It is my great pleasure to have been invited to officially open this important International Conference on Adult Education and Poverty Reduction: A Global Priority. Let me join the Vice Chancellor in welcoming you all to this Conference and to Botswana for those coming from other countries. Poverty Reduction is an issue that touches and challenges the hearts and minds of many people world-wide.
To emphasise the seriousness of the poverty situation in the world, let me begin by giving some statistics from the British Department for International Development publication entitled Statistics on International Development 1998/99 – 2002/03. According to this publication:
One in five of the world’s population – two thirds of them women – live in abject poverty; that is, without adequate food, clean water, sanitation, healthcare, and education.
More than 24% of the population of the developing and emerging industrialised nations live on less than US$1 a day. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, over 46% of the population live on less than US$1 as day. Baledzi Gaolathe Source: Daniela Giannini 8
About 113 million children of primary-school going age have never gone to school and one in four adults in the developing world – that is 870 million people – are unable to read or write.
Since education is a proven major contributory factor in graduating families out of poverty, the challenge to the international community is not only to expand education opportunities to encompass all the coming young generations but also to expand such opportunities to cover these millions of people, who have already missed out, through adult education. A number of international initiatives and conferences on the issues relating to population and development have taken place in the past, culminating in the United Nations Conference on Financing for Development in 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico. The Conference adopted the Monterrey Consensus, which inter alia, called upon developed countries to recommit themselves to raising ODA to 0.7% of GNP to support developing countries in their efforts to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Whilst all Millennium Development Goals are interrelated, the specific target in relation to poverty reduction is to reduce the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries by at least 50% by 2015.
Current indications are that many developing countries will not meet the Millennium Development Goals by the target date, and will not succeed in reducing poverty by half in 2015 unless initiatives are redoubled to increase flow of resources from developed to developing countries, protectionism is removed and developing countries improve their macro-economic management.
It is important to appreciate that poverty is a consequence of many factors, not just insufficient access to income. These include ill health, lack of human capabilities, lack of self-determination and lack of selfesteem. Even though increasingly urban migration is shifting poverty to the urban areas, generally, rural areas are still where the majority of the poor live in many countries. Lack of potable water, poor access to education and appropriate technology, low returns to rural labour and 9 inadequate land reforms are some of the major factors contributing to rural poverty.
The focus of this Conference is the role of adult education in poverty reduction. In this context, it is important to realise that poverty is both a barrier to accessing education and a consequence of lack of access and insufficient education. Although education is a primary factor in bringing people out of poverty, education for children of poor families is often sacrificed, amongst other things, due to the need for their labour, thus creating a vicious circle of poverty. That is where adult education must come in to break this circle and assist those who miss formal education opportunities.
There is sufficient documented evidence to demonstrate that education in general is a major factor in graduating families out of poverty. However, often major policy documents fail to make explicit the link between adult education and poverty reduction. Adult education only features in a minority of country poverty reduction strategy papers. This may be because of a lack of understanding about adult education’s role in relation to community development and lifelong learning. Against this background, there is need for greater awareness and appreciation for the critical role which adult education can play in the war against poverty, with adult education practitioners playing a more visible role in poverty reduction initiatives, at both the national and community level. It is in this regard that we expect adult education to contribute to achievement of Botswana’s Vision 2016 pillars such as An Educated, Informed Nation and A Prosperous, Productive and Innovative Nation, which envisage attainment of universal access to education and training, full employment and elimination of poverty by 2016.
In the context of Botswana, adult education encompasses three main fields: Adult Basic Education, which provides people with opportunities to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills and progress to the equivalency of Grade 7; Extension Services; and Continuing Education, which refers to all programmes designed for people who 10 have completed the basic cycle of ten years of schooling. Examples of these programmes include distance learning, evening studies and part-time and vocational training.
There can therefore be no doubt that adult education contributes to capacity building through skills development, technology transfer, community leadership development and information dissemination. It is therefore an empowerment process in terms of acquiring skills and increasing knowledge of social, political, environmental and economic issues that impact on individual and collective living. It therefore provides the human capabilities necessary to enable one to avoid or graduate from poverty, and it needs to be linked to and taken as part of other development processes aimed at enhancing human welfare.
The Government of Botswana is very much concerned about the persistence of poverty in this country. Government’s efforts to address this problem entail economy-wide strategies, such as macro-economic stability, employment creation and economic growth, as well as focus on human capabilities development. It is in this regard that Government has spent and continues to spend a significant proportion of its resources on education and skills training, health and other essential services. The idea is to empower citizens to generate their own incomes. Another key focus has been support for sustainable livelihoods through financial assistance programmes in the form of grants, subsidies and affordable lines of credit to farmers and other entrepreneurs. In addition, Government has put in place social safety nets to protect the poor and vulnerable. Elements of this safety net include the Drought Relief programme, the National Policy for Destitute Persons, the Old Age Pension Scheme and a mid-day meal for all school going children.
In addition to these initiatives, in April 2003, the Government adopted the National Strategy for Poverty Reduction, which not only provides strategies to address poverty related concerns, but also provides the overarching framework for dealing with poverty concerns in a systematic and coordinated manner across all sectors and stakeholders of Botswana society. To this end, we expect the Strategy to benefit from a strong cooperative relationship between my Ministry and the Department of Adult Education at the University of Botswana.
Central to all of Government’s poverty alleviation initiatives is the Revised National Policy for Rural Development of 2002. The Policy focuses on nine thematic areas, two of which are capacity building and poverty reduction. The Policy advocates for capacity building through education and training as a way of human resource building. Amongst others, its focus is on extension worker training. For this purpose, my Ministry through the Rural Development Council’s sub-committee on training, has a collaborative arrangement with the Department of Adult Education of the University of Botswana, for a dedicated faculty staff to routinely monitor and address the training needs of extension workers in the field. This is done with the view to facilitating lifelong learning for all groups in society, as well as to improving efficiency in project implementation and service delivery at community level. Under this arrangement, tailor-made courses are developed and run for extension workers, including courses on how to initiate participatory approaches to development at the grassroots level.
It is my hope that both the Rural Development Coordination Division of my Ministry and the Department of Adult Education of the University of Botswana will take advantage of the momentum created by this Conference to reflect on what still needs to be done to ensure that their collaborative arrangement fully delivers. Over the next three days a wealth of academic, practical and policy presentations will be made at this Conference, which should provide meaningful input to enrich, and further inform policy and strategy formulation as to how adult education can contribute to poverty reduction here in Botswana and in other countries.
Let me conclude by wishing fruitful deliberations. We will be awaiting the conclusions and recommendations of the Conference with anticipation. It is now my singular privilege to declare the Conference on Adult Education and Poverty Reduction officially open.
1 Baledzi Gaolathe is Minister of Finance and Development Planning in Botswana.
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