indigenous authors to write it. Continue reading

A family affair: Recognizing the potential of intergenerational learning

Adult participants in a family and intergenerational literacy and learning course in the Gambia @UIL

Qiongzhuoma Heimbel explains how family and intergenerational literacy and learning programmes can improve literacy rates around the world

Despite a rise in literacy rates in the last quarter of a century, more than 781 million adults around the world still lack basic reading and writing skills. Low levels of literacy prevent people from securing decent work and improving their lives. The 2014 United Nations General Assembly resolution, Literacy for life: Shaping future agendas, reaffirmed literacy as ‘a foundation for lifelong learning, a building block for achieving human rights and fundamental freedoms, and a driver of sustainable development’. In response, Member States began promoting more basic adult literacy programmes, especially for disadvantaged groups.

Quite often, the motivation for the adult learners who take part in these programmes is to improve their literacy skills in order to support their children’s learning. These adults, many of whom have never been to school or dropped out, understand that literacy can lead to a better life for their children. However, despite a desire to see their children progress at school, many parents who see themselves as ‘uneducated’ or ‘illiterate’ are reluctant to take part in learning programmes. Continue reading

Resources of hope: Why community libraries matter

Former UIL scholar Karma Lhazom, Country Director of READ Bhutan, reading with a group of school children at a community library in eastern Bhutan. © READ Bhutan

Lisa Krolak on the critical role community libraries play in promoting literacy development and lifelong learning

All over the world, libraries serve as proactive community and learning spaces that directly address the needs of children, youth and adults. They are constantly evolving and responding to social, cultural, economic and political changes in their environment. Community libraries, in particular, have demonstrated great potential in supporting literacy development and lifelong learning through diverse services and successful outreach activities. But what is it that make community libraries so effective?

Community libraries are established, owned and managed by and for a specific community, clearly based on community needs. They represent one of many alternative library models that have emerged since the 1970s. In comparison to public libraries, community libraries are often small and usually not supported by government funds. They do not primarily target the mostly literate, urban populations, but rather develop diverse ways to provide various learning opportunities to marginalized populations. This is done not only by providing access to reading materials, but also by offering literacy training and linking literacy activities to practical livelihood concerns. Continue reading