Adult access to education and training in the context of a lifelong learning target post 2015.

My contribution to the discussion makes the case for a post-2015 education target to be holistic, including all age groups, and goes on to suggest what is needed for adult learners in the new framework.  It is written in a personal capacity, but informed by the International Council for Adult Education, of which I am President.

Adult access to education and training in the context of a lifelong learning target post 2015.

The context in which this on-line consultation takes place is challenging.  We can all agree that access to education is a fundamental pre-condition for exercising the right to education adopted by member states of the UN.  Despite this there are, as the latest Global Monitoring Report on EFA confirms 61 million children out of school.  There are, too, 775 million adults without literacy skills; 64% of whom are women( a percentage unchanged in 20 years.)  Adult illiteracy rates have dropped just 12 percent in the 22 years since Jomtiaen.  For all the aspirations of the member states who set the Education for All Goals in 2000, too many adults have been denied access to the right to learn.

In part this can be explained by the distorting effect of the adoption in the Millennium Development Goals of just two of the EFA targets.  The result has been that a carefully sculpted and interlinked agenda has been pulled out of shape – with universal primary schooling often being pursued at the expense of the other priorities.  It is not, perhaps surprising that 240 million children who have been through four years of schooling still lack literacy and numeracy skills at the end, when so many children go back into environments  where their parents, and especially their mothers, lack literacy skills themselves.

There are of course real gains to celebrate since 2000 – not least in the achievements of China in teaching many millions to read, and in India where an enlightened law is backed by effective non-government agency action at local levels to make sure that laws passed at the centre can be acted on on the ground.

However, as we consider the post 2015 challenges, we need to recognise that we are confronted by multiple crises – arising from fiscal restructuring, climate change, accelerating inequality, food, energy and water shortages.  Meanwhile, large parts of the globe are subject to continuing insecurity and conflict. Yet we live in a world of rising life expectancy, where many enjoy standards of living unimaginable to their parents and grandparents.  The International Council for the Education of Adults is clear that lifelong learning policies and practices are inevitably involved in responses to all of these issues, for as the fifth UNESCO international conference on the education of adults (CONFINTEA V) in Hamburg made clear, whilst adult learning is a good in itself, it is also a fundamental pre-requisite for the achievement of a range of other social policy goals. Few if any of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000 can be fully achieved without  investment in adult learning, yet the invisibility of an explicit focus on this catalytic function of adult learning has been a major weakness in securing its optimal contribution to development in industrialised and developing countries alike.

Targets can be a mixed blessing.  At their best they establish a clear and shared sense of direction, and identify the scale of action needed to secure a desired outcome. At their worst they can become the inflexible focus of policy and action, even when powerful evidence of the need for modification becomes available.  You can, as one British politician put it, ‘hit the target and miss the point’.

.Nevertheless, as  Ban-Ki Moon put it, in the foreword to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2011, the goals ‘have raised awareness and shaped a broad vision that remains the overarching framework for the development activities of the United Nations.’(UN,2011,3).  But whilst the Secretary General highlights the breadth of the vision, in practice the targets have acted to narrow the focus of development – often to the detriment of opportunities for adults to learn.

So what needs to be done to improve access to education, and particularly for education for adults, in the post 2015 framework?

In the debates about what goals are needed post EFA and MDGs in 2015, we must surely argue for the inclusion of a lifelong learning target -firstly as the overarching principle for an education target in the new SDGs/MDGs; and, secondly, as the core organising principle of new EFA targets to secure access for all after 2015.  The   target should cover each of the phases of the education life-cycle from early childhood education , primary, secondary and tertiary, as well as adult and young people’s education. It should recognise the importance of non-formal and informal as well as institutionally based learning.  This target should recognise the different learning needs of adults at different stages of the life-cycle, in different economic and social contexts, and the need to insist on equality of access for women, for indigenous peoples, and for all at risk of discrimination.  In addition, it should explicitly recognise the catalytic role of adult learning in the achievement of sustainable development for all.  What follows is an outline of measures affecting adult access, which if included in a target would not only transform educational access for adults but also provide the platform for the achievement of other post 2015 goals across the social and economic agenda.

Adult learning is, as CONFINTEA V made clear, a good in itself but it is also a fundamental pre-requisite for the achievement of a range of other social policy goals. So whilst few if any of the Millennium Development Goals can be fully achieved without  investment in adult learning, the invisibility of an explicit focus on this catalytic function of adult learning in securing informed participation has been a major weakness.

Faced with the challenges outlined above, it is understandable that many people feel that there is little they can do, and anyway, little value in re-engaging with learning as adults.  For adults motivation is curriculum, and the first task for the adult learning dimension of the new lifelong learning target is to put in place active strategies (including learning festivals, economic incentives, and mobilising civil society organisations) for engaging them effectively.

In setting new goals we need also to acknowledge the unfinished business of earlier agreements.  There needs to be a continuing and substantially intensified focus on eradicating illiteracy.  Allied to that we need to recognise, with CONFINTEA VI that literacy is a continuum – with the skills needed for effective participation dependent on context. Literacy is far more than a functional skill – it remains the core skill for access to independent thought, the fundament for effective social engagement of all sorts.  And given the powerful inter-generational benefits, particular priority should be given in programmes to family literacy.

Related to literacy, and a significant new feature of the Belem CONFINTEA meeting was the focus it provided for learners’ voices.  As the Malmo declaration of the International Council for Adult Education put it, in relation to women in particular, in2011:

Special attention should be given to sponsoring programmes that secure equality of voice, representation, recognition, empowerment as autonomous citizens

It is, of course, attention that also benefits others systematically or casually excluded from playing a full social role.  Securing active engagement of the voices of learners must surely be central to the Education First proposal for global citizenship.

A key function of adult learning is to help people to understand, adapt to and to shape the social and economic changes that affect them.  Overwhelmingly governments have focused on economic policies, and on investment strategies in education and training to support them, that strive for increased GDP, although there are recent exceptions, for example, in Bhutan and Ecuador.  Yet as Wilkinson and Pickett show, drawing on epidemiological evidence, increased GDP adds benefits to health, longevity, well-being and social peace only up to $10,000 per capita.  After that the key influence is the narrowness of the gap between wealth and poverty within countries. The Sarkozy commission, too, highlighted the limitations of GDP as an effective indicator of social progress and well-being.

Yet the effects of globalisation of trade and services has been to exacerbate inequality, within and between countries, and even a cursory reading of the current international press shows the dislocation between discussions about the economic crisis in the economic north, where a return to growth in GDP is the focus of policy debate, and the key challenges in securing sustainability in the context of climate change.  Lifelong learning must have a key role in ensuring that strategies for sustainability include the active engagement of the people affected in helping shape the changing economic and social conditions necessary to secure sustainability for all in a climate changing society.

This will involve a powerful reassertion of the role education can play in securing informed and active citizens in addressing the full range of social, economic and ecological changes that face them.  And of course, to link that role to overcoming discrimination and marginalisation of women, and of minority groups.  Civil society organisations have here, too, a vital role to play in pre-figuring new ways of working, and ensuring that policies which are adopted centrally are followed through in local practice.

There needs to be a re-balancing of investment to recognise just how much productive work goes on outside the waged economy, and to develop strategies to invest in vocational learning for the informal economy, alongside more formal education and training.  Given that nine in ten of people working in sub-Saharan Africa and in India are engaged in subsistence and informal economic activity there is no bigger access issue.

There will continue to be significant social dislocation consequent upon the changes in the global economy.  Increasing urbanisation, and the twin challenges of denuded rural and subsistence sectors on the one hand, and overburdened infrastructure on the other will inevitably stretch the educational resources of governments.  In addition to programmes to skill unemployed people, there will increasingly be is a need to foster innovative work that generates sustainable outcomes, and to develop the skills in workforces to make them successful.

Innovation is likely to arise from locally owned and shaped responses to change.  The learning cities movement makes clear that it is at the level of the city, or the sub-region that the resources of different policy streams, and the engagement of the widest range of actors, can be brought together to secure a learning strategy fit for local purpose.  If governments need to own overall strategy, they need to devolve responsibility for interpretation, fine tuning and implementation.

There are major educational and access challenges created as a consequence of the mass migrations resulting from climate change and political dislocation.  The scale of migration has had, and will increasingly have, an impact on communities denuded by the emigration of skills and labour; on migrants themselves, often caught between a lack of acceptance in recipient societies and an inability to go back; and for recipient societies in dealing with change. Addressing those challenges is a key task in achieving the Delors’ report’s pillar of ‘learning to live together.’

We must strengthen the evidence base on what works, and in particular on the wider benefits of learning, to show the contribution lifelong learning can make in securing effective health and environment programmes, in reducing crime and anti-social behaviour.  We cannot effectively manage the AIDS crisis worldwide without active strategies for adult learning.  And the scale of the challenge is evident from the absence of education from the current planned agenda for Rio Plus 20, where proposals will be tabled for sustainable development goals to be adopted in succession to the MDGs; and it is equally evident in the paucity of communication and co-operation between the Education for All and Education for Sustainable Development dimensions of UNECO’s own work. .)

We need to exploit the possibilities of the changing technologies for learning available to overcome exclusion, and to ensure that the creativity and innovation evident in opening higher education is extended to other dimensions of adult learning.  The growth of open educational resources online, allied to the extraordinary spread of mobile phone technology, and the growth of international virtual communities for  peer-led learning all offer exciting prospects, but we must recognise that new technologies can reinforce exclusion as well.

There is a critical need to find more imaginative ways of securing major private sector investment, both for investment and philanthropy, and at the same time to strengthen advocacy for lifelong learning.  The success of health programmes stands in striking contrast to education to date –  both in its ability to attract private sector resources, and in the strength and coherence of its civil society lobbying.

Ninth, we need to recognise that lifelong learning is life-long, and that there are significant differences in the learning needs of young people entering adult life; adults of working age juggling family, work, and learning; adults disengaging with active paid labour and contributing to the wellbeing of civil society in their third age, and of adults at the latest stages of their lives. A first step to understanding and mapping these changes in different societies should be the collection of data on learning throughout the life-span.  There should as well, be analysis of the different balance of individual, communal, state and employer investment deployed  to address their different needs.

Finally, we have to develop more effective strategies for ensuring the quality of learning opportunities, and a key to that is the need for improved initial and continuing training opportunities for teachers and facilitators.

Of course, this agenda has cost implications, but so, too, does ignorance, and the exclusion and marginalisation of millions of fellow global citizens.l

Alan Tuckett

Join the E-Discussion ONE: Equitable Access to Education here

This entry was posted in Activities and Events, EFA, ICAE, MDG. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Adult access to education and training in the context of a lifelong learning target post 2015.

  1. Justin Ellis says:

    Excellent article

  2. ISSA Kassoum says:

    très bon article et je pense que c’est bien d’avoir pris la dimension de la pauvreté dans certaines région du globe et les inégalité que la pression marchande exerce sur la réalisation de l’Alphabétisation pour tous .

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