The following paper analyses the status of ABLE in the context of development cooperation and discusses what EFA donors, especially bi-lateral governmental development cooperation agencies, can do to support sustainable adult education with emphasis on literacy and basic education in a broad sense for out of school youth and adults. The author has more than 30 years of experience in the field of adult education, especially adult literacy, with a focus on developing countries, development assistance, and international initiatives. She is currently based in Maputo, Mozambique, on leave from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), working part-time as an assistant professor in the Department of Adult Education at Eduardo Mondlane University, part-time as a consultant for UIL in Botswana and Mozambique, and overall for UNESCO ´s Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE).
In spite of the recognition of the crucial role of basic education for poverty reduction by global agendas no priority has been given to Adult Basic Learning and Education (ABLE).1 This is, for example, reflected in the absence of ABLE in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) benchmarks, in spite of the inclusion of ABLE in two of the six EFA goals established in the Dakar framework (goals 3 and 4). For international development cooperation agencies interested in supporting ABLE as part of funding national plans to achieve the EFA goals the instability and neglect of ABLE in these global agendas constitute a challenge. In addition, other related trends have contributed to the neglect and even crisis of ABLE and its institutional sustainability, such as the belief that ABLE is an NGO domain not a government responsibility, lack of funding, and the move away from targeted development cooperation projects.
Most of these challenges are directly interlinked and interact. The impact of the mainstream global agendas on donor policies for education and national education polices and plans in aid-dependent developing countries is often very direct and profound. It is therefore necessary to influence the global agendas and processes related to EFA and broader development to include and appropriately ad-dress the importance of ABLE to achieve the intended goals. It is not enough to monitor and support global initiatives or processes specifically related to adult education. The legitimisation of ABLE in global frameworks is therefore necessary for opening up spaces and integration at national level.
Obviously the EFA Goals are reasons enough to insist on including ABLE in development assistance to EFA. To achieve the EFA goals, it is necessary to invest simultaneously in quality education for all children and quality education for youth and adults. One cannot succeed without the other. Parents with education stimulate and support their children's attendance and work in school to a greater extent than parents without education. Most importantly, basic education should be seen as a human right for all - children, youth and adults. A democracy and human rights approach implies not only the right to education, but also, human rights and democracy must be applied in education and promoted through education.2
ABLE needs to be an integral component of EFA and poverty reduction, but will obviously not in itself solve the problems of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, violation of human rights, HIV/AIDS, exclusion etc. ABLE is only a means to cope with basic learning needs of adults. But ABLE has the potential of enabling creative and democratic citizenship, giving a voice to women and men living in poverty, as well as providing tools for improving their lives.
Donors who promote human rights and human development should support ABLE because ABLE is embedded in the universal right to education, and is necessary for human development and Education For All (EFA).
In the wake of the 1990 Jomtien conference on EFA, primary education was given the highest priority by many development agencies and governments in developing countries, often at the cost of ABLE, because it was considered the most cost-effective investment in education (see for example World Bank 1995). Ironically, during the same period, adult education in a Lifelong Learning (LLL) perspective was given more attention than ever in the North (the "developed" countries) as a result of the demands of the labour market of the global economy (CONFINTEA 1997).
Not only have poor aid-dependent countries shaped their policies according to the dominant global agendas as they are set and redefined. Also donor agencies, governmental as well as non-governmental, are often very easily influenced by, or actively take part themselves in, the latest global agendas. This has, since the EFA conference in Jomtien, in 1990, led to the neglect of ABLE in development cooperation. Even the international NGO movement for EFA, the Global Campaign for Education, used to focus on primary education and neglect adult basic education.
Also, there is still a tendency to see ABLE as a purely NGO matter, and therefore not appropriate for governmental funding. Another view is the belief in the merits of limiting the role of governments to defining policy frameworks and establishing outsourcing mechanisms for so-called operators, according to the "faire-faire" model developed with World Bank (WB) assistance in Senegal.3
The EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2006 (UNESCO 2005) follows up the adult literacy part of Dakar goal 4 and thereby gives much needed attention to literacy, which is at the core of EFA. The other goal (3) on learning needs of youth and adults, and the second part of goal 4, "equitable access to basic and continuing education for adults", still need to be addressed seriously, including the definition of what these include. Very little has been done to support sustainable development of adult education systems in developing countries.
The less established, more diversified conceptual and practical nature of adult education has contributed to its uncertain and instable place in the context of development cooperation and mainstream global agendas. In Europe and other industrialised countries adult education systems have been established, often with a pluralistic structure and accompanied by legislative regulations and subsidies by both the public and private sector. The need for coordination among different partners is recognised and often regulated. Such a system normally includes a whole range of objectives and contents, from vocational, second chance schooling to leisure and citizenship aspects, and requires different modalities, formal, non-formal and informal. This complexity is a challenge that has to be recognised and addressed. Unfortunately, it has probably been a factor that has contributed to confusion and neglect in the area of ABLE and lifelong learning.
In the area of ABLE, NFE and literacy there is terminological confusion and no consensus on meanings of terms such as NFE, "literacies", life-long learning, adult basic education and training, income-generation, life skills training etc, which complicates any analysis of the field. Despite of its norm-setting role, UNESCO has itself not been very consistent in its use of terminology. This lack of clarity is in fact an urgent matter to address, because at each event in which the purpose is to share experience or develop strategies on adult literacy or non-formal education there are problems of agreeing on what the subject is about.
Less direct development assistance to ABLE than before can be noted, for example from Sweden, because of the move away from targeted project support and new modalities of coordinated and harmonised aid through sector-wide approaches or non-earmarked budget support, in accordance with the Paris Declaration of the European Commission, adopted in 2006. Funding can still be done where the recipient government includes ABLE in sector plans and budgets, supported by donors. The possible institutional capacity development components become more challenging to support, however. This is because they require much more than funding mechanisms.
As stressed above, ABLE has an uncertain and unstable place in development cooperation and global agendas.
While the Delors Commission focused on the formal education system for children and youth, and neglected non-formal adult education,4 the Unesco Conference in Hamburg, CONFINTEA, in 1997, formulated an "enlarged vision of adult learning". Follow-up is currently on the agenda, but seems to have little impact in developing countries where the EFA Dakar (UNESCO 2000) framework is the overarching international platform for basic education until 2015. "The weak articulation between EFA and CONFINTEA and their respective follow-ups has contributed to debilitate the already weak ABLE agenda within the EFA framework." (Torres, 2003, p. 40)
Importantly, the Dakar Framework for Action (UNESCO 2000) reaffirmed the Jomtien (WCEFA1990) expanded vision of basic education and included ABLE in two of its six goals:
Other more powerful and overriding global agendas, such as the MDGs, and the G8 initiated and WB-driven "Fast Track Initiative" on EFA, have contributed to limiting the agenda by focusing on five years of primary education, in particular for girls. However, the focus on gender equality, women and the problems of the HIV/AIDS pandemic within these frameworks implies, in principle, ample space for attention to the basic learning needs of adult women and men.
While the MDG´s concerning education are limited to formal education, one of the MDG indicators for gender parity in education is the ratio of literate females to males among 15-24 year-olds. The Millennium Development Goal 3 "to promote gender equality and empower women" is justified in the following way:
"Literacy is a fundamental skill to empower women to take control of their lives, to engage directly with authority and give them access to the wider world of learning. Educating women and giving them equal rights is important for many reasons: it increases their productivity..., it promotes gender equality...., educated women do a better job caring for children ...." (www.developmentgoals.org/Gender_Equality.htm accessed 040829)
The UN Literacy Decade (UNLD), 2003-2013, approved by the UN General Assembly in December 2001, offers a cross-cutting platform for reviving ABLE. It proposes a renewed vision of literacy, in which creating literate environments and literate societies is seen as a goal. The Literacy Decade was launched because:
"Literacy is at the heart ofbasic education for all and creating literate environments and societies is essential for achieving the goals of eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable devel-opment, peace and democracy". (United Nations 2001)
The UNLD goals imply the imperative of a three pronged strategy for attaining the adult literacy goals of Dakar, for example i.e. the long recommended dual strategy of combining Universal Primary Education (UPE) and adult literacy outside of school, as well as the creation of literate environments and ultimately literate societies. The literacy theme of the recent EFA Global Monitoring Report (UNESCO 2005) reinforces this broad approach to literacy, which requires much more attention to and investment in adult literacy.
Nonetheless, as we know, declarations and commitments have little impact on decision and action, if not continuously reiterated and actually acted upon. There is definitely a risk that a dual educational agenda is developing on a global scale: LLL for the North and a narrow concept of Basic Education for the South.
UNESCO has since its creation been the lead international organisation in the whole education sector. Its unique position has allowed the organisation to adopt a holistic approach to education, including consistent advocacy for adult education and literacy for all. In its role of EFA coordination UNESCO should be the driver of a holistic perspective, including ABLE.
UNESCO managed together with interested members states and other partners to include adult education in the EFA agenda in spite of the push for only primary education by the World Bank, and UNICEF's focused advocacy for early childhood development, girls' and women's education. The entry of new powerful actors in the area of basic education, such as the WB and UNICEF, exacerbated UNESCO's financial and technical constraints and UNESCO was left alone by many of its EFA partners in its lead role. (Torres 2004)
After the Jomtien conference on EFA in 1990, the concept of Non-For-mal Education (NFE) began to replace adult education in UNESCO, probably influenced by a new tendency among several agencies, such as UNICEF, to focus on NFE for children and disadvantaged youth. The area of adult education or adult learning was de facto diluted and given less attention within UNESCO after the EFA Jomtien Conference.
Recently, UNESCO has prepared a programme of action to increase literacy learning opportunities within the framework of UNLD, called the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment, LIFE. The plan is to assist 34 countries with a literacy rate of less than 50% or an illiterate population of more than1 0 million. In the foreword of the LIFE Vision and Strategy Paper (UNESCO, Oct 2005, p. 6) the Director General explains:
"While UNESCO will provide the overall framework of coordination, support, and mobilization, LIFE operations will be country-led, respond to country-specific needs and priorities, strengthen national capacities and be embedded in national development frameworks. Care will be taken to build on existing national best practices and to scale up on-going programmes of proven effectiveness. With UNESCO's assistance, each country participating in LIFE will take stock of its specific needs and develop a corresponding strategy."
In the present context of the relatively low status of ABLE in global agendas, and uncertain inclusion of ABLE in education sector and overall poverty reduction strategies, together with the tendency of harmonisation and coordination of external support, specific ABLE programme initiatives, such as LIFE, will automatically become marginalized, if they do not carefully adapt to and support countries own plans, integrated in overall programmes towards EFA.
In the UNESCO (33C/5) approved budget for 2006-7 adult literacy and the wider ABLE have been integrated into EFA as a major UNESCO programme, through the UNLD, and LIFE as its operational programme.
Since 2006, the responsibility for UNLD and LIFE within UNESCO has moved from headquarters in Paris to the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) in Hamburg.5 The focus of UIL is to promote policy research, capacity building and dissemination of innovative and good practices.
In the framework of EFA, UIL acts as a "watchdog" in support of ABLE in a lifelong learning perspective. Some of the most internationally known and influential recent networking activities and initiatives of UIL are the fifth International Conference on Adult Education in Hamburg in 1997, CONFINTEA V, and its follow-up activities; the Adult Learning Documentation and Information Network (ALADIN), a well developed, defined and lasting follow-up initiative of CONFINTEA V that helps to secure relevant information and research on adult learning through a network of about 100 documentation centres in all regions of the world;6 a yearly conference related to the International Adult Learners Week; and, since 2005, the coordination of ADEA's Working Group on NFE (WGNFE) as a way of networking between education donor agencies, African Ministers of Education, and other stakeholders of education in Africa.
As can be expected, other UN agencies approach ABLE according to their specific mandates. For example, UNICEF does not have anything on adult education on its website, obviously as a result of its mission to focus on children. The priority in education is girls' education. Nonetheless, the work towards gender equality, including the empowerment of women, does in practice imply the inclusion of ABLE as a vehicle. For the ILO, literacy is a core work skill. For UNFPA, literacy and ABLE are important for the promotion of reproductive health and empowerment of women. FAO focuses on education for the rural population, including adults. The EFA GMR 2006 concludes that the focus of UN agencies, as well as NGO providers, is on women and on literacy for better livelihoods.
The World Bank, which had led the drive in Jomtien of focusing on primary education alone as the most effective contribution to human capital development in developing countries, started to reassess its previously negative stance on adult literacy programmes towards the end of the 1990s. This was manifested in a series of studies on Adult Basic Education (ABE) (e.g. Lauglo 2001), the formulation of guidelines for such support in the Africa region, a certain increase in lending to adult literacy and ABE in some countries, and inclusion of ABE on the WB website. The website includes ABE as one of several "Additional Topics" under the priority topic of EFA. Within EFA, "Early Childhood development", "EFA Fast Track Initiative" and "Girls' Education" are highlighted. On ABE the website states:
"The Bank also recognizes the importance of Adult Basic Education and the need to increase the impact of Adult Basic Education programs as part of EFA planning."7
The Asian Development Bank adopted an Education Policy in August 2002, which highlights UPE, equitable access for boys and girls, and helping unemployed youth. Lending to education projects benefits EFA through six sub-sectors, including "Literacy/Non-Formal Education". The latter has the lowest number of projects, however, while "Skills development" and "Higher education" have the largest number of projects.
The Inter-American Development Bank includes Adult and Non-For-mal Education as one of nine sub-topics in education sector lending.
A survey carried out by the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2006 on agencies' support for "literacy" confirmed that literacy is not high on the agenda of bilateral donors. No agency surveyed was able to indicate an amount of funding for literacy, "an indication of its low priority in aid budgets". In the OECD-DAC databases, literacy is subsumed in the category "basic skills for youth and adults", which is open to a wide range of interpretations.
The survey (UNESCO 2005) also showed that most bilateral agency policies embrace all six Dakar goals. Some make the point that ABLE may be a key component of education sector strategies (e.g. DFID) others (e.g. Germany and Japan) that non-formal education, including literacy programmes for youth and adults, especially women, are included in their priority of cooperation in basic education. ABLE is often part and parcel of development programmes in sectors other than education.
Swedish Sida, Norwegian NORAD, Swiss Development Cooperation and USAID support ABLE, mainly through NGOs, but also as part of education sector support to governments.
A new and different kind of bilateral cooperation is the recent global adult literacy initiative taken by the Cuban government, which provides technical assistance for the introduction of a new alpha-numerical literacy method for adults applied in combination with radio or TV, "Yo, SíPuedo" (YSP= Yes, I can), in a number of countries, mainly in Latin America. It provides initial reading and writing skills in a short time. In Venezuela, it has been implemented in the context of a mass campaign.
Global programmes or approaches run the risk of not taking proper account of national and local contexts. National plans and strategies must be the starting point. It does not work, and it is not right to transfer externally defined policies and programmes. In fact, without genuine ownership and participatory planning processes, externally driven initiatives can even have detrimental effects and become constraining rather than facilitating. Nonetheless, global initiatives, such as LIFE and the Cuban YSP, may help to challenge governments, NGOs, and the international community to do more to improve national adult literacy levels and to create literate communities and societies.
The motives and practices of ABLE programmes, and external sup-port for them, obviously vary according to ideological and political agendas, from the emphasis on utilitarian and economic motives aiming at adapting to global trends to more rights-based and political motives aiming at transforming the status quo towards social justice, peace and democracy. Ultimately, commitment will be tested by the concomitant allocation of adequate resources for ABLE.
ABLE is unlikely to be placed high on the agenda and to get more donor funding, if there are no ABLE programmes or sub-strategies included in the overall EFA and education sector plans, the FTI bench-mark framework and Poverty Reduction Strategic Plans (PRSP). This is because these are the most important national governmental frameworks for joint donor funding and dialogue. For an increasing number of donor agencies, this is nowadays necessary for the inclu-sion of ABLE in bilateral aid to cooperating partner governments. Limited support for ABLE through direct support for NGOs working for democracy and human rights, or for a specific issue such as HIV/ AIDS, is possible, but it is not enough without clear links to ABLE policies within the EFA framework.
The tendency to give special attention to women in PRSPs means that adult learning programmes are included in different poverty interventions in various sectors. It is also common that PRSPs identify literacy as an important factor for poverty reduction. However, most PRSPs seem to emphasise primary education as a way of reducing literacy, not the need to invest in out-of-school youth and adult literacy (UNESCO 2005). When they do so and state their intention to allocate funds to adult literacy, as for example in the case of Mozambique, the ABLE sub-sector has a chance of being funded through the budget support mechanisms for PRSPs and or through joint sector basket funding.
Even though the recent move towards acceptance of ABLE as important for EFA and poverty reduction by the World Bank (WB) and other influential EFA stakeholders, opens space for aid-dependent developing countries to include ABLE components in their plans, the tendency of education ministries, donors, and consultants to focus on the formal system means that there definitely is a need to increase the inclusion of ABLE in national education sector strategies and plans.
Some global NGO movements seem to increasingly play an advocacy role in trying to influence the international agenda to make sure the EFA goals are addressed as a whole and in emphasising the right to education. However, the impression is that there has been very little monitoring of and advocacy for specific attention to adult literacy or other adult education commitments, for example by highlighting goals 3 and 4 of the Dakar framework. Instead, primary education, including non-formal approaches, girls' education and gender equality, seem to have been a priority, as reflected for example in the work of the Global Campaign for EFA. The EFA GMR 2006 (UNESCO 2005) found that the majority of international NGOs that prioritize education in developing countries tend to neglect adult education and literacy. For example, Oxfam, a driving force of the Global Campaign for Education, focuses on gender equality and the financing of primary education in response to the MDGs.
Nonetheless, in 2005, the Global Campaign for Education and Action Aid International (AA) prepared so-called benchmark statements on adult literacy policies and programmes to serve as criteria for funding in the way FTI has worked for primary education. These were developed through a survey of a number of current programmes, and consultation with specialists and stakeholders. For example, they state that governments should use at least 3% of their national education-sector budgets for adult literacy programmes and that when this is met, international funding agencies should fill any remaining resource gaps. If such "benchmarks" are flexibly applied they could hopefully contribute to the inclusion of adult literacy and literacy conducive environments in the FTI or sector-wide programme funding frameworks.8
Before embarking on advocating the benchmarks on adult literacy, AA sponsored and advocated a specific single approach to adult learning and social change called "REFLECT" (Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques). It started as an adult literacy approach, in the mid-1990s, but has ended up more as a participatory community development programme approach. It has spread its activities to around 60 countries and has been adopted by many NGOs. REFLECT has been advocated by AA as the solution to past problems experienced in adult literacy programmes9 (Archer & Cottingham 1996). As with many other experiences of applying global models, flexible adaptation to different national and local contexts seems difficult.
One of the few NGOs specialising in adult education that promotes and supports ABLE globally, and its institutional capacity in developing countries, is DVV International, an active member organisation of the European Association for Education of Adults and of the International Council for Adult Education, ICAE.
DVV International specialises in adult basic education and development, and reaches out widely in developing countries, as well as Eastern and Central Europe, with capacity building, advocacy and information. Its Adult Education Development journal is maybe the most popular known source of information and debate on experiences of ABLE in developing countries. DVV International and ICAE, including its regional member organisations, often work together as partners. DVV International have funding for project work in developing countries from the German government, the EU and the World Bank.
ICAE is the only international NGO representing a global network of civil society organisations that advocates adult education and lifelong learning linked to the right to education, gender equality and an end to poverty. For example, ICAE is the organisation responsible for preparing and presenting a shadow monitoring report related to CONFINTEA.
ICAE works closely with its regional networks and national member organisations. The strongest regional networks are those in Asia (ASPBAE) and Europe. ICAE considers the European national members, especially the Swedish, British, Norwegian and German ones, an invaluable support to ICAE as a whole. The regional network in Africa has still not recuperated its functions since the collapse of the African Association AALAE in the 1990s. The new network PAALAE (Pan African Association for Adult Literacy and Adult Education) has, in practice, been based in some West African countries.
NORAD (Norway) and Sida (Sweden) have been the only bilateral donor agencies supporting ICAE during the past few years.
In many ways ICAE seems to reflect the situation of ABLE in developing countries, "trapped between over-ambitious expectations and meager attention and resources". (Torres 2004)
There are great opportunities for donors to support sustainable adult education systems responsible for a wide range of lifelong learning opportunities, including adult basic education.
In order to make sure that the major global agendas give more attention to ABLE as a right, and an avenue to reach other goals, it is necessary to institutionalise ABLE, both as an integral component of EFA and as a specialised field.
Donor support for ABLE therefore needs to be embedded in education sector programmes, as well as in other sectors contributing to poverty alleviation, gender equality, democracy and human rights. For this to be achieved advocacy is needed at the global level and in cooperation countries for a holistic approach to EFA, including sustainable ABLE sub-systems in national policies and plans in the education sector.
Donors interested in this should support global advocacy by civil society organisations, such as ICAE, its regional networks and national member organisations, in order to
The most important way of making sure ABLE is not forgotten, how-ever, is to work towards
This implies a need to create a common platform for harmonised support for education sector plans and/or PRSPs so as to make sure ABLE is included in assessment criteria, policy dialogues, planning processes, funding and complementary support for capacity development. The different interpretations and orientations of ABLE among international funding agencies need to be sorted out, though.
There is obviously a need to strengthen system capacities and, for that, support is needed to build capacity to support capacity. Donors should be encouraged to do this in innovative ways at global, regional, national and local levels. At global level, in the areas of research, networking and clearing house functions, institutions like UIL need to be strengthened in order to play a strategic role in, for example, developing institutional and professional sustainable capacity in adult education by making maximum use of available institutions, research and information, and by facilitating partnerships between adult education institutions in the North and adult education development in the South.
1 The ABLE concept proposed by Torres (2003) and Sida (2003) is meant to be broad and en-compass both goals 3 and 4 of the Dakar framework, adult literacy, non-formal youth and adult education, formal basic adult education (normally meaning education that is equivalent but not the same as formal education), and informal adult learning enhanced by a literate environment. It does not, however, include non-formal primary education for children, because this is seen as an alternative modality of attaining Universal Primary Education for all children, and should be taken care of by primary education, not adult education, providers and professionals.
3 Studies of the implementation of this model have shown that it risks undermining quality due to inflated costing by the operators, who become more interested in making money out of the system than providing relevant learning programmes (Nortdveit 2005).
9 AA and many of its REFLECT followers keep claiming that REFLECT is better than other approaches, and that REFLECT alone achieves empowerment through literacy. This is not true, and very unfortunate, because such claims create tensions and discourage learning from other experiences. In addition, the insistence on using learner-generated materials only and not published learning materials is obviously not without problems, especially in non-literate rural environments. Another challenge identified by evaluations in several countries is that the programme encourages learners to identify actions needed to improve their lives without accompanying resources or partnerships to meet these needs (Ridell 2001).
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LAUGLO, J. 2001. Engaging with Adults. The Case for Increased Support to Adult Basic Education in Sub-Sahara Africa. Africa Region Human Development Working Paper Series. Washington D.C: Africa Region The World Bank.
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