Preparations are well underway for UNESCO's Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI), which will be hosted by Brazil in May 2009. It will bring together UNESCO Member States, United Nations agencies, international NGOS, civil society, research institutions, and the private sector. The conference itself, as well as the preparatory and follow-up processes, will provide platforms for policy dialogue and advocacy on adult learning and education within and across countries at global level. As always, adult literacy will be high on the agenda and the International Benchmarks on Adult Lit eracy have an invaluable role to play, with the potential to re-galvanise dialogue on adult literacy internationally.

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), which is coordinat ing the preparation of the conference, has recognised that the strong commitment to adult education expressed in CONFINTEA V,

"did not lead to the corresponding integration, policy prioritization and allocation of resources for adult learning and education, either nationally or internationally".

ActionAid workshop on HIV/AIDs in Somalia

ActionAid workshop on HIV/AIDs in Somalia
Source: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures/ActionAid

Consequently, one of the main objectives of CONFINTEA VI is: "to renew political momentum and commitment and to develop the tools for implementation in order to move from rhetoric to action".

For adult literacy, the International Benchmarks provide the perfect framework to achieve this.

The benchmarks present a set of simple reference points which will support those who are setting up adult literacy programmes and against which we can monitor the performance of governments and donors. All too often governments resort to quick-fix low-cost literacy programmes which have little real impact in the long term. Creating good quality literacy programmes and a literate environment that will enable learners to maintain their skills over time requires solid invest ment and strong political will. However, as the benchmarks show, adult literacy programmes can be practical, affordable and effective. No government or donor should be able to hide behind the excuse that literacy programmes don't work.

The 2008 EFA Global Monitoring Report recognises adult literacy as the most neglected of the EFA goals. It is neglected most obviously in respect of the financial allocations made by governments and donors. Since the CONFINTEA V meeting in 1997, there has been little or no investment in adult education across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Most governments are spending under 1 % of national education budgets on adults and often only a small fraction of 1 %. However, thanks to the benchmarks and to the Abuja Call for Action, there is now growing momentum behind the demand for 3 %. We must use the build-up to CONFINTEA VI and the meeting itself to build upon this momentum, making the case for new and ongoing investment in adult education. We should not have to wait until CONFINTEA VII for this to become reality. 

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