Promoting a Culture of Lifelong Learning – Adult Learners Week

"The aim of lifelong learning is to enable the active and creative participation of all members of the community. Adult learning occupies a place at the very heart of society and responds to the concrete aspirations of individuals. Learning to be, learning to do, and learning to live together are the core concerns – this also includes learning to read, write and count, but what is most important is to ensure that all women and men are freer and more responsible citizens.

This is the essential meaning of this historic turning point that took place in Hamburg in July 1997 in celebration of the liberating process of lifelong learning. I must congratulate all those countries that have initiated the implementation of the CONFINTEA recommendation concerning Adult Learners Week. In doing so we have launched a movement that is destined to grow ever larger."

(Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO)

The purpose of an Adult Learners Week is to:
– celebrate the role that learning can play in transforming lives
– stimulate the participation of women and men in different forms of learning
– increase access to information, advice and guidance

The organization of an Adult Learners Week can also enhance the partnerships among all the agencies involved in providing adult learning opportunities.

The United Nations’ Adult Learners Week is a campaign to address these issues and was called for during CONFINTEA in 1997.

Since CONFINTEA, the Adult Learners Week initiatives have been expanded in a series of countries and have been started in many others.

1. Expansion of the National Adult Learners Week

Australia: No Limits to Learning1

The first Australian ALW was held in 1995 as a way of recognizing and celebrating adult learning. The week concentrates on advocacy for a broad and inclusive concept of adult learning, and the need to link this with important national goals in relation to lifelong learning and International Literacy Day.

Since then, the yearly Adult Learners Week has attempted to highlight adult learning taking place in community settings, in workplaces, libraries, among older people, women and learning with the use of new technologies.

Visitors and guests from overseas have shared their experiences and perspectives of adult learning. They have gained insight into the diversity of adult education practice among indigenous Australians, in remote communities and in rural areas. All the partners were involved: non-profit organizations, universities, enterprises and government agencies.

Flanders: Take your Chances (Grijp Je Kansen)2

The first Week of Popular Education in Flanders took place between the 12th and the19th of October, 1996. The slogan "Take your Chances" was intended to reinforce the idea that there are chances to obtain further skills in everybody’s life.

The focus of the ALW lay on informal and liberal adult education. Among the activities, a planning guide was produced and sent to over 300 Flemish local authorities, over 60,000 posters were distributed and displayed in all main stations in Flanders and 120 nationally recognized organizations joined the Adult Learners Week.


    "Adult Education Week provides an important occasion to develop greater public awareness of the considerable contribution which adult education activities make to the development of both the individual and the community" (JAMAL, organizer of the Jamaican ALW).

Since its inception in 1995, the celebration of Adult Education Week has gathered momentum, and, in 1998, was extended to three rural parishes on the island. The major objectives can be summarized as follows:
– to emphasize adult education as a prerequisite for increased production, thereby enabling the country to gain the competitive edge which it needs for economic viability
– to inform adults of the ways in which they can enhance their own awareness and sensitivity, and
– to identify agencies involved in adult continuing education and encourage cooperation among them

Slovenia, a Learning Country4

Slovenia was one of the first countries in Central and Eastern Europe to initiate an Adult Learners Week. The first Slovenian Adult Learners Week took place in the framework of the Socrates Programme in 1996, coordinated by the Slovenian Adult Education Centre (SAEC) and has now been established as a yearly event. The many national and local activities include workshops, exhibitions, round tables, launching of projects, awards ceremonies, special radio and TV broadcasts and dissemination of survey data to the media.

The Adult Learners Week in 1999 will be held between the 18th and the 24th of October, paying special tribute to the learning of older people.

South Africa: Go for Life, Go for Learning5

From the 2nd to the 8th of March, 1998, the Adult Learners Week was arranged in South Africa at national, provincial and local level under the motto: "Go for Learning, Go for Life". A national media campaign, a national awards ceremony and an Adult Learners Week Colloquium took place during this week. The Adult Learners Week was attended by international delegates, who visited various activities during this week as well as the Adult Learners Week colloquium. The aim of the colloquium was to reflect on the outcomes of the conference and to put forward the proposal of promoting Adult Learners Week as an international project. The recommendations were as follows:

  • integrate Literacy Day into Adult Learners Week
  • publish stories of adult learners
  • run a telephone helpline, and
  • AETASA, the Adult Education and Training Association of South Africa, should take the responsibility for disseminating information on international developments within the sector

The activities in the nine provinces of South Africa included Open Days, marches, fun runs, boat trips to Robben Island for seminars and meetings.

The next Adult Learners Week will be held between the 6th and 11th of September, 1999.


Switzerland held its third Adult Learners Week, the Lernfest, between the 3rd and 9th of June, 1999. 27 of the cantons in Switzerland organized events . The week was linked to the One Hour a Day Campaign. Museums opened their doors for special adult learning events and churches participated with contributions. During the Adult Learners Week, the organizers also took part in the Socrates Project MUSAEAM, Museum and Adult Learning.

United Kingdom: Learn and Grow7

The Adult Learners Week has been celebrated in the United Kingdom since 1991. Learners, politicians, policy-makers, broadcasters and providers of education and training come together during the yearly event. The purpose is to:
– show the rich variety of learning opportunities that exist for adults
– bring the joy of learning to persons distant from learning
– involve policy- and decision-makers

In 1998, there were some 10,000 local, regional and national events, together with awards for individuals, groups of adult learners and organizations with innovative strategies for including under-represented groups. Television programmes, radio programmes, press articles and thousands of posters highlighted the week and increased awareness of the event.

The week was supported by a freephone Helpline, which was used by more than 150,000 people. A survey showed that 84% of the callers did not know where to go locally for advice, and were not aware of adult guidance services.

Adult Learners Week now has two sister promotional campaigns – "Sign Up Now" in September and "Sign Up Again" in January – which encourage people to enrol in a learning course.

2. New National Adult Learners Weeks since 1997


The main objective of the event which took place between the 14th of August and the 8th of September, 1998, was to mobilize national and international public opinion on adult learning policy in Benin and, though this, to give a forum for adults to voice their needs.

The Adult Learners Week also provides a chance to share experiences in the area of adult learning with other countries, mainly in West Africa. Within the framework of the Benin Adult Learners Week, UIE therefore organized a special seminar to sensitize neighbouring countries to this new policy proposal for the mobilization of learners. Five delegates were invited to this seminar: the Literacy National Directors of Guinea, Mali and Togo, and representatives from the Literacy Directorates of Burkina Faso and Niger, as well as an international expert. After observing the unfolding of the Adult Education Week in Benin, a workshop was organized on the assessment of the experience and a proposal to undertake similar initiatives in the countries represented.

A second Adult Learners Week will be held in September 1999.


77 different organizations took part in the first Adult Learners Week in Estonia – producing more than 100 events to draw Estonians’ attention to educational and learning opportunities. Libraries were the most active providers of the Week, although local authorities made a strong contribution as well. The Week provided a stage for the launching of the first handbook on adult education in the Estonian language.

"The data allows us to assert that the first Adult Learners Week organized in Estonia was a success, and not only because institutions and local authorities were involved at national and local levels. Media played a very intensive role in the implementation of the Week by bringing the importance of lifelong learning into the consciousness of many adults" (Association of Estonian Adult Educators [ANDRAS], the Week’s organizers).


The first Finnish Adult Learners Week was held between the 6th and the 9th of September, 1998, the second between the 18th and the 24th of September, 1999.

One of the main goals is to encourage participation in learning by all adults, but especially among socially passive groups. Events included the Helsinki Region Adult Education Fair, an outdoor carnival for adult learners, learning activities in the main railway station and many others.

There was also a national helpline for information and advice on learning and substantial coverage of the Week in the print and broadcast media.

Germany: Lernfest11

The first German Adult Learners Week was launched between the 13th and the 17th of May, 1998. More than 100 activities nationwide attracted several hundred thousand visitors during this week. Part of the Lernfest was a "contest of ideas", initiated by the Ministry of Education, Research and Technology. The aim of the contest was to develop ideas on how to present the manifold opportunities of the education system.

The activities ranged from computer training and information on vocational training opportunities to painting and music.

The second Adult Learners Week was scheduled for the 16th to the 22nd of May, 1999. The Adolf Grimme Institute produced a special information packet for this event, "Lernfestkoffer", to help adult learning organizers plan their participation during the Adult Learners Week.

New Zealand: Adult Learners Week(He Tangata Matauranga)

An Adult Learners Week was held in New Zealand around the 8th of September 1999, International Literacy Day. Awards were given to acknowledge the work of adult educators, providers and learners. Many ways were used to reach out and celebrate the achievements and contribution of adult learners.

Norway: Open for Learning12

Coordinated and managed by the Norwegian Association for Adult Education (NAAE), the Norwegian Adult Learners Week took place between the 8th and the 15th of September, 1998, with activities held all over the country. "The goals of the National Week for Adult Education are to strengthen adult rights, motivations and possibilities to participate in adult education irrespective of background, by showing and presenting a variety of activities, methods, providers and participants in the adult learning field" (Norwegian National Learners Week Homepage).

The focus of the 1998 Adult Learners Week lay on "qualification", "democracy" and "participation". In addition to TV advertisements and public service messages, an Internet web page and a newsletter informed Norwegian citizens of the event. Posters and fact sheets were developed as well.

The participation of the Norwegian population (4 million) in adult learning in voluntary associations is very significant: in 1997, an estimated 700,000 people participated in approximately 70,000 courses organized by adult learning associations.

The 1999 Adult Learners Week topic is "Motivation for Participation". The focus is democracy, literacy and elderly people, using the platform of the UN International Year of Older Persons. An effort is being made to bring together the public institutions, the work-related agencies and the voluntary associations.

3. Expected Creation of National Adult Learners Week

Adult Learners Weeks are being planned in many other parts of the world: Austria, Botswana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Lithuania, Namibia, the Netherlands, Palestine, the Philippines and Portugal.

4. Preparation of the Launching of the UN Adult Learners Week in September 2000

The idea of centring the UN Adult Learners Week around International Literacy Day was developed at the CONFINTEA follow-up consultation meeting in Elsinore in July, 1997. International Literacy Day will keep its identity, September 8th, and will be the leading event of the UN Adult Learners Week.

International Literacy Day will be connected to the larger adult learning movement to which it contributes, the focus on literacy will be reinforced and International Literacy Day will energize the Adult Learners Week initiative. Burkina Faso, India, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Thailand have, for example, already developed their Adult Learners Week promotional campaigns around annual International Literacy Day.

Future Action

– Promotion and development of Adult Learners Weeks in as many countries as possible

– Consultation with member States, NGOs and within UNESCO

– Preliminary discussions at the UN HQ in New York with ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council)

– Organization of international and regional training and capacity building workshops for countries interested in developing a UN Adult Learners Week

– Finalization and dissemination of a broad and widely supported proposal which has significance for all regions

– September 1999: at the CONFINTEA follow-up forum, consensus building on a final United Nations Adult Learners Week proposal

– November 1999: presentation and official decision on the proposal by the UNESCO 30th General Assembly in Paris

– December 1999: Presentation by UNESCO of the recommendation to ECOSOC

    1 Contact: Tony Brown, AAACE, e-mail: tony.brown@effect.net.au

    2 Contact: Iris Van Riet, VCVO, e-mail: iris.van.riet@vcvo.be

    3 Contact: Charles Grierson, JAMAL, e-mail: Found29d@cwjamaica.com

    4 Contact: Vida Mohocic Spolar, Slovene Adult Education Centre, e-mail: Vida.mohorcic.spolar@asc-saec.si

    5 Contact: Botlhale Nong, AETASA, e-mail: aetasa@iafrica.com

    6 Contact: Ruth Meier, SVEB, e-mail: festival@alice.ch

    7 Contact: Kay Smith, NIACE, e-mail: kay@niace.org.uk

    8 Contact: Emmanuel Voglozin, Director of the National Literacy Programme

    9 Contact: Talvi Marja, ANDRAS, e-mail: andras@uninet.ee

    10 Contact: Johanna Korhonen, KTOL, e-mail: johanna.korhonen@ktol.fi

    11 Contact: Heinz Meyer, Adolf Grimme Institut, e-mail: hmeyer@grimme-institut.de

    12 Contact: Berit Mykland, VOFO, e-mail: berit.mykland@vofo.no

Important notice: If you click on this link, you will leave the websites of DVV International. DVV International is not responsible for the content of third party websites that can be accessed through links. DVV International has no influence as to which personal data of yours is accessed and/or processed on those sites. For more information, please review the privacy policy of the external website provider.