Joachim H. Knoll

We have another anniversary to mark in this issue. The UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg, with which we have excellent contacts and have frequently worked closely, has been in existence for 50 years. Prof. Dr. Knoll describes the path it has taken. The author, who has frequently supplied contributions to this journal, occupied the Chair of Adult Education and Out-of-School Youth Work at the University of Bochum until his retirement as Professor Emeritus in 1997. For 25 years he was editor of the International Yearbook of Adult Education. He is a member of the IIZ/DVV Advisory Board.

From Leisure Education to Lifelong Learning: 50 Years of the UNESCO Institute for Education

The UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg is currently looking back on 50 years of existence. Since 1951 it has gained a reputation which has grown with the various changes in the focus of its activities. Its programme has closely paralleled contemporary trends in education and teaching policy, and has reflected the changing international shape of educational research. The title of this short paper perhaps suggests this process of change, from which the UNESCO ­Institute has emerged as the key centre for international comparative research in adult education, its constant purpose being to provide an international bridge between theory and practice. When the Institute was created in 1951, its birth was attended by a guest speaker who still stands for two things in the history of education: firstly, for an internationalist perception of the study and practice of education, and secondly, for teaching which invites the disadvantaged to share in the progress of the world and society, and treats special needs with a deliberate philosophy of “integration”. Having Maria Montessori as a godmother has surely meant an enduring obligation to work for those who are at an economic or social disadvantage. This may well explain the Institute’s focus on developing countries, and its long-term and sometimes exclusive emphasis on literacy projects and programmes. The stages in its subsequent development have been heavily influenced by its Directors (Merck, Robinsohn, Carelli, Dave, Bélanger, Ouane), who have to varying degrees influenced the profile of the Institute, depending on their lengths of tenure, their natures and their views. At all events, it was clear from the outset that an Institute based in Germany need not necessarily concentrate on German concerns, and the UNESCO Institute has always seen its links with the programme of UNESCO as an intellectual challenge rather than a straitjacket.

The Institute is primarily a unique research institute, concerned essentially with projects with a practical application, but it is in addition a meeting place that was deliberately open to both systems at the time of East-West divisions, and it is a documentation centre with a growing collection, providing an indispensable service to university-based international and comparative educational research in many countries.

It may well have been this varied focus of its work, and the associated publications and practical services, that moved UNESCO to entrust the Institute with arranging the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA V), thereby enabling the Institute to increase its reputation as the place for lifelong education research and projects. The impact of the outcomes of the International Conference, held in Hamburg in 1997 (the Agenda for the Future and the Hamburg Declaration) is by no means exhausted. The theory and practical implementation of lifelong learning have been an almost perennial emphasis, influencing the current day-to-day work of the Institute more or less continuously. The various International Conferences cannot be seen, of course, in isolation from political and macro-economic developments - educational events do not take place in a vacuum, and they have always aimed at resolving conflicts and crises in the real world. The ­International Conferences preceding that held in Hamburg therefore had their own particular profiles and emphases: Helsingör 1948, Montreal 1960, Tokyo 1972, Paris 1985 and Hamburg 1997. The pattern of 12-year intervals has been maintained, clearly distinguishing the International Conferences on Adult Education from conferences with a shorter periodicity: they are major happenings, serving practice and iden­tifying the tasks ahead for all Member States, regardless of their economic status and political structure.

In the history of the Institute, and in that of UNESCO as a whole, the period when adult education was defined as being more or less coterminous with literacy may be seen as particularly fruitful, since it allowed developing and industrialized countries to share concerns and to look for common approaches to resolving them, albeit with a time-lag between them. Relatively early on, UNESCO moved away from the dream and the hope of being an instrument of cultural harmonization, working towards one culture in one world. This unrealistic and unsatisfactory vision has now given way to the concept of a multiplicity of peoples sharing a political morality and a spirit of tolerance. This has not meant abandoning every utopian idea, however. The “eradication of illiteracy” is one of the utopian goals that do have some chance of realization, even if not by the short-term deadlines repeatedly proclaimed by UNESCO.

The concepts of adult education, basic education and literacy have been associated with each other ever since the debate sparked off by the Faure Report in the early 1970s (1972), which culminated in the Delors Commission Report at the end of the century (1996/97), and they are in fact linked in many respects through the overarching term “Lifelong Learning”. For each of these three focuses of action of the ­Institute, it would be possible to name activities, publications and projects devised and pursued by the Institute and its staff either alone or, frequently, in collaboration with others. We have only to think of the follow-up to CONFINTEA V, at which there was already discussion of the concept of Lifelong Learning as a comprehensive term embracing all stages of education and all educational institutions, and of its realization. Literacy itself can be thought of as a major project that has already been running for a long time, continually updated by new strategies and ideas: a series of meetings on it was held at the Institute only last year, including the international conference on “The Making of Literate Societies Revisited”. And we may think of basic education as covering more than formalized cultural techniques and including the quest for improved ways of managing one’s life and sharing in decision-making with one’s fellow citizens. Meetings and publications on environmental education, health education (AIDS/HIV prevention strategies) and civic education may be seen as belonging in this context.

We shall only deal with the organization and structure of the Institute to the extent that they affect Institute projects and programmes. We have already suggested that the profile of the Institute has been influenced by the Directors of the day, as well as by the responsibilities devolved on to it by UNESCO. I regard it as advantageous that the management has been in the hands of non-German experts, with the exception of the early years, because the Institute’s location has not in consequence been over-stressed and the benefits of an international orientation have been increased.

At the present time, one of the Institute’s activities is the follow-up to the International Conference. This may be connected with the professional interests of the Director, since this task once more focuses on the problems of Africa, the forgotten continent, while the emphasis is ultimately on learning as a practical teaching activity within a lifelong framework. The current Director can also use his knowledge of German to create links with German education policy and to secure funding, much of which comes from the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and the Federal Republic of Germany. Further contributions, and additional tasks, derive from the involvement of other Member States, chiefly the Scandinavian countries and Canada.

The General Conferences of UNESCO have given the Institute an ­ever more important role in UNESCO education policy, and additional staff were allocated at the time of the International Conference, thereby expanding the Institute’s capacity. But it should be admitted that it has not all been roses. The selection of the additional staff was not entrusted to the Institute management, and the process of enlargement appears to have been controlled by strangers in Paris. It was difficult to fit the projects transferred with staff into the overall philosophy of the Institute. But all that is now ancient history. The Institute has since then developed a new plan of activities, setting out areas of priority, and this has given a new motivation to the work and a sense of common purpose.

The programme of the Institute is divided into four relatively open-ended main “clusters”, but each individual topic is not forced into some overall plan of operation. In other words, this arrangement has two purposes: on the one hand, to maintain the flexibility of existing and future projects, and on the other, to give the Institute a content-based identity acknowledged by all staff. The four clusters, which are to be regarded as broad areas of research ensuring continuity of subject-matter and staffing, are described as follows:

  1. Learning Throughout Life in Different Cultural Contexts: from Laying Foundations to Strengthening Creative Participation. This also covers input into major international policy events in the field of education, such as the International Conference on Lifelong Learning in Beijing in July 2001 or the Global Dialogue at EXPO 2000.
  2. CONFINTEA V and Dakar Follow-up. This covers the follow-up to Hamburg and Dakar in a wider education policy context, i.e., promoting awareness and application of the various outcomes of the conferences, such as the model of a Lifelong Learning Week, which has now been implemented in a variety of systems and is attractive also to systems that are still in the development phase (e.g. Albania, September 2001).
  3. Capacity Building in and for Lifelong Learning. This concerns individual projects in which UNESCO offers educational support in the broad sense. The projects range from AIDS/HIV prevention to aspects of developing and redeveloping adult education in areas of South-Eastern Europe in transition (e.g. Kosovo).
  4. Structured Advocacy: Networking, Documentation, Communication and Marketing. Despite the title, this also includes the Institute’s own self-evaluation and quality assurance, and it highlights a section of UIE that provides information on a daily basis to all UNESCO regions, a task which only an institute of this scope could handle. The documentation department does not restrict itself to collecting the widely dispersed material that appears about adult and continuing education, but collates it systematically. This means that documentation is recorded using a scheme of keywords, and an annotated bibliography has provided a guide to the jungle of literature on lifelong education/learning ever since 1972.

As was mentioned earlier, it is clear from the Institute’s perception of its work that the projects grouped in clusters adopt a midway style that can be described as applied research or research-based practice. Lifelong education is therefore interpreted in concrete terms, just as the utopian visions of Faure and Delors were related to reality. Hence, the UNESCO Institute is not concerned with pure, basic research but is a service agency which also arranges exchanges of staff working in adult education in different regions for a variety of goals.

The three fields of activity, basic education, adult education and literacy, are therefore used initially as a research framework, while the issue of their realization and the practicality of existing models is also addressed. To give an example: the Institute does not stop at defining the categories of formal, non-formal and informal adult education, but also gives illustrative examples, such as details of the non-formal education project in Morocco.

Moreover, project outcomes, associated publications and, above all, “grey materials” are sifted and made accessible. In bald statistical terms, the UIE Documentation Centre contains a vast array of specialist literature. The library has 64,000 books, documents and unpublished items, related to the functions and interests of the Institute. In 2000, 260 journals and newsletters from various adult education and research agencies were stocked, while 8000 sample literacy collections are held as part of a project already mentioned in another context, although it should perhaps be said at this point with reference to literacy that the boundary between out-of-school adult education and schooling for children and young people is fluid and that the materials therefore also cover areas other than traditional adult education.

The Adult Learning Documentation and Information Services (ALADIN) network is being further developed, having brought together adult education establishments, research agencies and documentation centres from around the world since 1989. As a result, it is able to collate data on lifelong learning and lifelong education from all regions, creating a pool of information and making the Institute into a clearing house for adult education.

Mention should naturally also be made of the publications arising out of the Institute’s own work.

UNESCO has been at pains from the beginning to achieve a validity for its own publications, and for those produced under its responsibility. This has meant that a practice has grown up in international organizations, and not merely in UNESCO, of citing their own sources. This self-referencing may appear inward-looking, but it has provided universities in particular with an additional source of information and knowledge about education policy. Fruitful cross-referral has become the norm in international comparative research, aided by the increased knowledge of languages among researchers working in this field. Sixty per cent of the documentation held by UIE is in English, which demonstrates both its acceptance as a lingua franca, and the predominance of adult education research from English-speaking countries.

Reference should also be made in this context to the International Review of Education, which appears multilingually under the auspices of an international Editorial Board. It has fostered comparative research both in Germany and elsewhere, the first significant conference on the topic being held in 1971 at UIE. The outstanding figures in the discipline (from Bereday to King and Noah/Eckstein) have retained their links with UIE as a result. This continual contact between research, ­education policy and practice has been expressed not only through participation in conferences and through publications. Personal encounters have always had a place at UIE, a generous host, it may be noted. If research leads to enlightenment not merely through the mind but through both mind and heart, then it must be said of UIE that its work has always combined mental rigour with open-heartedness.


UNESCO Institute for Education
Feldbrunnenstr. 58, 20148 Hamburg

Telephone 0049 40 4480410, Fax: 0049 40 4107723

See: Annual Report 1999-2000, UNESCO Institute for Education, Hamburg 2001

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.