Frank Youngman

The quality of initial and continuing training for adult educators is an issue that is crucial to the development of adult education. This applies not only to Africa, which is the continent where the author has gained many years’ experience. What should change in the light of the recommendations of the International Conference? What might improved cooperation look like? How can the new media be used? These questions open up a new debate, to which we shall eagerly return in future issues of this journal. – Professor Frank Youngman is Head of the Department of Adult Education, University of Botswana, Gaborone.

Training the Post-CONFINTEA Adult Educator

1. Introduction

The availability of competent personnel to develop, organise, promote, teach and evaluate modes of learning for adults is an indispensable condition for the successful implementation of adult education policies and programmes. The training of adult educators should therefore be an important component of discussions on the future of adult education. In my view, UNESCO’s Fifth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA V), held in Hamburg in 1997, failed to give adequate recognition to the importance of adult educators for the implementation of its proposed strategies. Thus in the final conference document, The Agenda for the Future, there is only a perfunctory section under the heading "Improving the conditions for the professional development of adult educators and facilitators".

The lack of significance given to this issue at the Conference is mirrored in the record of follow-up activities undertaken in the subsequent two years. The follow-up bulletin CON-NEXUS had only one reference to the training of adult educators, namely a graduate course at the University of Alaska built on the ten themes of CONFINTEA.1 The CONFINTEA Follow-Up Report published by the UNESCO Institute for Education in November 1999 indicates that the training of adult educators was discussed at an Africa region seminar in Zimbabwe and that the Latin America region had identified it as one of the principal activities for the period 1999-2001. However, the Report concludes that the training of adult educators has been a neglected theme and recognises it as an issue still to be addressed in the CONFINTEA follow-up process.

In this article I consider the issue of training the post-CONFINTEA adult educator and suggest some of the considerations that should be taken into account from the perspective of countries in the South, especially in Africa.

2. Implications of CONFINTEA V for the Training of Adult Educators

CONFINTEA V took place within an international political economy shaped by the intensifying processes of globalisation. Before and during the Conference, there was an ideological tension between the neo-liberalism dominant in the policies of the industrialised North and its aid agencies, and the social justice perspective espoused by many adult educators, especially in the non-governmental organisation sector. The final outcome of the Conference expressed in The Hamburg Declaration and The Agenda for the Future was a strong commitment to the social justice perspective: "The ultimate goal should be the creation of a learning society committed to social justice and general well-being." From the view-point of Africa, this commitment reinforced the potential role of adult education in addressing major problems such as globalisation, structural adjustment, poverty, unemployment, political instability, social exclusion and environmental degradation.

Against this background, the key dimensions of CONFINTEA V can be summarised as follows:

  • the significance of adult education for addressing critical economic, political and social problems of the twenty-first century
  • the conceptualisation of adult education in terms of the centrality of the adult learner and of learning as a lifelong process that takes place in many different contexts
  • the expression of the purposes of adult education in terms of social justice goals such as democracy, participation, citizenship, diversity, social inclusion, human rights and peace
  • the importance of national policies to embody this vision of adult learning through partnerships for a cross-sectoral and inter-ministerial approach to the development of adult education and through strategies which articulate learners’ demands
  • the identification of essential themes for programme development, namely:
    – active citizenship, participation, democracy and peace
    – literacy and basic education
    – gender equality and the empowerment of women
    – the changing world of work the environment, health and population
    – culture, media and the new information and communication technologies
    – adult learning for all, including minorities, older persons, migrants and refugees, persons with disabilities and prisoners
  • the importance of improved mechanisms for financing adult education
  • the importance of enhanced international co-operation and solidarity for supporting these new directions in adult education

This summary of the key dimensions provides the basis for identifying the essential proficiencies which all adult educators require if the vision espoused by CONFINTEA V is to be realised in the everyday world of adult education practice. These generic proficiencies include areas of knowledge such as adult learning and social issues, areas of skill such as participatory methodologies and applied information technology, and areas of attitude such as commitment to the values of social justice and to working in cross-sectoral partnerships. The summary also indicates areas of technical specialisation within adult education requiring specific training and expertise, such as literacy, the media or health education.

Hence the key dimensions of CONFINTEA V provide a basis for developing the curricula of training programmes for adult educators. These programmes must include not only initial training but also in-service training. It seems clear that most practising adult educators require re-orientation and up-dating of their knowledge base and attitudes, as well as a range of new skills. In fact, the extent of the gap between the proficiencies adult educators which have at the moment, and what they need to implement the CONFINTEA vision, is a measure of the scale of training required.

The development of training for the post-CONFINTEA adult educator is dependent on a number of factors, which include:

  • a national policy environment that includes social policies supportive of the CONFINTEA vision of adult education and society
  • organisational contexts which enable training to take place in a cross-sectoral and inter-ministerial perspective
  • curricula whose formats, processes and contents embody the key dimensions of CONFINTEA
  • international co-operation that enhances and extends national training capacity

For the countries of the South, these factors can be illustrated by a brief consideration of Botswana’s experience.

3. Case Study Botswana

The National Policy Environment

In 1992/3 a Presidential Commission undertook a wide-ranging review of Botswana’s education system and presented its findings in the Report of the National Commission on Education 1993. The philosophy of education enunciated by the Commission included a clear commitment to adult learning:

    "The adult learner not only continues learning but also adds to the body of knowledge and wisdom in society. [...] the goal of educational development must be to establish a learning society."

The Commission’s Report had substantial chapters on "Vocational and Technical Training" and "Out-of School-Education" which made proposals on how to provide extended learning opportunities to adults, both those who lack basic education and those wishing to further their initial education. The proposals were grouped according to four main areas: work-related skills training, adult basic education, extension programmes and continuing education. A major recommendation was the establishment of a coordinating mechanism to achieve cohesion at the level of policy direction and strategic planning for adult learning. An inter-ministerial and cross-sectoral conception of adult education was therefore fundamental to the Commission’s strategies for lifelong learning.

The majority of the recommendations that the Commission made concerning adult learning were accepted by the Government and were incorporated in The Revised National Policy on Education April 1994. The policy document, when read in conjunction with the Commission’s Report, provides a comprehensive policy for adult education. Hence since 1994 there has been in place a framework for the development of adult learning which includes the following: a conceptualisation and philosophy; a statement of policy goals; a coordination mechanism; a consideration of modes of provision and financing; an accreditation system; and specific proposals for programme development. Thus there is a forward-looking and progressive national education policy which provides a conducive environment for initiatives in adult education within the CONFINTEA conception. There are also other social policies in areas such as community-based rural development, women in development, and disability, which provide a positive environment.

The experience of the last five years suggests that the implementation of the education policy will be uneven and will take longer than originally expected, because of problems such as bureaucratic bottlenecks and lack of capacity. There will also be significant obstacles to achieving the policy goal of widespread participation in adult learning because of class, gender and ethnic divisions within the social structure. Furthermore, there are other policy areas, such as those related to minority ethnic groups, which are not supportive. Nevertheless, it is evident that the social policy environment has enabled positive follow-up to CONFINTEA V.


Following the announcement of CONFINTEA V in 1996, the Botswana National Commission for UNESCO established a working group to prepare for the Conference. After the Conference, the group held a follow-up national workshop to identify activities within The Agenda for the Future which would be relevant in the Botswana context. The outcome of the workshop and subsequent discussions was the National Plan of Action for Adult Learning, which was launched in mid-1999. The National Plan of Action lists 23 activities under the ten thematic headings of The Agenda for the Future. For each activity, it shows which organisation is responsible, gives a deadline for initial action and identifies indicators for progress. The range of activities is extensive and reflects many of the major concerns of CONFINTEA V. The responsible organisations are cross-sectoral in character and represent the state, civil society and private business as appropriate. There has been significant support expressed by the various organisations involved.

In my opinion, the acceptability of the activities and the availability of the institutional mechanisms for carrying them out are an outcome of the policy environment established by The Revised National Policy on Education April 1994 and other relevant policies. CONFINTEA has not introduced a totally new approach to adult education. Rather, it has provided an international impetus and an action programme that gives momentum and specificity to existing trends and strategies for adult learning. I believe CONFINTEA has contributed an enabling factor for the more comprehensive implementation of the existing national adult education policy, and for improvements to that policy, for example in terms of the emerging strategies for articulating learner demand.

The Scope of Training for Adult Educators

Any discussion of adult education personnel has to take into account the fact that many people who can be said objectively to be adult educators do not subjectively regard themselves as such. An agricultural demonstrator, for example, will identify herself or himself as an agricultural extension worker rather than an adult educator. However, the definition that reflects Botswana’s adult education policy embraces all those whose job function includes helping adults to learn. This function may be a primary one, as with a Ministry of Education District Adult Education Officer, or a secondary one, as with a pastor who organises non-formal education for young adults in the community. The function can comprise different roles, such as teacher, community organiser, administrator, materials designer and so on. Also, the technical content of the job can be very varied, ranging from health to business management to construction skills. The scope of training in Botswana is inclusive in its conception of the adult educator.

The Department of Adult Education, University of Botswana

The Department of Adult Education of the University of Botswana has a key place in the provision of training for adult educators and was designated in The Revised National Policy on Education April 1994 as "the lead agency for the training of out-of-school education personnel and for research and evaluation in this sector". The Department undertakes a variety of short-term in-service training for adult educators. But its main focus is the provision of qualification programmes at five levels. The M.Phil./Ph.D. (Adult Education) programme is research-based and has just been established. The M.Ed. (Adult Education) has recently been revised. It takes into account the imminent changes to the University’s overall academic structure, which will introduce semester-based modular courses and flexible programmes with credit banking. It seeks to provide a relevant contemporary curriculum influenced by the CONFINTEA perspective. The B.Ed. (Adult Education) and Diploma in Adult Education are currently being revised and will undoubtedly take cognisance of the implications of CONFINTEA. The Certificate in Adult Education is offered by distance education.

The majority of those who study for these qualifications are working adult educators sponsored by their employers. Since its first course in 1979, the Department has always enrolled students from a wide variety of backgrounds and it has had students from 20 different central and local government departments as well as a number of non-governmental organisations. Former students constitute an important network of personnel who share a cross-sectoral conception of adult education.

Other Training Institutions

A number of other institutions provide training for adult education personnel. However, these institutions train on a sectoral basis and seldom identify themselves as part of the field of adult education. Such institutions include the Botswana College of Agriculture, which provides qualification programmes and short in-service courses for agricultural extension workers, and the Department of Social Work, University of Botswana, whose students include those who will have a role as community development workers. Some Government departments provide training for specific cadres, such as the initial training provided by the Ministry of Health for village health educators. Other institutions provide programmes on an occasional basis, such as the Institute of Development Management’s Training of Trainers course for work-place trainers.

The Rural Extension Coordinating Committee’s Sub-Committee on Training

A very important component of adult education in Botswana is provided by the Government’s extension services. These services are coordinated at national, district and village levels. At the national level, the Rural Development Coordination Division of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning chairs the Rural Extension Coordinating Committee (RECC) which brings together the directors of all the extension departments (ranging from the Ministry of Education’s Department of Non Formal Education to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks). The national inter-ministerial committee is parallelled at the lower levels by District Extension Teams and Village Extension Teams, all of which have the goal of integrating the operations of the different departments. In order to improve the effectiveness of extension work, the RECC has a Sub-Committee on Training. The Sub-Committee has established a special post in the University’s Department of Adult Education to provide it with the capacity to undertake needs assessment, monitor the adequacy of training provision and provide appropriate in-service training.

The Sub-Committee is currently providing an extensive training programme on Participatory Rural Appraisal to District Extension Teams as part of the Government’s new Community-Based Rural Development Strategy. It also sponsors a generic course for grassroots extension workers entitled Basic Extension Skills Training (BEST). The work of the Sub-Committee demonstrates a commitment to an inter-ministerial approach to this area of adult learning and to the use of in-service training as a means of equipping extension workers to undertake contemporary adult education strategies. The BEST course provides a concrete example of post-CONFINTEA training in terms of organisational context and curriculum content.2

International Cooperation

The majority of international cooperation activities in the training of adult educators take place within the framework of North-South aid. A significant amount of training is undertaken outside Botswana, particularly graduate studies in different fields and specialised short courses. Such training is usually taken in North America or the United Kingdom and seldom in Africa. This training can be problematical in terms of relevance and it can undermine national capacity-building, for example when students are sent outside the country for courses locally available. Some interchange within the Africa region related to training takes place, largely on an informal basis through individual networking, the exchange of university external examiners and occasional conferences and workshops. Since the demise of the African Association for Literacy and Adult Education in 1996, both formal and informal co-operation has diminished.

For Botswana, all forms of sub-regional cooperation take place within the framework of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). However, sub-regional cooperation and networking on the training of adult educators is very weak. The Association for Tertiary Based Adult Educators initiated by South Africa, which seeks to bring together university departments of adult education, is not yet well-established and its engagement of surrounding countries is undeveloped. The newly formed Adult Education Working Committee for Southern Africa is also having difficulty in getting established. The best-organised regional body in an area of adult education is the Distance Education Association of Southern Africa, which it has successfully promoted training initiatives for adult educators within the sector of distance education. But there has been no systematic attempt within SADC to address questions relating to the training of adult educators from a broad perspective. It is possible that the Lifelong Education and Training Technical Committee to be formed within the SADC Protocol on Education and Training in the Southern African Development Community of 1997 may provide a more robust formal structure within which topics of training will be considered.

4. Issues in the Training of the Post-CONFINTEA Adult Educator

From the experience of Botswana, there a number of pressing issues related to training the post-CONFINTEA adult educator in the countries of the South. These are highlighted below for discussion:

Cross-sectoral Training

Initial and in-service training of adult educators should be done in contexts in which the participants themselves are drawn from a variety of backgrounds, so that the cross-sectoral concept is not only taught but also experienced. What are the appropriate organisational contexts for achieving this? How can they be developed? What are the likely obstacles?

Training Formats and Processes

Training opportunities for adult educators must be accessible and appropriate. The processes of training should combine theory and practice and involve innovative methods. What formats are most relevant (full-time residential, part-time face to face, distance learning, short courses, workshops etc.) and what are the best processes? What obstacles are there to achieving the right mix of training provision from a national perspective? What obstacles are there to the adoption of appropriate processes? (For example, how can the individual distance learner access the group experiences so important for developing the personal qualities of the adult educator?)

Curriculum Content and Training Materials

The key dimensions of CONFINTEA V must be given prominence in training curricula. How can this be achieved? What are the likely obstacles? The new curriculum content must be contextualised within the realities of development in the South. At the moment, training in Africa, for example, is chronically dependent on textbooks and other materials from the North. How can relevant training materials be developed? What are the likely obstacles?

New Technologies

The new information and communication technologies provide opportunities for adult educators to access on-line training courses (such as "Teaching Techniques for Adult Learning" offered by Wellington Polytechnic in New Zealand) and to enhance their study through use of the Internet. Computer literacy is also an essential skill for adult educators. To what extent do the new technologies act as another form of cultural imperialism by the North which undermines the provision of locally relevant courses and information? To what extent can they be used to improve the training of adult educators in the countries of the South where the new technologies are underdeveloped and unevenly distributed?

International Cooperation

International cooperation and solidarity should be an enabling factor in developing the training of adult educators, but too often it has taken place on an unequal footing between North and South. What should be the goals and modalities of cooperation? How can they be achieved? What are the likely obstacles? How can South-South cooperation be developed?

These issues indicate the complexities that need to be taken into account when considering training the post-CONFINTEA adult educator. However, I believe that significant action can be taken at the national, regional and international levels. It is my contention that the next stage of CONFINTEA follow-up should include deliberate strategies for promoting the training of adult educators. Three concrete project suggestions for the Africa region illustrate possible strategies that might be promoted in the context of CONFINTEA follow-up:

a) The establishment of a project for the development of appropriate training materials for Africa. The project should provide support for the necessary research and writing by experienced trainers of adult educators from Africa and subsidise the production and dissemination of the materials (in hard copy and on-line).

b) The establishment and maintenance of an Africa region network of institutions responsible for the training of adult educators. The core of the network should be an Internet linkage between different university departments of adult education and other leading training institutions, but there should be provision for regular working meetings on training issues.

c) The exchange of experience between Africa and the Latin American region, which seems to be the most advanced in terms of training adult educators within the perspective of CONFINTEA. This project should include meetings and study visits.

5. Conclusion

Adult educators are crucial to the success of CONFINTEA V as they can provide both the intellectual and operational leadership for implementing its vision of adult education. In order to do so, their initial and continuing training must prepare them with the theoretical and practical tools and personal qualities that they require for the task. It is my hope that those involved in the follow-up to CONFINTEA V will agree to the importance of this thematic area and devise strategies for the training of adult educators which can respond to the opportunities and challenges that CONFINTEA has presented.

1 The course on International Adult Education is part of the Master’s program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. It is offered by Prof. Bersch, contact:

2 In 1999 the 25 course participants came from nine different government departments and a non-governmental organisation. The three modules studied were: Communication Skills (including topics such as adult psychology, cross-cultural communication, and conflict resolution); Project Management Skills (including participatory planning, and tools for gender analysis) and Integrated Extension (including democracy, interdepartmental coordination, civil society, and social mobilisation).

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.