Michael Samlowski

The following contribution is a presentation given in Montevideo on 26 June, 2006, in the course of a seminar on "Education and Citizen-ship of Youth and Adults". The seminar was jointly organised by the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) and the Uruguayan Ministry of Education and Culture. The opening thoughts were triggered by a major event that captured the world's attention at that time. It may be replaced by any other current event of even vaguely similar momentum, and the analogy will still hold. Dr Michael Samlowski is Deputy Director of DVV International. The text was first published in Convergence Vol. XXXIX, Nos. 2-3, 2006.

Cooperation and Advocacy for Adult Education

Greetings from Germany. Greetings from a country you would not recognise, a country that is going through a craze of rapture and Germanic pride. Black, red and yellow colours are flying everywhere, on cars, in front of houses, on balconies, on faces, beards, wigs, and drapes. This is causing a national debate whether or not the ubiquitous demonstration of love for the German colours may still be considered as an innocent expression of local patriotism, or whether it already constitutes nationalistic hubris of the kind that toppled Germany and her victims into the largest disaster that the world has ever seen. Football is the number one topic in all the media, on the streets, and in conversations. The German parliament is racing through complicated and controversial legislation because the parliamentarians are more interested in the next games than in verbal duels with their political opponents on matters which are not truly close to their hearts. Ministerial press conferences are cancelled or at least shortened since the press is not really interested in attending and investing their time in issues they know will not hold their readers' interest. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is more seen in football arenas, hugging the undisputed Emperor of German football, Franz Beckenbauer, than in government sessions. It is hard to forget how her facial expression lost all remnants of control after Germany scored against Poland in the 91st minute, snatching a lucky victory, while her Polish counterpart, sitting on her right, did not quite seem to grasp the situation. But of course Lech Kaczinski was not the only statesman from abroad to come to Germany and cheer for the teams of their countries. The Italian President, the British Prime Minister, and the French President were there. Former President Clinton was to come, as well as the General Secretary of the United Nations. The German President at-tended everything all the time, and it seems that the Pope was the only one who was missing despite his German origins.

Is this a spontaneous outbreak of hilarity, emotions and public interest? Of course not! Nobody can assume that millions of ordinary people spontaneously paint their faces or hoist flags in front of their homes. It is evident that a huge lobbying machine is at work here to create the ubiquitous football fervour. There is a powerful global player, the FIFA, which monopolises ticket sales, TV and press rights, logos and livery. FIFA authorises or rejects licenses for commercial enterprises to market their ware in the context of the World Champion-ship, to the extreme that the sale of traditional German brands of beer was disallowed in official football stadiums since the FIFA had struck up a monopoly deal with the American Budweiser Company. A group of Dutch football fans who for some reason or other were bedecked in pants sporting the logo of a certain brewery and intended to enter a stadium in order to watch a game were obliged to doff these pieces of garment since they were not compatible with the FIFA's marketing policy. But it is not just the FIFA. Its members are powerful national associations. In Germany the national football association counts more members than any other, with the car drivers' association ADAC as the only exception.

Then there are the great clubs, Manchester, Barcelona, Milan, Madrid, or Chelsea. Some of them are share holder enterprises. Some are the hobby of billionaires whose assets, the players, stand to gain or lose market values as a result of their performance during the championship. Huge amounts of money are made through television and transmission rights of the big media corporations. Adidas, Nike and Puma are fighting over their respective shares of the global market for sportswear. Even the textile enterprises are making windfall profits from manufacturing flags and weird outfits in the various national colours that the fans seem to enjoy sporting before, during and after games. And of course the politicians also strive to cash in on public exposure showing that they share the emotions of their constituencies and being knowledgeable in the details of the most popular sport on earth. Nobody needs to worry that they might appear ridiculous in the eyes of those who believe that football is just a sport belaboured by grossly overpaid players and far too much importance attached to it. They are the definite minority.

Now let us leave this attractive field of entertainment, turn to our professional concerns and stop to think, just for a moment, what might happen with the World Championship of Adult Education. Media coverage worldwide? MacDonald's and Burgerking vying for catering rights? Big business waiting in line for sponsoring opportunities? Live broadcasts from the most promising learning events, lots of background information including details of the doings of the learners' partners? Heads of state flying in with their big government planes in order to witness study circles and future workshops and hand out the prizes for the best and most innovative learning experiences? Enough already, there is no need for further detail. It won't happen that way! It` s a complete utopia, a dream of a dream far beyond reality. And yet, is learning not at least as relevant to our development and that of our communities, countries and regions as football?

Maybe this is too much of a truism as to attract any attention at all. In reality adult learning, instead of inciting general interest and concern, tends to be forgotten in public discourse as well as in budgets and provision. For us adult educators, our constant concern is to make learning opportunities for the adult population in our countries stay on the agenda of public commitments rather than disappear completely from them. We try to stem the tendency to ever more cuts in public budgets for adult education provision which is nibbling away more and more of the substance of this basic human right which is respected in verbose declarations but overlooked in the implementation of public administration. We seek to make decision-makers listen to our claim that adult learning opportunities must not be left to the forces of the free market but require the sponsorship and assistance of the public community in order to safeguard social inclusion and care for those members of our societies who are lagging behind. These are people who labour against all manner of obstacles in the pursuit of their life careers, hardly ever through any fault of theirs, and whose position in society is outside of the main stream.

We endeavour to make people see that the value of learning would be too narrowly defined through particular purposes such as employ-ability or the acquisition of certain skills that are required for certain operations that are useful for economic development. We would much rather make them share our conviction that learning is an integral part of human nature, a value in itself, essential for people's happiness and fulfilment, vital for developing and maintaining the full capacities of people's senses and intellect beyond the scope and age of their economical activity, needed for their alert interest in what is happening with them and their surroundings, for their concern and commitment for the welfare of themselves as well as that of their neighbours, for their participation in the management of their neighbourhoods, their communities, their countries and that of the entire world, in essence for active citizenship and democracy. We would rather emphasise the duty of the states and their administrations to safeguard the interests of all of their citizens and not restrict themselves to guaranteeing the welfare of shareholders and fostering business interests, regulating their competitiveness under global market conditions.

Unfortunately we discover again and again that our convictions are not in vogue, and we are up against the tide. The pursers of the lo-cal, national and global public budgets are keeping tight knots to the purse strings when it comes to funding adult education. Ample research that proves the benefits of continued learning activities for individual learners as well as the society on the whole does not seem to bear any influence on the public debate. Education in general is falling behind in the ranking of political priorities, and adult education is hardly ever discussed In the global debate on education, as reflected in the "Education for All" initiative of the World Bank and UNESCO, everything turns around basic education, as provided by formal schools. This, in turn, regulates the national priorities of the countries that are depending on international loans for their educational budgets. Adult education provision hardly ever ranks among their priorities, and consequently hardly ever receives any funding through loans from bilateral donors, from the World Bank or the regional development banks.

At regional or national levels this is no different. Let us look at my country, Germany, as a case in point: In international cooperation policies, for the sake of so-called transparency and synergetic efficiency, everything follows a pattern of segmentation that appears at first sight to be based on impartial technical scrutiny. Upon closer analysis, this demonstrates strong arbitrariness: For every continent we have a list of priority countries that are eligible for cooperation, at the same time making the others ineligible. For every country, there is another list of topical priorities. To understand why the development of a market economy should be a priority worthy of German cooperation in Paraguay but not in Bolivia or vice versa is certainly not an easy task. Nevertheless the segmentation applies, and even non-governmental cooperation institutions such as DVV International, the institution I represent, are not exempt of these political prescriptions.

For as long as I can remember, and that is a long time, DVV International has received funding from the German Foreign Office in order to facilitate professional exchange among representatives of German community adult education centres, Volkshochschulen, and colleagues from other countries in Europe and worldwide, on the basis of mutuality. The amount of financial support was never conspicuous, but it was vital for opening the vision of German adult education for developments abroad, and also for letting us share our own experience and achievements with our colleagues from other countries. It allowed us to maintain ties to colleagues from the socialist countries even in times of the ideological division of Europe and the world, on which we were able to build strong partnerships after the Iron Curtain had been lifted and a new chapter of neighbourly relations had opened. Cooperation and professional exchange were welcomed and included in practically all of the bilateral cultural agreements concluded between Germany and most countries in the world as a basis for cooperation and exchange in the areas of education, science, research and culture. Adult education was well established as one element of German cultural exterior policy next to university exchange, language courses and cultural events.

Recently, however, in our regular discussions with the Foreign Office we were told that in an external evaluation of its profile, commissioned by the ministry, adult education does not rank as a priority in exterior cultural policy. Consequently, in times of financial constraints, it will no longer receive funding. Considering that funding adult educational exchange in the past has signified around 0.05 percent of the budget of the Foreign Office, the validity of this reasoning is completely threadbare. The fact is simply, as put by one official of the Foreign Office, that adult education "is not sexy". German cultural exterior policy henceforth will consider

  • university exchange
  • research
  • German language courses, but only the elementary levels
  • theatrical and musical performances and art expositions, but with annual reductions

Adult education will disappear from the agenda. This also means that the emphasis will lie on areas that are predominantly accessible to the elites of the partner countries. There is a strong element of social exclusion in these priorities.

The same trend holds true for interior educational policies. The Federal Ministry for Education and Science recently set a group of experts to draw up guidelines for future public investment in education. The key recommendation of this expert group for adult education is that public spending for adult education should be restricted to those areas that lie in the national public interest. It is left to us to speculate which types and areas of learning might serve the national interest, and why, and for which reasons, other areas should be excluded. But we may safely say that only vocational training and retraining, and perhaps language courses for migrants, would receive public sponsoring, for the sake of employability and competitiveness. This leaves all other learning activities to individual initiative, available at cost covering prices, introducing supportive instruments such as tax reductions for individual saving accounts for adult learning expenses as future tools to encourage adult learning.

The character of such recommendations that emphasise private initiative and individual responsibility for future welfare is evidently in tune with the basic dictums of neo-liberal market economics. They go hand in hand with the reduction of public social security policies, higher health care costs, downgrading public pension regulations to cover the bare minimum and leaving the rest to individual saving plans. They are essentially socially exclusive, but adopting them would free the state from the burden of social expenses. This would allow tax benefits for corporate interests, a market for former public services, and restrict the public commitment to covering the most blatant social consequences of the free reign of global market powers.

On the level of the European Union we find corroboration of the same tendencies. The educational policy papers are certainly worth reading. Adult education seems to be safeguarded as an integral element of Lifelong Learning, and even draws support through one of the actions of educational funding by the European Commission. This, however, is no cause for exuberant rejoicing. Looking at the avail-able amounts, we find that the European Union spends around 40 to 50 million Euros annually to sponsor transnational adult education activities, which boils down to less than 20 cents per capita of the eligible European population. And whereas the powerful advocacy associations of business, science and research invest millions in order to advertise their interests, the European Association for the Education of Adults receives an annual grant of around 50,000 Euro. This amount does not cover the salary of a single professional member of staff. Services are sold in order to collect the minimum required to maintain a small office in Brussels. At ICAE, this budget situation will appear only too familiar.

As adult educators, we do not represent a glamorous field. We are committed to the interests of the marginalised and socially excluded parts of the population. Taking the side of the disadvantaged will not appeal to broad interest, and it will not guarantee political sup-port. Adult education will not win large numbers of votes for the political parties, so they will not dwell on its merits for more than a few seconds. We will have to try and convince decision makers that our contentions are just and reasonable. We know from experience how hard that is. Being intelligent people with strong commitments and convictions, we will not always agree on goals, strategies and procedures. We must not overlook the fact, either, that in addition to sharing an interest in adult learning we are competitors, vying against ourselves for the scarce opportunities of sponsoring for our projects. Nevertheless, I believe it is evident that only if we cooperate at all levels will we be able to achieve anything in favour of adult learning. Going alone, each of us pursuing our own agendas, we are sure to be reduced to insignificant nothings.

We are on our best way to do this by forming alliances and by associating on the various pertinent levels, including the local, the national, the regional, and the global compass. It is certainly not an easy job to do. Hardly ever can we count on the necessary resources for association work. Almost always, we have to contribute largely from the scarce resources of our own organisations, and frequently we dedicate additional time and energy from our own lives, as well. But we learn to cooperate. Since it is hardly imaginable that individual organisations come together and strive to identify the common interests that they want to be recognised in public policies without sharing goals and objectives in their factual work, we learn to come together and cooperate in our programmes and activities, as well. In Europe, we have come along a good way on this path. Due in part to the stipulations of European funding for projects in the field of adult learning, most of the relevant further education organisations in the member countries of the European Union, and even beyond, have accumulated some experience in going together with fellow organisations from other European countries in the implementation of innovative projects. The results may not always be significant enough to rock the world, but the participants almost invariably discover added value through the close working contact with colleagues from other countries that they encountered in the process of carrying out the project activities. They have been enriched by the diversity of different views and approaches to shared objectives, and strengthened in their conviction that there is a lot that they can do better if they go together.

The institute where I am employed is convinced of the benefits of international cooperation. As a matter of fact, it owes its existence to this principle. Its background is the Volkshochschulen, the German community adult education centres. In order to represent their interests in the field of political recognition of the vital importance of adult education as a public responsibility, they associated on the level of the German federal states, the Länder. These Länder associations joined to form the national Association to work on those issues that required national attention. This happened more than 50 years ago, still in the wake of a resurgent Germany that arose from the ruins of the Second World War, and only in the western part of this nation that was still to be divided for many years as a bitter consequence of it. It was soon discovered by our forebears that this association required international articulation in order to truly comply with its function to support the German institutions of further education on their way to regaining the respect, acceptance and ultimately re-integration into the family of European adult education institutions. This was the beginning; first of the creation of a small section of the association, and then of an institute operating as its offspring, to create and cultivate the connections of international exchange with in Europe, and very soon also beyond Europe and across the world. We found that professional exchange is not always enough, but that it needs to develop into sup-port and assistance. We managed to convince our government that sponsoring international cooperation in the field of adult education is a obligation arising from international solidarity. It is quite possible that a similar initiative today would not be as successful. On average, Germany is a richer society than it used to be. The divide between rich and poor, however, has broadened drastically, and social costs have multiplied and tie up a large and growing percentage of public expenditure. This creates the impression that the state is verging on bankruptcy, which makes it very difficult to advocate public spending for new solidarity programmes.

Wherever we engaged in cooperation activities, be it together with state institutions or as a partner of non-governmental initiatives, it was invariably necessary to defend the position of adult learning, and to justify any public expense on its behalf. Advocacy work intrinsically becomes part of the exercise of the further education organisations and institutions, and their national and regional associations, regardless of whether they work in Africa, Asia, America or Europe. At DVV International we have seen that assisting the advancement of national and regional adult education associations is part of our job of international cooperation. DVV itself has been an early member of the European Bureau for Adult Education which later turned into the European Association for the Education of Adults, EAEA, as well as of the International Council for Adult Education, ICAE. In various cooperation programmes we have aided the inception and the activities of adult education associations throughout the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The nature of DVV International funds does not allow its direct commitment with ICAE, but it has for 20 years sup-ported CEAAL in Latin America, and ASPBAE in Asia and the Pacific for 25 Years. We are sponsoring some of the activities of REPEM, and recently have invited partners in the Mediterranean countries in Africa, Europe and the Near East to plan out the initiation of a Mediterranean Adult Education Association. At home, we are a very active member of EAEA.

Advocacy work cannot be done on a professional level without a minimum of budgetary support to pay for the expenses of a function-al office and some qualified staff. We all know it from our own daily experience: Information needs to be gathered, profiled and distributed. Communication tools need to be set up and maintained. Meetings with decision makers at all levels are necessary. National and international conferences need to be attended, and the participation prepared and evaluated. Research needs to be undertaken. Political papers require drafting and circulating. Lines and limitations of consensus among members need to be explored and negotiated. Contact with the members has to be constantly ongoing, and special services rendered when and where required. General assemblies have to be meticulously organised, reports written and presented, budgets administrated and accounted for, and on and on. In short, an endless amount of duties has to be attended to, and results simply cannot be expected from voluntary work of concerned and committed activists alone. In Europe, for example, EAEA never went beyond some honourable, respectable, and sometimes even remarkable single actions involving a few core members. It only achieved sustained impact, noticeable attention, regular access to the relevant political offices, working connections with other associations from neighbouring fields, and growth both in numbers of enrolled membership and their sense of ownership of the association after the vital decision was taken to collect sufficient funds for setting up a small office in Brussels and employing a professional general secretary.

In times of shortage of money, it is no easy task to convince the funding ministries or the European Commission that advocacy work of a national or regional professional association is not only legitimate but essential for the participation and commitment of civil society in the development of communities, countries or regions. They are not fond of sponsoring ongoing processes that need to be flexible and adapt-able since they are open to the participation of the members and the target groups, but entail expenditure for staff costs and the maintenance of offices. They loath institutional costs, but love evaluations. They prefer to fund events and measures that are closely defined in range, short in time, precise in the quantity and scope of actions, and accompanied by exact budgets. Any proposals that are not presented with a neat array of spreadsheet tables, containing a logical frame-work of goals and impacts and the indicators and assumptions on which they are based, a detailed action plan listing the exact amounts of resources and work days required for each of the proposed activities, and classified according to staff categories, have slim chances of approval. But how does the work of an advocacy association fit into such a concoction of tables and frameworks?

At DVV International we are working for the opposite. We expect to engage in a constant process of communication and consultation with our cooperation partners. But we still believe in allowing them to make their own decisions for their action plans, and to assist them in these processes with the necessary space and means. From our own experience, we recognise advocacy work as an integral part of adult education that cannot be done without assistance and support. We enjoy cooperating in these processes and committing ourselves globally. We are carried by the conviction that ultimately we ourselves can only stand to benefit if adult learning finds the guarantees that it needs, the space that it requires, and the worldwide recognition which is its due.


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