Chris Duke

Chris Duke, 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, who is
already well-known to our readers, reports on the background to the
Conference, and on its aims, participants and outcomes.

Adult Education and Poverty Reduction – A Global Priority

General Report

Executive Summary

The Conference derived from long-standing concern among adult educators about equity and the reduction of poverty, and a shared commitment to make adult non-formal education (ANFE) work for social amelioration. With this commitment goes chronic uncertainty about its effectiveness as a means of improving living standards and quality of life, and a paucity of hard evidence.

The renewed interest of the World Bank in ANFE as a means to reduce poverty was linked to CONFINTEA+6, the mid-term review of progress since the 5th Unesco International Adult Education Conference (CONFINTEA) convened in Hamburg in 1997. At CONFINTEA+6, held in Bangkok September 2003, there was disappointment over progress since 1997, and concern over the lack of clear proof of causal links between adult education and the reduction of poverty.

There is also the need to know what kinds of ANFE can best assist in reducing and ultimately overcoming poverty. IIZ/DVV, like the Bank, has had a long-term interest in the success of ANFE in reducing poverty, and has joined forces with the Bank to review what has been learned. The Bank is stressing the need for public-private partnership to achieve synergy in the provision of adult education, and at the same time to stimulate further development of a broadly based civil society that includes the poor.

It was agreed in 2003 to combine efforts, with a conference being designed and carried out by the University of Botswana and supported by IIZ/DVV and the World Bank. This therefore took the form of an academic conference receiving and debating papers in parallel session, combined with the culmination of a participatory policy and planning review led by the Bank with IIZ/DVV and running over the preceding two years.

This was a major consultation and review. Some 200 participants gathered from 45 nations at the Gaborone meeting in June 2004. Over 500 virtual participants were also involved via the ICAE electronic exchange which fed into the conference that month. To judge by subsequent feedback as well as the general level of energy, activity, and enthusiasm for follow-up work, the Conference was a considerable success.

The work brought together included a review of current studies sponsored by the Bank, especially work by John Oxenham which was the basis of a keynote address, and a study by Bjorn Nordtveit on Public – Private Partnership in Adult Literacy Education in Senegal. The other studies are available at

A set of case studies from the main development regions commissioned by IIZ/DVV also informed analysis and was intended to give feedback and guidance to the Bank, and to German and other aid agencies and partners.

The Conference provided a critique of individual papers and at the same time developed a connected dialogue encompassing the whole Conference about the relationships between adult education (ANFE, AE, Literacy, Adult Basic Education) and poverty, and about the best ways forward. Strong passions and deeply held views and values found expression.

The open Call for Papers identified the Conference objectives as

  • to raise awareness of the significant potential of adult education in poverty reduction strategies

  • to share relevant programme experiences and research findings on the role of adult education in poverty reduction

  • to identify policy interventions, good practice and research projects which can enhance the role of adult education in poverty reduction

  • to generate recommendations that will provide a guide for action for the next five years, until CONFINTEA VI

  • to provide the basis for an edited book and other publications that will constitute a state of the art review of the topic and a tool for advocacy

Over one hundred contributions in the form of papers and plenary presentations were considered at the meeting. In addition the ICAE electronic exchange added a further 27 inputs. 

Most of the papers were available on registration in a four hundred page volume of Conference Proceedings. Other keynote presentations, notably by the Botswana Minister for Finance and Development Planning, were made available at the time. The full list of papers and most of the texts are available on the Botswana Conference website

Other dissemination will take the form of an academic volume based on selected conference papers, and papers in the Unesco Institute for Education International Review of Education, the International Journal of Lifelong Education, and the IIZ/DVV Adult Education and Development.

The central themes were set out in the Conference Call for Papers as

  • Politics and poverty reduction

  • Economics and policy reduction

  • Society and poverty reduction

  • The environment and poverty reduction

  • Intersectoral approaches to poverty reduction

The papers addressed these themes in different proportions. Rather few addressed environmental concerns. Economics related more to micro- and local level initiatives than to macro-economics, which came to be contested during the Conference, particularly during the plenary session which reviewed the experience brought together by IIZ/DVV and the World Bank.

Many papers sought to clarify the uses and meanings of poverty, and of other key terms such as empowerment. A number sought the roots of poverty in politics and/or in the structure of society. Some of the different philosophical and ideological positions expressed around the causes of poverty remained unreconciled.

The evolving dialogue during the Conference frequently made connections across inter-sectoral matters between portfolios, and looked for collaboration between governmental, private and non-governmental or third sectors. There was some difference over whether ‘private sector’ should be used to include all non-governmental parties, both commercial and civil.

It was however agreed in any event and whatever the preferred choice of terms that partnership and collaboration were difficult but essential.

Other central issues for continuing attention were as follows

  • The necessity both to reduce poverty and ultimately to abolish it by removing its causes.

  • Clarify the scope of adult education-related Aactivity, its efficacy, and strategies for making it effective.

  • Include the full span of adult education (AE), adult basic education (and training) (ABE(T)), adult non-formal education (ANFE) , literacy and functional literacy, and lifelong learning.

  • Determine the right place and time for different kinds of measures of attainment, targets, and performance efficiency.

  • Acknowledge and address methodological problems to do with correlation, causality, ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ targets, and attainment in the short and longer term.

  • Manage demands for accountability, and impatience for results. The propensity to set ambitious numerical targets especially for literacy, basic education and the reduction of poverty almost inevitably creates failure.

  • Participation of local ‘grassroots’ communities is a key to motivation, mobilisation and success in addressing poverty via adult education.

  • Reaching and listening to the voices of the poorest and most needy is an essential but rare capacity.

  • Socio-economic as well as strictly individual targets and measures of learning and attainment are needed, identified by affiliation group, community or place. 

  • Partnership between governmental, private and non-governmental, civil society orA third sector parties is essential.

  • There is a distinction between the private and the 3rd sector, but also blurring of this distinction in many cases when non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations become income-generating cooperatives or compete for contracts with others.

  • It is very important to discover in what practical ways partnerships can be made to work, and to engage with the governance and funding of new forms of collaboration.

  • We need to find practical specifications of mechanisms for such collaboration, and to share experience about how well such mechanisms work. Some contributions focused especially on this, notably a session organised by delegates from Uganda.

  • The relationship between (socio-)economic and educational objectives remains problematic but a dominant view emerged that there is more success when literacy comes second and is seen to be relevant and important.

  • The widespread adoption of people’s saving banks and microcredit approaches to reducing poverty, especially for and among women, is a significant recent development.

  • More generally the central importance of the situation of woman, who are still often highly exploited and suffer the impact of poverty, and approaches to trying to reduce it.

  • Scaling up successful small-scale projects to become major programmatic Adevelopments able to make a mark on global and national targets is now important.

  • Both global and more local political realities of poverty reduction must be considered, together with the philosophical (or ideological) bases of the work, and the inescapable reality of the political.

  • The new civil society or civic agenda implies political transformation and new forms of governance.

  • There is a close connection between some adult education work and advocacy, and also a need for mutual respect to make dialogue across contrasting world views possible, and to identify common goals.

  • Dispassionate analysis and research is needed into what is achieved under what conditions.

  • We must learn to value and accommodate indigenous wisdom and know-how within poverty reduction strategies.

  • This means finding practical ways for holistic, partnership approaches which deliver results and are accountable and capable of audit.

  • Multi-sectoral planning and action are necessary, and persistence in tackling intransigent obstacles to joined-up government.

  • There is an unavoidable tension between widely distributed, embedded ANFE for development, and treating higher profile adult education as a distinct ‘sector’ or sub-sector. Being stand-alone may in practice marginalise iAt and make it less effective.

  • Governmental and inter-governmental agencies exercise powerful influence on local and indigenous efforts for development. There is a tendency for local effort to be steered by the wish to attract financial support.

  • A leading and trend-setting role was ascribed to the World Bank in the Conference. It was seen as having unsought influence on both government and NGO thinking out of proportion to the very small amount of finance expended in this sector.

  • Many of the key professional concerns of the Conference are universal to all parts of the world. They include the ubiquity of poverty, and the need for inter-sectoral joined-up government and for transsectoral partnership that will enable new forms of governance.

  • Lifelong and life-wide learning are similarly universal at the level of policy rhetoric. Similarly widespread is support in principle for work-based learning, allied to deficiencies in understanding what it means and how it can best be achieved.

Given the form and structure of the Conference, few specific recommendations emerged there, although a number were subsequently drawn together and included in the appended Gaborone Statement.

There were calls for networking and deliberations to be sustained via global electronic means, and for carrying forward the issues into future meetings. Given the successful experience of a dialogue enabled by the InternatioAnal Council for Adult Education (ICAE), further virtual lobbying and networking were proposed in the hopeful spirit of the World Social Forum that ‘another world is possible’.

Meanwhile practical ways should be identified to make partnerships work that connect up governmental with non-governmental, local with national and even global, and economic with social and civic development.

Given the very small amount of financing expended by the World Bank in support of adult education in comparison with support for formal schooling, there is a need for the World Bank to work with governments and partner agencies in order to increase very substantially the flow of resources to basic education for adults and out of school youth.

The Conference was keen for the World Bank to explore thoroughly, to use and to share its accumulated knowledge and experience of ANFE, poverty and development. This goes back some decades. Policy papers are not a common part of the Bank’s modes of working. Nonetheless, in view of its evidently strong influence, the Bank is invited to consider taking a more assertive public stand by means of a policy paper on adult education. This might become a living document enabling wider understanding and more success in the ANFE and poverty field.

A Poverty Parable

In the place where great fortunes are made and the depths of poverty are fashioned there stands a huge workshop. The workshop is divided by a high partition wall. Its brand name is Global. On the larger side, which is called South Workshop, many many people work unceasingly around a huge pile of poverty. As they work they chant this mantra – reduce and alleviate, abolish and exterminate. TheyA are the army of anti-poverty workers. Different workers wear different ID labels. They are called teacher, planner, literacy worker, grassroots worker, community development animateur, popular educator, civil society activist, basic trainer, adult educator, and some other things. The workers labour mightily to reduce the mountain of poverty that all but fills the space. For all their unceasing labour the mountain keeps on growing.

One morning a young activist worker, casting her eyes in despair towards the heavens, noticed high in the dim recesses of the cavernous workshop a conveyor belt. The belt was carrying yet more poverty onto the mountain from the other side of the high partition wall. It seemed to be adding poverty to the mountain faster than those working below were able to remove it.

Intrigued, she went outside and found a small crevice through which to peep into the other side, known as North Workshop. Inside she saw a much smaller number of people than those who were busy where she worked. They looked rather wealthy and were well dressed. They were sitting beside and looking after several big poverty-making machines. These machines were working very fast. They were making a big pile of poverty which she noticed, to her surprise, was being fed onto the convenor belt that ran across the high partition wall into South Workshop, dropping its load on the other side.

As she went back to her place among the community activist poverty alleviators in South Workshop she thought to herself, is this really the way things ought to be?

The Elephant in the Room

Sometimes people meet, talk and plan about something important to A them – the education of their children, the future of their organisation, the profitability of their company, even the future of their society. Yet there is unspoken agreement, a kind of collusion, not to mention the most difficult and important thing that affects this reality and prospects for a better future. This is the elephant in the room. It is there. Everybody knows. Nobody mentions it. Nobody ‘sees’ it.

At the Gaborone Conference on the global priority of reducing poverty, and the role of adult education, the elephant in the room was the causes of poverty. Many important aspects of the subject were discussed, some exhaustively in plenary conference and the many concurrent smaller seminar sessions, as well as in the sunshine between sessions and at night. This Report gives some sense of what these were, and what views and consensus emerged.

In the parable of the emperor’s new clothes immortalised by Danny Kaye a little boy blurts out what everyone knows but no one dares to say: ‘But Mummy, he hasn’t got any clothes on.’ When the elephant was named and pointed at in the Conference, the temperature rose. Strong passions had been expressed already: about the appalling and still rising levels of poverty, illiteracy, ill health and early mortality, especially in the host continent; about the epidemic scale of HIV/AIDS, and about the failure of governments and international agencies to give effect to fine words and ambitious targets. When it was suggested that global politics, liberal economics, free trade and economic restructuring served the rich and perpetuated poverty, the elephant had been named.

The resulting sharpening of deliberation did not distract from the urgency A to think clearer, act smarter and do better as planners, scholars and field workers combating poverty, but it did give a wider framework and a still keener edge to what followed. In the end, there was quite a high level of agreement on many of the key issues reported below.

There was not time in the Conference to talk through all the issues and reach understanding and agreement on everything. The elephant was there, but, to change the metaphor, different people felt different parts of the beast and came up with different stories about what it was like, depending whether they found the trunk, the side, the tail, a leg or the tusks.

So the meeting concluded without time to assimilate and reconcile all that had been heard and read. There was however strong consensus on one vital thing. Progress would only be speeded up if we learned to work together more effectively within and across sectors, governmental, private and community, and across different levels from global and regional to national and local. The problems were huge, complicated, elephantine. The only way forward was through partnership. We must mount and ride the elephant together.

Poverty and Adult Education – Main Issues and Background

The Gaborone Conference held from 14 to 16 June 2004 derived from long-standing and widely shared concern among adult educators about equity and the reduction of poverty. Adult education is often referred to as a movement, dedicated to making things better, as well as providing professional expertise in teaching and in helping adults to learn. There is a common commitment to making adult non-formal education (ANFE) work for social amelioration. At the same time there is chronic unAcertainty about the effectiveness of ANFE as a means of improving both economic living standards and more broadly the quality of life. There is little hard evidence to prove a direct causal relationship.

There is the further difficulty that adult education takes many forms. It includes sometimes incompatible propositions and even values. Some focus on the individual’s right and freedom to learn for personal development, choosing how and where the learning is to be applied. Others attend more to social change and collective advancement. Motivation is agreed to be important, but for some this means active participation in the means and ends of learning, and is inextricable from empowerment and mobilisation. These differences suggest a spectrum of positions: from a view that adult education is inevitably political, to the view that it is a technical enabler of learning and neutral in itself.

The uses to which adult education is put are similarly various: from skill training within an economic agenda to support job-getting or income generation and/or to do with the better use of human capital, to ‘conscientising’ workshops in the spirit of Paulo Freire with an overtly radical political agenda. The language reflects this diversity of purpose and style. In development settings adult basic education (ABE) is often used (sometimes with training added – ABET). The term adult non-formal education (ANFE) is often favoured for its broad, unspecific and flexible connotation. Literacy, alone or qualified as functional, is usually narrower. At the other end of a spectrum, the globally favoured term lifelong learning has the benefit of high political recognition and support. It is now written into the terms of reference of many ministries and departments, not only those spAecifically to do with education and schooling. On the other hand its very breadth and ambiguity can be a source of confusion.

As for poverty, it is taken for granted that making things better is desirable and proper. Instead of, as once was the case, accepting that ‘the poor are always with us’ there is a general belief that poverty can and should at least be reduced if not eventually done away with. The popular Christian hymn written by William Henry Monk in the nineteenth century has lost a verse from the original version:

The rich man in his castle 
The poor man at the gate 
God made them high and lowly
And ordered their estate

The offending verse has gone, but poverty has not. Instead, the last two decades of the twentieth century saw a reversal of a trend towards reducing differences in wealth, both between and within nations. So great are these increasing disparities that the prospect now exists that individuals and nations may again say not that we must reduce poverty and contemplate removing its causes but, more simply, ‘this is the way it is, and this is how it will always be’.

That is not the formal position today. Major inter-governmental and non-governmental development aid organisations have the reduction or elimination of both poverty and illiteracy at the heart of their policies. Intentions are honourable, rhetoric is strong, but the benefits have not followed to anything like the extent called for. Time and again there has been a serious shortfall from the targets set nationally anAd internationally. Sometimes the targets themselves are not well formulated, so a numerical national literacy target may apparently be achieved, only to be followed by a substantial relapse into illiteracy. Or a literacy campaign and plan may be carried through in the belief that economic activity and prosperity may follow, but no such change results.

The activity of major inter-governmental agencies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, and to some extent the World Bank itself, is the focus of deep philosophical or ideological difference. Some see structural economic adjustment and modernisation, including free trade and open markets, as an essential if painful path to prosperity for all. Others see these as no more than a cover for advancing the interests of the most powerful. ‘Trickle down’ theory has been discredited. It is argued that little or nothing trickles down to the poorest nations, let alone to the poorest within these. 

Poverty itself is no less problematic than defining just what is meant by literacy, or the contribution of literacy and adult education to its alleviation. There are absolute measures which enable international comparison and perhaps benchmarking across both time and place, such as an income below one US dollar a day. A main focus of intergovernmental agencies at present is the targets set in Dakar in 2000 known as Education for All (EFA), and the targets for the reduction of poverty worldwide contained in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) declared by the United Nations also in 2000. One MDG is to halve the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty by 2015. Much anguish is expressed about the likely shortfall in these respects.

The Gaborone Conference set out to interpret poverty ‘broadly as lacking the basic means to live in dignity’. It elaborated by quoting a 2002 poverty reduction strategy paper:

...a multidimensional understanding of poverty helps us define poverty as a human condition characterised by sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, economic, political and social rights....

This broad and inescapably ‘political’ understanding was shared by all parties to the Conference (the World Bank, IIZ/DVV, UNESCO, ICAE) and reflected in the opening paragraphs of many of the conference papers which started by setting out their understanding of poverty.

The World Bank has recently taken a renewed interest in ANFE as a means to reduce poverty. This interest was linked to CONFINTEA+6, the mid-term review of progress since the 5th UNESCO International Adult Education Conference (CONFINTEA), which was convened in Hamburg in 1997. At CONFINTEA+6, held in Bangkok in September 2003, widespread disappointment was expressed over the lack of significant progress since 1997. Within this, concern was also again felt by the world adult education community about the lack of clear proof of causal links between adult education and the reduction of poverty. The danger was there yet again that adult education was being marginalised in economically driven policy agendas.

A working note for the Bangkok Conference set out a Strategy for a Broad Consultation reviewing Bank policy in ANFE, to take place over the period to June 2004 and to build on work started within the Bank A in April. This noted the Bank’s initial interest in the late sixties and seventies, followed by disengagement during the eighties in favour of primary education. New funding in the nineties, it was said, lacked a coherent policy; hence the effort to review policy and practice. The idea was to bring together evidence, stakeholder viewpoints, and recommendations for World Bank policy, in South Africa in June 2004.

There was an overriding need to know what kinds of ANFE can best assist in reducing and ultimately overcoming poverty. The German aid and development arm of the national adult education or folk high school organisation DVV, that is IIZ/DVV, has like the Bank had a long-term interest in the success of ANFE in reducing poverty. Not for the first time it joined forces with the Bank to review what has been learned. Twenty years earlier, just before the World Bank turned back to primary education and largely lost interest in the education of adults, a third sponsor of the Gaborone Conference, ICAE, had secured support from both the Bank and IIZ/DVV to undertake a ‘commission’ into the relationship between adult education, poverty and development.

A consultation at Bank headquarters in Washington was followed by case studies in the different regions of the South, some into largescale national development programmes such as literacy campaigns, some into local NGO-led ‘grassroots’ studies. Many of the findings, which appeared in two volumes published in 1985 and 1990, remained familiar two decades later. Most central, and relevant to the work brought together at Gaborone, was the finding that the national governmental programmes had wide but shallow impact, whereas the local engagements were much more transformative, but in the main small and localised. Bringing these two approaches together bAecame one of the central issues at the 2004 Conference.

In the light of its new work in support of adult education (eighteen projects in different African countries were listed in an annex to a Bank presentation at the Conference), the Bank by 2004 was stressing the need for public-private partnership to achieve synergy in the provision of adult education. At the same time it wishes to stimulate the further development of broadly based civil society that includes the poor. Two central strands are distinguishable here. One is the necessarily ‘political’ nature of broadening civil society to include the poor, with its resonances of new forms of governance. The other is the need for what came to be called ‘scaling up’ small projects to widen their reach and impact. The totality of Bank endeavour in ANFE is tiny compared with the scale of its projects generally. Conversely NGO partners like IIZ/DVV and ICAE have only modest funds to disburse. They favour usually limited-term support for local innovative projects, and need to see ways that these can become self-sustaining, and grow, without continuing outside patronage.

The other main partner in these deliberations has been UNESCO, mainly through the UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg, which organised and hosted the fifth world conference on adult education and the follow-up CONFINTEA+6 meeting in Bangkok that reviewed progress midway through the period before the next scheduled such event. UNESCO, like the World Bank, is an inter-governmental organisation owned by the Member States. It has very limited funds for direct project support. Its role is to inspire, to inform, and to encourage its members to meet their own expectations. Non-governmental organisations, now often referred to as orgAans of civil society, have standing with UNESCO and have become increasingly significant in its adult education deliberations. UNESCO has in a sense come to symbolise the partnership and third sector influence that emerged as central to the Gaborone deliberations.

The Gaborone Conference

It was agreed in September 2003 to combine the Bank review with an international University of Botswana Conference already planned for Gaborone in June 2004, on the reduction of poverty through adult education. This was thought preferable to the World Bank concluding its own consultative review on adult non-formal education policy and practice separately – taking a different approach to essentially the same subject, at about the same time, in a neighbouring country. The Botswana Conference had the support of both IIZ/DVV and the World Bank, as well as UIE and ICAE.

The Conference therefore took the form of an academic meeting receiving and debating papers in parallel session, combined with the culmination of a participatory policy and planning review led by the Bank with IIZ/DVV. The difficulty in marrying together these two traditions, approaches and styles is not to be underestimated. It is to the great credit of the Conference organisers that it was achieved, and that the Conference was so highly energised, stimulating, challenging and productive. The tolerance and give-and-take involved on all sides were a model of the qualities required of the kinds of partnership which became a central theme and call of the Conference itself.

The aim of the Conference was

to provide an international forum to discuss policy initiatives, programme Astrategies, and research projects that will strengthen the role of adult education in poverty reduction world-wide.

The Objectives as set out in the pre-conference papers and reproduced in the Conference Precedings were

  • To raise awareness of the significant potential of adult education in poverty reduction strategies

  • To share programme experiences and research findings on the role of adult education in poverty reduction

  • To identify policy interventions, good practice and research projects which can enhance the role of adult education in poverty reduction

  • To generate recommendations that will provide a guide for action for the next five years, until CONFINTEA VI

  • To provide the basis for an edited book and other publications that will constitute a state-of-the-art review of the topic and a tool for advocacy

Julia Preece’s Introduction to the Conference papers asserted the significant part which education has to play in fostering the means to overcome poverty, and the new prominence given to poverty reduction in government policies and donor aid, in light of the failure to make significant inroads into the problem. Despite the number of innovative adult educationA programmes and research studies, the role of adult education remained

an under-explored concept in current national poverty reduction strategy papers. Moreover, in lifelong learning policy debates, adult education is often relegated to basic education for those countries where poverty is a feature for substantial populations.

The broad conception of adult education that informed the Conference was set out in the Conference position paper by Julia Preece and Ruud van der Veen included in the conference Precedings. This referred to the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers or PRSPs now required of low income countries for donor support, and the low profile of adult education as a strategy in these, something the Conference set out to redress.

The trend in adult education policies (where they exist at all) has been to focus on literacy education. Research has shown, however, that basic literacy skills are not in themselves sufficient to make a significant impact on poverty reduction, though they do help… Adult education is potentially much more than literacy or basic education. Our main argument… is that successful adult education 3 multipronged. It requires grassroots, bottom-up development in a participatory, partnership approach, that includes recognition of indigenous knowledge, and starts with problems that are of immediate relevance to people’s contexts.

The position paper set out the following three types of strategies – one might think of them as competing paradigms – for reducing poverty through adult education

  • Often labelled as political-economical strategy, this strategy focuses on the role of the state in creating and distributing wealth…

  • This strategy focuses on the role of the market and how expanding markets can reduce poverty by creating employment, often labelled as neo-liberal strategy…

  • The third strategy focuses on the role of civil society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and particularly local communities in creating social capital through self-organisation and mutual help. Recently many started to refer to this strategy as a social capital strategy…

The Conference deliberations did not consistently adopt this typology. However, much of the discussion, including the moments of more passionate polarity, can be seen with hindsight as reflecting these different orientations. There were almost instinctual preferences for more centrally or more locally driven approaches, and hostility or at the least ambiguity over anything that smacked of neo-liberalism.

The paper went on to note common deficiencies in civil organisations, networks of which are underdeveloped on the national level in many poor countries, and in state planning. This tends to become ‘static and therefore ineffective’. Exploring the role of NGOs in relation to the interests of poor communities, Preece and Ruud observe that

NGO support is therefore most effeActive when it is sustained over time, emphasises capacity building and is based on sensitive understanding of local conditions in a relationship of trust and partnership with other grassroots organisations… The World Bank, now a proponent of social capital, has been criticised for not acknowledging that social cohesion and social capital are nevertheless embedded in political and societal structures that are diverse and often in conflict with each other…

This position paper set the framework and to some extent the tone for the Conference. Preece and Ruud summarise their review of the literature in the form of hypotheses to be tested through future research and practice.

In the political domain they find the current domination of autocratic institutions to be highly ineffective.

There is an urgent need to develop governance processes, which constitutes planning as a learning process involving all stakeholders actively, including organisations acting on behalf of the poor.

Adult education can provide information about the rights of the poor, train the less educated in communication skills, and raise awareness about participation.

In the economic domain ‘a more extended and more targeted system for basic education, agricultural extension and vocational training is urgently needed to help people to generate income’, with collaboration among all parties to target the real needs of the poor. In the community it is hypothesised that social capital helps to reduce poverty in income as well as in trust and reciprocity terms. However, precise targeting to greatest need Ais again required.

In other words, to enhance functional adult education initiatives we need holistic approaches through participatory community development activities.’

This was a major consultation and review. Some 200 participants gathered from 45 nations at the Gaborone meeting itself, in June 2004. In addition over 500 ‘virtual participants’ were involved via the ICAE electronic exchange which fed into the Conference that month.

The work brought together included a review of current studies sponsored by the Bank, especially work by John Oxenham which was the basis of a keynote address, and a study by Bjorn Nordtveit on Public – Private Partnership in Adult Literacy Education in Senegal. The other studies are available at

A set of case studies from the main development regions commissioned by IIZ/DVV also informed analysis and was intended to give feedback and guidance to the Bank, and to German and other aid agencies and partners.

The Conference thus critiqued individual papers. At the same time it developed a connected dialogue encompassing the whole Conference, about the relationships between adult education (ANFE, AE, Literacy, Adult Basic Education) and poverty, and about the best ways forward. Strong passions and deeply held views and values found expression.

The open Call for Papers identified the Conference objectives as

  • raising awareness of the potential of adult education to reduce poverty

  • sharing experiences and research findings

  • identifying relevant policy interventions, good practice and research projects

  • providing a guide for action and input to the 6th UNESCO International Adult Education Conference

Over one hundred contributions in the form of papers and plenary presentations were considered at the meeting. In addition the ICAE electronic exchange added a further 27 inputs.

Most of the papers were available on registration in a four hundred page volume of Conference Precedings. Other keynote presentations, notably by the Botswana Minister for Finance and Development Planning, were made available at the time. The full list of papers and most of the texts are available on the Botswana Conference website

In addition to the official Report to be prepared from this synopsis for the Bank and IIZ/DVV, Professor Julia Preece is seeking the publication by Kluwers of an academic volume based on selected conference papers. Others are likely to appear in the Unesco Institute for Education’s International Review of Education and in the International Journal of Lifelong Education. IIZ/DVV intends publishing this Report and other conference outputs through Adult Education and Development.

Conference Deliberations

The central themes were set out in the Conference Call for Papers as

  • Politics and poverty reduction

  • Economics and policy reduction

  • Society and poverty reduction

  • The environment and poverty reduction

  • Intersectoral approaches to poverty reduction

The plenary papers and panels, and the many discussions in parallel sessions, addressed these themes in different proportions. Rather few addressed environmental concerns. Economics related to micro- and local level initiative rather than to macro-economics, which became a focus of criticism during Conference deliberations, as we see below. This report reflects the weight and the flow of the actual conference deliberation. It is therefore not structured around those five themes.

Raising the Issues and Setting the Scene

Welcomes and courtesies: University of Botswana Vice-Chancellor Bojosi Otihogile, Heribert Hinzen for Dr Uschi Eid, the Parliamentary State Secretary of the German Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation andA Development, Dzingai Mutumbuka, Eastern and Southern Africa Region, World Bank (opening address), Baledzi Gaolathe, Minister of Development and Finance Planning, Botswana (keynote address), Herbert Baryayebwa for Bakoko Zoe Bakakoro, Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development Uganda.

The context for the Conference and the tenor of the meeting were set in the opening session. A sequence of discussions and exchanges between sponsors and planners led to this meeting of participants from some 45 nations, bringing together field, planning and scholarly experience. In terms of the venue, the meeting was hosted by a young university in a young, stable, relatively successful yet still impoverished nation. Here climate and HIV/AIDS conspire to exacerbate the vicious poverty cycle. The Vice-Chancellor called for open dialogue and free speech all week, as befits a university environment.

The Minister took up the Vice-Chancellor’s theme of the vicious circle of inadequate education, poverty and the need to break it. He called for not just the reduction but also the ultimate eradication of poverty. The Conference should help Botswana as the host nation, and other countries also, to find a way to break the cycle.

Ways and means planned within Botswana towards this end include a responsive safety net for those extremely destitute and at risk; more integration of planning effort across ministries with training woven into all strands; and more participation in designing and delivering courses. The Minister signalled the need for Botswana to treble its income by 2016, and to move to a basic ten year cycle of education for all.

As he saw it, looking abroad more generally, the well-publicised UN targets for 2016 shoAuld be exceeded. Yet many countries were likely to fall short of achieving them. He described the multi-stranded nature of the poverty syndrome touching all portfolios and policy areas, asserting that we now had the empirical evidence that education helped reduce poverty, but not the persuasive documentation at local and national levels to secure its necessary role in community and national development. This was an issue taken up, a little less assertively, in John Oxenham’s Herculean review of the literature and experience for the World Bank, later in the Conference.

The welcome address from Germany stressed the enormity of the problem of extreme poverty and its meaning beyond the purely economic – absence of influence, hunger, disease, lack of educational opportunities. It saw education as a prerequisite for improving people’s social, cultural and economic situation. It set out the response of the German Government to the Millennium Declaration, and the Ministry’s support for the work of IIZ/DVV. Recognising the huge burden weighing on Africa it concluded with the hope that the Conference would ‘convince us that this continent is on its way forward’.

Mr Mutumbuka expressed pleasure at the World Bank’s association with the Conference. In fact the Bank was a main partner and sponsor, although the thread leading to this had become attenuated with changes of personnel and perhaps policy emphasis in previous months. The role, contribution and influence of the Bank became a significant issue later in the Conference (see below). In his welcome Mr Mutumbuka brought out anecdotally the need for many, many more small local projects of the kind that can transform the lives of poor villagers in African countries in the very different world that is found just a few kilometres from town. How to scale up Afrom local successful small projects emerged as a major theme in later discussions.

A keynote paper presented on behalf of the Ugandan Minister concluded the opening session of the Conference. Herbert Baryayebwa spoke of the importance of an inter-sectoral approach to tackling Uganda’s multi-dimensional poverty malaise. Uganda uses different indicators to identify the complexity of the poverty syndrome, incidentally showing its particular specificity to different societies. This includes the addition of HIV/AIDS as a major new priority in this and other African countries. He described Uganda’s Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP). In explaining the intention to bring the proportion of people living in absolute poverty down below ten per cent by 2017, he raised a recurrent Conference theme: reduction versus eradication. The address called attention to the paucity of studies in this area even today, and welcomed the work represented by the Conference to help remedy this.

Interdependent government programmes in Uganda include an education sector investment plan spanning universal primary to adult access, primary health care, agricultural modernisation, special sector investment and investment in adult literacy. This includes mobilising more people. It echoed Julius Nyerere’s belief that a nation in poverty could not just wait for the next generation to be educated and grow up. None of these policies would succeed on its own, but adult education was under-funded, under-recognised and suffered a low profile. To integrate it effectively was a big challenge. It proved interesting to bear this presentation in mind during the dialogue on collaboration between Government and its partners in Uganda that followed later (see below).

This presentation concluded with a list of ideas and proposals for the Conference to consider. Listening to these needs and tasks one had to ask how to rank, connect and sequence them to become a critical action path rather than just another daunting checklist. 

The session Chair, Dr Wapula Nelly Raditloaneng from the host University Department, found the session both depressing in the scale of the challenge and inspiring in the utopian commitment to addressing poverty. She had noted in opening the session tensions between different approaches, some of them, especially between large-scale topdown and small-scale grassroots bottom-up, set out and explored in studies two decades earlier but still unresolved. By way of conclusion she took as the key question whether the business was really about alleviating or eliminating poverty.

Developing the Partners’ Positions and Perspectives 

Panel presentation by Heribert Hinzen (IIZ/DVV), Justin Ellis (UIE), Celita Eccher (ICAE) and Dzingai Mutumbuka (World Bank)

The panel presentation following the opening presentations brought together the different experience, beliefs and perspectives of the four main international sponsors and supporters of the Conference. These were the International Council for Adult Education, a major non-governmental or third sector organisation, formerly a big administrative and catalytic body but now modest in scale; UNESCO through its Institute for Education (UIE) in Hamburg which hosted the 5th UNESCO International Adult Education Conference (CONFINTEA) in 1997; the World Bank; and the international development arm of the German Adult Education Association (IIZ/DVV).

AAs well as hosting CONFINTEA, UIE organised an international follow- up mid-term review of progress since CONFINTEA in Bangkok in 2003 (CONFINTEA+6) where the Botswana Conference arrangement was agreed. ICAE conducted a vigorous electronic discussion of the Conference themes and issues in the two weeks prior to the meeting, widening the discussion beyond the participants who were able to attend.

IIZ/DVV and the World Bank provided financial support both for pre- Conference evaluation studies and for some participants to take part in the meeting itself. As different kinds of aid and development agencies, one inter-governmental, the other non-governmental but serving as a conduit for government aid funds, they represented complementary but somewhat different approaches to the poverty and development debate, raising issues which fed a dialectic and a dialogue as the Conference proceeded.

Celita Eccher (ICAE)

Speaking as Secretary General of ICAE, Celita Eccher stressed the importance of partnerships among the many different parties with a part to play in reducing poverty, and especially cooperation between the State and the different manifestations of civil society. Her second challenge asked what had happened to the political will of governments in tackling large intransigent problems. She spoke about articulation between networks, and about exploiting spaces where influence could be exerted. She called for greater capacity in advocacy work among civil society partners and networks, referring to the World Social Summit in Copenhagen in 1995 and the more recent World Social Forum. Breaking the poverty cycle required simultaneously belief that another world is possible and the practical exercise of political will. Implicit in this ICAE ‘perspective’ were questions about Aeffective management of partnerships, networking, advocacy and the implementation of policies.

Dzingai Mutumbuka (World Bank)

The World Bank perspective which followed seemed initially to echo the principles and passion that came from ICAE, and had already been expressed in the electronic exchange facilitated by ICAE and summarised in remarks by its President Paul Bélanger which were made available during the Conference. Indeed Mr Mutumbuka spoke of the Bank’s mission to fight poverty and the passion of many Bank staff for this cause. Poverty was seen as ‘a broader problem than only low income and low material consumption’. It included poor health, poor nutrition, lack of basic education, and the absence of a voice that could be heard. In other words powerlessness.

In its commitment to Education for All the Bank went beyond income, health and empowerment to education as a right and an end in itself, with the quality and content being important beyond merely basic provision, to ensure that ‘it fits people’s needs and conditions’:

  • We think that lack of education is itself an aspect of poverty, and to provide basic education is therefore in itself a good thing.

  • Of course education on its own is no guarantee that other benefits will follow. The benefits of education are contingent on other conditions.

 The ‘perspectiAve’ then moved to explain more about the Bank’s thinking in relation to adult non-formal education or ANFE. The phrase ‘taking to scale’ emerged as a keynote. This means taking the experience of successful local and small scale projects and finding ways of multiplying them to make wider, national impact, of a kind and scale recognisable to governments and international bodies like the Bank itself, projects that would register on the targets of Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals.

Another strong emphasis, also echoing the ICAE perspective, was on partnership. This was seen as vital. It was a theme shared by many different parties (see below). Yet another was to move from quite short projects, of three to five years, to longer programmatic time frames. This was summarised as a tendency of the Bank and its partners to change support for education.

  • away from projects for relatively short periods which are confined to only a small part of the education system

  • towards support for the entire education system, in the first instance all parts that have a bearing on basic education – and with a longer time horizon

  • towards annual budget support for poverty reduction plans that cut across sectors, with annual discussions about how best to achieve such a plan over a long period

Given the intransigence of many of the causes of poverty, and the long time for deeper cultural change to occur, this proposition appeared to win widespread favour in the Conference.

On other matters the Bank presentation proved less palatable, as the discussion that followed made clear. Mr Mutumbuka spoke about the Bank’s absence of an adult education policy, with a preference for the term adult non-formal education or ANFE as being easier to explain, and the reasons for this.

We have no separate document that is official Bank policy on ANFE. But ANFE is part of education policies, and education is an important priority area for the Bank.

Although the Bank does not in general have and does not publicise such policies, Mr Mutumbuka conceded in discussion that this, and the segmentation from basic education, was unfortunate. Also unpopular was the insistence that the Bank did not have projects at all, rather that it just supported the projects of its clients. As he had expressed it in the presentation

Our readiness to support ANFE depends on government wishes and commitment, not only because we wish to be ‘client-centred’, but also because little can be achieved unless there are local champions who know their stuff, are dynamic and in positions to take a strong lead.

He insisted that client countries chose where to spend their Bank entitlements, something that was sharply challenged from the floor. It was held by different participants, rather, that the Bank did steer and guide, and that it exercised powerful influence on governmeAnt policies by virtue of what were at least perceived as its own policies. The Bank’s apparent loss of interest in education other than primary was seen as undermining adult education, which was thus left to the NGO or civil society sector, for example in India.

Later in the presentation it was explained that the Bank had found it ‘easier to support ANFE where plans can be developed as part of a larger and wider education sector program, than to develop free standing specialised projects’, while conceding that ‘ANFE may not get the special attention it needs’.

Our challenge is how best to ensure that ANFE components get sufficient attention when they are introduced as part of wider sector programs (or when they are included under budget support for poverty reduction strategies).

The mood of the meeting was that the Bank did in fact have a policy and did exercise great influence. It was better to be open about this, and about its evolving policies and priorities, than to claim not to have such power. Another criticism was that the Bank’s influence devalued and destroyed indigenous knowledge and informal learning.

The matter of partnerships prefigured here became a central Conference theme and a focus of its resolutions. It was complicated by yet another matter also introduced here, and amplified in the later session reported below. The ‘perspective’ described public-private partnership as important, especially so for ANFE more than for formal education:

It is increasingly clear that to achieve Education for All, we must have strong partnerships bAetween government and the private sector (including national NGOs). [The scope and meaning of ‘private’ became a hot issue later in the Conference.] One of the unresolved issues is how best to achieve such partnerships, and what the available mechanisms are for such partnerships.

On this matter, strong feelings were expressed from the floor about the Bank’s inclination to work with private sector partnerships and ‘delivery systems’. These were seen as taking programmes out of the reach of the very poor. There was not time to work through these issues in this ‘perspectives’ session. Even by the end of the Conference there had not been time for full understanding of the different positions, meanings and issues, much less full reconciliation. This was inhibited by passion as well as lack of time.

Mr Mutumbuka stressed again in the concluding discussion that the Bank had no adult education policy, although it was starting to engage, or rather to re-engage. He agreed that he should take back to Bank Headquarters in Washington the need expressed here for a policy. These important issues about unintended influence, transparency, and who is actually driving things along, came up again in the next session (see below).

The presentation itself ended on the note of ‘taking to scale’ referred to earlier. Not only do we need to understand better the outcomes and benefits of educational efforts to reduce poverty:

There is another aspect which may be even more important: how to scale up micro projects so they work nationwide, as well as they do in a relatively small number of more intensively supported sites. Much of what we have heard is gAoing well, is small scale. Perhaps what works well is a great variety of small scale projects run by different organizations. But that still raises the question of how to make that happen. If we cannot address that here, we should do so in the future.

This was where earlier work supported especially by two of the sponsors of this Conference, the World Bank and ICAE, had reached its conclusions two decades before. Large-scale government-supported projects had wide but shallow impact, often failing to engage with the deeper needs and motivations of poor people. Local small scale ‘grassroots’ projects were more effective, more transformative in what they did to tackle poverty including empowerment or ‘giving voice’, but they tend not to spread, replicate and multiply or ‘scale up’ so freely.

The unresolved question then was how to combine the sometimes authoritarian or at the least cautious and conservative instincts of many governments with the more radical, critical but grounded work of potential partner NGOs. By the end of the Conference these issues, which resurfaced in the later Bank presentation, were well identified and engaged. Resolving them may be the most central challenge issuing from the Gaborone meeting.

Heribert Hinzen (IIZ/DVV)

Dr Hinzen, in explaining the promotional and pump-priming role of this internationally oriented NGO, picked out five areas for reducing poverty through adult education

  • Livelihood skills training and literacy

  • Promotion of self-help and credit groups

  • Community development though participation

  • Health, environmental and agricultural education

  • Political empowerment and self-governance

noting the need to draw these strands together. The European Union for example combines citizenship goals with employability. He also noted that a positive correlation between adult education and social and economic objectives related to poverty was more often assumed than demonstrated.

This connected closely with a central purpose for the Conference as set out earlier in this Report: to study these issues as a basis for supporting effective advocacy for adult education as an instrument to bring poverty down. Hinzen underscored the enormity of the problem of poverty, echoing as a challenge to the Conference Harbans Bhola’s question in his conference paper, ‘Is there hope?’ He also drew on the ICAE’s ‘virtual seminar’ which informed the Conference, citing Shirley Walters’ view that

  • the extent of poverty is overwhelming as is the complexity of economic, social, political, and cultural interconnectedness

  • it is easy for educators and activists to be paralysed because there are no straightforward answers

This perspective drew out the centrality of adult education to most MDGs – the Millennium Development Goals – and to the Dakar 2000 Education for All (EFA) commitments. Four of these six relate to adult education. Three principal areas for action were proposed, followed by seven propositions which together represent a vital if difficult balancing act:

  • Income-generating skills and support for the informal sector

  • Promoting participatory democratic institutions, human rights and rights for women, along with sustainable development

  • Strengthening civil society through NGOs and self-help groups concerned with social, economic and ecological issues

What we need, and what we can and must do, is to develop a coherent strategy for all stakeholders, to see profound changes in politics worldwide, neither to overestimate nor to underestimate the role and potential of development cooperation, to foster development education and global learning, constantly to improve the quality of our work, and to strengthen alliances and networking.

Some elements of this perspective echoed those marked out bAy other contributors. They include partnership and coherence between the different ‘stakeholders’, quality, and a realistic expectation of what development cooperation and education can and cannot achieve. What the perspective also added was a much sharper sense of the macro-political environment of world politics. This sets opportunities and limits for development cooperation. Another addition was the importance of development education essentially of ‘the North’; and thirdly the vital role and rights of women at the heart of so many of the statistics and the strategies.

While this discourse was superficially similar to that of inter-governmental perspectives, there is a sharper and more dialectical edge, with implications for addressing underlying and uncomfortable realities of unequal power. The elephant was not named, but one got a hint that there might be one somewhere in the room.

Justin Ellis (UIE)

As Chair of the UIE Board, Justin Ellis introduced its perspective with topical immediacy. He was speaking in place of the UIE Director Adama Ouane, who had been central to the Bangkok deliberations the previous September, but because of a crisis over the likely non-attainment of the Dakar EFA goals had been obliged to withdraw at the last moment. Ellis used this incident to highlight the Janus-like character of such targets: valuable in raising horizons and defining aspirations; dangerous in terms of unintended consequences if for example non-attainment led to (self-) deception, or if the attempt to succeed meant displacing other vital purposes.

Like the Bank, UIE saw educational development as a long-term process, with UNESCO’s fifty-year time horizon needed to remind us of progress as well as disappointmentsA. Ellis drew out the value of adult learning for ‘the wretched of the earth’. It was a joy, promising liberation, a tool, offering the increasingly complex survival skills now required in a global market, an essential self-evident right still unattainable for many, and a shared responsibility which must involve governments as well as civil society. In no way could the efforts of the NGO sector let governments off the hook of their own responsibilities.

Notwithstanding the inter-governmental status of UNESCO, this was a robustly ‘political’ perspective. Liberation had to come from within and among people through true democracy and social movements. People must struggle to free themselves. Liberation must be appropriated, it could not simply be given.

Taking up a theme that featured in all presentations and was central to that of the Bank, Justin Ellis saw the need for new kinds of complex institutions. Alleviating poverty was multi-faceted. It called for essential elements of a ‘package’ to be brought together. If one part was missing the entire package would unravel. New forms of social partnership, and new ways of self-governing in the complex global environment, had become necessary.

Sharpening the Issues – Core Data, Central Dialectics

Keynote address Shaheen Attiqur-Rehman, Pakistan; panel presentations Heribert Hinzen (IIZ/DVV) and Jon Lauglo (World Bank), presentation, John Oxenham.

Shaheen Attiqur-Rehman (Bunyad)

As Executive Director of Bunyad Literacy Community Council and NGOs Resource Centre, as a forceful radical feminist and activist, and also as a former Minister in Pakistan twice over, Shaheen Attiqur- RehmaAn brought to the Conference a distinctive and aggressively vigorous keynote perspective that won the hearts of many participants at the beginning of the second day. She made explicit the inequities and dilemmas of development from women’s perspective. Women in poor countries often carry at least a double burden. In earlier words of ICAE, ‘women hold up half the sky’. The IIZ/DVV presentation had already emphasised this gender dimension, which emerged more strongly in this and succeeding sessions. Micro-credit projects are frequently centred on women, giving them both more influence and even power through income, but also even more of a burden to carry.

Along with intransigent causes of poverty familiar in Africa, which included persistent illiteracy especially among women, harsh climate and lack of water, and rapidly growing population with two thirds under the age of thirty, Shaheen Rehman spoke of the still feudal, caste and social status system and attitudes which are chronically difficult to change, child labour, and the high death rate of rural women. She gave a dramatic and well-documented sketch of poverty and bad living conditions. Education and health were seen as key ‘entry points’, with the need for holistic policies to nurture independence. She observed that the high primary drop-out rate was lower when the mother was literate.

Turning her attention to government she noted its extreme wariness towards the NGO sector and a disinclination to favour non-formal education (NFE). More directly, ‘most of our countries have very corrupt regimes and transparency is not there’. Work in the NGO sector was getting women onto local councils. Group solidarity was enabling women to take up their (until now only theoretical) rights and remedies uAnder the law, leading to a sharp decline in rape and kidnapping.

In describing some of this work in 700 villages with the 300,000 people touched by the programmes over a period of ten years, Shaheen incidentally touched on the Bank and more general concern about ‘scaling up’ local level projects. How much larger and more rapid does scaling up have to be to make a mark (for the Bank and the Government) in a country the size of Pakistan?

Resuming the attack on governments and their neglect of responsibility, Shaheen described the Government as quite happy and sitting comfortably ‘in a sea of illiterates’. Literacy was essential to fight exploitation. Despite progress, compared for example with the poorest community in the American Appalachians, a huge gap remained for adult education to fill. Literacy featured centrally in this presentation, within an adult education that would give women a voice.

The subsequent discussion took up the tension between getting women into the economic sector (as well as politics) as the best solution to gender bias, and the problem, highlighted in Indian NGO case studies before the Conference, that this put poor women under still greater pressure. This dilemma appears insoluble: perhaps a choice must be made and a price paid to move in the better longer term direction? On a lighter note it was observed that women were no longer a joke in politics, and that girls were now being driven into literacy as this was becoming a requirement for marriage. In Nigeria, it was stated, women were very enterprising and economically active, but still politically disempowered.

In an amusing but significant and too brief exchange about managing politicians andA influencing politics, Shaheen’s answer was that she managed by flirtation. One suspects that by virtue of confidence, passion, and force of personality she was also able to cow all but the most overweening. It is a pity that time precluded this important and often rather personal aspect of being an advocate (noting that Shaheen was also a lawyer as well as a former senior statesperson) from being explored further.

Widening the Debate

Shaheen Rehman’s keynote address brought participants together to begin the second day of deliberations. By the time that they reconvened in full assembly in the latter part of the afternoon, the Conference had completed four rounds of parallel deliberations, some of them animated and even fiery, in critiquing some 70 papers. It is impossible to record or even reflect the quality, substance and impact of these concurrent discussions on the shared flow of Conference consciousness, its shared purpose and its evolving shared understanding. Points listed below reflect a little of this ocean of energetic discourse. The impact was however evident in the engagement, commitment of time, and competition for airspace that carried the Open Debate at the end of the second day well beyond its intended finishing time.

It was now that the ‘elephant’ was named out loud. Large, controversial and political questions about the causes and remedies of poverty had been set out, leaving a brew of issues and tensions to ferment overnight. The next morning a more cerebral presentation reviewing what we have learned about adult education and poverty was made by John Oxenham. It is included in this section of the report, being part of the essential ‘input data’ for the Conference, and coming also from the World Bank experience and resoAurces which featured in the more combative second day plenary sessions.

Before that, to give a little of the flavour of the dozens of separate discussions held in five parallel sessions, we visit one of the first round of these. This also informs the theme of this section of the Report – ‘sharpening the issues, central dialectic’. In fact the elephant was seen and named in this group (and no doubt in others as well) before anyone found voice to announce it in the full assembly.

That particular group session had the task of critiquing three papers, from Tanzania, Tunisia and Namibia. Each had its own distinctive interest. In Tanzania for example it emerged that the nation was seeking to pick up the thread of development purpose first spun by Julius Nyerere and ‘rediscover ujamaa’ in making a new start. This echoed a repeated subdued theme of the whole Conference: how often we ignore history, repeat our mistakes and forget our successes. The Tunisian study threw up questions of motivation and incentives for voluntary workers in looking at government partnership arrangements with NGO or civil society sectors. The Namibian case study gave rare insight from a non-defensive and critical bureaucrat working inside government about its blind spots, and about the distance between immediate relief work and programmes that might actually reduce poverty in the longer term.

There followed an animated discussion about why the reduction of poverty was not more central, despite the many development programmes. We were allowing a drift to greater poverty by omission. There was reference to social structures, to eyes being averted from difficult issues of redistribution, a preference for controlled top-down modes, and by implicaAtion for a deficit model that devalued indigenous knowledge and wisdom.

The debate ratcheted up sharply when a quiet participant asked hesitatingly the simple question ‘but where does poverty come from?’. Then there was talk of poverty as a social construct, of deep cultural factors, of the continuous importation of development thinking and programmes from outside rather than from within, and of the attitude of the haves to the have-nots, summarised as ‘the thoseness of those’. The recognition dawned that there were powerful poverty-induction systems at work. However benign, the power of the privileged and the discomfort of change meant strong patronage control, and little change to the distribution of resources and power. Dependency was programmed into aid programmes and their planning.

The session terminated at this point. As with many other such sessions, the ideas and insights were carried away into more informal discussion, then back to the plenary sessions that brought the Conference together later.

Heribert Hinzen (IIZ/DVV)

Part of the IIZ/DVV preparation for and contribution to the Conference was to commission a number of studies of new projects that IIZ/DVV had pump-primed in recent years, and to try through a common approach to see how far adult education programmes had actually made an impact on poverty. These impact studies were in an established tradition reaching back a quarter century, whereby the organisation sought to learn from its shared experiences and to guide where future pump-priming and innovative support might be offered in partnership. IIZ/DVV is unusual among NGOs. Although an aid agency in the sense of bAeing the channel for a modest flow of government funds from North to South, it is first and foremost an adult education association that seeks to be a collaborative learning organisation, sharing in participatory research and development with the different partners whose innovative work it supports.

Hinzen’s presentation summarised what had been found from the specially commissioned round of impact studies. In support of these, participants were also provided with IIZ/DVV’s newly published Adult Education and Combating Poverty, No. 43 in the International Perspectives in Adult Education series. In this Hinzen and Pollinger summarise a number of other such projects that tackle poverty in practical ways, including some of the credit union and loan arrangements that have recently become a favoured and generally hopeful way into tackling poverty at one of its most central economic points. Hinzen also referred to the 1985 and 1990 studies brought together by Chris Duke, to Smillie and Lecomte’s 2003 OECD study, and to the work of the World Bank reported separately to the Conference.

The IIZ/DVV studies sought to examine the basis for assumed positive correlations between education and development, literacy and livelihoods, skills training and productivity, and adult education and the reduction of poverty. In the limited time available results were variable and more diverse than the terms of reference tried to achieve, with some reports much more analytical than the mainly descriptive. The intention was to look for impact in these terms:

  • Psychologically: awareness, self-confidence

  • Socially: education, self-help, participation

  • Economically: income generation, resources

  • Politically: democratisation, self-governance

  • Culturally: traditions, diversity, inter-cultural

  • Institutionally: capacity building, networking

  • Environmentally: protection, rehabilitation, sustainability

Each of the ten studies, drawn from Latin America, South and South East Asia and India, was presented in summary form. In conceding that causality was hard to prove in an absolute sense, there was no doubt about the positive correlations. The lessons drawn from the ten studies were first that all the projects examined were of high quality. The role of gender and the empowerment of women were important. Participants were strengthened in the process of gaining information, knowledge and learning. There was evidence of improved incomes as a result of adult education and training, and the ‘target groups’ showed high motivation to participate.

Generalising more broadly Hinzen extracted five key words as main features for the battle to reduce poverty through adult education. They were.

  • Ownership

  • Participation

  • Decentralisation

  • Sustainability

  • Lobbying and advocacy

In terms of the positive correlation mentioned above, projects reduced levels of poverty for individuals, families, communities and whole societies. Adult education was however strongly process-oriented, and results had to be looked for in a long perspective. Different approaches worked and were called for at local, regional, national and global levels. Finally, a theme taken up only briefly in plenary discussion late in the Conference was that all of school education, training and adult education have to be seen within the one concept of lifelong learning.

This presentation was twinned in a panel with the second World Bank presentation, and at the conclusion a sharply worded question was asked about the public sector, NGOs and the private sector, and whether education was seen mainly as a global business. Issues of language surfaced, particularly the offence which different words and meanings can carry particularly in respect of a World Bank preference for using ‘private’ to encompass the non-governmental as well as the private business sector, and also the place of new community enterprises. The issue was left unresolved. It came back more forcefully in the Open Debate about issues and tensions. We rAeturn to it after reporting the World Bank contribution, both directly and through work commissioned from John Oxenham.

John Oxenham for the World Bank

At the time of the Conference, John Oxenham had completed the draft of a very thorough review of World Bank and world experience in supporting programmes of non-formal education and literacy for adults. Titled Including the 900 Million, this study, over 150 pages long, was available in not-for-citation draft form to some participants, who were able to gain a sense of this major study and its span of World Bank experience, in particular, since the late sixties. Its main focus was on achievements and outcomes in four countries, two in Africa and two in Asia, over twenty-five years. In broadest summary the impression from the work was that

the priority given to implementation, local ownership and local capacity building has largely frustrated intentions and finance to develop reliable systems of monitoring, evaluation and research. As a result, educators, education policy makers and education planners still lack incontestable, empirical guidance on almost all aspects of design, methods, implementation, costs and outcomes.

Unusually, as Oxenham pointed out in discussion of his paper, this Bank study was to be circulated as a draft. Its unmistakeable challenge to adult educators both present and elsewhere was not widely available as the full draft report, but the keynote presentation conveyed the same message in deftly summarising the findings. There was keen interest in learning from the work, ‘unpacking’ the experience, and finding ways to learn and to do better.

Oxenham’s report was offered with a heavy dose of scholarly caution. He made it abundantly clear how far there is to go before (if ever) causality can be demonstrated and directly quantified as a return on investment in adult education. This explicit or implied quantitative economic framing exposed a fault-line running through the Conference – between those who rejected such measurement as futile in the long march towards deeper cultural and economic change to eliminate poverty, and those who believed that every effort must be made to use hard indicators and find data that will convince Treasuries and Ministers of Finance.

That debate, being somewhat ideological and its chain of causality so extended and complicated by other variables, is unlikely to reach any agreed resolution for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, participants did rise to the challenge posed by Oxenham to be more confident and cease being a ‘whining’ and defensive profession. For his part he conceded in the discussion that he had perhaps been overly cautious and negative in his presentation.

The keynote address covered much ground, scanning the history of Bank involvement in adult education and its tendency to come and go over the years, such that much experience was lost and could not be traced in the archives and used. Noting the vicious intransigence of the methodological problems, Oxenham took each of the Millennium Development Goals and asked what the studies suggested about the contribution of adult education. This review ranged from ‘no evidence’ in some countries and for some goals, to ‘if the package is right and properly implemented’, ‘probably but not dramatically’, ‘likely yes’, and ‘probably but social inertia is potent’.

Summarising possiAble contributions, Oxenham suggested three main findings:

  • The possible contribution of adult basic education and training (ABET), within a sustaining and supportive environment, serves as ‘a kind of yeast, which can help gradually increasing numbers of people move out of poverty’ as well as raising the productivity of investment in institutions and infrastructure.

  • Literacy second’ emerged as clearly superior to a ‘literacy-led’ approach; ‘livelihood-led’ approaches tended to generate a more powerful demand for literacy, and livelihood-focused organisations were better at combining livelihood and literacy than those focused mainly on education; thirdly groups formed for their own purposes and seeking literacy when a need is felt are generally more successful.

  • As to what was the ‘best method’ there was no conclusive finding, although it was clear that in general instructors in life or livelihood skills can be trained to be good literacy instructors as well, whereas the reverse does not hold true. With the trend towards lifelong education it was becoming virtually essential for instructors, whether full- or part-time, to be paid.

Oxenham’s vital concluding question was why we have not learned more. Lack of resources and scarce capacities are partly to blame, but probably it has much to do with attitudes to monitoring and evaluationA as well, within which four elements can be identified. They are summarised as

  • disinclination (an extra pointless chore)

  • evaluphobia (officials trying to catch you out)

  • territorialism (outsiders snooping into one’s space and work)

  • and political correctness, meaning that only local do-it-yourself evaluations are acceptable

Building capacities and circumventing these attitudes rather than trying direct conversion might, Oxenham concluded, be the most effective way forward. The presentation, issues raised, and responses looked mainly at the role and inhibitions of adult educators – ‘we are our own worst enemies’. One is left asking also why large, highly professional bodies like the World Bank itself are not better at interrogating and learning from their own accumulating experience.

Jon Lauglo (World Bank)

The Oxenham study was commissioned from a consultant with long experience at the Bank. Jon Lauglo as a serving Senior Education Specialist referred to that study, and directly echoed and built on the earlier, contested presentation of Dzingai Mutumbuka. Issues raised here became a focus for highly energised Open Debate concluding the second day.

Lauglo reiterated that, as in several other areas, the Bank had no distinct policy on adult education. He concentrated on adult basic education (ABE), meaning literacy, numeracy and context-dependent other learning, while noting that the full spectrum of adult education was much wider. He described Bank support for ABE in sub-Saharan Africa. This had expanded in nine years from just Ghana to a total of 18 countries. Usually ABE was not free-standing, but a component within other projects developed during the project period

Poverty was now seen more broadly than before, as meaning unacceptable deprivation in human well-being. It was multi-dimensional, covering low income and consumption, poor health and nutrition, lack of basic education, and lack of voice, or powerlessness. ‘We are thinking along similar lines.’ However the Bank wanted more ‘firm knowledge’ from outsider impact studies (studies, that is, not conducted by those running the projects). So far findings were mainly qualitative, with literacy and numeracy helping remove barriers to entrepreneurship. ABE was an equity tool which generally benefited women more than men. It makes adult learners more supportive of their own children’s education, so cascading down the generations. It was also found to empower. This itself is seen as a form of reduced poverty. Self-esteem, self-confidence and willingness to speak out in big meetings all rise. In this sense there was a clear route from ABE through empowerment to stronger and broader based civil society, in other words to good governance. Since stronger civil society generated more ABE this becomes a benevolent cycle.

Lauglo moved to less popular ground in talking about public-private partnership as a key to development and adult education. The use Aof the term private, and the consequences of going through that sector, were the problem. In fact he then immediately spoke of the great accumulated experience of NGOs which government with its financial capacity could ‘bring to scale’. And he identified such shared objectives as EFA, reaching the poorest and most disadvantaged, especially if the government was democratised. One could look for synergy by combining expertise and resources, nurturing a vibrant civil society as a precondition for good governance.

In terms of the mechanisms to achieve public-private partnership the recent case and experience of Senegal was taken from the detailed study by Bjorn Nordtveit. The pilot grew to reach 200,000 people from 1996 to 2001, with low – 10-15% – drop-out. The Government set the ground rules and provided both finance and monitoring while providers bid for contracts to provide to groups of sites, and hired and paid teachers. An independent agency administered contracts with local groups of sponsors and providers. Key decisions to do with language of instruction, curriculum and materials were decided locally and participation in this was said to include the learners. Each course enrolled thirty learners in cooperation with a local women’s association – at least 75% of the participants had to be women.

Explaining the rules and operation of the project in some detail, Lauglo concluded with an appraisal of strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side he listed rapid growth and the creation of many small provider groups for social entrepreneurship as well as the centrality of women strengthening their associations, and high retention rates throughout the courses. On the other hand monitoring was weak, and learning outcomes were uncertain. Compared with volunteer-taught liAteracy this was relatively costly literacy education, although cheap compared with primary school courses.

Open Debate – Naming and Framing the Elephant

The ‘elephant in the room’ was not poverty but wealth, and wealth as a cause of poverty. The elephant had been sighted by at least one group on the first day, with the simple question ‘what causes poverty?’ It was seen and its presence broadcast in plenary session as the Lauglo presentation drew to a close. Here it was named ‘private wealth’.

The issue was most vigorously re-engaged when the Conference returned refreshed to the day’s concluding Debate. The big animal became the centre of attention. Participants stalked and circled it, trying to estimate its dimensions, to name its parts, and to determine how it could be dealt with. It was here that the parable earlier in this report shaped itself. A main focus of debate became removal of the causes of poverty as distinct from amelioration. Some saw this as the heart of the matter. For others it lay beyond the terms of reference and competence of the Conference to consider.

The Debate was programmed as ‘issues, tensions and lessons learned so far’. The nature and tone of debate was set by a courageous young elephant-spotter. He observed how sparse had been analysis of the role of the Bank, and noted the total absence of reference to structural adjustment programmes, which had cut social benefits and worsened the plight of the poor in many countries. While the poor lost their jobs and ABE budgets fell below the miniscule, multinational companies made enormous profits out of Africa. Adult educators were ‘running around seeking symptomatic solutions’, not addressing the causes of poverty.A The problem was not poverty but wealth, and lack of redistribution.

A number of other contributions from the floor interacted with comments by resource persons from the main agencies, notably the World Bank and IIZ/DVV. Several important, distinct but interconnected matters were raised. The main ones were

  • The causes of poverty – global economic and political forces and neo-liberalism

  • The role and responsibilities of intergovernmental agencies and governments

  • Politics, philosophy, ideology and expertise – the professional identity of the adult educator

  • Taking responsibility and acting autonomously at national level, and also in the NGO sector

  • Connecting adult education for work with social inclusion, participation and mobilisation

  • Scaling up small-scale local projects and developing effective partnership between the civil society and government

Drawing these strands together in a different way, the session brought out several vital aspects of the life and work of the adult educator:

  • Dedicated individuals work in many different places and ways, within and outside government and its agencies.

  • The business of adult education can be seen anywhere from pure skill or literacy training to all-encompassing engagement with all ‘portfolios’ and aspects of social and economic life.

  • We all have responsibilities as citizens to build a strong civil society, and can separate this from the unavoidably political elements of our work as adult educators working to reduce poverty in a lifelong learning framework.

  • Empowering and giving people voice through adult education is about creating new forms of governance connecting civil society to government, not just about economic issues.

  • We should be clear about our values, careful in our language, open in our philosophy, and not allow our open values to fall captive to our unhearing ideology.

On the central issue, one speaker caricatured the position as: ‘The world is OK except that the poor are not doing too well.’ Others took up the theme, exploring issues about wealth, including (development) education of the wealthy, the impossibility of ‘keeping the political out’ (being apolitical is a political act), and what role the World Bank and other intergovernmental agencies were playing.

A Bank response was that other international agencies than the Bank forged the global neo-liberal, free trade and related policies that were now under attack. This response mentioned the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), together with WTO, GATS, and the whole UN system.

The most controversial proposition, which was unacceptable to many at the Conference, was that the Conference was neither mandated nor competent to discuss such matters, which were the remit of macro-economists. Most unacceptable was the advice not to get into a politicised exchange, one driven more by ideology than by expertise. The idea of keeping the political out did not sit well with even moderate ANFE community workers, much less the more radical activists. The contradiction between this and the shared discourse of empowerment was evident. The fact that this meeting could not here and now change structural adjustment packages was not seen as a reason not to discuss and critique their assumptions, possible blind spots and evident consequences.

The debate was not reconciled in this session. The dissent over the scope and authority of the discussion was fundamental. It was accidentally complicated by the argument about the ‘private sector’, which was connected yet distinct. Jon Lauglo explained that in Bank language ‘private’ included all non-governmental interests and partners, and made clear his own values, which were shared with the Conference at large. The term however was not acceptable, with its connotations of profit-taking by huge corporations whose interest and influence is known to direct national policies and to override other civic and community interests. It negates the meaning of the incAreasingly common term third sector which, along with civil society, is often used as a synonym for non-governmental organisations or NGOs. Probably most participants saw the Bank’s extension of private (or ‘second sector’) to equate with all possible partners and stakeholders outside government as a political, not to say an ideological, ploy.

This was unfortunate since it served to obscure a vital aspect of adult education’s engagement with poverty reduction, that is to say the use of micro-credit, loan arrangements and people’s banks to support economic-based enterprise and self-development on the part of poor people and poor communities. Much as SMEs (small and medium enterprises) are recognised as a distinct and important economic but also ‘community’ policy arena in wealthy countries undergoing rapid change, so the spread of economically grounded self-help and take-off approaches to tackling (especially rural) poverty appears to be universal. This is why the Senegal study was chosen. It was however provocative. Because it involved public-private partnerships it no doubt echoed in listeners’ minds messy public-private partnership issues such as PFIs from other settings, not to mention bigger controversies such as over which private corporations benefited from the war in Iraq.

Time precluded the detail of the Senegal project and partnership approach being fully understood, including the conditions and rules, projections and outcomes. Critics attacked the likelihood that feebased approaches and the profit motive would exclude those most poor and in need. The other aspect of ‘private’ that did not get fully discussed was the outcome not so much of private partnership literacy approaches as of the creation of village level enterprises tAhrough which new forms of enterprises are created, for example the OTOP (one tambon one product) project which is so significant and apparently successful in Thailand.

If this trend is projected forward it suggests that assumptions about private-public-cooperative-community-civic meanings and boundaries may have to be revisited. This might be no more than the tail of the elephant but it remains connected to the big beast. The connection was made clear later in the discussion when attention turned to adult education and work, and to the need for ‘productive incorporation’ in place of social exclusion. Getting the skills, means and power to work was central to people’s interest, in Latin America and elsewhere.

Another part of the animal was examined by Hinzen, in explaining that India now had more billionaires than Germany. Looking at the environment (a rather neglected part of the brief set for the Conference) car purchase was skyrocketing in India and China. The rich are indeed the problem, and not only in the North, for all that the United States dominates the world and has most impact. Moving the North was however vital, and movement in Europe was ‘less than one millimetre a year’. Another contribution from the IIZ/DVV ‘s Latin American office turned to Paulo Freire in asserting the unavoidably political nature of the work of IIZ/DVV and the development of autonomous individuals. It was abundantly clear that we are talking about politics, and power, all the time.

A Nigerian participant used that country to illustrate the problem of governments abdicating their responsibility and dumping this on the NGO or third sector. She turned this challenge around asking why we did not take responsibility in each country for oAurselves instead of blaming the World Bank, as this Conference was tending to do. In fact the need as NGOs and as citizens to learn to lobby and advocate effectively found universal support across the various perspectives before the Conference.

As this Debate moved towards its end (though not to full resolution and closure) some reflected on who was there in the room, now that the elephant had been acknowledged. The relative under-representation of governments was one weakness – something felt at CONFINTEA, and more keenly at CONFINTEA+6. Also missing were the poor themselves, getting on in their own way with informal attempts to resolve survival problems. Let us at least give credit where it is due, not coopt and then claim credit for their solutions, one participant proposed.

In a note of sympathetic realism, Wolfgang Leumer, working with IIZ/DVV in Southern Africa, noted that the event might move us two millimetres forward (compare the single millimetre in Europe!) and might also help the ‘lone warriors’ in the World Bank. It was an important point. Many dedicated workers are quite lonely, and may be stigmatised for working inside governments and their agencies. Their own values and efforts need separating from the official policies of the big organisations, which may be changed not just from outside but also from within.

The final moments of this Debate returned to a central Conference theme – how to scale up local efforts and create effective government- NGO partnerships despite differences of position, perspective and maybe priority. The case of Morocco had been sketched. There, top-driven literacy campaigning had failed and been replaced by decentralised activity. The Government now sought to make common cause with NGOsA as partners rather than just tools, and to mobilise civil society, including industry and the private sector. Reference was made also to attempts at bringing the parties together in new ways in Bangladesh, in Kenya where ANFE was linked into planning, and in Tanzania where the approved ANFE strategy was yet to be funded and implemented with partners. A session the following morning took this up by looking at the promise of a vigorous and well recognised NGO sector in Uganda.

Towards a Synthesis

Discussion seminar: Herbert Baryayebwa and Patrick Kiirya, Uganda; panel discussion Ruud van der Veen, Carlos Zarco, Gabo Ntseane, and Vida Mohoric Spolar, followed by closing presentation Chris Duke (rapporteur) and closing address, George Kgoroba, Minister of Education Botswana.

The Uganda Example

On the third day of the Conference John Oxenham’s major study was presented. Then, while some participants gathered in parallel discussion of papers or around special interests, many took part in the plenary discussion of the Uganda approach described below. This was followed by a plenary panel that reflected on what had been learned at the Conference, then came suggestions for follow-up action and a rapporteur’s closing presentation, and finally the official closing address by the Botswana Minister for Education George Kgoroba. Much of what was said in these later sessions has been incorporated into this Conference report and the subsequent Gaborone Statement. It is therefore not repeated here.

What was billed as a ‘Discussion among government and NGO/CBO representatives’ was led by Herbert Baryayebwa of Uganda’s Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE). The session sought to exchange experience aAnd draw out proposals for future practice in respect of what was referred to as the Uganda experience of public private partnerships.

The Uganda story started with a World Bank supported evaluation in 1999 leading into the revised Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) of 2000. The Government is committed to reducing the number of those in absolute poverty below 10% by 2017 and has adopted a sector- wide approach to this. It is also attempting to decentralise delivery to districts and to multiple stakeholders, and encourage community mobilisation and empowerment, social transformation and gender responsiveness.

Government is also striving to support private sector and civil society organisations to establish micro-credit schemes to stimulate rural enterprises and reduce poverty. Functional adult literacy skills empower rural communities to utilise this money better.

Seen in a lifelong learning context, the approach attempts to combine literacy workers closely with extension workers from agriculture, health, trade and industry and elsewhere to tie literacy into real life situations. The Government presentation credited the Bank with making adult literacy central to integrated programmes to eradicate poverty. A National Adult Literacy Strategic Investment Plan (NALSIP) and implementation guidelines were developed in partnership with civil society organisations involved in ANFE.

The session brought out the strength of the NGO sector in Uganda, with over 3,000 organisations and some 9,500 community based organizations or CBOs. This point was underlined in floor discussion by speakers from Kenya, India and Tanzania, who stated that the weaAk civil society (CS) sector also lacked a strong management structure in other places. In this discussion Herbert Baryayebwa was very open about how Government responded to pressure as well as assistance from the NGOs. He welcomed some of the innovative methods thus introduced, such as Action Aid’s participatory approach then being tried out by Government, and the opportunity to try out different methods and then roll some of them out nationally. Strong management underpinned planning and working together, with memoranda of understanding to contract and pay for work done.

The strength of the NGO sector, and so of the partnership, was demonstrated in Patrick Kiirya’s presentation. He made clear that the sector, as a critical friend, had called Government to account over deficiencies and failures adequately to fund ABE programmes related to development. It caused the Government to tear up its initial non-consultative NALSIP and start again. They fought over getting right the true level of illiteracy, about categories of the poor, and over wording that replaced ‘will consider’ by ‘will contract’ some of the work to CSOs. LABE worked with a wider CSO Forum as well as with educationally focused CSOs, incorporating NGOs into government policy.

Kiiryia’s presentation openly posed the question whether partnership between the private sector and civil society hindered or facilitated uplifting the poor and marginalised, stressing that ‘CS actions are not planned or dictated by Government’. In addition to policy input, productive partnership by civil society took three forms:

  • advocacy for neglected groups

  • voluntarily financed service delivery to neglected sectors

  • and publicly financed delivery by sub-contract from government

Civil society bodies could raise significant private resources, had sectoral expertise, were generally closer to the realities of the poor, offset economic with other dimensions of poverty, and promoted relevant knowledge, awareness and understanding of key issues to do with gender, rights, solidarity and empowerment.

Kiiryia spoke about the challenges of partnership, taking a triangle of government, CSOs and the private sector. Were these last two competitors? What value additions were being gained by government? Was it merely outsourcing or actually delegating to CSOs, and contracting to the private sector? He then proposed an alternative model in which ‘other funders’ were added to create a four-way instead of a triangular model, and asked how flexible government might be – and in other words how good could all parties be at developing new models and modes.

A clear and simple model was presented enabling the defining and redefining of strategic roles for each party: governments; CSOs; and ABE learners. Roles were tabulated for each of these as between clear, ambiguous, and inappropriate or unsuitable. Kiiryia’s concluding challenge was drawn from this model. It asserted that it was an inappropriate relationship for NGOs or CSOs to ‘supplement’ or ‘complement’ governmenAt efforts. They should be partners of government, legitimised, different but equal.

Three Reflections on the Conference

Three participants then constituted a panel to consider what could be learned from the presentations about linking research, policy and practice. In doing this they each held up a mirror to different aspects of the Conference.

Professor Ruud van der Veen had co-authored with Julia Preece the agenda-setting paper cited above. He commended the many excellent papers that came from the host University and Department. Turning to the Conference more broadly, it had touched on all the hard questions, but had been somewhat unbalanced, favouring literacy and community development over vocational education, which needed attention. Politics and democracy had gone off the agenda with democracy going badly in many countries (this had certainly not been off the agenda of Conference deliberation, especially once the ‘elephant’ had been named). Van der Veen challenged the profession to enhance our good intentions with high quality practice grounded in research on our own sector and work.

Carlos Zarco, speaking from the perspective of CSO bodies in 21 Latin American countries, noted that this was the fifth big international gathering on adult education in recent years, and asked how we could build more systematic ongoing dialogue across nations between such events. He valued the state of the art documents generated by this Conference and saw emerging a more useful and coherent agenda. This should inform what research was attempted, building on rather than repeating earlier work.

More broadly, he regretted governments’ limited vision and reductionist view of adult education and its marginality toA most public policy. AE alone could not shatter ‘the perverse logic of poverty’ but without AE it would continue to worsen. We had a duty to ‘delegitimise’ poverty, which was ‘a massive expression of the denial of human rights’. This meant redistribution of knowledge and power. Social inclusion meant not just survival but the ability to celebrate hopes and desires.

To Zarco the poor were also our educators, with whom we must exchange knowledge and wisdom. He saw five main groups – women, indigenous peoples, those with disabilities, migrant people, and those infuted with HIV/AIDS – and five key AE strategies – for citizenship, productive employment, intercultural dialogue, sustainable development, and equity. In affirming the public responsibility of all the different actors we must go on from where we have begun, to learn how to build bridges between them all. As to the World Bank, we needed its considerable vision and knowledge as well as its loans, so dialogue must continue. Meanwhile we had to continue discussing politics and the economy in ethical terms.

Dr Gabo Ntseane was one of those Botswana scholars praised by Professor van der Veen. Her paper on HIV/AIDS in Botswana had attracted a strong and passionately engaged discussion group in which she had taken the tough pragmatic line in the face of feminist criticism that it would be better for Botswana to legalise and thus be able to protect and manage the sex industry than to continue ineffectually outlawing prostitution.

She now referred to this work to illustrate how language and concepts were expropriated and dominated by others, and the way that academic research had become commercialised – ‘wait for the research funds before going to the people!’ On reflection she regretted adopting A the term ‘commercial sex workers’ (CSWs) in the light of Botswana’s tradition of multiple partners, startling her audience by pointing out that strictly speaking many at least of the local participants would be CSWs themselves!

On the theme of expropriation Ntseane suggested that most poverty programmes failed, as those implementing them did not believe in them: ‘the reality is that projects come from above’. Most Conference papers had shown this top down character in what they reported. Ntseane called for honest participatory research in which ‘respondents’ became also researchers and themselves defined the research agenda rather than being simply objects. At present the research agenda was donor-driven. Moreover, policy was not research-driven, whereas practice was policy-driven and that policy was driven in turn by a global agenda.

The discussion which followed these three strong reflections largely affirmed them and added ancillary points. Poor universities (like Botswana) cannot generate all the knowledge needed so much has to be imported, which puts society in trouble. New sources of expertise might be found and mobilised, in the way that U3A (The University of the Third Age) was in some countries now mobilising dedicated capabilities among the retired for community purposes. We sometimes overlooked existing indigenous village data collection in coming in as researchers. On the other hand while there should be participatory negotiation and problem definition in setting up research, not everyone could participate in all aspects of doing it.

Finally, illustrating the way the pendulum swung throughout the Conference between macro and micro, philosophical and technical, we should confront the fact of the failed State and failing democracy, and A should not allow ‘political correctness’ to deter us from saying so. Nor should we overlook continuing colonial exploitation as a cause of poverty in the North-South debt, nor the scale of that burden in a country like Nigeria, which should be wealthy.

Issues for Continuing Discussion

The points that follow draw on and summarise issues recurring during the Conference that have not necessarily been picked up in the narrative so far. They were evident in the more dispersed discussion that took place in the many parallel sessions, during breaks between sessions, and after hours.

Many of the Conference papers critiqued in the parallel sessions sought to clarify the meanings of poverty and other key terms such as empowerment. A number sought the roots in politics and/or in the structure of society. There was some argument about whether we were dealing with ideology, philosophy or principles.

The evolving dialogue during the Conference often touched on intersectoral matters across and between portfolios. It looked also for collaboration between governmental, private and non-governmental sectors. There was no disagreement about the vital importance of collaboration and partnership but the argument about language (especially ‘private’) partly obscured an important point about the emergence of new forms of community-based ‘private sector’ or commercial activity.

Evidently it is important to take great care with language, meanings and connotations. Many terms carry loaded meanings buried inside them which obstruct constructive discussion.

Other issues attracting significant attention included the following:

  • Whether the Conference was and should be about reducing or abolishing poverty.

  • The scope of adult education-related activity as well as its efficacy, and the strategies for making it effective. This spans adult education (AE), adult basic education (and training) (ABE(T)), adult non-formal education (ANFE), literacy and functional literacy, and lifelong learning.

  • Measures of attainment, targets, performance efficiency, and methodological problems to do with correlation and causality, and attainment in the short and longer term

  • Demand for accountability, impatience for results, and the propensity to set ambitious numerical targets especially for literacy, basic education and the reduction of poverty, which almost inevitably create failure.

  • Participation of local ‘grassroots’ communities as a key to motivation, mobilisation and success in addressing poverty via adult education.

  • Socio-economic versus strictly individual targets and measures of learning and attainment, identified by affiliation group, community or place.

  • Partnership between governmental, private and non-governmental, civil society or third sector parties. The distinction between the private and the thAird sector. The capacity to ‘reach’ and listen to the voices of the poorest and most needy. In what practical ways partnerships can be made to work. The governance and funding of new forms of collaboration.

  • How to create in practical ways more holistic partnership approaches which deliver results and are accountable and capable of audit.

  • The relationship between (socio-)economic and educational objectives – ‘literacy second’.

  • The widespread adoption of people’s saving banks and microcredit approaches to reducing poverty, especially for and among women.

  • The scaling up of successful small-scale projects to become major programmatic developments able to make a mark on global and national targets.

  • The global and more local political realities of poverty reduction. The philosophical (or ideological) basis of the work and the desirability (or impossibility) of being apolitical.

  • Valuing and accommodating indigenous wisdom and know-how within poverty reduction strategies.

  • The impact of governmental and inter-governmental agencies on national, local and indigenous development, especially the influential leading and trend-setting role of the World Bank.

  • The need for multi-sectoral planning and action, and the obstacles Ato achieving joined-up government.

  • The tension between distributed and embedded ANFE for development and stand-alone higher profile adult education as a distinct ‘sector’ or sub-sector. . The new civil society or civic agenda which implies political transformation and new forms of governance.

  • The universality of many of the key professional concerns of the Conference, North as well as South, including the ubiquity of poverty, deficiencies in understanding of and support for workbased learning, the need for inter-sectoral joined-up government and trans-sectoral partnership for new forms of governance, and lifelong and life-wide learning.

Recommendations and Future Steps

Given the character of the meeting, part consultation and part action-oriented academic conference, with so many papers and presentations to assimilate and consider over just three days, it is not surprising that few specific recommendations could emerge for adoption in this time. On the last afternoon an open plenary session allowed participants to offer propositions with a view to these being integrated and circulated by the University of Botswana organisers for possible adoption as a Gaborone Statement. The resulting Statement is annexed in this Report.

There were calls for the networking and deliberations of the Conference to be sustained via global electronic means, as well as by carrying forward the issues into future meetings. Given the successful experience of a dialogue enabled by the InternationAal Council for Adult Education (ICAE), further virtual lobbying and networking were proposed in the hopeful spirit of the World Social Forum that ‘another world is possible’.

Meanwhile, practical ways should be identified for making partnerships work that connect up governmental and non-governmental, local with national and even global, and economic with social and civic development.

The Conference was keen for the World Bank to explore thoroughly, to use and to share its accumulated knowledge and experience of ANFE, poverty and development. This goes back some decades. Policy papers are not a common part of the Bank’s modes of working. Nonetheless, in view of its evidently strong influence, the Bank is invited to consider taking a more assertive public stand by means of a policy paper on adult education. This might become a living document enabling wider understanding and more success in the ANFE and poverty field.


ABE Adult Basic Education
ABET Adult Basic Education and Training
AE Adult Education
ANFE Adult Non-formal Education
CBL Community Based Learning
CBO Community Based Organisation
CONFINTEA Fifth UNESCO International Adult Education Conference
CONFINTEA + 6 CONFINTEA Meeting (Bangkok September 2003) six years on
CS(O) Civil Society (Organisation)
EFA (EfA) Education for All (UNESCO Dakar 2000 Resolution)
GATS General Agreement on Trade and Services GATT General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
HIV/AIDS HIV Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome
ICAE International Council for Adult Education
IIZ/DVV InstitutAe for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association
LABE Literacy and Adult Basic Education
IMF International Monetary Fund
MDG(s) Millennium Development Goal(s)
NALSIP National Adult Literacy Strategic Investment Plan (Uganda)
NFE Non-formal Education
NGO Non-governmental Organisation
OECD Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
PEAP Uganda’s Poverty Eradication Action Plan
PRSP Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper
UIE UNESCO Institute for Education (Hamburg)
UN United Nations
UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
WTO World Trade Organisation

Main Sources and References

The main source materials prepared for and used at the Conference may be found on the Conference website

Most of the papers submitted and accepted for the five parallel workshop presentations were pre-distributed on registration as

Preece, Julia (editor) (2004). Adult Education and Poverty Reduction: a Global Priority. Papers from the Conference held at the University of Botswana 14th to 16th June 2004.
Gaborone: Department of Adult Education, University of Botswana. pp. 407.

Other publications, papers and presentations referred to in this Report are listed below. Attique-Rehman, Shaheen (2004). Conference presentation slides. Poverty – Adult Education – an Alternative.
Baryayebwa, Herbert (2004). Conference presentation. Functional Adult Literacy and Poverty Eradication.
BélangAer, Paul and others (2004). Poverty and the Right to Learn. Virtual seminar on adult education and poverty. ICAE.
Bhola, Harbans (2004). Adult education for poverty reduction: political economy analysis in systems theory perspective. Tucson AZ: Indiana University.
Duke, Chris (editor) (1985). Combatting Poverty through Adult Education, National Development Strategies. London: Croom Helm.
Duke, Chris (editor) (1990). Grassroots Approaches to Combatting Poverty through Adult Education. (Supplement to Adult Education and Development No 34/1990). Bonn: IIZ/DVV.
Easton, P., Sidikou, M., Aoki, A., Crouch, L. (2003). Rethinking Bank Policy in Support of Adult Non-formal Education. Washington: The World Bank.
Eid, Uschi (2004). Conference welcome address. Gaolathe, Baledzi (2004). Conference opening speech.
Hinzen, Heribert and Pollinger, Hans (editors) (2004). Adult Education and Combating Poverty. Bonn: IIZ/DVV.
Hinzen, Heribert (2004). Conference presentation slides. Perspectives on Adult Education and Poverty Reduction.
Hinzen, Heribert (2004). Conference presentation slides. Analysis of current studies and reflections on the last decades for adult education and poverty reduction.
Kgoroba, George (2004). Conference closing remarks. Revisiting the priorities of adult education for poverty reduction. Kiirya, Patrick (2004). Conference presentation. Partnership Between Government – Private sector – Civil Society – hindrance or facilitator uplifting the poor and marginalised through ABE: the case of Uganda.
Lauglo, Jon (2004). Conference presentation slides. Perspectives on Adult Education and Poverty reduction.
Nordtveit, Bjorn Harald (2004). Managing Public-Private Partnerships. Lessons from Literacy Education in Senegal. Washington: The WorlAd Bank.
Oxenham, John and others (2002). Skills and Literacy Training for Better Livelihood. A Review of Approaches and Experiences. Washington: The World Bank
Oxenham, John (2004). Adult Education and Poverty Reduction – a Global Priority. Botswana Conference keynote address.
Oxenham, John (2004). Including the 900 Million: a Review of World Bank and World Experience in Supporting Programmes of Non-Formal Education and Literacy for Adults. Working draft not for citation. Washington: The World Bank.
Smillie, Ian and Lecomte, Henri-Bernard Solignac (2003). Ownership and Partnership. What role for civil society in poverty reduction strategies? Paris: OECD.
UNESCO (2003). Income-generating Programmes for Poverty Alleviation through Nonformal Education. Bangkok: UNESCO.
Zarco, Carlos (2004). Conference presentation. Reflections of Challenges Facing the Adult Education Movement.

Adult Education and Development


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