Lene Buchert

This paper – also presented in Beijing – has been written in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO or of the Monitoring Team for the EFA Global Monitoring Report. It discusses financing of education and adult education in the context of an overview of trends in international policy and official development assistance. It seeks to identify factors that enhance or constrain the giving of priority to adult education by international funding and technical assistance agencies. It also proposes possible steps that Southern non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education, could consider in light of the current situation. Lene Buchert is a Senior Programms Specialist at UNESCO.

Financing Adult Education: Constraints and Opportunities

International Policy Context

Current discussions on adult education must be set in the context of the Education for All (EFA) goals approved at the World Education Forum in Dakar (April, 2000) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) put forward in the United Nations Millennium Declaration (September 2000) (World Education Forum, 2000; United Nations, 2000) (Box 1). The MDGs reiterate the international development targets set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1996 (OECD/DAC, 1996). The two sets of goals should be understood as complementary parts of the international policy agenda, neither one substituting for the other. There are several reasons for this.

The six EFA Dakar goals form a systemic approach to educational development ranging from early childhood care and education to secondary education with emphasis on both formal and non-formal education, the quality of learning and learning achievement. They address the needs of children, youth and adults. The importance of higher education is reflected in the reference to continuing education. The six goals are generally understood as referring to the basic education level that constitutes the foundation for lifelong learning.

In contrast the MDGs include only two of the six Dakar goals (universal primary education (UPE) and gender disparity). Gender equality is to be reached at all levels of the education system – which could be interpreted to include higher education. There is reference to formal education only and the direct target group is children and youth whose age would depend on the formal education level that they reach.

The two educational MDGs form part of other sector goals, in particular for health and the environment, all aiming at poverty reduction. This was also reflected in the original international development targets. The goals highlight the importance of inter-sectoral development approaches, an emphasis that is more implicit in the framework for the EFA goals (World Education Forum, 2000). The inclusion of the two education goals underlines the particular function of education as a means of personal and societal development that, based on extensive research evidence, has gained virtually universal recognition amongst international funding and technical assistance agencies.

The singling out of two of the goals may, however, set a specific focus on their achievement and role in poverty reduction, not least because of current understandings that six years of primary school education and the education of girls have particular societal returns. This is reflected in the emphasis of some of the international funding and technical assistance agencies, for example the World Bank and the Box 1: EFA and Millennium development goals EFA Dakar goals United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), which identify the MDGs rather than the EFA agenda as their framework for funding and technical support to education (DFID, 2001; World Bank, 2001). In this context, Education for All is often equated with UPE (or with universal primary completion).

EFA Dakar goals Millennium development goals

1. Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
2. Ensuring that by 2015 all chil- dren, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality.
3. Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes.
4. Achieving a 50 per cent im- provement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults.
5. Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.
6. Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Target 1
Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day.
Target 2 Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.
2. Achieve universal primary education
Target 3 Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
Target 4 Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels of education no later than 2015.
4. Reduce child mortality
Target 5 Reduce by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate.
5. Improve maternal health
Target 6 Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
Target 7 Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Target 8 Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
Target 9 Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the losses of environmental resources.
8. Develop a global partnership for development

Source: UNESCO, 2000; United Nations, 2000.

Such emphasis may well spring from an investment perspective that particularly notes education’s role in macro-economic development based on efficiency arguments, rather than a human development perspective that notes education’s role in the fulfilment of human rights, personal and societal development, and empowerment. Unless the two approaches are merged and understood as complementary, there is a risk that the two international policy agendas will compete for international funding and lead to partial approaches to educational development in specific contexts.

Implications for Adult Education

From the perspective of adult education this international policy context raises further concerns. First, there is no direct reference to a concept of adult education either in the EFA Dakar goals or in the MDGs. Adult education activities do not form part of the MDGs whereas the EFA Dakar goals refer to life-skills programmes and continuing education for youth and adults and to literacy for adults, particularly women.

Both the concepts of life skills and literacy are fluid. Discussions on adult literacy are now increasingly based on its importance as a structural phenomenon and social practice with implications for both personal development and for an improved quality of life as opposed to the narrow concept of capacity in reading and writing a simple text from daily life. The wider interpretation of the literacy concept implies a stronger focus on creating literate environments and learning societies and less on eradicating illiteracy. Similarly, the conceptual debate on life skills includes both psycho-social proficiencies and skills related to sustaining life (UNESCO, 2002).

With respect to continuing education, this concept receives little or no attention in the policies and practices of international funding and technical assistance agencies while often forming part of government policies in the South. According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), continuing education is equivalent to adult or recurrent education. It encompasses ‘the entire body of organized educational processes, whatever the content, level and method, whether formal or otherwise, whether they prolong or replace initial education in schools, colleges and universities as well as in apprenticeship, whereby persons regarded as adults by the society to which they belong, improve their technical or professional qualifications, further develop their abilities, enrich their knowledge with the purpose: to complete a level of formal education; to acquire knowledge and skills in a new field; to refresh or update their knowledge in a particular field’ (UNESCO, 1997, p. 42). However, due to the emphasis on the six goals as constituting the basic education level, there is a tendency to limit the understanding of adult education in the EFA goals to life skills and literacy programmes outside the formal education system, rather than seeing it as part of continuing or recurrent lifelong learning processes.

Second, the reference to empowerment in the MDGs is restricted to girls and young women who pass through the formal education system. This is at the expense of adult women who never entered formal education, who have limited or no education achieved by other means, but whose empowerment is nevertheless critical if all of the other development goals are to be achieved, including ensuring that children, and girls in particular, go to school in the first place.

Is Adult Education Equal to Adult Literacy?

The conceptual difficulties highlighted above influence the knowledge currently available on adult education in the world. Of the six EFA Dakar goals, only three can currently be measured and monitored systematically: the two goals that (partly) correspond to the two MDGs (UPE, gender equality in primary education) and the goal of halving the adult illiteracy rate (UNESCO, 2002). Since only the goal of halving adult illiteracy focuses on adults, there is a risk that adult education is understood as and limited to eradication of illiteracy. Limiting the focus may further reinforce the existing divide between the South and the North at a time when adult education in the North is understood as continuous adaptation of knowledge and experience to sustain the establishment of knowledge societies under the impact of globalization.

Future Monitoring Reports are likely to move this conceptual debate further and, increasingly, systematize empirical experiences related to adult education activities other than adult literacy, in particular life-skills programmes. In the case of the 2002 Monitoring Report, systematic analysis was limited to adult literacy. It shows that the rate has been steadily progressing since 1980 but that 10 per cent of the world’s population is expected to remain non-literate in 2015, the larger proportion being women (Figure 1).1 The greatest challenges are in South and West Asia, North Africa and the Arab States, and sub- Saharan Africa (Figure 2). The countries with the highest populations in the world are also the countries with the highest numbers of nonliterates. India alone is estimated to account for one third of the adult non-literate population in both 2000 and 2015. China is estimated to make headway with a lower proportion of the world’s non-literates in 2015 (10 per cent) than in 2000 (16 per cent) (Figure 3).2 The literacy rates of adults (15 years and above) are below those of youth (15-24 years old) and those of females are in both age categories lower than those for men (Figure 4).

Figure 1: Adult literacy rates worldwide (1980–2015)

Figure 1: Adult literacy rates worldwide (1980–2015)

Source: UNESCO, 2002, p. 61.

Figure 2: Adult literacy rates by region (1980–2015)

Figure 2: Adult literacy rates by region (1980–2015)

Source: UNESCO, 2002, p. 62.

Figure 3: Adult illiterate population (2000 and 2015)

Figure 3: Adult illiterate population (2000 and 2015)

Source: UNESCO, 2002, p. 65.

Figure 4: Adult and youth literacy rates (1980–2015)

Figure 4: Adult and youth literacy rates (1980–2015)

Source: UNESCO, 2002, p. 66.

Official Development Assistance, Financing of Education and of Adult Education

Financing of adult education by the international community must be set in the context of the trends in the development of official development assistance (ODA) and its comparative allocation to education. In both cases the experiences of the 1990s have been discouraging. Both bilateral and multilateral ODA were at a lower level in 2000 than in 1990 (Figure 5). Despite the strong commitment to education and Education for All announced at the World Education Conference in Jomtien in 1990, education received largely the same proportion of total ODA in 2000 as in 1990, namely 8 per cent (Figure 6). During 1995-2000 multilateral assistance to education increased and the European Commission became a dominant actor. Bilateral support, on the other hand, declined although in 2000 bilateral support for basic education specifically was higher than that provided by multilateral agencies (Table 1).

Figure 5: Total official development assistance (ODA) (net disbursements in constant 2000 US$ billions)

Figure 5: Total official development assistance (ODA) (net disbursements in constant 2000 US$ billions)

Source: UNESCO, 2002, Table 5.1, p. 166.

Figure 6: Bilateral assistance to education and its proportion of total ODA (1990–2000)

Figure 6: Bilateral assistance to education and its proportion of total ODA (1990–2000)

Source: UNESCO, 2002, p. 167.

Table 1: Bilateral and multilateral assistance to education in constant 2000 US$ billions (1995 and 2000)

 

Education

Basic education 2000

  1995 2000 High Low
Bilateral 4,88 3,52 0,82 0,82
Multilateral 1,11 1,20 0,62 0,54
IDA 0,89 0,47 0,21 0,14
European Commission 0,03 0,39 0,26 0,26
UNESCO 0,11 0,12 0,04 0,04
Inter American Development Bank 0,02 0,03 0,01 0,01
Asian Development Fund 0,05 0,09 0,04 0,03
African Development Fund 0,02 0,05 0,02 0,01
UNICEF n.a. 0,05 0,05 0,05
TOTAL 5,99 4,72 1,45 1,36

Source: UNESCO, 2002, p. 173.

In real terms, there is an estimated financing shortfall of $5.6 billion in order to fulfil the goals of UPE and gender equality (UNESCO, 2002, pp.162-3). This is partly explained by the fact that high ODA-providing countries do not necessarily have high commitments for education (for example, the United States) or in cases with high proportionate commitments for education these may come out of low ODA budgets 4 (for example Australia) (Table 2) .

Table 2: Bilateral average annual ODA commitments for education in constant 2000 US$ millions (1997–2000)

  Total Education
  1997-2000 1997-2000
Australia   161
Austria   85
Canada 1,295 120
France 4,280 1,186
Germany 3,653 636
Japan 14,898 952
Netherlands 2,005 147
Norway 853  
Spain 758 99
United Kingdom 2,310 178
United States 8,569 223
Total DAC 43,906 4,161

Source: UNESCO, 2002, p. 168.

An analysis of the financing of adult education specifically is impeded by the conceptual difficulties highlighted above. There is no reference to adult education (or continuing education) in official statistics on education assistance (Table 3). Support for adult education is understood in many agency contexts as non-formal, life-skills or literacy programmes and entered under the sub-sector of basic education. Alternatively, to the extent that adult education and training form part of support in other sectors, for example infrastructure or rural development, it may appear in the category termed Unspecified. In both cases, adult education activities are subsumed within other kinds of activities that are likely to command many more resources. This is the case with primary education in the basic education category and with sector or budget and management support in the category Unspecified.

Table 3: Composition of bilateral education assistance

  Total education ODA 1997-2000
Allocations (%):
Change in allocations
  % Total education ODA reported by sub-sector U
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Australia 100 9 20 8 64 1 12 3 -16
Austria 100 3 2 31 64 -6 2 21 -17
Canada 100 45 7 5 44 18 -1 5 -22
Denmark 100 53 27 18 2 -12 19 0 -8
France 69 32 22 20 25 - - - -
Germany 100 7 12 18 62 -45 8 11 43
Luxembourg 100 46 31 17 7 - - - -
Netherlands 100 35 43 3 19 1 11 0 -12
Spain 100 44 10 12 34 7 -4 1 -3
United Kingdom 100 61 27 6 6 -4 19 1 -16
United States 100 21 48 10 21 -40 9 10 21
Total DAC 80 30 21 14 34 -11 2 7 2

Source: UNESCO, 2002, p. 169.

Recent policy developments

Since the EFA Dakar goals and the MDGs were set in 2000 a number of international and regional initiatives have been launched in support of their implementation. They include the Monterrey Consensus, the Fast-Track Initiative, the G-8 Education Task Force and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).5 UNICEF’s acceler- For more specific information, see UNESCO, 2002. ated girls’ education initiative is another expression of focused commitment to the goal of gender equality established partly in support of the Fast-Track Initiative. All initiatives underline the importance of education in development processes, as was also done at such important international events as the United Nations Special Session on Children and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, both held in 2002.

A number of multilateral and regional organizations, such as the World Bank and the European Commission, and individual countries, such as Canada, Japan, the United States and Norway, have renewed their support for the international policy agenda through stated commitments to one or several of the mentioned initiatives (UNESCO, 2002, Table 5.8, p. 174). However, it is still uncertain what total additional financial resources will be raised and to what extent these may cover the estimated (partial) financial deficit to fulfil the EFA agenda. What is clear, however, is that the stated commitments relate particularly to the two corresponding EFA and MDGs of universal primary education and gender equality that are more easily reached through formal institutional arrangements. Adult education, which relies much more on flexible arrangements, innovation and alternative strategies receives, on the other hand, little or no attention.6

Of most direct significance to adult education in the current international policy context is the United Nations Literacy Decade launched in February 2003. The Decade will focus on the needs of adults in order to ensure that people everywhere can use literacy to communicate within their own community, in the wider society and beyond, and that locally sustainable literate environments be established (UNESCO, 2003). It thus provides an obvious entry point for concerted action on adult education, including clarifying conceptual and financial issues related to its elevation as a necessity for the fulfilment of the other EFA and Millenium development goals.

Implications for Southern NGOs

Lack of clarity on what constitutes adult education, lack of specified recording of financial support to adult education and lack of knowledge on what financing is needed to undertake adult education activities and achieve the adult education-related EFA goals act against provision of funding for adult education. In a context of scarce resources, this may reinforce the trend towards paying particular attention to investing broadly in school education for children, and particularly girls, rather than ensuring systemic development, of which continuing education and special programmes for marginalized and excluded adult population groups form a necessary part.

Southern NGOs may have a particular contribution to make in terms of redressing this because of their central role as advocates for and providers of adult education and as recipients of funding for their own activities. Together with their counterparts in the North they are now in a better position to influence national and international policy agendas because of their accepted partnership in the EFA movement.

Northern and Southern NGOs may well consider the possible mutual advantages in establishing a division of labour in their work on adult education, including avoidance of competition for the same scarce financial resources. They might more easily be successful in resource mobilization for adult education by approaching funding sources whose specific purpose is to support innovation and provide seed money.

NGOs may, furthermore, consider the following specific steps:

  • Make funding figures of NGO-provided adult education programmes accessible and seek their inclusion in official aid statistics.

 

  • Undertake research directed towards establishing conceptual clarity of adult education and enhancing empirical knowledge of NGOprovided programmes. Such knowledge should be made available for consideration in the annual EFA Global Monitoring Reports and in the particular thematic issues on literacy (of which the first one is scheduled for 2005).

 

  • Use national EFA forums and internationally established mechanisms such as the Working Group on Education for All, the High- Level Group and the Millennium Development Project to reinforce attention to adult education in national policies and programmes and on the international EFA agenda.

 

  • Design particular strategies in the context of the United Nations Literacy Decade to promote the adult education agenda.

Notes

1  The data are based on the literacy definition reported by individual countries, except in cases where proxy indicators have been used, and an unchanged policy scenario.
2  It is interesting to note that China applies the concept of lifelong learning and that adult education refers to all levels of the formal education system, including university student and staff exchange programmes, and to non-formal and literacy programmes. This is much in accordance with the ISCED definition referred to above.
4  The table lists the ten highest providers of ODA and of education among the member states of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD. One of the ten highest ODA providers (Norway) does not figure amongst the ten highest education providers, whereas two of the ten highest education providers (Australia and Austria) do not appear among the ten highest ODA providers.
5  For more specific information, see UNESCO, 2002.
6  It is the stated intention to expand the Fast-Track Initiative to broader coverage of the EFA goals, including that of adult literacy (World Bank, 2001).

References

Department for International Development. 2001. The Challenge of Universal Primary Education: Strategies for Achieving the International Development Targets. London, DFID.

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Development Assistance Committee. 1996. Shaping the 21st century: The Contribution of Development Cooperation. Paris, OECD/DAC. 

UNESCO. 1997. International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 1997. Paris, UNESCO. (BPE-98/WS/1) 

UNESCO. 2002. EFA Global Monitoring Report 2002. Education for All. Is the World on Track? Paris, UNESCO. 

UNESCO. 2003. United Nations Literacy Decade 2003-2012. Literacy as Freedom. Paris, Division of Basic Education. Section for Literacy and Non-Formal Education.

United Nations. 2000. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly 55/2. United Nations Millennium Declaration. 18 September. New York, United Nations. 

World Bank. Education Sector. Human Development Network. 2001. Education for Dynamic Economies : Accelerating Progress towards Education for All. (Mimeo.) 

World Education Forum, Dakar, Senegal. 2000. The Dakar Framework for Action. Education for All: Meeting our Collective Commitments. Paris, UNESCO. (Doc ED-2000/WS/27.)

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