"Rethinking education" and adult education


Rosa María Torres


UNESCO, together with the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), is organizing a series of regional consultations coordinated by civil society on the challenges of adult education in the framework of lifelong learning, in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and Goal 4 specifically: "Ensure
inclusive and equitable quality learning and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all."


The first regional consultation took place in Brasilia on April 25, 2016, at CONFINTEA +6 (International Conference on Adult Education). The book "Rethinking education: Towards a global common good?", published by UNESCO in 2015, was taken as a reference for the consultation. Timothy Ireland and I were invited to comment the book from the adult education perspective and in relation to the three questions posed by ICAE for the consultation:

1. Re-contextualize the right to education of young people and adults within a lifelong learning framework. 

2. Role and practices of civil society to ensure equitable and quality lifelong learning opportunities for young people and adults. 

3. Bridging formal and non-formal education. 

My comments
"This is a contribution to re-visioning education in a changing world and builds on one of UNESCO’s main tasks as a global observatory of social transformation. Its purpose is to stimulate public policy debate focused specifically on education in a changing world. It is a call for dialogue inspired by a humanistic vision of education and development based on principles of respect for life and human dignity, equal rights and social justice, respect for cultural diversity, and international solidarity and shared responsibility, all of which are fundamental aspects of our common humanity" (p. 14. Introduction).
I was a member of the Senior Experts' Group invited by UNESCO's Director General in 2013 with the mission of "Rethinking education in a changing world". The book was a result of this process. I know the process from inside, although I did not participate in the revision of the final document.

The book proposes to re-visit education and adopts two central categories: a humanistic vision of education and education as a common good,
beyond the notion of public good (centered around the State). Both concepts may be of help to rethink adult education, a field that needs profound changes vis a vis past experience and new social realities such as  increased life expectancy of the population worldwide and the Lifelong Learning paradigm. 

1. Low visibility of adult education 


When reading the book with adult education in mind one realizes the little attention given to it throughout the book. Adult education is not present in the Challenges and Tensions of Chapter 1 (Sustainable development: a central concern) and is not mentioned in Chapter 2 (Reaffirming a humanistic approach). The negative repercussions of children's school education problems on adult life and adult education are not complemented with a reflection on the positive repercussions of adult education on children's education and well-being.
"... almost 30 million children are deprived of their right to a basic education, creating generations of uneducated future adults who are too often ignored in development policies. These issues are fundamental challenges for human understanding of others and for social cohesion across the globe." (p. 16)
In fact: policies often ignore that (a) a dysfunctional social system and a dysfunctional school system are responsible for the exclusion of millions of children or for a poor quality education unable to satisfy basic learning needs of millions of children, youth and adults, and (b) only a "two pronged approach" - with children and with adults, in and out of school - can contribute to reduce structural inequalities and poor learning results.

The low profile of adult education is part of the conventional education model. A model that continues to be centered around childhood, despite the lifelong learning rhetoric. A model that ignores the
relationships between child and adult education, and the inter-generational linkages between childhood, adolescence, youth and adulthood in society and especially in the family and the community. In many indigenous cultures education is a family and community practice that is threatened by a school culture that alienates kids from their environment and cultures.
 

The poor attention given to adult education in the Delors Report (1996) was criticized. In fact, this has been the case in all international plans and initiatives.

-
In Education for All (1990-2015), "meeting basic learning needs of children, youth and adults" ended up centered around children and primary education, and the goals that advanced the least were those related to adult education, especially literacy.
- In the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), the education goal was ensuring children four years of primary education.

- Again, adult education has a marginal place in Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals
(2015-2030).

In the year 2000, an exVicepresident of ICAE asked if EFA (Education for All) meant
Except for Adults.

2
. The right to education of youth and adults

The book calls the attention on the fact that

"Despite the specific legal obligations related to the various provisions of the right to education, much of the discussion on the right to education has, until recently, focused on schooling, and perhaps even more narrowly on primary schooling. (...) The vast majority of countries worldwide have national legislation that defines periods of schooling as compulsory. Seen from this angle, the principle of the right to basic education is uncontested, as is the role of the state in protecting this principle and ensuring equal opportunity. However, while these principles are relatively uncontested at the level of basic education, there is no general agreement about their applicability at post-basic levels of education" (p. 76)
However, there is a previous problem: the non-recognition of youth and adult education as a right. Traditionally, the right to education has been associated with childhood. The persistence of the child-centered and school-centered educational ideology is the most important obstacle for the development of adult education. Breaking this mentality, through systematic information, communication and citizen education efforts, is crucial to advance and to adopt Lifelong Learning as a new paradigm

Also, we need to overcome two reductionisms: adult education reduced to literacy, and literacy understood as initial, basic literacy. Problems with everyday reading, writing and arithmetics are reported worldwide, and scandalize when they become news. In the last few years, OECD's Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) displays such problems not only in 'developing countries' but also in 'developed countries'. Clear evidence of the profound educational crisis that is rooted in childhood and in school. 

Viewing literacy in the framework of lifelong learning means viewing it as a continuum, in and out of school, and throughout life 

3. Age as a discriminatory factor in education
"Traditional factors of marginalization in education such as gender and urban or rural residence continue to combine with income, language, minority status and disability to create ‘mutually reinforcing disadvantages’, particularly in low-income or conflict-affected countries." (p. 42).
National and international studies and reports mention multiple factors of educational discrimination, but they generally forget to mention age. The association education-childhood is so ingrained that "educability" is not an issue beyond the categories of childhood, adolescence and youth.

In this book, the aspiration of inclusive education does not mention age as a discriminatory factor. There is a reference to third age; however, it is adulthood in general that is at stake in the dispute for the right to education and learning. Let us not forget that adulthood is the longest period in life, and that it is becoming much longer thanks to increasing life expectancy worldwide.


4. Formal and no-formal education

Formal and non-formal education are complementary. However, non-formal education remains in the shadow of formal education, starting with the fact that it is defined by the negative (non-formal).

Adult education has traditionally found in non-formal education a place to deal with its complexities and specificities. Non-formal education
is typically flexible, less structured, better equipped to innovate and to respond to learners' needs and possibilities.
These are strengths, rather than weaknesses, in the education field. It has always been said that the challenge is to de-formalize formal education rather than to formalize non-formal education. 

 
We need to learn to view education and learning as a continuum, where formal, non-formal and informal learning are intertwined throughout life. While learning to cope with formal adult education, we need to improve the quality and the status of non-formal adult education.

The book advocates for open and flexible lifelong learning systems, as proposed by the Delors report in the 1990s. It also promotes recognition and validation of knowledge and competencies acquired through multiples means.
Unfortunately, it does not contribute to understand those multiple ways in terms of the formal, non-formal and informal continuum, and the need for recognition and validation of the latter.


5
. Absence of informal learning


"It is important to note that much of what we learn in life is neither deliberate nor intentional. This informal learning is inherent to all experiences of socialization. The discussion that follows, however, is restricted to learning that is intentional and organized." (p. 17)
The book acknowledges the importance of informal learning - learning that takes place in everyday life. However, it announces that it will take into consideration only organized and intentional learning, that is, formal and non-formal learning. Leaving informal learning aside - learning that starts at birth and accompanies us until death - means leaving out a central component of Lifelong Learning.

On the other hand, there is confusion with the terms informal learning and informal education. The latter does not exist (note that ISCED 2011 refers to formal education, non-formal education and informal learning).

"Education is understood here to mean learning that is deliberate, intentional,
purposeful and organized. Formal and non-formal educational opportunities suppose a certain degree of institutionalization. A great deal of learning, however, is much less institutionalized, if at all, even when it is intentional and deliberate. Such informal education, less organized and structured than either formal or non-formal education, may include learning activities that occur in the work place (for instance, internships), in the local community and in daily life, on a self-directed, family-directed, or socially-directed basis." (p. 17. What is meant by knowledge, learning and education?)
6. The role of State and Civil Society 

Understanding education as a common good may help address old problems linked to the State/civil society distinction. Historically, State and civil society, often working together, have played a key role in adult education. Although we cannot generalize, some of the most innovative and transformative experiences have been on the side of civil society.

Governments are increasingly offering formal education to youth and adults with no or little school experience, although with a deficit and compensatory approach. Terms such as "over-age", "educational lag" or "incomplete schooling" have been added to the youth and adult education field. Critical analyses are needed to expose the misunderstandings and prejudices behind such terms.

Two concerns in relation to "civil society":

a) opening the concept and space of civil society to the for-profit private sector, through corporate foundations that are assimilated as NGOs, and increasing participation of the for-profit private sector in the provision of education and training for young people and adults; and

b) reducing the concept and space of civil society to NGOs. Lists of civil society organizations forget to mention social movements - workers, peasants, women, indigenous peoples, the unemployed, the land-less, etc. A major omission in general and in Latin America in particular, a region with strong and active social movements in most countries.

A renewed and stronger adult education implies (re)incorporating social movements as key subjects participating in relevant bodies and networks, engaged in the definition and implementation of policies, plans and programmes.


7. LifeLong Learning (LLL)

The book highlights Lifelong Learning as the paradigm and organizing principle of education in the 21st century. However, it does not contribute to deepen its understanding.
The book is centered around education much more than around learning as indicated by its title - Rethinkig education - and its subtitle - Towards a global common good?.

The concept of LLL continues to be unclear and little used as an instrument for education and learning policies not only in Latin America but also in other parts of the world. It is often associated with adults and with adult education, even when the term lifelong should make it clear.

The community linked to early childhood development and education, and that linked to child and adolescent education, have not shown interest in LLL - something revealing and that should lead to reflection. Early childhood education and adult education have always been sidelined in national and international policies and goals. Today, early childhood has gained ground and visibility among others thanks to the articulated pressure and alliance of international organizations such as UNICEF and the World Bank, and to a strong raising awareness campaign. Nothing similar has happened in the field of adult education. Inasmuch as LLL continues to be associated with adults and adult education, it will not be understood as such and it will not be incorporated as a new paradigm for education.

Lifelong Learning Policies and Strategies available at UIL-UNESCO's website (documents sent by countries throughout the world) show that: (a) LLL is used in the most varied ways, and (b) the concept is often not properly understood. In Europe, LLL is understood as lifelong learning, covering all ages. In Latin America, Asia and Africa, LLL is generally associated with adults and with the world of work.


8. Alternative knowledge and education systems
"Alternatives to the dominant model of knowledge must be explored. Alternative knowledge systems need to be recognized and properly accounted for, rather than relegated to an inferior status. Societies everywhere can learn a great deal from each other by being more open to the discovery and understanding of other worldviews. There is much to learn, for instance, from rural societies across the world, particularly indigenous ones, about the relationship of human society to the natural environment" (p. 30).
The book emphasizes the importance of alternative knowledge and education systems, and the need to take them into account and preserve them. In our first meeting in Paris, we had an interesting exchange on the topic. I talked about Sumak Kawsay and Sumaq Qamaña (Buen Vivir, in Ecuador and in Bolivia, respectively), inspired in the cosmovision of Andean indigenous cultures. They are not only alternative visions of knowledge and of education, but alternatives to the development paradigm. The book includes a box on this issue. 

The objective is important and valid, but we are far from it. The expert group was integrated by specialists from different regions of the world, but all of us share the Western culture, and the book reflects it. Most bibliographic references and quotes are in English and French. Maybe the greatest contribution of the book is acknowledging the existence and importance of such alternative knowledge systems, and the need to incorporate new and relevant voices to a multicultural dialogue.

* Included in: ICAE, Voices Rising 497


To learn more
» Daviet, Barbara, Revisar el principio de la educación como bien público, Documentos de Trabajo No 17, Investigación y prospectiva en educación, UNESCO, julio 2016
» UNESCO, Rethinking education in a changing world. Meeting of the Senior Experts' Group, Paris, 12-14 February, 2013. Report prepared by the UNESCO Secretariat.

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2 comentarios:

Rafael Pabón dijo...

Gracias Rosa María. Aprendemos contigo siempre.

Rafael Pabón
Bogotá

Rosa María Torres del Castillo dijo...

Hola, Rafael. Gracias por tu comentario. No sé si viste que este texto está también en español:"Replantear la educación" y la educación de adultos http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2016/08/replantear-la-educacion-y-educacion-de-adultos-de.html Un abrazo, Rosa María

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