His Excellency Ban Ki-moon
January 8, 2015
Dear Ban Ki Moon,
I am writing on behalf of the International Council for Adult Education to welcome the broad and inclusive process you have led in working towards the Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed in September 2015, and to express the strongest disappointment that the key role adult learning plays in development and the eradication of poverty has been omitted from your latest synthesis report.
One of the weaknesses of the Millennium Development Goals was their lack of articulation with the Education for All targets agreed in Dakar in 2000. The EFA targets addressed the learning needs of all – from early childhood care and education through to the needs of adults in later life, and whilst the MDGs drew on EFA for the universal primary education and gender equality goals, they had the effect of marginalising all other EFA goals, as development partners prioritised universal primary education in particular. The major casualty of this was adult literacy rates, where after twenty five years of international commitments there are still 750 million adults who are illiterate. 64% of them are women – exactly the same percentage as at Jomtien in 1990 when global EFA targets were first adopted. But as you have recognised the quality of teaching and the supply of adequately trained teachers also suffered, and developments in early years, work with disabled adults, provision for labour market entry and for education for people outside the waged labour force were also affected.
These unintended consequence of the Millennium Development Goals were recognised in the Dakar Consultation on education that preceded the High Level Panel’s report, and led to the very welcome proposal for the target for education to include lifelong learning. That understanding was enshrined in the Muscat Agreement of the Education For All Steering Committee and in the work of the Open Working Group. Whilst we believe strongly that the Muscat Agreement proposal for ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all’ is more powerful than the OWG formulation, both maintain a commitment to education through the life course – enabling policy makers to focus on the unacceptable marginalisation of women and men without literacy on the one hand, but also to include the challenges faced by industrial states – for whom the SDGs are also aimed.
Yet in your synthesis report there is a narrow focus on the learning needs of children and adolescents, and the report is silent on the learning needs of adults. So in para 69 you declare that ‘all children and adolescents have a right to education and must have a safe environment in which to learn.’ But the human right to education also includes the rights of all those previously denied opportunities, and they too need safe environments for learning. Without them, it is hard to see how the gender equality the report aspires to can be achieved.
Again in para 71 you state, ‘…It is essential that young people receive relevant skills and high-quality education and life-long learning, from early childhood to post-primary schooling, including life skills and vocational education and training, as well as science, sports and culture. Teachers must be given the means to deliver learning and knowledge in response to a safe global workplace, driven by technology.’ Whilst the aspirations for young people and children outlined here are welcome, the paragraph seriously distorts the meaning and scope of lifelong learning, to exclude all focus on adults, and needs to be amended if the consultative process of the last four years is to be honoured.
However, the case for focusing on the learning needs of adults is even more important when you synthesis the work of all the different strands of the development process. For strategies to improve sanitation and secure clean water to be effective, adults need to be engaged in understanding change, adapting to it, and helping to shape it. The same is true when measures to reduce infant mortality, and improve maternal health are developed. And changing ways of living to improve sustainability can only work when adults learn to make the adaptations necessary. Indeed, across the development agenda, adult learning is an essential pre-requisite for success that is owned by the communities affected. That of course is the reason for our call for universal adult literacy to be at the core of the SDGs, and to be a key target within the education goal.
We trust that it is not too late for the amendments we seek to be adopted. We are confident that the World Education Forum in Incheon will endorse a lifelong, life-wide agenda, and would welcome your support in ensuring that its conclusions help shape member states’ commitments this September.
On behalf of our members and networks on all continents.
The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service and UN DESA Division for Sustainable Development, have invited civil society stakeholders to submit their official responses to the report and it is essential that you submit your comments through the online form that is in this link:
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1U97gmcy-KGsu66-lVi1cHU7R-C_B4y6u0AbFtua2zE4/viewform (to have access to the form press CTRL + Click)