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It all starts at school? It all starts at home

This graph of the 17 Global Sustainable Goals (SDGs) was circulated by the World Bank on Twitter with the following text:

"It all starts at school. Education is key to achieving SDG Goals. Who else agrees?".

I replied saying I disagree. When referring to education, it is not true that it all starts at school.

It all starts at home.

Despite its fundamental role, especially in early childhood, 'home education' or 'family education' is often ignored or sidelined.

The Lifelong Learning paradigm acknowledges that learning is a continuum that starts at birth. Early Childhood Care and Education officially cover from birth to entry into primary school (UNESCO-GEM Report Glossary 2020). Parents, grandparents and other caregivers play the most important role in this early stage of life. 

Studies and evaluations throughout the world consistently ratify that family conditions and backgrounds are a major factor in children's present and future life prospects. Parental education is a factor with tremendous impact on children's education and learning in school; it is responsible for over 50% of student achievement in various kinds of national and international standardized tests, including PISA.

Millions of children do not attend school or stay in school only for a short period of time. For them, the family and the community are their main education and learning environments.

School is not a starting point in terms of knowledge. When children arrive in school, they are not blank slates; they know a lot. Some of the fundamental and long-lasting learning experiences take place in early childhood. Without tutors, children become fluent speakers of their language. They know many things about the natural and the social world around them, and have learned to interact with them in many ways. Research shows that important values and attitudes are developed in these early years, prior to any school experience.

School age and school entry may be too late for many interventions. Child malnutrition is high in many counties among children between 2 and 5 years of age. Chronic malnutrition, if not dealt with on time, condemns children to physical, emotional and cognitive problems that may affect them for the rest of their lives.

Contrary to popular belief, reading and writing do not begin at school. Abundant research shows that home and the local community play a key role in stimulating the curiosity and the initial contacts with the written world. Differences between children who have rich cultural contexts at home and those who do not often result in important differences in terms of learning achievement in reading and writing in school.

So: when it comes to education and learning, and seen with a Lifelong Learning perspective, it is not true that all starts at school. It all starts at home and we must make sure to provide families with the best conditions possible to raise and educate their children, including dignified living conditions and parental education. 

Related texts in this blog

Comments on "The New Skills Agenda for Europe"

 Participation at "ICAE Virtual Seminar on Skills and Competencies", 
organized by the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) together with DVV International in April 2017.

Based on DVV International’s journal “Adult Education and Development“ Issue 83 (Dec. 2016)
The  journal is published once a year in English, French and Spanish.

En español: Comentarios a "La Nueva Agenda de Capacidades para Europa"

Rosa María Torres. Ecuadorian, researcher, international adviser, specialist in literacy and Lifelong Learning, Ex-minister of Education and Cultures.

My comments refer to, and are triggered by, "The new Skills Agenda for Europe" by Dana Bachmann and Paul Holdsworth, of the European Commission.

I speak here from the perspective of "developing countries" and of Latin America in particular. From this perspective it is always useful to see what Europeans are thinking and doing, not necessarily to do the same but rather to understand better our specific realities and needs. In the end, given the strong cultural dependence, our governments end up trying to follow and imitate Europe and/or North America (the classic "developing"/"developed" notion). Concepts, indicators, ideals, international co-operation, focus generally on the global North.

The paper presents The New Skills Agenda for Europe, which sees skills as a pathway to employability and prosperity. The Agenda revolves around some problems and data identified as critical:

- A quarter of the European adult population (70 million) struggles with reading and writing, and has poor numeracy and digital skills, putting them at risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.

- More than 65 million people have not achieved a qualification corresponding to upper secondary level. This rate varies significantly across countries, reaching 50% or more in some.

- The adults mostly in need of engaging in learning participate very little in lifelong learning. On average, only 10.7% of adult Europeans participated in any education and training in 2014, with significant variation between countries and against an EU target of 15% set to be reached by 2020. An analysis of the participation of low-qualified adults in education and training shows even lower participation rates, varying from below 1% in some countries to over 20% in others. On average in the EU only 4.3% of low-qualified adults – that is, the group most in need of learning – participate in education and training.

To improve the employment opportunities and overall life chances of low-skilled adults, the Commission has made a proposal to help low-skilled adults – both in-work and out of work – to improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills and, where possible, to develop a wider set of skills leading to an upper secondary education qualification or equivalent.

The proposal is that Member States should introduce a Skills Guarantee, which would involve offering to low qualified adults: (a) a skills assessment, enabling them to identify their existing skills and their upskilling needs; (b) a package of education or training tailored to the specific learning needs of each individual, and (c) opportunities to have their skills validated and recognised.

The Agenda is structured around three priority areas: more and better skills; put the skills developed to good use; and better understand what skills will be demanded to help people choose what skills to develop.

These main challenges are identified:

- Improving the quality and relevance of skills formation.
- Strengthening the foundation: basic skills (literacy, numeracy, digital skills) for everybody ("the proposal for a Skills Guarantee aims to provide low qualified adults access to flexible tailored upskilling pathways to improve these skills or progress towards an upper secondary qualification").
- Making vocational education and training (VET) a first choice. Increasing its attractiveness, through quality provision and flexible organisation, allowing progression to higher vocational or academic learning, and closer links with the world of work.
- Building resilience: key competences and higher, more complex skills. These include literacy, numeracy, science and foreign languages, as well as transversal skills and key competences such as digital competences, entrepreneurship, critical thinking, problem solving or learning to learn, and financial literacy. 
- Getting connected: focus on digital skills.
- Making skills and qualifications more visible and comparable.
- Improving transparency and comparability of qualifications.
- Early profiling of migrants’ skills and qualifications.
- Improving skills intelligence and information for better career choices.
- Better information for better choices.
- Boosting skills intelligence and cooperation in economic sectors.
- Better understanding the performance of graduates from Universities and VET.

My comments and suggestions

The diagnosis and the proposal are centred around formal education and training. This remains, in fact, the main international approach to adult education and to education in general. The "being knowledgeable" dimension of UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI) continues to refer to education and to formal education only, all ages: expected years of schooling, adult literacy rate, government expenditure on education, gross enrolment ratio all levels, mean years of schooling, population with at least some secondary education, primary school dropout rate, primary school teachers trained to teach, and pupil-teacher ratio in primary school. (As we see, two indicators are related to adult education: adult literacy rate, and population with at least some secondary education). It is with these indicators that countries' educational profile is defined. 

Without ignoring the importance of these data and of the formal education system, I would like to stress the need to: revisit some concepts; insist on the critical importance of non-formal education and of informal learning not only in adult life but throughout life; consider other ways of thinking/organising the question of learning for what; radically rethink the eternal struggle with literacy and numeracy; and reconsider adulthood and the adult age. Also, the understanding of 'low-skilled adults' must be made explicit and analysed in general and in each particular context.

» Schooling versus education  Education exceeds schooling. Many adults are eager to advance their education, not necessarily to get more schooling (i.e. completing primary and secondary education). For many young people and adults, completing secondary education implies a tremendous effort, meeting a bureaucratic requisite rather than having a pleasant and fruitful learning experience, and the economic and social reward may not be the one expected.

» Education/training versus learning  Skills are not developed only through deliberate education and training efforts. Most skills are developed through a combination of formal and non-formal education and informal learning (reading, writing, parenting, arts, sports, work, travel, social participation, volunteering, social service, etc.).

» Literacy and numeracy  They continue to be considered basic skills and they continue to be major problems throughout the world, in both 'developed' and 'developing' countries. In 'developing' countries, it is very common that people counted as 'new literates' often do not read and write autonomously and thus do not get to use reading and writing in their daily life. Also, often there is no evaluation involved, and no follow-up. We must radically rethink and improve the ways we conceptualize and do adult literacy, and stop cheating ourselves with fake statistics.

» Digital skills  In most 'developing countries' access to the Internet is still limited (50% or less of the population). Cell phones are widely used, also by adults and by the poor. But it is the younger generations that makes the most use of computers and of the internet. Internet policies focus on children and youth. Little is being done, and much more should be done, to offer adults and older adults meaningful access to the digital world.

» Learning for what?  There are many ways to think of, and deal with, this question. Well-being and prosperity mean different things to different people and cultures throughout the world. Sumak Kawsay (Buen Vivir, Good Living), the indigenous paradigm proposed as an alternative to the development paradigm, understands Buen Vivir as reaching a harmonious relationship between self, others, and the environment. Thus, 'learning for what' becomes learning to take care of oneself, learning to take care of others (family, community, peers), and learning to take care of the environment. These tree domains lead to a holistic, alternative understanding of the whys, hows, and what fors of education and learning.

» Adults and the adult age  Life expectancy has grown all over the world. As a result, the adult age has expanded. However, and despite the lifelong learning rhetoric, adults continue to be denied the right to education and the right to learn. Today, in too many countries, education policies and programmes do not go beyond the age of 30 or 35. It is time to organize adulthood in different age groups for education, training and learning purposes. While we oversegment childhood, adolescence and youth, we continue to refer to adulthood and to adult education as something that covers from 15 year-olds to 95 year-olds. A very effective strategy to ignore older adults and to amputate the lifelong learning concept.

Related recent texts of mine in this blog (English/Spanish)

- "Rethinking education" and adult education, Regional consultation with civil society on the document "Rethinking education: Towards a global common view?", ICAE-UNESCO, Brasilia, 25 April 2016.
- "Replantear la educación" y la educación de adultos, Consulta regional de la sociedad civil "El derecho a la educación de personas jóvenes y adultas desde una perspectiva de aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida", ICAE-UNESCO, Brasilia, 25 abril 2016.

- What is youth and adult education today? (2017)
- ¿Qué es educación de jóvenes y adultos, hoy? (2017)

- Formal, non-formal and informal learning (2016)
- Aprendizaje formal, no-formal e informal (2016)

- Giving up to a literate world?, in: Adult Education and Development, Issue 80, December 2013.
- ¿Renuncia a un mundo alfabetizado?, en: Educación de Adultos y Desarollo, número 80, Diciembre 2013

- From Literacy to Lifelong Learning: Trends, Issues and Challenges of Youth and Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, Regional Report prepared for the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education - CONFINTEA VI, organized by UNESCO. Belém, Brazil, 1-4 December 2009.
Report commissioned by UIL-UNESCO.
- De la alfabetización al aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida: Tendencias, temas y desafíos de la educación de personas jóvenes y adultas en América Latina y el Caribe, Informe Regional preparado para la VI Conferencia Internacional sobre Educación de Adultos - CONFINTEA VI, organizada por la UNESCO. Belém, Brasil, 1-4 diciembre 2009. Informe encargado por el UIL-UNESCO. Una contribución del Centro de Cooperación Regional para la Educación de Adultos en América Latina y el Caribe (CREFAL) a CONFINTEA VI.

- Social Education and Popular Education: A View from the South, Closing conference AIEJI XVII World Congress “The Social Educator in a Globalised World”, Copenhagen, Denmark, 4–7 May, 2009.

- Lteracy and Lifelong Learning: The Linkages, Conference at the 2006 Biennale of ADEA, Libreville, Gabon, March 27-31, 2006. 

- On youth and adult learning (compilation)
- Sobre aprendizaje de jóvenes y adultos (compilación)

- On Lifelong Learning (compilation)
- Sobre Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida (compilación)


Girls' education: Lessons from BRAC (Bangladesh)

I learned about BRAC and got in contact with its education programme while working as a senior education adviser at UNICEF's Education Cluster in New York, in the early 1990s. From the start, I became fascinated with BRAC's 'non-formal primary school' concept. This programme, initiated in 1985 with 22 schools, attempted to address the needs of the poorest sectors in Bangladesh, especially in rural areas. The specific aim was to attract girls, who were mostly absent from schools.

I visited Bangladesh twice, in 1993 and in 1995, and had the opportunity to see BRAC's non-formal primary schools in action. Together with Manzoor Ahmed, UNICEF Programme Director at the time, we wrote a dossier called Reaching the Unreached: Non-formal approaches and universal primary education, (UNICEF, 1993). BRAC's non-formal education programme was one of the experiences included in the dossier. BRAC's programme was also included in Education for All: Making It Work - Innovation Series organized jointly by UNICEF and UNESCO right after the Jomtien Conference on Education for All (1990). Dieter Berstecher (UNESCO Paris) and I (UNICEF New York) coordinated the project. (In 2000, 10 years after the Jomtien conference, the series was transferred from UNESCO Headquarters to PROAP, in Bangkok. See issue No.14 dedicated to Lok Jumbish, in India).

One thing that astonished me was the basic and pragmatic wisdom with which BRAC was developing the programme. The first step was conducting a survey to find out why parents were not sending their daughters to school. Three major reasons came out: 1) the school journey was too long (they needed girls to help at home with domestic chores); 2) teachers were mostly men (parents expressed they would feel more comfortable if there were female teachers in the schools); and 3) the school - when available - was too distant from home.

Acknowledging parents' expressed needs, BRAC acted accordingly. The design of the programme adopted three key measures:

1) shortening the school journey (3 hours a day), rethinking the entire school calendar (more months in school, no long holidays), and adjusting the curriculum to fit those time arrangements (the idea is to complete the nation's five-year primary school cycle in four years);

2) identifying women in the local communities and providing them with some basic initial training so that they could act as teachers; and

3) building schools that were closer to home. 

BRAC's non-formal primary schools were the simplest and nicest schools I had seen in poor rural areas. One-room schools built with local materials, with the help of the community. Bright, clean, colorful. Small mats on the floor for the children, a medium-sized chalkboard, posters and visual aids all around.

Children walked shorter distances to school and remained there only for 3 hours a day, so they could continue to help at home.

There were few women in the communities with a teacher certificate, so BRAC selected in each community women with the highest school level (often primary education) and interested in teaching, and trained them. Initially with a 12-day course, later complemented with monthly refresher courses and yearly orientation courses.

This is how BRAC managed to include girls who would otherwise have never attended school. By the time I visited BRAC the NFE programme was already a 'success story' attracting attention not only in Bangladesh but worldwide. Since then BRAC has continued to grow - it is today "the worlds' largest development organization" - and its education programme became a full education system. It remains free of charge. It reached also urban slums, it incorporated e-learning and it includes now a university and a network of mobile libraries. In terms of learning results, BRAC's NFE schools do not lag behind government formal schools; on the contrary, their results are ahead of the country average.
Some data for BRAC's  non-formal primary schools (January 2017):
14,153 schools
389,910 students, of whom 62.17% are girls
5.3 million students completed courses, of which 60.43% are girls
5.55 million students transferred to formal schools to date, of which 60.12% are girls
14,153 teachers
BRAC's education programme has received numerous international awards, one of them the prestigious WISE Prize from the Qatar Foundation in 2011. I was happy to be in Doha, attending the WISE event, when Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, BRAC's founder and director, received the prize.

Girls' education remains a major issue worldwide, starting with early childhood and primary education. The problem continues to pose old and new challenges. Diagnoses and studies multiply, debates and fora repeat often what is already known, there is hunger for more data. In the middle of all that, I often remember BRAC's long and fruitful experience, its pragmatic wisdom, its short, medium and long-term vision, its consultation with families and communities, its permanent interest to connect with local needs and realities.

In times when everything seems to start from scratch and anything can be considered an innovation, it is essential to look back and learn from experience.

Related texts in this blog
» Aprender a lavarse las manos
» WISE Prize for Education Laureates: Bottom-up Innovators
» Kazi, the graceless | Kazi, el sin gracia

Latin America oversatisfied with public education

(en español: Satisfacción excesiva con la educación en América Latina)

"Traditionally, the concept of quality of life has been viewed through objective indicators. Beyond Facts: Understanding Quality of Life looks at quality of life through a new lens, namely, the perceptions of millions of Latin Americans. Using an enhanced version of the recently created Gallup World Poll that incorporates Latin America-specific questions, the Inter-American Development Bank surveyed people from throughout the region and found that perceptions of quality of life are often very different from the reality. These surprising findings have enormous significance for the political economy of the region and provide a wealth of information for policymakers and development practitioners to feast upon."

A pioneer study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which used the 2007 Gallup World Survey (40 thousand people in 24 Latin American countries answered it) revealed that Latin Americans were in general satisfied with their lives and, in particular, with public education.

The distance between realities and perceptions was especially big in the case of education. While Latin America is well known for the low quality of its education and its poor learning outcomes - as revealed by national tests (prepared in each country), regional tests (such as (LLECE) and international tests (such as PISA) - satisfaction with public education is much higher than that of citizens in countries with an overall better schooling and learning situation. 

Over-satisfaction applies also to health, but it is much more prominent in the case of education. People with lower levels of education (generally associated with lower economic status) tend to have a better opinion of educational services than those with more years of schooling (theoretically associated with more critical attitudes). “Do you think the majority of children are getting a good education?" was responded positively by people with primary and incomplete secondary education. Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Honduras and Dominican Republic reported levels of satisfaction similar to those in developed countries. Haiti, Peru and Argentina were the least satisfied.

Is is also known as "aspirations paradox": those who have the least, those who get the education of the lowest quality, are the ones that are most satisfied, those who thank anything they get and, thus, those in the most unfavorable position to identify and demand quality education. The paradox applies to many other fields.
“The majority of Latin Americans are satisfied with their education systems because they value discipline, security and the physical infrastructure of schools more than the academic scores their children get” (Preface, Beyond Facts: Understanding Quality of Life).
Many parents expect the school to do what they cannot: discipline their children. Norms, instructions, schedules, uniforms, homework, rewards and punishment, are part of the disciplinary package.

For the conventional education ideology, 'good teacher' is the disciplinarian. Teachers who are flexible, friendly, innovative, are often misunderstood and questioned by school authorities and by parents. Teachers who acknowledge play and fun as part of the learning experience, who explore with their students other forms of learning, are not welcome by the traditional school culture.

The obsession with discipline brings rigidity to relationships, legitimizes authoritarian behaviors, limits dialogue and reasoning, blocks spontaneity, curiosity, creativity and liberty -- all of them  essential to learning.

Violence and insecurity are high and rising in the region (See: UNDP, Human Development Report for Latin America 2013-2014: Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and proposals for Latin America). Families view the school as a key ally where their children can be safe and taken care of. In contexts of great violence such as the ones characterizing most Latin American cities, preserving life becomes the obvious priority. Learning - often confused with rote learning - has always received little attention by families, and not only among the poor.

Violence is not only outside but increasingly inside the school system. Out of school violence - in the family, in the community, in society - enters school with parents, students and teachers. Bullying has become a major concern and war in most countries. Robbery, assault, drugs, harassment, death, are today part of the school scenario in the world.

Insecurity and fear do not contribute to the development of good education. They lead to shutting mouths, to locking classroom doors, to building high school walls.


Social imagery associates education with school. Teaching and learning come afterwards.

Social and political imagery coincide in the appreciation for infrastructure. Building and inaugurating classrooms and school buildings - the easiest in education - are salient features of the political and electoral culture. Voters are very sensitive to school infrastructure. Politicians know it, give it high visibility, and nurture the idea of education (quality) as infrastructure.

For most people, it is difficult to perceive and even to imagine education without buildings: outdoor education, distance education, self-education, homeschooling, etc. Not everyone is able to accept what abundant research shows all over the world: good education depends much more on good teaching than on a good building; quality learning depends much more on the quality of relationships than on the quality of things.


Over-satisfaction and the "aspiration paradox" in education are found in surveys and studies all over the world, but they are very high in Latin America and the Caribbean. PISA 2012 showed that Latin American 15 year olds are the happiest with their school, even if they get the worst results among PISA participating countries. 

There are those who see the gap between realities and perceptions as a positive cultural sign - optimism, happiness, etc. - and as a blessing vis à vis the ranking culture. However, the gap is a problem. Complacency is an enemy of improvement and change.

Advancing towards a 'better education' or a 'good education' implies addressing and questioning overly "optimistic" perceptions. It implies expanding and elevating the education level of society as a whole and, on the other hand, a systematic information, awareness and citizen education effort: educating people's perceptions, informing their decisions, enhancing their participation, and qualifying their demand for the right to education.

Related texts in OTRA∃DUCACION

» The World Economic Forum and educational quality
» Ecuador: Good bye to community and alternative education
» Lógicas de la política, lógicas de la educación
» Escuelas sin aulas, aulas sin escuelas
» El barrio como espacio pedagógico: Una escuelita itinerante (Brasil)
» La escuela de la maestra Raquel (México)
» La biblioteca como núcleo de desarrollo comunitario (Una experiencia en Córdoba, Argentina)
» Proyecto arquitectónico sin proyecto pedagógico
» "Antes, aquí era Escuela Vieja"
» Pobre la educación de los pobres

On LifeLong Learning ▸ Sobre Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida

Pawła Kuczyńskiego

A compilation of texts of mine included in this blog (posts, articles, conferences, interviews, books) related to the LifeLong Learning paradigm, on which I have been working since the 1990s.

Compilo aquí algunos textos míos publicados en este blog (artículos, conferencias, entrevistas, libros) relacionados con el paradigma del Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida, en el cual vengo trabajando desde los 1990s.

▸ En 1996-1998, siendo Directora de Programas para América Latina en la Fundación Kellogg, organicé la Iniciativa de Educación Básica "Comunidad de Aprendizaje", que continué desde el IIPE-UNESCO Buenos Aires (1998-2000). La comunidad local como comunidad de aprendizaje.

▸ En el año 2000, siendo miembro del grupo experto internacional organizado por UNESCO para la preparación de la Década de Naciones Unidas para la Alfabetización (2003-2012), se me encargó la redacción del Documento Base de la Década, el cual fue discutido y aprobado en una sesión especial en el Foro Mundial de Dakar (abril 2000).

Base Document - Literacy for All: A United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012). Drafted for UNESCO in 2000.
Documento Base - Alfabetización para Todos: Década de Naciones Unidas para la Alfabetización 2003-2012. Redactado a pedido de la UNESCO en 2000.

Literacy for All: A Renewed Vision (2000)
Alfabetización para Todos: Una Visión Renovada (2000)

Knowldedge-based international aid: Do we want it? Do we need it?. Paper prepared for the International Seminar on "Development knowledge, national research and international cooperation", Bonn, 3-5 April, 2001. Norrag News, Edinburgh, CAS, UK, 2001.

Lifelong Learning in the North, Primary Education in the South?, International Conference on Lifelong Learning “Global Perspectives in Education”, Beijing, China, 1-3 July, 2001 (abridged version).
¿Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida para el Norte y Educación Primaria para el Sur?. Conferencia sobre Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida “Global Perspectives in Education”, Pekín, China, 1-3 julio, 2001 (versión resumida).
▸ "Aprendizaje a lo largo de toda la vida: Un nuevo momento y una nueva oportunidad para el Aprendizaje y la Educación Básica de Adultos en el Sur". Estudio encargado por la ASDI (Agencia Sueca para la Cooperación Internacional), Estocolmo, 2002.
Lifelong Learning in the South: Critical issues and opportunities for adult education. A study commissioned by Swedish Sida. Sida Studies No 11, Stockholm, 2004 (book, PDF)
Justicia educativa y justicia económica: 12 tesis para el cambio educativo. Estudio continental encargado por el Movimiento Internacional 'Fe y Alegría'/ Entreculturas, Madrid, 2005. (libro para descargar)

Literacy and Lifelong Learning: The Linkages. Conference at the 2006 Biennale of ADEA, Libreville, Gabon, March 27-31, 2006. El UIL-UNESCO afirma que ésta fue la primera vez que se vinculó alfabetización y ALTV.

Ciudades educadoras y derecho al aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida. Entrevista con el periódico Ciutat.Edu, Simposio " nuevos retos, nuevos compromisos", Barcelona, España, 9-11 octubre, 2006. Diputación de Barcelona, Área de Educación.

Presentación del libro de Emilia Ferreiro “Alfabetización de niños y adultos: Textos escogidos”. CREFAL, México D.F., 28 febrero 2008.

Niños que trabajan y estudian (Centro del Muchacho Trabajador, Ecuador)
Exposición en la Jornada Internacional "Una propuesta de desarrollo humano que nace desde la infancia trabajadora" organizada por el CMT, Quito, 17 octubre 2008.

Social Education and Popular Education: A View from the South. Closing conference AIEJI XVII World Congress “The Social Educator in a Globalised World”, Copenhagen, Denmark, 4–7 May, 2009.

De la alfabetización al aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida: Tendencias, temas y desafíos de la educación de personas jóvenes y adultas en América Latina y el Caribe. En 2009 preparé, a pedido del UIL-UNESCO, el informe regional para la VI Conferencia Internacional sobre Educación de Adultos - CONFINTEA VI, organizada por la UNESCO (Belém, Brasil, 1-4 diciembre 2009).

From Literacy to Lifelong Learning: Trends, Issues and Challenges of Youth and Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Regional Report prepared for the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education - CONFINTEA VI, organized by UNESCO. Belém, Brazil, 1-4 December 2009. Report commissioned by UIL-UNESCO.
De la alfabetización al aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida: Tendencias, temas y desafíos de la educación de personas jóvenes y adultas en América Latina y el Caribe. Informe Regional preparado para la VI Conferencia Internacional sobre Educación de Adultos - CONFINTEA VI, organizada por la UNESCO (Belém, Brasil, 1-4 diciembre 2009).

Lifelong Learning: Moving Beyond 'Education for All'. Prepared as keynote speech, Shanghai “International Forum on Lifelong Learning”,  Shanghai World Expo 2010, 19-21 May 2010. UNESCO, the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, the Chinese Society of Educational Development Strategy (CSEDS) and the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO.

Lifelong Learning: Moving Beyond 'Education for All'. Keynote speech, Shanghai “International Forum on Lifelong Learning”,  Shanghai World Expo 2010, 19-21 May 2010. UNESCO, the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, the Chinese Society of Educational Development Strategy (CSEDS) and the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO.

On Learning Anytime, Anywhere. Presentation at the "Learning Anytime, Anywhere" session at the World Summit on Innovation in Education (WISE 2011), Doha, Qatar, 1-3 November, 2011.

Youth & Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean. Published in LLinE - Lifelong Learning in Europe, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, 2011.
El enfoque de Aprendizaje a lo Largo de Toda la Vida: Implicaciones para la política educativa en América Latina y el Caribe. UNESCO, Documentos de Trabajo sobre Política Educativa, No. 8, París, 2020.
The Lifelong Learning approach: Implications for education policy in Latin America and the Caribbean. UNESCO, Working Papers on Education Policy, No. 8, Paris, 2020.

Otros textos míos sobre ALV en este blog

El derecho de niños y niñas a una educación básica
El Ecuador y el Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida

Aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida no se refiere solo a adultos

Tres maneras de entender "aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida"

El Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida no se limita al sistema escolar
Lifelong Learning is not confined to the school system

Formal, non-formal and informal learning
Aprendizaje formal, no-formal e informal

Saberes socialmente útiles

Goal 4: Education - Sustainable Development Goals
Objetivo 4: Educación - Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible

On Innovation and Change in Education

About "good practice" in international co-operation in education

Child learning and adult learning revisited

Educar a los niños o a los adultos: falso dilema

Comunidad de Aprendizaje: Educación, territorio y aprendizaje comunitario
Sucesivas versiones presentadas en eventos nacionales e internacionales.

Basic Learning Needs: Different Frameworks

La biblioteca como núcleo de desarrollo comunitario (Una experiencia en Córdoba, Argentina)

El barrio como espacio pedagógico: Una escuelita itinerante (Brasil)

Children's rights: A community learning experience in Senegal


La educación de un niño empieza 20 años antes de su nacimiento

The oldest and the youngest | Los más viejos y los más jóvenes

Youth & Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean

Rosa María Torres

(published in LLinE - Lifelong Learning in Europe, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, 2011)
1. Introduction

This paper draws from various studies I have conducted on adult education and on lifelong learning in Latin America and other regions. Two such studies (written in English) serve here as main references: 

- Youth and AdultEducation and Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean: Trends, Issues and Challenges. Regional report prepared for the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI, Belém, Brazil, Dec. 2009), commissioned by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL).[1]
- LifelongLearning in the South: Critical Issues and Opportunities for Adult Education, Sida Studies 11, Stockholm, 2004. Global study commissioned by Sida.

Latin America and the Caribbean is a highly heterogeneous region, comprising two subregions (Latin America, the Caribbean) and 41 countries and territories with very different political, cultural, economic, social and educational realities. Some 600 languages are spoken; Spanish and Portuguese are the two most widespread official languages. Any regional generalization would be abusive, and space does not allow us to elaborate here more on each country. Also, the situation is very dynamic; trends may change considerably in a short period of time. In the current international context, and vis a vis the world and European crisis, Latin America appears strong and united, with economic and social indicators improving over the past few years.[2] On the other hand, Mexico and Chile, the two Latin American countries that are members of OECD, are facing major turmoils, their education systems being exposed and under heavy social scrutiny and criticism.

In most Latin American countries, the term used is Youth & Adult Education (henceforth YAE). The term “youth” was incorporated in the 1980s, acknowledging the increased presence of young people in adult education programmes as well as the need to address the specificity of youth in such programmes.

The information and analysis presented below refers basically to the 12-year period between CONFINTEA V (1997) and CONFINTEA VI (2009).

2. Reactivation of youth and adult education in the region in the past few years

Between the late 1980s and the late 1990s YAE practically disappeared in most countries, following World Bank recommendations to governments in “developing countries” in the sense of giving priority to primary education and to children as opposed to adults. (WB also rectified later its argument about the failure of adult literacy, which was ill-documented). The Education for All (henceforth EFA) world initiative coordinated by UNESCO (1900-2000-2015) has followed the same trend: out of the six EFA goals, Goal 2 referred to primary education has received the most attention while Goals 3 and 4 referred to youth and adult education have received the least attention, as acknowledged every year by EFA Global Monitoring Reports (henceforth EFA GMR). In fact, the 2009 EFA GMR, coinciding with the year of CONFINTEA VI, continued to ignore YAE, not considered of strategic importance to the achievement of EFA by 2015.

For various reasons, since the late 1990s there has been a visible reactivation of YAE in the region. CONFINTEA V contributed to enhance social mobilization and networking around YAE, both before and right after the Hamburg conference. Later on, we have witnessed the emergence of new supranational and international actors engaged in YAE, notably the Cuban government and its ‘Yo Sí Puedo’ (Yes, I Can) literacy programme, and the Organization of IberoAmerican States (OEI) which organized the Ibero-American Plan for Youth and Adult Literacy and Basic Education (PIA) 2007-2015.

Such reactivation is reflected among others in the following: 

Bialfa: Paraguay
Renewed emphasis on youth/adult literacy A new wave of ‘illiteracy eradication’ has taken over the region. Many countries resumed national literacy programmes or campaigns, even some countries with very low illiteracy rates (lower than 3%) such as Argentina and Uruguay. The exception is Cuba, declared ‘territory free of illiteracy’ almost half a century ago (1961), as well as several countries in the English-speaking Caribbean where governmental focus on literacy is on the formal system. There are also sub-national and local programmes run by local governments, religious groups, NGOs, social organizations and movements, and teacher unions.

Clearer institutionalization of YAE There are advances in legislation and policy in most countries. There is increased recognition of the right to (free) education as well as to linguistic and cultural diversity and to inter-culturality as a comprehensive approach to education.  In Cuba and Mexico for a long time, and more recently in countries such as Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia or Paraguay, YAE becomes more institutionalized, pointing towards the building of a system or subsystem, rather than the usual and discontinued ad-hoc interventions.

New actors and partnerships In most countries, there are government partnerships with NGOs, universities, religious groups and the private sector. In a few countries, partnerships have included teacher unions and strong social movements (e.g. in Argentina and Brazil). There are also several international actors engaged in YAE in the region. As indicated, the most active in recent times are the Spanish government/OEI and the Cuban government/IPLAC. Others include the Convenio Andrés Bello (Andrés Bello Agreement -CAB), an international inter-governmental organization focused on supranational integration (12 countries), based in Bogota and linked to OEI; and the Organization of American States (OAS), based in Washington, which coordinates the Summits of the Americas.

More and better information and knowledge on YAE  There is considerable growth in research and documentation at national, subregional and regional level in recent years.  Of course, there are also major differences between countries in terms of quantity, quality, topics and approaches related to research. Big countries such as Brazil and Mexico and also Chile report many surveys and studies.

Advances in evaluation Evaluation has become a central piece of school systems and reforms in the region since the 1990s, but its incorporation is rather recent in YAE. In Brazil, a Functional Literacy Indicator (INAF), based on actual evaluation of reading, writing and numeracy skills of the adult population (15-64 years of age), has been developed annually since 2001 by two private institutions. In Mexico, the National Institute for Adult Education (INEA) has its own evaluation system. In Chile, evaluation of student outcomes is under a National System for the Evaluation of Learning and Certification of Studies, which includes YAE. Both Mexico and Chile have adopted results-based schemes for paying the institutions and/or teaching staff hired for YAE programmes.

Aiquile, Bolivia. Photo: Rosa María Torres
Linkages between education/training and work as a field of research, policy and action  The linkages between education, the economy and work have become a field of concern, policy and action, within the overall concern with poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. Social Economy gains increased attention as an alternative economic model that generates also alternative approaches to education and training linked to production, commercialization, barter and other income-generation activities by families, cooperatives, and organized communities.

Increased attention to ‘special groups’ Visible attention has been given in recent years to the disabled, migrants and prison inmates. The use of traditional and modern technologies has facilitated this task, especially with the disabled and with the migrant population. Prison education has been enhanced since 2006 in the framework of the EUROsociAL programme of the European Commission. Initiatives aimed at the blind, the visually challenged and hearing impaired have been developed in recent years in many countries.

New technologies reaching the field   Radio has been a powerful ally of YAE for several decades and continues to be in many countries, especially in some of the poorest ones such as Haiti, Bolivia, and Paraguay. In the past few years, audiovisual media have become widespread mainly through the Cuba-assisted Yo Sí Puedo literacy and post-literacy programme operating in several countries since 2003. Computers and the Internet are also reaching YAE, particularly for the younger population. Tele-centers or info-centers (different from cybercafes, privately owned and for-profit) are part of basic education programmes in several countries. In remote rural areas, energy plants or solar panels are being installed. In many places today it is easier to find a cybercafe or a tele-center than a library, a computer than a book.

3. Some old and new weaknesses and limitations. Challenges for the future

The ‘Agenda for the Future’ approved at CONFINTEA V, its wide vision and ambitious proposals for adult learning, is not the one that has been implemented in this region since 1997. Neither is the 2000-2010 YAE Regional Framework for Action prepared as a follow up to CONFINTEA V. Advances coexist with old and new limitations related to governmental and non-governmental action as well as to international agencies intervening in the field.

Sectoral approaches and interventions Despite advances in cross-sectoral policies and collaboration with other government actors, YAE continues to be perceived as pertaining to the ‘education sector’, unconnected with major economic, political and social issues. YAE is in fact a transversal issue, but invisible unless it falls directly under an education authority and refers somewhere explicitly to the term ‘adult’.

Dominican Rep: Haitian Batey. Photo: Rosa María Torres
Continued low status of YAE The traditional low status of YAE is related to: (a) age (vis a vis children), and (b) socio-economic status. Estimations of costs of programmes and plans rarely consider infrastructure, equipment or even remunerated work. In many cases, YAE continues to be considered a ‘special regime’ together with other areas that challenge conventional classifications, such as bilingual intercultural education, special education, and multigrade schools.

Activism and discontinuity of efforts Activism has been a characteristic of YAE, often related to one-shot and isolated activities lacking continuity, monitoring, systematization, evaluation and feedback. Countries engage from time to time and over and over again in ‘illiteracy eradication’ or ‘illiteracy reduction’ initiatives. So far, policies have been unable to deal with literacy/basic education in a sustained and integral manner, linking school and out-of-school, children’s and adults’ education as part of one single strategy towards education for all.

Big distances between policies and implementation The right to free, quality education continues to be denied to a large portion of the population. National reports prepared for CONFINTEA VI say little about actual implementation. One key conclusion I drew from the field study on literacy and written culture by out-of-school youth and adults in nine countries of the region is that “policies in this field have become autonomous, with little or no contact with actual practice on the ground.”

Bogotá, Colombia. Photo: Rosa María Torres
High political, financial and administrative vulnerability of YAE YAE continues to be highly vulnerable to national/local political and administrative changes as well as of changes in international priorities. This implies a permanent threat to the continuity of policies and programmes, and to the building of national capacities and accumulated practical experience. A key component of such vulnerability are the meager financial resources available for education in general and for YAE in particular. Few national reports and studies provide concrete information on YAE funding and costs. This is marked in the case of the private sector. In many countries YAE budget represents less than 1% of educational spending. Brazil calculates that, budgetwise, an adult learner counts as 0.7% of a primary school child (Brazil CONFINTEA VI report).

Funding comes from various sources: government, churches, the private sector, social movements, and international agencies. There is scarce information on the financial contribution of bilateral and multilateral agencies to YAE, its uses and impact. In most countries, government plays the major role, especially in basic education levels. 

Government programmes generally do not charge fees and many of them provide access to free equipment and materials. Also, various countries have been adopting compensation policies or plans tied to studying.

Rise of for-profit spirit and market mechanisms There is an important decline in volunteerism, social mobilization and political commitment traditionally linked to YAE. In many countries, NGOs are hired and paid by governments to implement programmes. On the other hand, the trend towards accreditation and certification (completion of primary/basic/secondary education) has attracted the for-profit private sector, introducing fees and other market mechanisms into the field.

Low attention to professionalization of adult educators The low status, poor training and bad working conditions of adult educators continue is an old vicious circle in YAE. Training is generally poor and short, and its deficits are even more visible in the case of indigenous educators prepared for intercultural bilingual education programmes. Availability of audiovisual and digital technologies are contributing to further reduce the importance of professionalization and of initial and in-service training,

Requisites for adult educators have been “upgraded” in some countries, including a professional teaching title or completion of secondary education rather than primary education only; such requisites tend to loosen in rural areas and in literacy programmes, which continue to operate in most cases with community volunteers. The question that remains concerns the desired profile and education/training of adult educators, and whether possessing a teacher certificate ensures good teaching.

Weak dissemination, use and impact of research and evaluation results Research, documentation and evaluation efforts lack sufficient and opportune dissemination. We found differentiated circuits, one closer to academic circles and another one closer to bureacucratic and government structures. Overall, there is little evidence that research results are informing and influencing policy-making, training or teaching practice. They have not contributed to modify long-entrenched ‘common sense’ in the field, including negative perceptions and terminologies linked to illiteracy (e.g. ‘scourge’, ‘plague’, ‘darkness’, ‘blindness’, ‘shackle’, ‘eradication’, etc.), the association between illiteracy and ignorance, between number of years of schooling and ‘functional literacy’, and between adult education, non-formal and remedial education. Also, most diagnoses and recommendations are based on literature reviews, with little connection to realities and little or no empirical research.

Age discrimination within YAE There is a consistent trend towards (a) giving priority to the younger segments of the adult population, establishing age limits (40, 35, in some cases less), and (b) segmenting educational opportunities by age: literacy offered to older generations and other programmes offered to youth. Cuba is the only country that has the elderly as a priority group in terms of educational and cultural attention by government. Uruguay – known for its high percentage of third age population - is also expanding the age of learners within YAE.

Perú - ARE. Photo: PYSN
Continued neglect of indigenous peoples The YAE Regional Framework for Action (2000-2010) identified four priority groups: indigenous, peasants, youth and women. Youth and women have in act been prioritized; indigenous and afro descendant groups have not. Racism is alive despite advances in national and international legislation, including the approval in 2007 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Brazil’s national illiteracy rate (2008) was 7,1%, and among  indigenous peoples 18% and among black people 16% (Brazil CONFINTEA VI report). In Mexico, the national illiteracy rate was 8.4%. and the illiteracy rate among indigenous groups was 36.1% (Mexico CONFINTEA VI report). Also, Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE) continues to focus in rural areas. However, indigenous populations are also settled in urban areas, especially in large Latin American cities, following strong rural-urban migration patterns.

Continued neglect of rural areas Formal and non-formal education continue to concentrate in urban and the periphery of urban areas, thus maintaining and even deepening the urban-rural educational gap. Probabilities that youth and adults in rural areas get no or incipient education are twice as big as in urban areas, and in some countries three times bigger (SITEAL). Peru has the highest urban-rural school gap. Peru’s CONFINTEA VI report acknowledged that practically all educational institutions doing adult education are located in cities. In Brazil, illiterates in urban areas are 9.7 million against 4.7 million in rural areas; however, in percentile terms rural areas have almost three times more illiterates – 26.3% against 8.7% in urban areas.

Low coverage of programmes YAE programmes are very limited for actual needs. Despite being a prioritized age group, by 2007 less than 10% of 20-29 year olds who had not completed secondary education attended some educational programme. In large countries such as Brazil and Mexico, all efforts seem small and advances slow. According to Brazil’s CONFINTEA VI report, only 10% of the demand was served in 2008. Chile calculated that it would take 20 years to reach the 4 million people who have not completed basic education (Chile CONFINTEA VI report).

Quality and learning remain distant issues Quantitative indicators (enrolment and retention, number of groups organized, materials or equipments distributed, etc.) predominate as indicators of achievement and success. A minimum number of participants is often established as a requisite to start a programme or a center, thus leading often to cheating (e.g. manipulating the statistics, completing the list with family members, friends or persons who are not part of the target population, etc.).  In literacy programmes, goals continue to be set in terms of ‘eradicating’ or ‘reducing’ illiteracy rates, rather than in terms of learning and effective use of reading and writing. Only in very few cases have adult literacy programmes and campaigns been thoroughly evaluated. One such examples is Ecuador’s National Literacy Campaign ‘Monsignor Leonidas Proaño’ (1988-1990).

Continued weaknesses of technical and vocational education/training programmes There is skepticism in relation to the effectiveness of these programmes; several international organizations have commissioned studies and impact evaluations of the programmes they support. The “solution” of keeping or ‘re-inserting’ adolescents and youth in schools (often against their will) - the same unchanged schools that expelled them in the first place – is also debatable. An IIEP study of 52 programmes in 14 Latin American countries concluded that education/training programmes intended to prepare young people for work (a) take a simplistic view of youth inclusion in the labor market, (b) reach only a small portion of the potential population, (c) adopt a narrow approach focused on specific training, and (d) do not take sufficiently into account the importance of formal education, the competitiveness of the labor market and the scarcity of decent jobs.

“Best practices” selected without clear criteria Many practices selected as ‘good’ or ‘best’ practices in education and in YAE in particular are outdated, are based on documents, experts’ opinions or self-evaluation by their own actors, and lack evidence of their implementation, results and actual perceptions by participating learners. Few of them would pass the test of the four As - availability, accessibility, adaptability and acceptability. On the other hand, many relevant experiences remain unsystematized and unknown because of chronic lack of time and of resources in the field, their commitment to action and their many urgencies. Also, it is important to remember that ‘innovative’ does not necessarily mean ‘effective’, or generalizable. Innovations are specific, generally local and small-scale, and cannot be easily replicated or expanded on a massive scale.

Major coordination problems among national and international actors
Decentralization processes and diversification of educational provision have increased coordination and articulation problems amongst the diverse national actors: government across sectors and at the various levels, governmental and non-governmental bodies, profit and non-profit private sector, NGOs, universities, churches, etc. The same is true for the various international actors working in YAE, and in the literacy field in particular. Each of them has its own plans, objectives, goals, timeframes, diagnoses, approaches, methodologies, reporting and financing mechanisms. See table below for the case of literacy.

Table 1
Regional and international adult literacy goals (1980-2015)
Major Project for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean
EFA I-Jomtien
Education for All

EFA II–Dakar
Education for All

United Nations Literacy Decade

Ibero-American Plan for Youth and Adult Literacy and Basic Education
illiteracy by 2000
illiteracy by half by 2000
illiteracy by half by 2015
illiteracy by half by 2012
Eradicate  illiteracy by 2015
Elaborated by R.M. Torres

4. Lifelong Learning (LLL) in Latin America and the Caribbean

The paradigm shift proposed worldwide – from education to learning, and from adult education to adult learning – has not been appropriated in this region. Although CONFINTEA V had strong regional resonance, the term learning was never introduced in its follow up. Youth and Adult Education (YAE) was the term used in the Regional Framework for Action following CONFINTEA V.

The Lifelong Learning (LLL) concept - emerged in the North closely related to economic growth, competitiveness and employability - is understood and utilized in most diverse ways worldwide. Generally: (a) LLL continues to be used interchangeably with Lifelong Education, without differentiating education and learning [3]; and (b) LLL is associated to adults rather than to the entire lifespan - ‘from the cradle to the grave’.

All this is reflected in Latin America and the Caribbean. LLL is mentioned in many legal and policy/programme documents, with the same biases and inconsistencies that are found internationally. LLL appears often as a separate line of action or goal rather than as embracing category. In Jamaica’s Ministry of Education’s structure, for example, LLL was added as a sixth section, next to the other five sections on early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary and special education.

From the documents and websites reviewed, the LLL terminology appears to be more widespread - and more embedded in recent policies and plans - in the English-speaking Caribbean countries than in Latin American ones. In the Caribbean, LLL seems to follow the frameworks adopted in Europe. In Jamaica, for example, the LLL policy devised in 2005 was decided by the Human Employment and Resource Training-HEART Trust /National Training Agency-NTA, the institutions that coordinate workforce development in Jamaica.

Even new initiatives such as the Metas Educativas 2021 (2021 Education Goals) coordinated by OEI do not refer to Lifelong Learning but to Lifelong Education, and is considered a separate goal rather than a goal including all others.

Table 2
OEI: Metas Educativas 2021 (2021 Education Goals) 2012-2021

1. Participation of society in educational action.
2. Achieve educational equality and overcome discrimination.
3. Increase supply for early childhood education.
4. Universalize primary education and lower secondary education, and expand access to upper secondary education.
5. Improve the quality of education and of the school curriculum.
6. Facilitate the connection between education and employment through technical-professional education.
7. Offer every person lifelong education opportunities.
8. Strengthen the teaching profession.
9. Expand the Ibero-American Knowledge space and strengthen scientific research.
10. Invest more and better.
11. Evaluate the functioning of education systems and the 2021 Education Goals project.

Source: Translation from Spanish: Rosa María Torres

5. A few conclusions

Given the big gap between rhetoric/policies/laws and practice, the inclusion of YAE in recent policies, reforms and legislative frameworks on paper should not lead to assumptions about effective implementation.
Quantitative gains – small as they are - are usually shadowed by quality and equity problems.
Priority given to youth has ended up marginalizing adults and the elderly, just as priority given to women ended up marginalizing men in several countries and programmes.
The acknowledgement of the importance of literacy has traditionally placed it at the heart of YA efforts, and is currently being overemphasized in many countries with too many programmes running in parallel and poor targeting of efforts.
▸ Literacy achievements are rarely sustained and complemented with policies and strategies aimed at making reading and writing accessible to the population, paying attention to their specific needs, languages and cultures.
Many vocational and technical training programmes continue to ignore the complex issues involved in the transition between education and work (not only employment), and of the world of work these days.
The important impulse towards completion of primary/secondary education and accreditation of studies needs to be accompanied by the necessary efforts to ensure effective, meaningful and useful learning.
Many hands involved often do not generate genuine ‘partnerships’ but rather enhanced lack of coordination, competitiveness, duplication of efforts and misuse of resources.
Experience indicates that decentralization and outsourcing not necessarily bring with them the advantages promised.
Expansion of ICTs for YAE purposes is counterbalanced with improvisation, poor use of such technologies, poor criteria to decide on the best one or the best combination to use in each specific case, and – most importantly - neglect of the essential interpersonal pedagogical relationship.
Cost-efficiency applied to YAE is often understood as ‘cheaper and quicker’, thus leading to an amplified vicious circle of low quality and poor results.

6. Challenges for the future

A common language The terminological labyrinth is an old concern in the field of education and especially of YAE worldwide. Glossaries have been proposed and produced over the past few decades, but the terminological/conceptual confusion persists and becomes more acute as new terms emerge. Once again during the CONFINTEA VI process, and specifically in the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, it was agreed that a common language is essential if we want to communicate better and also give more scientific consistency to the field.

Lack of evidence and lack of financial resources: two myths to be revisited Two myths must be revisited with regard to YAE and education in general: that in order to receive more attention what is needed is (a) more evidence and (b) more financial resources. In fact, there is plenty of research evidence, for several decades now, on the multiple benefits of investing in YAE, for learners themselves, for their families and communities, and for citizenship-building and national democracy. Abundant research shows that YAE has positive effects on the self-esteem and life opportunities of men and women as well as on their children’s wellbeing (child mortality, child birth, rearing practices, access to school, learning outcomes, etc.). It is clear that lack of attention to YAE is not related to insufficient data, evidence or conceptual clarity, as argued in the 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report.[4] There is more than enough knowledge available on YAE – theoretical and empirical, regional and international - to indicate what needs to be done and to do it well. The main shortcoming concerns action, not information and knowledge.

On the other hand, the financial deficit is only a manifestation of a political deficit, namely the lack of political will to make education a priority and to invest in the poor on the basis of quality and equity. Addressing the political deficit is the real priority. Also, as evaluations in the field of school education reiterate, there is no direct and necessary connection between more financial resources and better education. What is needed is not only more – usually highlighted - but better use of available resources, precisely because they are scarce. Parameters of what is ‘good spending’ and ‘good international co-operation’ in YAE must be established.

Internationally, in 2005 the Global Campaign for Education proposed “at least 3% of the education budget” allocated to adult literacy in order to attain the EFA goal of reducing illiteracy by half by 2015. Regionally, the Final Document of the Mexico CONFINTEA VI Regional Conference (Sep. 2008) requested 3% for YAE in general, not only for literacy. Many countries have set financial benchmarks for the education sector in their constitutions, laws and/or policies. Most of them aim at reaching, over several years, 6% of the GNP allocated to education. It is thus clear that the fight for higher financial resources devoted to YAE must be associated with the fight for more and sustained financial resources and attention dedicated to education as a whole.

Time for action and for investing in people Lots of money is spent in research that has little relevance and impact on actual decision-making, on costly events and publications that reach only a few, on reiterated diagnoses that repeat the same problems and the same information. It is time to revise the allocation of scarce financial resources at all levels, from governments and international agencies to organizations of civil societies. It is time for action, for making sure that policies and laws are effectively implemented, that what is already known is translated into practice. It is time for investing in the people, in the capacities and qualities of those engaged in YAE at all levels, not only facilitators on the ground, but also those in planning, organizing and managing positions.

Holistic approach Whatever the advances or inertias, they cannot be attributed solely to education in general and to YAE in particular, but also and primarily to the political, social and economic contexts in which education operates. YAE deals with the most disadvantageous situations and with the most vulnerable segments of society, those most affected by poverty, exclusion, and subordination in many aspects: political, economic, social, cultural, linguistic. How much more or better could be done under the concrete circumstances in each case, remains an open question with at least one clear answer: unless there are important economic and social changes in the overall conditions of the population served by YAE, YAE will not be able to fulfill its mission. It is time to rethink the equation: education by itself cannot fight poverty and exclusion, unless specific and intended economic and social policies – not just compensatory programmes – are in place to deal with them in a radical manner. YAE is not an independent variable.

Recuperate the transformative role of education and of YAE specifically The role of education is not to ensure enrolment, retention, completion and accreditation. The ultimate mission is to enhance personal and social change, to ensure relevant learning, awareness raising, critical and creative thinking, informed and committed action, citinzenship building. YAE’s historical critical and transformative nature has been lost and must be recuperated, challenging conformity and mere social adaptation promoted by current times and ideologies dominating the world. Learners must be educated as citizens, not only as people in need of certain basic skills, but in need of knowing their rights and duties so as to be better able to fight for them.

From literacy to lifelong learning  “From literacy to lifelong learning” was the title chosen for the CONFINTEA VI regional preparatory conference held in Mexico (Sep. 2008). In other words, the challenge to move from usual narrow understandings of adult education as equivalent to adult literacy, from adult education to adult learning and to lifelong learning, anywhere and anytime: in the family, in the community, at work, through the media, through art, social participation and through the active exercise of citizenship. The right to education today is no longer the right to basic literacy, to access school or to complete a number of years of schooling, but the right to learn and to learn throughout life, from early childhood to late adulthood.

[1] This regional report analyzed a large volume of documents, including: national reports submitted to UIL by Ministries of Education/Adult Education Departments based on the questionnaire circulated by UIL; documentation produced in the framework of the Ibero-American Plan for Youth and Adult Literacy and Basic Education (2006-2015) promoted by the Spanish cooperation for Ibero-American countries (it excludes French- and English-speaking countries in the region); national studies on the state of the art of Youth and Adult Education produced in 2007 in the framework of a CREFAL-CEAAL regional study on the subject (available in Spanish, and in Portuguese for the case of Brazil); cross-national field study on “Literacy and access to the written culture by youth and adults excluded from the school system in Latin America and the Caribbean”, conducted in 2006-2008 together with CREFAL in nine Latin American and Caribbean countries; and international and regional documentation produced for CONFINTEA V (Hamburg 1997) and its regional follow-up.

[2] About the current situation of the region, see: ECLAC’s Social Panorama of Latin America 2011 “Poverty and Indigence Levels Are the Lowest in 20 Years in Latin America”
“Good tidings from the south: Less poor, and less unequal”, The Economist, 3 Dec. 2011.

[3] Lifelong Learning in Spanish is Aprendizaje a lo largo de toda la vida. Most translators continue to use education and learning in an undifferentiated manner. The Delors Report entitled “Learning, the Treasure within” was translated into Spanish as “La educación encierra un tesoro”. The1st World Forum on LifelongLearning (Paris, October 2008) was translated as Foro Mundial para la Educación y la Formación a lo largo de la vida and into French as Forum Mondial pour l'Education et la Formation Tout au Long de la Vie.

[4] Also, “the fact that no clear quantitative targets were established at Dakar, apart from the main literacy target, may have contributed to a lack of urgency. In addition, the language of the commitment is ambiguous. Some read goal 3 as calling for universal access to learning and life-skills programmes, but others, including the drafters of the Dakar Framework, understand no such intent.” (EFA GMR 2009, 2008: 91).

Related texts in this blog:
» Rosa María Torres, Adult Literacy in Latin America and the Caribbean: Plans and Goals 1980-2015
» Rosa María Torres, From Literacy to Lifelong Learning ▸ De la alfabetización al aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida
» Rosa María Torres, Literacy and Lifelong Learning: The Linkages
» Rosa María Torres, Lifelong Learning: moving beyond Education for All
» Letter to UNESCO on the Literacy Decade (2003-2012)


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