Interview with Alan Tuckett (ICAE President), about Post 2015 process

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By Alejandra Scampini

Alan Tuckett has been President of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) now for just over a year, after serving as its Treasurer. He is the former Director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education – NIACE in the UK, where he started Adult Learners’ Week in 1992 and supported its adoption by UNESCO and its spread to more than 50 countries. He represents ICAE on UNESCO committees and is working actively on its approach to the post 2015 global agenda for adult learning.

See the powerpoint presentation he offered at dvv international  in Bonn in August, as background to this interview

AS: What was the background to the dvv meeting, and ICAE’s role at it?

AT: Celita Eccher, our General Secretary, Sturla Bjerkaker and I have been in dialogue with dvv-I over the last year looking at how best we can work together.  One result of those discussions was the invitation to me, along with Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo of UNESCO’s Institute of Lifelong Learning, (UIL) to make presentations on the process leading to 2015, the end of the current MDG and EFA target periods, and what should follow them to dvv-I’s strategy seminar of its regional lead staff in August.

Carol is now a member of the UNESCO task force on EFA; and I sit for ICAE (alongside Gorgui Sow, ICAE vice president for Africa, Camila Crosso of CLADE and the Global Campaign for Education and Maria Almazan -Khan from ASPBAE) on the UNESCO EFA co-ordinating committee for consulting civil society organisations, and with Gorgui on the EFA steering committee.

As a result of the meeting dvv-I and ICAE have agreed to work closely together on post 2015 strategies, and will meet in Marrakech in October, alongside ICAE’s strategic seminar to plan future co-operation in detail.

AS: Where does ICAE stand on Education For All (EFA) and the development gaps that are going to be addressed in processes like Millennium Development Goals (MDG) revision, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and post 2015?

AT: That is a large question, and, ideally, we would not start from here!  We have to do our work in the context of what Gita Sen calls this fierce new world – one where the rights agenda is on the defensive; where fiscal restructuring makes conditions ever tougher for the poorest; where climate change and increasingly severe weather events disrupt people’s lives in devastating ways; where inequality is accelerating fast.  We have increasing food, energy, and water shortages.  We live in a world where human rights violations abound; where conflicts persist for decades; where the authority of nation states is weakening, and where transnational corporations’ power grows steadily.

There are, of course, resources of hope, too.  Improved communications, the potential of technological innovation, and rising life expectancy, and the increased confidence of civil society remind us that there is nothing inevitable about current ways of doing things, that another world IS possible.

In this context it is important to note that too many of the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All targets will not be achieved by 2015, and whilst there has been impressive progress towards universal primary schooling, the effect of the inclusion of just 2 of the EFA targets in the MDGs has been to marginalize the others.  As a result we still have almost 800 million young people and adult without literacy skills, two thirds of whom are women.

Whilst the Millennium Development vision adopted by governments in 2000 included a holistic, rights based development process, the targets have reinforced silos, and given priority to things that are easily measured.  The result is that the role of adult learning in the achievement of almost all the goals is not recognized.  Yet you can’t hit your goals for clean water and sanitation, without adults understanding and willingly adapting behaviours,-  and that is adult learning The same is true of HIV and AIDS targets, and of anti-poverty strategies generally.  It is also true that children do better in school, and retain skills longer when their parents and particularly their mothers are confident learners.

But as we saw in all the debates leading up to Rio Plus 20, that catalytic role of adult learning is not understood, or recognised by policy makers and politicians outside the education sector.  As a result, despite the huge volume of work our colleagues put into the sustainability agenda we achieved just 2 mentions in the 160 paragraphs of the Rio declaration.  So, one key gap we have to address is the understanding that adult learning is both a part of the lifelong learning agenda, and a key help in achieving other policy goals.

As a result we need, in my view, to follow a twin track policy in ICAE.  On the one hand we have to follow the UN process, recognising that we have limited resources but good partners, and seeking to secure recognition of the importance of adult learning – and especially women’s education – non-formal as well as formal – at the heart of the development process, but arguing, too, for a single, holistic lifelong learning target for education to be included in the successor to the MDGs, whether they are Sustainable Development Goals, or MDG mark 2.  At the same time we need to follow the EFA process, arguing similarly for a single overall framework, in which adult and youth education takes its place.  And we must insist that the goals are based on values, and the fundamental right to learn, to enable adults and young people to function fully as active citizens.

AS: What are the challenges and opportunities in this process for lifelong learning for all, especially for adult women and men?

Too often policy makers think education is only for the young – so the first challenge is to make sure that it is better understood that education goes on throughout life.  The second is to recognize that there is more to learning than formal education, and there is more to vocational education than work in the waged economy.  For the millions of young people – in the industrialised world as well as the global south – marginalized by the restructuring of the global economy, there is the huge challenge of finding a place to act creatively in the world, and the same is true of many older adults displaced from economic activity and without a voice in their societies.  In practical terms the risk is that policymakers will focus on universal secondary schooling and quality – both important in their own right – but at the expense of the 800 million still lacking literacy, at the expense of non-formal and informal learning, and at the expense of real education for citizenship.

But as I said we do have opportunities, too.  The restructuring makes knowledge, skills and the capacity to learn key industrial strengths – so for many at work, learning opportunities must grow.  Technological change and the spread of open educational resources make learning technologies and materials more accessible; cultural and political change like that of the Arab Spring open spaces for new forms of action, and the World Social Forum reminds us that it is human ingenuity that creates new forms of association.

What is important about the post 2015 debate is that we argue with Einstein that not everything worth counting can be counted, and that not everything you can count, is worth counting.  Values are even more important than numbers.

AS: What actions is ICAE undertaking in this process towards 2015 and EFA review to address these challenges and opportunities?

First we have worked since the General Assembly in Malmo on the follow up to CONFINTEA, and on EFA and the MDGs.  We have a working group overseeing our work there.  Another leads on education for sustainability for a climate changing world.  A third looks at decent learning for decent work.  A fourth, complemented by the work of our Gender Education Office – GEO, looks at gender equality, contesting all forms of discrimination, and highlighting the needs of migrants.  A fifth shares good practice on folkbildning and popular education.  Each has a role to play in shaping our post 2015 strategy.  Then we have held the first of two virtual seminars on the post 2015 agenda (Click here) – with the second following the strategy meeting we are holding at the ICAE Executive meeting in Marrakech in October.  In addition we are following the UN and UNESCO processes, working with our regional associations and our partners.

AS: How is ICAE working with other social movements in these processes, women´s movements, trade unions, indigenous movements?

It has been strength of ICAE’s work that we have active and effective partnerships globally in the movements to secure rights for women, and across the social movement landscape in the World Social Forum.

In the Rio plus 20 process we were able to play a key role, led by Celita, in co-operating effectively with other educational movements, particularly in Latin America, which produced The education we need for the world we want  at the Rio conference. Our skill in mobilizing partnerships was highlighted in Belem at the impressive FISC conference.  We work closely with the Global Campaign for Education, we have alliances in the civil society work with UNESCO, and our regions have a rich pattern of association and partnership, too.  And yet… Beyond 2015, the leading group of NGOs and CSOs working on post 2015, does not include explicit education expertise or focus in its work.   We could do more to strengthen links with trade unions, and with at least some of the indigenous movements.  But to do more we need the active support and the active work of our members.

There is always more to do!

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