Adult Education for Learning Societies - Asian and European Perspectives for a Globalized World

A International Conference and Study Tour on Adult Education for Learning on Cooperation was held in China at the end of October 2006. The cooperating partners were the Chinese Association for Adult Education (CAEA), the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE), the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA), and the German Adult Education Association (DW). The exchange of information and discussion focused on important issues of migration and integration, HIV/AIDS and the environment, legislation and funding, youth and gender. The ICAE World Assembly in 2007 and CONFINTEA VI in 2009 were also addressed. We reprint here the Report and Statement adopted there.

Report and Statement

Context

To call attention to the importance of adult education in enabling people and societies to confront the challenges of the new millennium, more than one hundred and twenty participants from about forty different countries came together in Beijing, China, from October 28 to November 4,2006 for the International Conference and Study Tour on Adult Education for Learning Societies - Asian and European Perspectives for a Globalized World, to inform and learn from each other, to exchange ideas and experiences, and to search for ways to cooperate closer in the future.

Participants represented diverse experiences of professional associations, non-governmental and community based organizations, governments, and universities.

The success of the conference benefited immensely from the expertise and experience of participants from a parallel East and South East Asian Women's Workshop on Advocacy for Women's Education. Their contributions in many of the joint sessions informed the conference discussions with women's perspectives and analysis, and expanded women's share of roles and responsibilities during the conference.

The conference was jointly organized by the Asian-South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE), the Chinese Adult Education Association (CAEA), the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) and the German Adult Education Association (DW). Cooperating partners at the global level were the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), and from within China, the National Institute for Educational Research (CNIER) and the Beijing Academy of Educational Sciences (BAES).

In planning and implementing this event, the organizers built on recent meetings of adult educators like the EAEA Lillehammer conference in November 2005, the DW Berlin convention in May 2006, and the ICAE Montevideo conference in June 2006 - towards two major forthcoming events: the ICAE World Assembly in Nairobi in January 2007, and UNESCO's 2009 Confintea VI which has its regional preparatory conferences already scheduled in 2008.

It is never too late to learn!

Adult education is part of learning throughout life, or as an ancient proverb states: "Learning starts in the womb and ends in the tomb." The European Commission is currently preparing a communication on adult learning with a clear message: it is never too late to learn. Learning societies of today need lifelong learning, and they need structures to support learning, education and training throughout the lifetime, while you are a child, as younger or older adult, be it informal, non-formal or formal.

Participants discussed the four-pillar approach when looking at education systems. Citizens need good schools, efficient vocational training, universities with relevance, and adequate adult education. There should be bridges between the four pillars, and second chances for those who did not have access or failed initially.

Within this context, participants discussed the aims and hopes of the Education for All policy framework as well as the Millennium Development Goals, and expressed concern at slow progress in achieving the goals and targets with low priority accorded education by governments in countries of both the Asian and European regions.

Adult education gains strength and recognition from support structures enjoyed by other parts of the education system. To be more successful, conducive polices, legislation, and financing mechanisms that respect the needs of the learners and providers should be put in place - as they are for the other education and training sectors. The participants therefore welcomed the announcement by Mr. Zhang Xinsheng, Vice Minister of Chinese Education, that the Chinese government will formulate a Law on Life Long Learning to ensure the further development of adult learning in China.

European and Asian participants appreciated to be informed on recent developments of adult education in China which deal with similar issues in an authentic way. It contributed to an understanding that we all have to learn from each other.

The conference looked especially at globalisation and some of the most pressing and urgent issues which bear on the practice of adult education. The new information technologies have profoundly expanded the potential for learning and dramatically changed the world of work. Rapid and massive economic growth has expanded demand for labour and spurred the expansion of cities through wide-scale rural-urban and cross-country migration. It has exerted pressure on the environment with heightened risks to sustainability. Despite high economic growth, many remain excluded from its benefits: a quarter of the world's population still live in extreme poverty, majority of them, women. Millions are still denied access to free and adequate health care services and health education thus fall prey to pneumonia, malaria, diarrhoea, measles and AIDS. The participants underscored the important and critical role of adult education in enabling citizens to best respond to the challenges of globalization, social exclusion and conflict.

Participants appreciated the free flow of sharing information and experiences on their adult education activities. The participants analysed experiences in adults learners' weeks, language learning and its testing, the training of adult educators and research policies. Discussions such as these are valuable to the development of adult education as a profession and an academic discipline.

The diversity of adult education cultures in the Asian and the European countries and between the Asian and European regions was recognized and approaches of intercultural learning discussed.

Calls and Recommendations

We, the participants of the International Conference and Study Tour on Adult Education for Learning Societies- Asian and European Perspectives for a Globalized World:

  1. Affirm adult education as a human right.
  2. Believe that everyone - girl, boy, woman and man - should have access to learning opportunities throughout their lives. As mankind steps into the information society, those who most need the information technology to break through the isolation, have the greatest difficulty in access to it. As usage of ICT has been a living pattern, the disadvantaged groups should not be neglected.
  3. Affirm that gender justice and gender equity should be a persistent dimension of the planning, implementation of adult education programs.
  4. Believe that adult education should keep poverty alleviation/eradication and the promotion of sustainable development as urgent and core tasks.
  5. Believe that adult education can be a powerful instrument for inclusion, promoting tolerance and respect for diversity and differences.
  6. Believe that the effectiveness of adult learning largely depends on the quality of education and training. Adult educators must therefore be fully supported in their efforts to enhance the quality of adult education and training they can offer.

We commit to promote international solidarity and cooperation to strengthen adult education globally.

  • We will continue to open opportunities for exchange between countries, national and regional organizations which build on and enhance our existing work. For example, further cooperation could centre around five key findings of a recent research study by the EAEA on trends and issues in European adult education:

    • the holistic, total, integrated, systemic and all-embracing grasp and policy perspective on adult learning and the resulting provision
    • core public funding especially for the disadvantaged, with a stable and sustainable locally based infrastructure
    • high quality of provision and quality of the personnel involved
    • recognition and credit for non-formal and informal alongside formal adult education and learning
    • simple key indicators, together with support for and use of good research and statistics

  • Information, exchange and cooperation in adult education for lifelong learning should as well include policies, laws, financial mechanisms, methodologies, materials, research, curricula, models, frameworks and best practices.
  • Exchange of staff and students could be another valuable source to strengthen initial steps for middle and longer term perspectives.
  • Structures, programmes and processes of the ASEM initiative could help the cooperation between Asian and European adult educators. The same applies for other intergovernmental processes and formations involving the European Commission and other bodies. These should be explored.

Further, being:

  • Aware of the potential of adult education for social, cultural and economic development
  • Conscious that the right to learn of adult women and men is an enabling right for all the other fundamental human rights
  • Convinced of he necessity of international cooperation to ensure and monitor opportunities of women and men to learn throughout their adult life
  • Looking at CONFINTEA VI as a critical global platform to rally all actors for the urgent task of building active learning societies and of ensuring the creative participation of women and men in this construction of our common future
  • Committing already themselves, with their networks, to ensure the process of CONFINTEA VI

    • Invite UNESCO to intensify, through the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, the preparatory process of CONFINTEA VI to be held in 2009
    • Enjoin all Member States to participate in this preparatory process at national and through regional PRE-CONFINTEA meetings and send, in 2009 at CONFINTEA VI, high level delegations including and bringing together the various adult education stakeholders