Anthony Okech

In April 2005, the IIZ/DW organized a conference on "The Training of Adult Educators in Africa and Asia-Pacific" in Cape Town, attended by over 50 adult educators from Africa, Asia and Europe. Later in the same year, two regional conferences for West and East Africa continued this process. In August there was a follow-up meeting in Bamako, which explored the particular situation in French-speaking West Africa. And in December, the situation in East Africa was discussed in Nairobi. Anthony Okech, of the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education, Makerere University, Uganda, reports on this. The principal papers from all three conferences are published by the IIZ/DW in the volume "Capacity Building and the Training of Adult Educators" in the series "International Perspectives in Adult Education".

Training of Adult Educators in East Africa: Some Outstanding Issues

In December 2005 the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (IIZ/DW) in collaboration with the University of Nairobi organized in Nairobi a Conference on the Training of Adult Educators in East African Countries. The conference brought together university academics specializing in adult and community education, staff of institutions training in adult education and community development, officers from government ministries in charge of adult education and representatives of non-governmental organizations engaged in adult education. The objective of the conference was to identify potentials and opportunities for exchange, learning and future cooperation in: training of adult educators; development of teaching and learning materials; and research and documentation. A variety of issues arose from presentations and discussion in those three areas. Some of the outstanding issues are presented in this article.

Identifying the Adult Educator

A participant at the conference who is on the sidelines of adult education expressed a disturbing concern about what he observed at the conference. He was rather puzzled that this gathering of some of the top experts, professionals and practitioners of adult education in the region spent so much time debating such basic questions as what is adult education, what is literacy, who is an adult educator and who is in the target group for adult education. He thought that these were questions that should be asked by those being initiated into adult education, not something to be debated by experts and experienced practitioners, some of who had worked for almost four decades in adult education. Most likely, at the back of this participant's mind was the question: what have these people been teaching or practising if they do not seem to have clear answers to basic questions about their work?

Indeed, there was to some extent the uncomfortable feeling at the conference that adult education discussions find it difficult to move beyond the beginning, the definitions. Yet, if one is not clear about who the adult educator is one cannot say much about the training of adult educators. In his introduction to the theme on the training of adult educators, Professor Macharia listed a wide range of institutions that educate adults in Kenya but do not feel the need for training in adult education because they do not consider themselves adult education He emphasized the need for specialists in adult education to clearly define and concentrate on the specialized and then attract those others to benefit from the specialized training in handling adults.

The discussion on definitions was therefore brought about by the reality on the ground. Among the programmes presented as training adult educators was the BSc in Agricultural Extension in Awassa College of Agriculture at Debub University in Ethiopia. In some other countries, for example Uganda, training for agricultural extension workers is not referred to as training adult educators although adult education methods are now offered in the Agricultural Extension Education programme at Makerere University in Uganda. Apparently, it is not only people in the other institutions who do not recognize themselves as adult educators, but also those who specialize in adult education seem to find it difficult to recognize as adult educators others such as agricultural extension educators and health educators.

Adult Educators and the Labour Market

Another issue that occupied some time in the conference was the employment opportunities for those trained as adult educators. The discussion was sparked off by the remarks of Professor Macharia in his introduction to the theme on training adult educators. He observed that adult education is at present "a suppressed subject" in Kenya and that a programme for training adult educators would therefore be popular only if it was linked to training for formal education. He therefore suggested that any proposed degree training in adult education should be part of the existing Bachelor of Education programme so that the person trained is able to work in school education, in adult education and in other areas of specialisation. Unless that is done, he said, there would be problems with the programme of training adult educators.

What Professor Macharia was proposing is happening in some universities in Africa, including one in the region, the University of Dar es Salaam. On the other hand the approach that he said would end up in problems was being used in Makerere University, Uganda, whose Bachelor of Adult and Community Education programme had been running without any enrolment problems for over eight years. A significant number of the graduates from the Makerere programme had found employment in positions appropriate to their training in adult and community education. Many had, indeed, gone back to their former jobs, a number of them as school teachers but many in jobs that would benefit from their training in adult and community education, such as community development workers, agricultural extension officers, health workers and similar work with communities. Although no systematic tracer study has been undertaken the feeling at Makerere University is that the programme in adult and community education not linked to training for teaching in schools is a viable one with good prospects for the graduates. Of course, as with many other degree programmes there are some graduates who spend some time without jobs. Another example of such a programme that it was felt was doing well was that of the University of Botswana in Southern Africa.

A participant from Ethiopia felt that a programme like that offered at Makerere laid stress on the methodology, not what to teach. Adult education training, he felt, should have other content areas on top of adult education. It would, he concluded, therefore be difficult to offer just adult education at Bachelor or Masters level. In pursuing this line of thinking, many universities have indeed provided adult education only at post-graduate level for people with first degrees in other areas of specialisation. The first degree then provides the "what to teach" while the post-graduate programme provides the professional foundations and methodology. There was, however, a feeling expressed by some participants that offering a Masters only for those from other specialisations was lowering the status of adult education as a professional discipline on its own with its own body of knowledge.

This issue was one of those that were picked up for group discussions followed by further considerations in the plenary. Eventually, the general feeling seemed to recognise the need for developing adult education as a specialisation but that there was need for diversification in the training of adult educators. The contents of the diversified training have to respond to the needs of the trainees. The contents cannot be the same for all adult education trainers in the whole region.

Balancing Theory and Practice

The risk of university level training tending to be theoretical and not practical is one that is often mentioned. As would have been expected it arose at the Nairobi conference and was even one of the topics for group discussions. The ways that were suggested in which the training could be more practical were: field attachment, teaching practice, micro teaching, workshops, field studies, research projects and practical work assignments. It was realised that universities seemed to have inherent constraints because of the type of programmes they are supposed to offer, which tend to emphasise the academic discipline at the cost of practice. This has implications also for the time allocation because students have to accumulate a certain number of credits in order to graduate. The credits are more readily accumulated through lectures than through practical work. For example, at Makerere University it takes 15 contact hours to make one credit unit. While one lecture hour constitutes one contact hour, it takes two supervised practical hours to make one contact hour. To obtain the the required number of credit units for graduation, there has accordingly to be more concentration on lecture hours than on practical field work, which is as a result relegated to the vacations when students should be having a break. The conference therefore recognised that there was not enough time given to practical work.

Another constraint is inadequate financing for the practical component, which is to some extent related to the constraint just discussed, as they both arise from the low importance given to practical work. Most training in the region is on the whole carried out with a very tight budget. In such a situation, when there is a question of where there should be budgetary cuts it is the practical work that will suffer the cuts. When Makerere University Institute of Adult and Continuing Education proposed to offer the Diploma in Adult Education and later the Bachelor of Adult and Community Education the university administration made it clear that the new programmes should not have a practical field work component because the government was no longer in a position to finance those components adequately. The Institute was only able to include a practical component in both programmes because it was able to obtain support for the component from IIZ/DW Fortunately, the degree programme has now been included among those whose practical field work component is supported by the university through funds obtained from the government and other sources.

The inability to obtain adequate funding for balancing theory with practice in training seemed to be a constraint faced by other institutions in the region as well. After much discussion the conference seemed to have come to the conclusion that lack of funds forcing the abandonment of certain aspects is a failure on the part of the implementers to make their case before the relevant authorities. Trainers, the conference felt, should be firm on the essential components of their programmes, and the practical component is as essential as the theoretical. There is no reason why it should be the one to be left out when there are financial constraints.

Lack of capacity to supervise the practical work was another factor mentioned as constraining the practical components of the training programmes. The lack of capacity is often the result of insufficient staff compared to the number of students. In some cases the student-staff ratio is too high for adequate supervision of practical work. The student-staff ratio for the Bachelor of Adult and Community Education at Makerere University stood at about 40:1 during the academic year 2004/2005, something more suitable for a Primary School than a professional training programme. This makes it necessary to have only one of the classes doing field work in a year (during the long vacations) and as a result students do the field work only once during their three-year training. The trainers in universities also suffer from time constraints because during the vacations they are also engaged in marking examinations and processing examination results, often against very tight deadlines, leaving them rather little time to go out to the field. To compound all, the vacations provide many of the staff in universities with the only open time for research and other personal development, which they would neglect to their own detriment. Most of them are otherwise teaching fully during the two semesters of the academic year.

Lack of capacity to supervise the practical work also arises to some extent from the fact that many of those training adult educators have never themselves been involved in practical work in the field. For most, field work has been incidental, usually in the context of research, consultancy work or some other technical support. Whereas from such experiences and through reading they have a fairly good idea of what good fieldwork should be, there is no doubt that in many cases supervision is also a learning experience for them, which may be all right but means that in some cases there is much guesswork in the process. The supervisors in the host institutions where students are placed for practical work are, on the other hand, often very good at the practical work but are sometimes not really clear about what the university requires in assessing the students' performance in the field.

Balancing theory and practice thus remains a big challenge for trainers of adult educators based at universities. Whereas the challenge is not unique to adult education, the fact that adult education does not command very high priority in many universities means that it suffers even more than others. No university would have told a Faculty proposing a programme to train teachers for secondary education to leave out the teaching practice component, just as the medical, agricultural extension, or engineering programmes would not be told to leave out the practical component. However, as has been cited above, university authorities can tell the training of adult educators to leave out the practical component without seeing any incongruity there.

Training of adult educators at lower institutions of learning seems to have a greater chance of being balanced between theory and practice, although there have been complaints to the reverse that there is not enough theory in some training institutions. Some managers in the field would, however, prefer someone with little theory and more practical skills that the other way round. Adult educator training outside formal training institutions may be the most practical and relevant of all, since it is often designed to meet specific training needs and to result in immediate application in the field. The conference mentioned specialised short courses, skills-oriented hands-on training courses and the training of grassroots workers such as literacy instructors in this category. A number of NGOs undertake such training. Some of them have set up training units that have accumulated much practical experience. An evaluation of the adult literacy programmes in Uganda recommended collaboration between public and private institutions to maximise the existing opportunities for improving the quality and effectiveness in the training of adult educators.

Inter-institution Cooperation, Best Practices and Centres of Excellence

The objective of the Nairobi conference was to identify potentials and opportunities for exchange, learning and future cooperation. Inter-institution cooperation was therefore an important issue at the conference. The organisers of the conference, IIZ/DW, had in mind the possibility of identifying best practices that could be shared and learnt from. An idea they had in mind was that of identifying a centre or centres of excellence in the training of adult educators that could be supported to provide high quality training opportunities for the region. Particular attention was paid to the possibility of identifying an institution/country that could develop a distance learning programme (certificate, diploma, Bachelors, Masters) and make it available to other countries in the region. Several issues arose as these ideas were considered.

The participants eagerly welcomed the idea of cooperation but immediately asked themselves why the cooperation efforts never took root, why eagerly started inter-institution networks and collaboration could not be sustained. It was recalled that adult educators in East Africa used to have a strong forum which enabled them to hold an annual study conference rotating among Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Those who participated in those study conferences recalled how beneficial they were. They however died out in the seventies. Then there were the adult education subject activities under the Inter-Universities Council for East Africa, which enabled adult educators from the universities in the three countries to meet and discuss many issues of concern and present papers on selected aspects of their discipline. That, too, mysteriously came to an end. It also seems that institutions in the region are non-communicative. Hardly any institution in the region had responded to the questionnaire for the survey that IIZ/DW sponsored on the training of adult educators in preparation for the conference on the training of adult educators held in Cape Town.

There was no readily available explanation for the weakness in inter-institution communication, networking and collaboration. It was not clear whether Eastern Africa may be weaker in this than other regions, but the conference was also informed that the website that IIZ/DW had set up to link adult education training institutions on the continent was lying practically unused because of very low response from the institutions. Some reasons given included poor infrastructure and lack of resources but it seemed these were not really convincing. It is certainly an area where institutions in Eastern Africa and perhaps Africa as a whole need to do some soul-searching. Otherwise, networking and cooperation initiatives will always end up being abortive. In spite of that bleak background the conference went ahead to propose some cooperation mechanisms and set up a committee to follow up the efforts to establish and maintain linkages among institutions in the region.

The idea of service centres or centres of excellence to service the region would be a particular form of cooperation. The conference grappled with identifying criteria to assess centres of excellence and proposed the following: physical facilities, equipment and materials adequate for the various tasks required of a training institute; sufficient number of high calibre human resources with rich experience in adult education and a good organisation; and the institution's readiness for such cooperation. Such cooperation should also take into consideration commonality among the partner institutions and proximity for ease of contact. There was accordingly a suggestion that the region be divided into two sub-regions: East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Each of the two would have a centre but link and have synergy with the other. There would be more common interests in the sub-region and that would ensure more active collaboration.

On the other hand there was the feeling that the needs and situation in each country were different. Care is therefore needed when thinking of developing a distance learning programme that could be shared among different countries. The discussion came out with the recommendation that each country should decide on the type of distance learning programme it needs and explore resources available for developing it. Distance education materials writing should then be done in a collaborative manner, benefiting from the expertise available in some of the countries in the region. Modalities could also be worked out for sharing the materials.

During the discussions on inter-institution cooperation, there inevitably arose the question of the link between adult/non-formal and formal education, a question that seemed to arise in every country mainly because of the interest by adult education participants in obtaining formal certificates recognised for the purposes of employment. The usual feeling is that such recognition can only be achieved if the certification in adult education is equated to that in formal education. This requires a qualifications framework so that adults do not have to undergo the same kind of education and examination like children in formal education but are able to obtain equivalent certification while pursuing a programme that is more suitable for them. Kenya and Uganda were working on developing qualifications frameworks. In Kenya the desire was to have something similar to the framework operating in South Africa (the ABET model).

Research and Documentation

The conference was informed in the keynote address that the survey sponsored by IIZ/DW had found that there were low research outputs in adult education in the Anglophone Africa region. The participants at the Nairobi conference agreed that this situation was certainly true of the Eastern Africa region. Initially there was the feeling at the conference that Uganda was ahead in research on adult education. While this may be true in comparison with the other countries, the participants from Uganda still felt that the research outputs in the area of adult education from Uganda too were still inadequate.

While introducing the theme on research and documentation, Anthony Okech of Makerere University, Uganda, explained that what research there was had been dominated mainly by immediate programming needs and was therefore in the form of needs assessment surveys for adult education, especially adult literacy, of which he himself had undertaken over ten for the government and various other agencies and non-governmental organisations. Another main area of the research activities in Uganda was evaluation of adult education programmes, including the much publicised evaluation of adult literacy programmes in 1999, published by the world bank in 2001. Some research had also been done for Doctor of Philosophy theses but these were still very few - only three or four. So, Ugandan adult educators still feel that there is a big research gap and there is need for more basic research on various aspects of adult education as well as action research for the improvement of both theory and practice.

A certain amount of research on aspects of adult education has been carried out also in Tanzania and to a lesser extent in Kenya. However, another concern that arose is the low visibility of the research that had been undertaken in this area. It was difficult to accurately assess the state of research because of few openings for the sharing of research findings and the absence of any database on research in this area. Among the ideas for future action from the conference were, accordingly, the need to develop research documentation avenues and forums for sharing research findings.

Attention was also turned to ways in which research outputs could be enhanced in the region. In his introduction to the theme, Anthony Okech examined the implications that the absence of research has for academics in adult education (publish or perish) and for the relevance and quality of adult education provision. The low profile of adult education in the universities, he felt, could be partly due to the lack of significant research that academics in this field have made visible to the academic world. Adult education as a whole, he explained, could also benefit from more research not only in improved relevance and quality but also for advocacy, to make a case for the work. The conference adopted proposals for a fourteen-item research agenda put forward by Professor Obonyo Digolo of the Faculty of Education, University of Nairobi and agreed that among the most urgent follow-up activities should be capacity building in research.

Way Forward

The Nairobi conference was seen by many participants as a landmark meeting for adult education in Eastern Africa. Many of the participants at the conference had never been in contact before in spite of their being neighbours. It is thus not surprising that some basic issues were raised. Such issues can only be further clarified by more interaction and sharing of ideas and experiences. The conference accordingly proposed the holding of an annual conference on adult education, the establishment of university academic exchange programmes and a network of adult education institutions and organisations in the region.

It is not very meaningful for each institution to try to resolve issues such as what is meant by adult education. Although each country will, no doubt, have specific needs and characteristics that call for a special focus, the profession and discipline of adult education will only be strong if there is a core common base for its global development. It is difficult to speak with one voice as adult educators and positively influence local and international opinion when each one understands adult education as something different. It then becomes difficult to talk about and plan for training of adult educators, materials development for adult education or research in adult education.

The hope is that this initiative will not go the same way as many others before it, starting with enthusiasm but then fading away prematurely. The key challenge of non-communicative behaviour needs to be addressed by each university and institution if inter-institution networking and cooperation is to thrive sufficiently to bear the desired fruits. Adult education training will benefit significantly if the Nairobi conference turns out to be the beginning of long-term networking and cooperation. Then some clearer answers may be found to the issues that were raised.