What is youth and adult education - today?

Rosa María Torres
Silvio Alvarez - Brazilian artist
In a recent event held in Quito with the participation of education specialists and members of social organizations in Ecuador, I was the only one mentioning youth and adult education.

The objective of the event was to (re)think the national education agenda, in the proximity of national elections leading to a new government.

Everyone made contributions. At the end of the day, the wall was full of coloured cards covering all possible topics and all levels of the education system. Youth and adult education, however, was not there. Relatively absent was also initial education, which is also and mainly adult education since it implies educating parents and caregivers in dealing with young children. As we know, those located at the extremes of the education system - young children, and adults - are generally sidelined in the big picture of education.

The truth is that youth and adult education remains the Cinderella of education policies and is not in the mind of most people and most organizations specialized in education. This, despite the fact that the phrase 'lifelong learning' has been adopted in educational rhetoric worldwide and that the broad education objective within the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG, 2015-2030) speaks of "Ensuring inclusive and quality education for all, and promote lifelong learning".

Lifelong Learning has been introduced and is being promoted as a new education paradigm for several decades now, especially by UNESCO. However, education mentalities and policies have not changed accordingly, and specifically in relation to the education of young people and adults. One may be surprised by:

a) The persistent association of education with childhood, education with education system, and education with schooling.

b) The persistent understanding of youth and adult education as compensatory and second-chance education, addressed to the illiterate, the semi-literate and, in general, those 'lagging behind' in terms of school experience and completion. 

c) The continued association of youth and adult education with non-formal education.

d) The absence of policies and strategies dealing with family education, community education, and citizen education, which imply trans-generational approaches.

e) The use of the term 'lifelong learning' without fully understanding its denotations and connotations, and without a real commitment with the paradigmatic change it entails for the education field.

Lifelong Learning means - literally - learning from the womb to the tomb. Adopting Lifelong Learning as a paradigm implies accepting and understanding that learning begins at home and in early childhood, that childhood is not the only age to learn, that education is much wider than schooling, that formal, non-formal and informal learning complement throughout life, that life is expanding and thus the length and importance of the adult age, that youth and adult education and learning are a fundamental and unavoidable element of any modern education policy today.


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