ICAE Damascus Declaration

The International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) is an association of NGOs working at national and regional level in adult education. The need for such an organization was discussed in 1972 at the 3rdth UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education in Tokyo. It was founded in 1973 and set up its headquarters in Canada. The new President of ICAE is Dr. Paul Bélanger, who was until the end of last year Director of the UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg and can be regarded as the architect of the 5 UNESCO International Conference held in 1997 in Hamburg. The ICAE publishes the journal Convergence and a Newsletter. The ICAE would welcome wide dissemination of the Declaration, possibly also in other languages. Anyone able to help should contact Eva Kupidera at www.web.net/icae

Seizing the Moment:
A Call for Action on Literacy and Adult Education for All

“The informed and effective participation of women and men in every sphere of life is needed if humanity is to survive and to meet the challenges of the future.”

Hamburg Declaration, UNESCO, 1997


We, representatives of 704 literacy, adult and lifelong learning non-governmental organisations from Africa, the Arab States, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, and North America, in Damascus, Syria September 22-26, 2000 on the occasion of the Executive Committee meeting of the International Council for Adult Education hosted by the Syrian Ministry of Culture and the Higher Council for Literacy, being deeply concerned with the lack of concrete results in the provision of access and opportunities for adult women and men to pursue their right to learn, hereby issue the following Call for Action on Literacy and Adult Education for All:

Everywhere, we, women and men, citizens of the world in our roles as parents, workers, artists, teachers and peasants are looking at ways to improve our life: we as learners want to explore, invent, modify, question, speak out, produce, and seek opportunities for lifelong learning in our community and beyond.

The International Council for Adult Education and others, have emphasized at all the world summits in the last decade, in Jomtien on Education for All (1990), Rio on the Environment (1992), Vienna on Human Rights (1993), Cairo on Population (1994) Beijing on Women and Copenhagen on Social Development(1995), Rome on Food (1996), Hamburg on Adult Education (1997), Istanbul on Habitat (1998), and The Hague on Peace (1999), that the key ingredient in the achievement of democracy and well-being everywhere is the creativity of citizens.

While reaffirming the Right to Learn as a universal right without discrimination or limitation, we are dismayed that, a decade after Jomtien, adult women and men in underprivileged groups – persons with disabilities, ethnic and linguistic minorities, street and working children, rural and urban poor, nomads, migrants, and refugees – are still struggling for opportunities, access, equity and adequate resources forquality literacy, adult basic education and lifelong learning. Progress has been made in raising the awareness of the importance of schooling for the young, but what counts is action. Provision of complementary learning opportunities for parents, vocational and skill training for adults in both the urban workplace and farming communities and for other adults in difficult situations has not been sufficiently addressed.

We note with appreciation many notable achievements in the global literacy and adult education movement such as the accomplishments of Syria in the field of literacy and adult education. Within the ICAE networks important recent developments have taken place: the establishment of the Arab Network for Literacy and Adult Education; the emergence of the Pan African Association for Literacy and Adult Education; the active advocacy role of the Asian-South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education; the establishment from Latin America of the Gender Education Office with specialized expertise in adult education and women; with the support of stronger community-university linkages by the North American Alliance for Popular and Adult Education; with university-based distance education for adults in the Caribbean; with the increasingly effective policy role being played by the European Association for the Education of Adults; and finally with the establishment of thematic non-governmental networks concerned with adult education and peace, human rights, the environment, and literacy.

Critical Assessment

When we assess the results of world summits at the turn of the century (Dakar Jomtien + 10 on education for all in April, New York, Beijing +5 on women in June, and Copenhagen +5 on social development in Geneva in July 2000), both at global and national levels, we acknowledge the universal recognition of theimportance and the need of adult learning.


The response in terms of both policy and practice has fallen discouragingly short of the needs. While literacy and adult education have been recognized as critical for all aspects of human and social development, in fact the opportunities for people to acquire the skills and knowledge to be active citizens, to play productive economic roles and to pursue personal learning goals are inadequate.

A growing global consensus has been reached that:

  • resources for literacy and adult education be increased as recommended by the Hamburg Conference on Adult Education and the World Summit on Social Development;
  • various statements on Education for All have called for support to both the education of children and youth and the education of adults who play active economic, social and political roles in their communities. Gender equity in primary and secondary education has been called for by 2005 and full global literacy for all adults by 2015;
  • literacy and adult education are a means for people to overcome poverty and exclusion, establish and reinforce democracy, achieve justice and comprehensive peace, enhance economic and social well-being and improve their health and ensure food security. Adult education helps to prevent and eliminate gender and racial disparity, and other social problems such as violence against women, drug addiction, environmental destruction, and HIV/AIDS;
  • full implementation of literacy, adult education and lifelong learning are severely constrained by factors such as ethnic conflicts, forced population displacement, foreign occupation, lack of recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and continued military expenditures.

with few exceptions, national education plans have either not included or severely neglected literacy and adult education policies in spite of government commitment to the above mentioned declarations. In cases where policy frameworks are in place, mechanisms for implementation are often missing.

Despite the commitment to partnership among governments, NGOs, and other civil society groups for purposes of policy formulation, implementation, and evaluation, this partnership has not developed as expected. It is important for all these groups to recognize and respect each other’s roles, strengths, and contributions, and be transparent and accountable to each other and to the people.

Indeed our global non-governmental literacy and adult education movement has not been strong enough in monitoring the situation and informing decision-makers at national, regional, and global levels.

Call for Change

We cannot wait until the next generation gets better initial school education: the need for creative and informed participation is immediate. The uncertainties and risks with which citizens are presently confronted require, without delay, support for creative participation and greater competency. It is now, not in 2015, that women and men, in cities and in rural communities attempt and desperately need to increase their autonomy of action. We have enough knowledge and experience around the world to show that adult learning works for people and can make a difference. The time has come to make it work for all.

The Right to Learn will not be implemented and the demand of adults to reinforce their capacity to act will not be met without renewed vigorous and network-oriented global and regional non-governmental oriented organizations.

We Call on Governments, Bilateral and Multilateral Agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations and Citizens throughout the World to:

  • establish, reinforce, increase financing for and implement policies and legislation in support of literacy, adult education and lifelong learning
  • include literacy and adult education organisations in the national, sub-regional, regional and global working groups being set up as mechanisms for planning and implementation of the Dakar Jomtien +10 commitments
  • include literacy, adult education and lifelong learning as a necessary complement to child education fully funded within national education plans being developed by the National Working Groups for 2001 as called for in the Dakar recommendations on Education for All
  • strengthen the contributions of all United Nations Agencies including UNESCO, UNICEF, FAO, UNIFEM, World Bank, UNEP, ILO, UNDP, WHO and UNAIDS to the achievement of Literacy and Adult Education for All
  • strengthen the capacities of already existing literacy, adult and lifelong learning organisations and networks at local, national, )ub-regional, regional and global levels
  • increase sharing of information, collaboration and networking amongst various global NGO advocacy and policy initiatives
  • support for the enhanced infrastructure of information technologies, increased attention to the role of media, and the reduction of the ‘digital divide’
  • support the UNESCO Institute for Education as the United Nations structure for adult education and ask UNESCO to mandate the UNESCO Institute for Education to prepare a follow-up meeting six years after the UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA V) in 2003

And we in the International Council for Adult Education make the following commitments:

  • initiate an effective global “Literacy and Adult Education Watch” process
  • undertake a global study on “The State-of-the-World Adult Education”
  • promote the United Nations Adult Learners Weeks throughout the world and
  • convene an action-focused world assembly of civil society organizations concerned with literacy and adult education and lifelong learning to take place in Jamaica between the 10th and 13th of August, 2001

Seize the Moment to Move from Words to Action

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