Chris Duke reports in his summary on the most significant points of discussion, topics and outcomes of the Beijing conference. It was a celebration, but also a time to take stock and develop ideas for the future. Where does adult education stand after CONFINTEA and EFA? Has progress been made? Using the example of the partnership between ASPBAE and the IIZ/DVV, Duke explores the meaning of international cooperation. What is its basis, what are its results, and what can be learnt from this partnership for the future? Chris Duke was Secretary General until 1985, having previously been Secretary Treasurer and then for a short period President as ASPBAE evolved. Professor Duke is Director of Community and Regional Partnerships at RMIT University Bundoora, Australia and Director, Higher Education for NIACE, England and Wales from the Australian/Asian end.
We are in the Chinese Year of the Sheep. An International Seminar was hosted in Beijing on 22–25 February 2003 by the Chinese Adult Education Association (CAEA). This not-for-profit professional association was founded in 1981 with support from the international NGO movement. The Seminar celebrated twenty-five years of North- South cooperation, starting in 1977. That is a long period for a stable and productive partnership to be sustained through such turbulent years: turbulent both for the Asia-Pacific region and for North-South relations. The northern partner is the Institute for International Co operation (IIZ) of the German Adult Education Association (DVV), the Southern partner the Asian and South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE). Both are not-for-profit “third sector” civil society organisations (CSO).
The Seminar in the Year of the Sheep was a rare opportunity for a “flocking” of Asian region adult educators. Participants came from the host nation, from Germany and from all across the ASPBAE region. They met to celebrate partnership, but also to learn from it, to interrogate it in order to determine how best to plan for future partnership and balanced (authentic, human, sustainable) social and economic development. They celebrated the steadily rising engagement of China in the region’s give and take learning about adult education.
More than that, the meeting celebrated the indomitable spirit of sustained determination to cooperate: to value and learn from “the other”, from what is different and unfamiliar; and as adult educators to continue the long march towards greater humanity and enhanced quality of living, above all for those in greatest need. The meeting reaffirmed unequivocally the value of regional level CSO formations like ASPBAE for linking the global to the local, working for authentic and balanced human development, and for advocacy. It also reasserted and reaffirmed that the core costs of funding such regional CSOs was essential – and that it represented high value for the overseas development assistance or ODA dollar.
This reflective synopsis is about prospects for good international cooperation in the future, and particularly the shape and future of ODA. In this sense the lessons from Asia and Beijing have relevance for adult education and development partnerships generally. They also give an excuse to ask ourselves where we have come from and are going in the faltering intended journey towards a more just, humane and less unequal world.
The discussions at Beijing on the current state of international assistance and partnership acquired a sharp edge with a less than encouraging appraisal of progress for Education for All, in particular the just-released EFA Global Monitoring Report 2002, which asks “Is the world on track?” The answer seemed clear to participants. It is not. Nor does Education for All (EFA) effectively include adults. The Seminar clearly pointed the need to campaign for Education for All Adults (EFAA).
Another sharp edge was given to the deliberations by the fact that “CONFITEA + 6”, the six-year inter-Conference review of progress since the 5th UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education, held in Hamburg in 1997, is due to convene shortly. What would CONFITEA + 6 delegates meeting under the auspices of UNESCO in Bangkok in September 2003 learn and have to say about progress in this period towards the purposes and goals set out at Hamburg? In particular, what progress has been made towards Objective 10, international cooperation in adult education? Even before that, what is known, what has been monitored and evaluated for delegates to consider, about progress over these six years? Was there even, some participants asked, any point in taking part in the UNESCO event? This is a very serious question to ask, given what a strong partner of the not-for-profit NGO movement UNESCO had struggled to be over the years.
The Beijing meeting was left unhappy and dissatisfied with the apparent absence of attention to and knowledge about these important matters. It resolved that this synopsis, together with other papers presented in Beijing, should be made available as one source which would assist the process of review and reflection at the UNESCO Bangkok meeting. In the end, and on balance, the sense of the Beijing meeting was to persist with determination in encouraging intergovernmental as well as non-governmental deliberations and collaboration.
The NGO sector is obliged to provide a keener critical edge to deliberation than might be expected from other participants – a role played for example by the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) at Hamburg and at the 4th World Conference held in Paris 12 years earlier. DVV therefore undertook through Adult Education and Development, long a medium for sharing South-North and South-South experiences, to make some of the Beijing learning available to those convening in Bangkok.
Early sessions of the Seminar drew lessons from the founding years of the partnership. What do the values, lineage and credentials of the respective partners tell us about its staying power? DVV had actually been there at the birth of ASPBAE. It was already a supportive Northern adult education NGO agency in 1964. By then DVV was well established and renowned. It was well known and well regarded for the folk high schools which contributed to rebuilding and strengthening democratic civil society in West Germany after the 2nd World War. But it was also well regarded internationally for its positive and open approach to cooperation and exchange with other nations generally. It was building a strong profile of development aid through DVV-man- aged centres and programmes in different parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. These came to reflect the strongly participatory democratic instincts of the German adult education movement and a value placed on cultural “indigenous” diversity, together with efficiency in management and accountability for funds expended. IIZ/ DVV was thus becoming one of many routes for West German Government aid funds through NGO channels, especially foundations or stiftungs.
ASPBAE, on the other hand, was slow in waking to its calling. It managed little more than survival in the sixties. In the early seventies it become possible gradually to locate and bring together in a loose network often small groups of often marginal adult educators and community development workers scattered through the huge region of Asia and the Pacific. Progress was quite slow, but perhaps this helped to build surer foundations of trust and mutual confidence – the hesitant steps of the toddler before trying to be more ambitious.
In countries such as India, which provided ASPBAE’s first President, the voluntary movement was strong. Here for example Government was not generally hostile or suspicious, at least in principle. Moreover the needs were huge and the contribution of traditional community effort and the NGO sector was and is better recognised than in many other countries. Some leading NGO figures worked in Government. In other countries the NGO tradition was weaker. Government was more suspicious, and in some places outright hostile and repressive. On the other hand some of the leading agencies and individuals, who were deeply committed to “the poorest of the poor” and steeped in the pedagogy of Paulo Freire, were in Government Departments. Some of these helped build a base for developing national voluntary associations.
The birth of voluntary adult education was not always easy in countries as diverse, and rapidly changing in their respective histories, as Malaysia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Fiji, Nepal, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, and China itself. In other ASPBAE member countries, especially Australia and New Zealand, voluntary organising was politically easy and long established. These nations provided something of a bridge between Europe and Asia, being former colonial and still European communities located in the South, but becoming increasingly culturally diverse as the years passed. Even here fortunes waxed and waned. Sometimes governments saw their future in and with Asia, and were open to assistance as well as trade and professional partnerships. At other times attitudes were very different, and international relations have been strained. The current chronic stress in international relations worldwide impacts especially hard on Asia, where much of the crisis and threat of conflict are focused. This puts the cooperation within the region and beyond it in a new light of not just educational importance.
ASPBAE as a networked community of adult educators and an ODA medium grew through these tensions and changes. By 1977, having taken a significant part in the first ICAE World Assembly at Dar es Salaam in 1976, ASPBAE had acquired enough of a reputation and enough visibility to be taken seriously as a new kind of partner by IIZ/DVV. From that time a succession of agreements, usually on a rolling three-year basis with in-built evaluation, supported steady and at times remarkably rapid growth and diversification of the ASPBAE network. Its support system assisted embryonic national adult education bodies to get established, and nurtured generations of very able, internationally oriented, leaders and workers who are confident in themselves, in their own values, and in what can be learned from other places and experiences.
There is no need and no room in this synopsis to tell the full story of twenty-five years of cooperation. All we need to do here is to highlight some key features from the Asian experience that suggest where international cooperation in general might most usefully go in the future.
One of the recurrent preoccupations of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) agencies in the North – not just in adult education but across the full aid and development spectrum – is with the “recipient” or “absorption” capability of countries in need. Is it possible to see these as true “partners” rather than simply indigents virtually begging for crumbs? How do you go about empowering these recipients or “distribution channels” so that they as well as their “clients”, the most needy in their societies, become more self-reliant, self-confident and capable?
DVV habitually managed its own very tight accountabilities to its Government for aid funds by working through German nationals on the spot to oversee programmes. Even in the seventies, long before the modern generation of accountabilities, risk assessment and other sophisticated management and evaluation technologies, there was little room for crumbs in the crevices. That is to say, there was little opportunity for the incidental growth of capability by partner agen cies either through direct control and accountability or by means of strands of discretionary funding to be used flexibly in response to local consultation and emergent new demands. It tended not to be a feature of planning, accounting for and evaluating ODA projects, to build in local “recipient capabilities” so that NGOs in the South could come to manage programmes themselves in a non-dependent manner. This was a clearly recognised requirement and a challenge for the early partners. The success with which a new kind of partnership was fashioned from the late seventies has lessons for ODA today. Indeed, its importance has increased. Trends in ODA and our failures to achieve, for example, Education for All are producing aid-weariness in both donor and NGO development partners.
It may be that robust and even aggressive self-reliance will become the only vigorous way forward. The response of some of the most experienced adult education leaders at the Beijing Seminar suggested an end to patience with low-value, strings-attached ODA forms which seem to push local workers into greater, unproductive, client dependency. The context of unilateral and overwhelming United States power in the Post-Cold War era also appears to be fuelling more assertive disillusion with ODA, which is being seen and experienced as economic and political control. Time may be running out to rebuild a better ODA model based on reciprocity of trust, respect and above all open learning. These are implications which the Beijing Seminar participants want to bring to the attention of CONFINTEA + 6.
The partnership in the years from 1977 was significantly different from the ODA norm, as it was then and perhaps is even now. As the donor partner, DVV for the first time trusted local projects and managers within the ASPBAE network to deliver and account in full for the programmes. They had to do this in such a way that IIZ/DVV could meet the needs of its own government partner and master. This was a formidable act of courage on the part of DVV, given the detailed accountability requirements of the German Government.
Making ASPBAE as a regional NGO network the key partner – and more than just a channel – put an obligation as well as an opportunity on the regional NGO to behave as an honest, reliable and trustworthy broker for the different interests at cross-national, national and subnational level. It was required to be accountable both “upwards” to the Northern ODA partners – and “downwards” to its diverse membership. This requirement was built into the partnership processes themselves. It contributed to ASPBAE’s development in a particular way, with a distinctive philosophy and mode of working.
It could be that this continuing, carefully worked for, not very massive but reliable and highly valued flow of development project funds from Germany to the region actually put pressure on the partner NGO to live up to its own moral ambitions and behave in an open, participatory and democratic way. A decade after the partnership started ASPBAE went through something of a crisis in its constitution and ways of working. A big consultation exercise resulted. This was supported by the DVV partnership and led to a new form of meeting, an all-ASPBAE assembly, through which a more open and also well gender-balanced system emerged, with a new constitution in 1992. Partly from the requirements of the partnership ASPBAE was thus enabled to go on renewing itself, and to attract and gain strength from new leadership, members and working norms, in a self-renewing way.
Among the most persistent problems reported to confront ODA programmes are those to do with “recipient capability”. In addition, nations and their governments have difficulty themselves in reaching and empowering the poorest and most needy at home. Nationally and internationally NGO partnership is of even more importance today. It is not at all made out of date by smart new technologies. In fact the new preoccupation, especially of the wealthier nations, with understanding and trying to use and build “social capital”, and with understanding and fostering the growth of “learning regions and communities”, shows just how important the local, the civic and the participatory have become.
Partnership and learning are keywords to understanding what made the DVV-ASPBAE relationship an important success from which we can learn more generally.
The forms of collaboration which were developed allowed most of the different specific activities in the rolling programmes to contribute the “spin-off” benefit of capability building in the NGO sector throughout much of the region, at different levels. Partnerships were formed with other regional agencies and networks, inter-governmental and not-for-profit, and with other international aid and development agencies. National capability for adult education development was built by nurturing and strengthening national associations, while more local capability grew because activities engaged with local “grassroots” agencies and projects, connecting into DVV-ASPBAE action learning cycles. A lattice rather than just a hierarchical set of relations developed.
Different modes of programme activity built capability in different ways. Much of the effort went into workshops and interactive, focused training activities within and between countries, along with a modest number of visiting fellowships whereby individual adult educators paid reciprocal visits to share – both teach and learn from – approaches in other countries. Sharing and mutual learning were also fostered by making it possible to read various key works in many of the different languages of the region, so that knowledge was not trapped just among the English-speaking elites. Workshop activities engaged with and learned from local and indigenous approaches to development work – health, literacy, alternative technologies, women’s programme, rural development – so that theory and practice were brought together in specific real-life settings.
As well as ‘drilling down’ to give and gain access to, and to share practical ways of learning and doing, the partnership allowed more “external” forms of shared learning. Most important of all as an enabling condition for the whole evolving partnership, the German Adult Education Association – as the rich donor partner – insisted that it was a partner in learning. Participatory evaluation which included DVV as a subject as well as object of evaluation became a condition of all the work, a requirement to roll on to a new phase. A number of specific projects were therefore formative co-learning evaluations. DVV was at times treated as the wealthier older brother, but it refused to be put into the distant-donor-North-colonial role – a role which some donors feel more important in and comfortable with.
The value of this was not just making the ASPBAE regional work more learningful, more consciously reflective and evaluative, as it went along. About the time the partnership started, DVV developed the very readable, practice-oriented journal Adult Education and Development (AED). This was disseminated worldwide at no charge in three languages. It enabled practical development accounts, and the learning analysis of such work, to reach practitioners in many poor countries: people who would never see, be offered or be able to use the more “academic” journals and books which were anyway simply unaffordable. AED provides a channel for many Asian-Pacific adult educators, joined up through the ASPBAE-DVV web of activities, to tell and share their tales and experiences with colleagues throughout Latin America, the Arab World, Africa and the North. In the process they bring the practical test of often harsh reality to the more theoretical work of northern scholars as well as enabling adult education workers in the North to understand and confront some of the challenges which they face with “the South within the North”.
In Beijing, the same mutual learning which the 25-year partnership started up in 1977 was much in evidence. The atmosphere was cordial and friendly, the hospitality remarkable in its warmth and generosity, and the energy levels in meetings and social interactions intense. This did not prevent participants from speaking very bluntly about current problems of ODA and the world stage on which they are played out, or challenging and interrogating one another’s presentations and experiences to try to understand how to work better.
The overriding concern of the meeting was with where international aid and relations were going at this time, and how serious deterioration might already be. Most striking after that was a mutual thirst to understand developments in the new China, and the very honest and open-spoken presentations by Chinese participants about their approaches and persisting problems. The openness and mutuality of learning at this International Seminar demonstrated what partnership has meant, contributed and produced over the years. The number of ways in which China had given and taken in learning since joining the ASPBAE club in the early eighties also demonstrated the gain in learning capability which the DVV partnership is about. It is this living experience that Asian and Pacific adult educators wish to give to and share at CONFITEA + 6. Without it the practice of international partnership in adult education is likely to be derailed.
The IIZ/DVV representative at Beijing threw down two challenges for participants to consider. Given its recognised enormous potential, why does adult education not enjoy more support and a less marginal role? And why are the numerous commitments that are so frequently made by governments and international bodies to support adult education so infrequently honoured? These questions remain to be answered, at CONFITEA + 6 and no doubt beyond.
A presentation from UNESCO, followed by discussion of participants’ experiences within the region, painted a bleak picture of ODA for adult education and development. Reflecting back to Jomtien, five principles were reiterated early in the seminar: the importance of multi-later- alism instead of overwhelming bi-and uni-lateralism, in which people’s as well as government voices are heard; human values in education beyond mere functionality; learning from different wisdoms which are widely dispersed through societies; connecting communities and citizens more directly with one another; and trying to learn from and reinvent our long histories rather than repeat cycles of error.
During the nineties education barely held its own in terms of resources and significance – maybe at most, Jomtien prevented worse backsliding. It seems that ODA in education has just about held constant through the nineties at around eight per cent, but the called-for increase has not come. Adult education appears to have become even more fragile, marginalised and invisible, to the point where a campaign called Education for All Adults might now appear necessary. Adults’ right to learn, adopted at the 1985 UNESCO World Conference, appears to be slipping away. There is little sign that the importance of adults’ learning is being realised and embedded in different development programmes outside schooling. Progress in adult literacy campaigns cannot be tracked, because the numbers are buried within basic education programmes, where adult education is invisible and overwhelmed.
Another problem therefore is the state of knowledge or rather of ignorance about what is actually going on. We cannot extract reliable figures for expenditure and progress in adult education. The problem has become more acute with the shift in ODA practices whereby country to country budget support fails to specify by sector and sub-sector what is being supported. Ironically evaluation and accountability have become more difficult as the modality has shifted significantly towards unspecified assistance. One anecdote told of a highly experienced international ODA scholar given access to IGO records to track and report on developments. Even when access was granted it was of no use, since the records took the form of stacked boxes of unclassified papers which it was not possible to sort through and interrogate for their stories.
Another kind of problem became evident “between the lines” of the Beijing deliberations although it was not identified and directly ad dressed as such. This has to do with targets and the competitive international league tables which often derive from them. We have become used to the year of this and the decade of that. These are without exception important and worthwhile causes. They have been thoroughly deliberated and determined through UNESCO and other intergovernmental channels. Also – more useful because they do not lend themselves to the same unintended collateral damage – are the few international annual days – for women, and for literacy, in particular. These serve as annual reminders and an opportunity for a rally-call for very long-term cultural and social change, over decades rather than years.
The difficulty with one-off campaigns and targets is that they can disillusion and deceive. Once targets and dates are set and made public, especially where there can apparently be direct comparison across nations, as with literacy, there is a timeframe for failing as well as for succeeding. Literacy is a ‘moving target’, so what we say and mean at the beginning of a ten year cycle will not make complete sense a decade later.
But it is worse than that. Campaigns can be conducted perhaps at village and sub-province level, until all the nation is “covered”. It is then tempting to claim that those areas have attained near-universal literacy (or primary health care or some other planners’ aspiration) because so many people have been involved in some way. Even if “literacy” remains a fixed and meaningful ambition within the life of the campaign, the “literacy” which is achieved may melt away like a dusting of snow in the spring sunshine if there is no means to support and follow it up, and neo-literates have no use for it.
Once ambitious public targets have been set and the publicity machine is in motion, it becomes still harder to stay working in the slower, longer-term, but more embedded and ultimately more successful ways which integrate literacy into the social and economic development of the communities so that it belongs, is wanted and lasts. Unrealistic ambitions for quick fix solutions – what one Beijing speaker called the instant noodle package – can take us backwards. The grounded experience of adult education workers of the kind represented through ASPBAE is essential for lasting success for all. Top-down synoptic-vision ODA ignores the need for local partnership and patience at its peril. It is little wonder that the most experienced grassroots workers are among those who have become most critical and even cynical over ODA in and beyond the nineties.
DVV has been a significant player on the ODA scene for many years, with a particular identity and style which the Beijing deliberations examined. The amount of direct financial aid which has gone to the Asian region through ASPBAE and some loosely coupled direct bilateral partnerships is very small within the total annual IIZ/DVV budget and invisible on the larger ODA canvas. It has, however, given very high leverage. It has influenced the behaviour of its partners directly though forms of co-learning built into much of the programme planning and evaluation. It has also influenced various “third parties” from other modest-scale donor agencies to big battalions like the World Bank, acting as oil in the heavy machinery.
The review of this quarter century of ODA partnership highlights two other important features. One is the multi-directionality and mutuality of accountability: not just upward to the overseas aid ministry of the nation, but also out to the regional network partners and through this to each different partner involved more directly in the processes of adult education, economic, social and community development. It becomes difficult to stand off, at arm’s length, from those with whom ODA is a shared journey and a shared responsibility.
Another important feature is an abiding tension: between the widely favoured principle of short-term pump-priming from which the recipient must be quickly weaned in the interests of self-reliant autonomy, and the desirability of long-term strategic partnership through which new levels of capability are built. The evidence that the DVV- ASPBAE partnership has continued to build capability and produce many highly desired outcomes is abundant in terms of quantity, quality, and productivity, but little of the specific project funding is for this purpose.
Capability-building is a continuing important spin-off or by-product of project funding. It enables the building and exercise of participatory democracy. Relevant ODA agencies in Germany do fund some infrastructure. Generally, however, agencies remain reluctant to do this. It is highly desirable for ODA agencies supporting programmes to include a matching amount for management and related costs. Even a “recipient channel” as lean as ASPBAE requires some core funding to enable its enabling. This abiding conundrum otherwise threatens to bring an end to fruitful partnership, simply because it has lasted for a long time. The reality is that ASPBAE and many other NGOs simply would not exist, or would be entirely and unproductively preoccupied just with their own survival, but for ODA. It is obvious that not all ODA channels do or can function in the same way. Some are more progressive than others. Their fortunes wax and wane. But the lesson from Beijing is that all should try harder in this respect within their different respective means and circumstances.
It is obvious that an ODA donor partner which is government-funded, as is the IIZ work of DVV, is vulnerable to political events and policy shifts. For reunified post-1989 Germany this is manifest in the new strategic importance of Central and Eastern Europe. This, together with the direct economic cost of reunification, puts pressure on the national ODA budget. Even without the long life of the ASPBAE partnership, the new Drang nach Osten could squeeze Asian funding. The dire circumstances afflicting many African nations, and the relative wealth of the Asian region, which includes some of the world’s wealthiest as well as its poorest nations, add more pressure. Taking national interest on a global geopolitical scale it may be hard to sell the important lessons which this synopsis reports. The supply chain from global to village level is long and weakly coupled. Even the notion of supply chain or distribution channel falls apart when there is time to look at what it is really about.
For ASPBAE the passion and pain of current ODA trends are abundantly clear. There is danger to international cooperation, and a constructive world order more generally. Frustration is felt with donors. The not well hidden agenda of power and self-interest gets more blatant. There is a tendency to say “a plague on all your houses”, and to turn one’s back on all forms of ODA, which appear ever more colonial and self-serving. That, as this synopsis makes clear, is not good enough.
On the positive side, the Beijing Seminar demonstrated, by the quality of its discourse, the capabilities of the diverse leadership which partnership has nurtured, and the value for money of the many achievements of recent years in China and throughout the region. Stories told there showed that the not-for-profit, community or voluntary sector is often absolutely essential for achieving real and balanced development. It can do what governments both North and South simply cannot.
Transformational and empowering development work at village level is supported by mutual learning, exchange and programme activity between peer groups across the region. After a period of isolation China as much as any nation exemplifies the value which ASPBAE membership has brought from regional exchanges to intra-national learning across programme areas, as well as the invisible gains in international cooperation and understanding which are sorely in need today. Yet “dancing with donors” (the title of an ASPBAE presentation at Beijing on funding) can absorb too much of the time and energy of the tiny office infrastructure of an NGO, and take the time of the larger supporting cast of volunteers for whom this is an unproductive diversion from the work itself.
One not new but again salutary lesson from some of the Beijing working sessions concerned the inevitable limitations on what such an NGO can achieve at times when intransigent power is expressed, whether nakedly or cynically, through the persisting international crisis of the early 21st century. Sessions on working for peace examined courageous, well-founded long-term approaches to conflict resolution which address and even resolve the deep causes of conflict, for example in communities in Indonesia and Melanesia. At the same time the distressing script of the Iraq crisis continued to be written day by day, while another nearby focus of conflict attracted headlines just across Korea Bay. News reports of the crash in adult literacy levels in Iraq, earlier a UNESCO adult literacy prize winner for a particularly forceful approach to literacy campaigning, illustrated the inevitable limitations of adult education in the face of some kinds of realpolitik.
Is the conclusion to turn one’s back on all ODA and get on with working in the villages, entirely alone and unaided, since national and international politics offer little scope for optimism? This is heroic, but it is not enough. A favourite story at Beijing was the one about the relative contributions of the chicken and the pig as partners to an egg-and-bacon breakfast. The price of contributing is too high for the pig. Perhaps too, ODA partnership has ceased to make sense to NGOs in an overwhelmingly power-afflicted world? Is the price of ODA partnering death to NGO community work? Once again, this is not good enough.
In a phrase much favoured at the Seminar, sheer determination may be the only way for life-affirming agencies and networks to go on working – so long as not all energy is absorbed. There must be long- term partnership education as well as small grant-aid gains from dancing with donors. Other metaphors enriched the Beijing Seminar. In one from India our rainbow was losing its range of colours and must be repainted; from Thailand, ASPBAE should nurture the flowers and make them still more beautiful. On the one hand hunting for ODA funds might be a wild goose chase. On the other side participants liked a Chinese proverb – to listen to all, plucking a feather from every passing goose, but to follow none absolutely.
There are lessons for the NGOs, international and of the South, to ponder and address. It is important to situate adult education and its sub-components such as literacy, women’s programmes, commu- nity-based adult education, health education, rural development and sustainability, in relation to one to another; and all in relation to the broader campaign for lifelong learning. The field is fragmentary and confusing, meanings are contested, and outcomes not well understood. There is a need for internal dialogue in the broad adult learning and development community, and also between this and CSOs as well as governmental bodies in other development sectors. These include the “heavy machinery” of development. Finally, the local, national, regional and international levels in which the work of ASPBAE and its partners is embedded need to be brought together again in the face of a new and problematic world order now being created.
Perhaps what this means for Southern NGOs and the North is a reversal of the capability-building flow which we normally assume. A new priority is to keep international ODA channels open and conversations going. This is important to rebuild the capability which the North will find it needs, to cooperate better again in creating a viable and sustainable shared future. Another world is still possible.
Standing back from the intense conversation at Beijing, an overriding impression is of the importance of supporting capability beneath and wider than that of national governments, so that learning and development can take place “village to village” across the region. Strong South-South learning and development is the essential basis for multi-directional learning and development, South-North and North- South as well as South-South. This means ODA agencies overcoming old attitudes and willing the means to build multilateral capability and coalitions in which the NGO sector is central.
Agencies like IIZ/DVV have an unusual ‘reach’, from international and near-governmental (including IGOs like UNESCO and the World Bank) through regional and national partners to the very local level programmes, communities and workers directly influential in the affairs of ASPBAE and its member national associations. Without this kind of reach the food chain is broken not only from ODA donor to village community (the drying up of trickle down) but also upwards. Without it world strategic planners cannot learn how to do better when good will and good intent are again both present. The kind of partnership celebrated at Beijing also allows the big agencies an opportunity to learn through cutting-edge “boutique” projects which have multiplier potential and provide rich sites for learning about effective sustainable development.
It will take a long time to establish or re-establish adult learning as a key to sustainable development, and to have it written in to ODA agendas. There are technical problems about supporting a function which should be fully embedded into all development work without becoming neglected by not being free-standing. There are also philosophical problems to do with this, and in moving to the wider lifelong learning notions in which learning throughout life, school and post-school, becomes part of a continuing and wider community-based process.
New problems are also constantly thrusting into sight. These demand sustained and courageous attention. There are problems to do with new gender inequalities affecting boys and men even while massive gender inequality and abuse remains a distressing and even growing reality for millions of women. There are problems to do with traditional customs and ways which are now highly visible and which conflict with dominant human values in a globalised world. There are new ethical questions raised by environmental sustainability and resource exploitation. There is the treatment of individual rights in the “war against terrorism”, disturbing ideas of “preventive war”, new adult education and mobilisation opportunities offered by the Internet, and many other new challenges and opportunities. If adult educators’ efforts are entirely taken up in the dance with donors and in accounting for tiny grants, these daunting new challenges will not get the attention they require.
These are overlapping waves of issues, problems, challenges, some permanent, some produced by new crises. There is also a quest for topicality, for the fashionable and the “sexy”, in aid and ODA terms, which is part of modern political and public life. There is also the wish to adopt the most modern methods of management and accountability, which are often highly insensitive to cultural diversity, local wisdom and the need people have to do things their own way. Not all the new capabilities are helpful. In the gently understated words of the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2002 (p.102) “the extent to which there is engagement with civic society that goes beyond set-piece consultation has not always been well defined.”
Reaching “the poorest of the poor”, described in Beijing as “the most vulnerable”, needs much more than set-piece consultation. As we appear to teeter on the edge of collapse of a world order which has maintained some kind of equilibrium and achieved some real gains along with its failures over the past fifty years, speakers at Beijing gave international cooperation and effective ODA no more than “a level chance”, even with the most sustained determination. Even without naked abuse of might we could slide into a new kind of managerialist neo-colonialism, cultural as well as economic.
The principles referred to in this synopsis and worked out through years of practical partnership remain essential: cross-sectoral cooperation insinuating adult education into all projects and programmes; NGO capability; multilateral cooperation with the capacity to reach from village to global and vice versa. Active learners are essential to civic participation and social inclusion. Participatory planning is underpinned by respecting and valuing diversity, which can include new private and corporate as well as State and public partners.
The last word goes to the Chinese: pluck a feather from each passing goose, but follow none absolutely. Only by retaining independence can adult education support the interdependent partnership which is more desperately than ever now required.
DVV International operates worldwide with more than 200 partners in over 30 countries.
To interactive world map