María Lourdes Almazan-Khan

The partnership between ASPBAE and the IIZ/DVV has survived, expanded and now stands on a firm footing, despite often very difficult circumstances: economic crises, worldwide armed conflict, and lack of financial support for adult education. María Lourdes Almazan-Khan, ASPBAE Secretary General, suggests how even better use can be made of this cooperation for impending new tasks.

Reflections on the International Cooperation between ASPBAE and IIZ/DVV

The ASPBAE that I know and have more familiarity with is the ASPBAE also known to most of you in this room. It is the ASPBAE of our more contemporary experience; the ASPBAE built from the boldness, creativity, hard work, sense of adventure and sheer grit of several ASPBAE and DVV stalwarts before us like Chris Duke and Wijetunga, Heribert Hinzen and Rajesh Tandon – whose presence here today honour us and this occasion.

It is an ASPBAE of more than 200 member organisations in 30 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. An ASPBAE which has stood by the values and principles defining ASPBAE’s creation and founding. An ASPBAE which has thus sustained the commitment to promote the right of ALL to learn throughout life – with an unabashed bias for advancing and protecting the learning rights especially of the most marginal in the region.

I suppose all will agree that the greatest testimony to the success of the ASPBAE – IIZ/DVV partnership is the fact that first, we have both persisted and second, that our partnership has been sustained through profound changes and difficulties, globally, within our region and Europe, and in our respective organisations.

The period (the 90’s) when ASPBAE decided to expand in numbers, in thematic priorities, in programmes at national, sub-regional and regional levels – was the period of the steepest and most consistent decline in Official Development Assistance with dramatic effect on IIZ/DVV and ASPBAE.

Through this same period, the currency crisis hit the most developed economies of Asia – challenging, like never before, the paradigm of unbridled economic growth and exposing the vulnerability of millions to the decisions, views, whims and designs of the few who reign over the board rooms in New York or the discussions in Davos. The economic decline in Japan, Korea and Singapore made it impossible, indeed untimely to argue the case for increased development assistance from their governments, or to argue the case for their corporations to give back to ‘education’ what they no doubt gained from it. While this did not stop ASPBAE, it was not advice too well received.

While the economic crisis deepened, conflict escalated in the region and elsewhere in the world; when the rhetoric of hate and war grew more strident, and when globalisation unleashed its dire effects especially on the poorest and most marginalized, the necessity of adult education provision – as a means especially for the most disadvantaged groups to cope and survive – was more than underscored. Ironically, it was within this period that this sector suffered more reductions in state priority and support.

In the face of these, it is indeed a feat that we and our partnership have survived and even flourished. I heard Chris and Wije’s reflections on the enabling conditions that fortified this partnership. I confirm these as true even in the current experience – not in a self-congratulatory way (although there may indeed be a case for some of that). I find it useful to highlight these so that we are reminded that we cannot assume these as givens in any partnership. The ‘fine balance’ that we may have worked out today is one which has been negotiated, tested, and deliberately worked at.

What elements made the partnership persist?

  • Our common, steadfast belief that regional and international networks are important and add value. Under increased pressure to quantify and qualify value in measurable targets and immediately discernible impact, it was much easier to shift increasingly to incountry partnerships or projects at the expense of regional work. The impacts of ‘advocacy’ or ‘regional training’ or ‘cross-country exchanges’ after all become more evident only across time, and even then are difficult to measure.
    IIZ/DVV persisted in its support for the regional work and regional associations for adult education, especially in the Asia-Pacific region and in Latin America, in the face of this pressure. ASPBAE and CEAAL currently remain two of the most active NGO networks on education, able to present a grounded, competent and credible Southern perspective in various policy processes and platforms.

 

  • The nature of IIZ/DVV’s support – medium term commitment of core funds – is an indication not only of its belief in the importance of regional/cross-country work to promote adult education, but also a deep understanding of the way such organisations and interactions need to operate and be organised to remain effective and relevant. It is the foundation which has allowed ASPBAE to expand to new areas of work, and seek new approaches to ensure its relevance and its longer term sustainability.

 

  • We have built a partnership based on trust and mutual respect – one that recognises the autonomy and independent standing of each organisation without prejudice to our mutual accountability.

 

  • A recognition of a shared role and perhaps destiny in a fragile and vulnerable sector must account for a greater compulsion to work well together. In a period where there is little indication to suggest a qualitative improvement, the ASPBAE-IIZ/DVV partnership should be harnessed for a more critical, visible and proactive role internationally, in advancing the right of all to learn.

 

We should be talking more to each other about how we could battle against the continued marginalisation of adult education in most contexts. We should be strategising more closely to name and shame governments and the donor community who renege on their commitments to eradicate illiteracy among men and women, or to address the learning needs of women and young adults, or to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs or the spread of the politics of hate which continue to kill and maim far more.

We need to harness all our strength in arguing the importance and standing of adult education as a right. We need to more effectively explain that community-based, non-formal education is not a pretext for poor quality education; or a way of avoiding paying teachers just wages or an excuse for poor quality teaching. We need to more successfully argue that creative, literate environments within homes and communities are perhaps the best insurance for sustaining participation of children in schools and for enhancing their learning proficiencies.

We need to be talking and working more strategically with each other on these points.

We should be jointly talking to others: to other NGOs and civil society groups who support education work in a big way, in our region and where issues of education access and quality remain paramount; those whose opinions and views on education policy dominate the international discourse. We should be engaging more systematically with education campaign groups, with teachers’ associations or unions, learners’ and students’ associations, child labour groups and women’s networks – those who have a stake in ensuring the right of all to learn. We should be talking jointly with them in arguing with governments, donors, the multilaterals on a policy framework that respects and recognises the right to learn.

This will obviously require increased capacities – both human and financial – within our respective organisations. Our partnership is a strong base to leverage support to allow us to do more of what we have been doing well – and to do new things which can contribute strategically in expanding possibilities for millions all over the world – a fairer chance to participate, to contribute, to better themselves, to transform.

We shall be spending some time in the next two days exploring these possibilities for our future collaboration.

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