Public Paper

CONFINTEA VI - Key Issues at Stake


Public Paper

Following a large consultation among its members and networks, the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) proposes four themes as key areas of debate and decision on adult learning and educa tion (ALE) during the coming CONFINTEA VI Conference in Belem, Brazil in May 2009 and the preparatory meetings to be held in each world region. These are offered in a spirit of dialogue with governments, international agencies and non governmental organisations (NGOs).

The four themes are:

  1. Poverty and growing economic social and cultural inequality an important background for work-oriented adult learning and education.
  2. The right of migrant women and men to education and learning. Fundamental tenets of this theme are that there are no illegal migrant people, only people without papers, and that above all, refugees have a right to survive and reconstruct their lives.
  3. The priority of adult education, including literacy, as both part of the Educa tion For All (EFA) goals and a critical tool for reaching them. Equally, adult education is a central but invisible component of the Millennium Development Goals and is indispensible to all strategies for achieving them.
  4. The need for new policy and legislation to ensure the right to learn without discrimination based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, religion and disabilities and national status, and for their real implementation where a critical test of truth will be the concrete financial allocation. Policies and legislation (including measures to address discrimination in all these areas) are pre-requisites for achieving this but implementation of the right to education will be dependent on securing sufficient resources, including fund ing. This will be the ultimate test of governmental commitment.

To these ends, legitimate international monitoring mechanisms are absolutely necessary.

Poverty, Economic Inequality and Adult Learning and Education

Poverty and social exclusion cannot be dissociated from the structural inequalities reflected in and reinforced by the uneven distribution of work-related learning education activities, either of vocational education and training or of provision for life skills development. Unequal participation in organised adult and non-formal education, especially by economically marginalised people, must be a priority for the deliberations of CONFINTEA VI. The Conference should recognise the inter dependence of learning for work, learning for individual and collective empower ment, and learning for social justice.

At stake are the learning and education rights of people excluded from significant initial education, of older people, of members of minority groups and indigenous peoples, of asylum seekers or refugees and adults with learning difficulties and disabilities, amongst others. Women and men who work in the formal economy require decent, sustainable work and opportunities to continue to learn and improve their skills as well as the possibility to improve their qualifications and protect or enhance their chances to earn a living and gain satisfaction from their work.

The demand of people in the informal agricultural or craft economy for nonformal education and training is not less urgent. Women and men working in the informal economy have an equal right to access to skills and knowledge in order to improve their chances of securing a livelihood and of progressing economically, socially and educationally.

The majority of workers with low or no remuneration for their labour are women. They are active in the informal economy in great numbers and, at present, are becoming heads of households. Women are a priority population for the develop ment of policies around decent work, social security, education and development. Strategies for achieving this must take account of the impact of unpaid, "invisible" and domestic work (the care economy) on the capacity of women to engage with learning activities which are designed to reduce both economic inequalities and restrictions in employment opportunities.

A successful strategy to solve the current food crisis has to include strong agricultural extension and literacy provision in rural areas on all continents.

CONFINTEA VI will need to address, in both the formal and informal economy, gender bias in access to basic education and adult learning in general organised education and training, as demonstrated in the Global Monitoring Reports (GMR) of UNESCO on EFA. Similarly, in the workplace, discrimination in work-related learning opportunities is taking place. Analyses should also take account of the impact of the under-representation of women in status categories and networks where learning provision is provided more frequently.

A key strategy for equitable development in work-related adult learning in order to reduce economic inequality is a learner-led approach, recognising the diversity of populations, a valuing of their lifestyles and their multiidimensional learning aspirations.

The Conference must consider the influence of gendered curricula on the aspirations and work patterns of both men and women, and be mindful of the potential to reinforce rather than challenge gender stereotypes.

Finally, adult learning responses to poverty, including economic inequalities, must be supported by, and linked to, interdisciplinary, crossgovernmental action in other areas such as childcare, health, justice, civil society, housing, and the environment. For example, the right to education and lifelong learning (particularly literacy), in order to work cannot be separated from economic policies, agrarian and land reforms, sustainable production and sustainable consumption as key elements in adult education programmes linked to quality of environment and quality of life.

Presently, the global food crisis is the absolute priority to be faced since it threatens the most basic need which concerns the biological survival of millions of people, particularly in poor countries. Adult education must provide appropri ate information and education to face this vital problem which especially affects women and children.

The Education and Learning Rights of Migrant Women and Men

Migration is a global phenomenon, whether north-south, east-west, southsouth or within countries. There are no illegal migrant people, but people without papers. Similarly, the educational rights millions of refugees are essential if they are to sur vive and reconstruct their lives. We are all world citizens covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that not only registered citizens but all human beings have the right to education.

The social demand for adult learning is reciprocal. First, there is the right of mi grants to language education, to vocational education and training, to citizenship education, and to benefit from the general provision of learning opportunities, to employer-supported training, and to recognition and validation of past experience, learning and qualifications. Education also entails learning for receiving communi ties, for local leaders, service providers, trades unions, and the general public. Programmes should cultivate the skills, understanding and knowledge needed to address issues arising from migration and migrants, and include education in human rights – all cultures are worthy of respect but some cultural practices are oppressive.

Migration offers unique opportunities for multicultural and intercultural educa tion. That requires safe, local spaces for mutual learning. However, migration is hazardous and education strategies also need to contend with such global issues as the rise of trafficking in women.

The financial support of diasporas to their communities of origin should be rec ognised in Official Development Assistance (ODA). Moreover, the issue of financial compensation for nations drained of skills and expertise should be addressed.

The Absolute Priority of Adult Literacy

The well-documented deficiency in the implementation of the EFA objective on adult literacy is a global disgrace. And this in spite of well-substantiated evidence on the contribution of adult literacy to quality of life, to school achievement of children through parental education, to increase of agricultural productivity and food production, to the conflict-resolving capacity of communities, to basic skill improvement in the workplace as required by industrial development, to efficient delivery of universal healthcare, and so on.

A substantial policy shift is required and should become a key expectation at the CONFINTEA VI Conference. Adult literacy is a multi-dimensional reality and thus requires a diversity of approaches and measures as well as the development of significant literate environments. It is a continuum and its development is an ongoing process rather than a cognitive set of skills, which result in a state of per manent literacy. Policy must move beyond providing for the acquisition of skills, to supporting their sustainability. The problem of relapse into illiteracy is acute. Key to addressing this is linking adult literacy to the lived experiences of learners’ lives, such as micro-credit-based programmes for women.

The expertise exists. The social demand is well expressed. What is needed is AC TION from national governments (allocating the equivalent of 3 per cent of national education budget) and cooperation with multilateral agencies and other partners (recognising adult literacy as a complementary priority to universal primary education). The Literacy Initiative For Empowerment (LIFE) is clearly under-financed. The Fast Track Initiative (FTI) has to rediscover the essential contribution of adult literacy to become successful.

The current International Monetary Fund (IMF) policy requiring national governments to freeze investment in education must be challenged and revised.

CONFINTEA will take place at the end of key policy reviews that will create a momentum: the mid-term review of the Fast Track Initiative, the UN Literacy Decade review; the EFA mid-term review, the 2009 GMR report (Overcoming inequality: why governance matters) to be issued in November, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) the Conference on finance for development and the Millennium Development Goals mid-term assessment process. Positive examples illustrative of the concern being demonstrated by some governments and some cooperation agencies should be highlighted in regional preparatory meetings.

International quantitative and qualitative benchmarks are required to monitor governments’ committed leadership and resources, to look at the situation of literacy participants and of literacy facilitators, their conditions of work and their training, to assess the provision of learning materials and the enrichment of literate environ ments, to monitor sustained and appropriate public, national and international investment. Agreed indicators are needed in each of these dimensions of adult literacy policy.

New Policy and Legislation, Real Implementation, Real Financial Allocation

Adult learning policies cut across all sectors of activities, because increased capac ity of action of the whole adult population has become a prerequisite in all areas of activities: in agriculture, in industrial development, in health, in environment, in criminal justice, and so on. The issue is twofold: accessibility of adults to learning opportunity and the quality and relevance of such learning provision.

A central issue for CONFINTEA VI and the preparatory meetings is the absence of adult learning and adult literacy within the MDGs, despite the fact that none of the existing Millennium Development Goals can be achieved without them. Although formally it is nowhere, adult learning is required everywhere to ensure the active participation of local civil society in the implementation of all and each of these targets.

It is also fundamental to mainstreaming the Millennium Development Goals with a gender equity approach. Various steps must be taken to address the current neglect of adult learning. Those countries that do not have an adult learning policy should formulate one: an overall policy on education is not sufficient to counter the ten dency to marginalise the interests of adults. Delivery arrangements and responsible bodies and departments must be identified and communicated clearly, particularly when adult learning is a cross-cutting concern; adult education programmes must be responsive to gender discrimination and other causes of poverty and social

relation to literacy. In elementary education, retention data has proved crucial to realigning and designing policies and programmes.

Conclusion: Time for Action

Concrete action is urgently needed to recognise the dignity of each woman and man. The right of each person to learn, above all, her right to literacy, is her right to improve her life conditions, to dream about her future and to be able, with oth ers, to construct and reconstruct their lives and their environment. The exercise of this fundamental enabling right is more urgent than ever in rural village and urban districts, in the economy and in the workplace, among national citizens as well as migrants and those without papers, and in every region of the world.

There will be no solution to the food crisis without the increased capacity of women and men to act on the land on each continent, making a better quality of life and quality of environment, revising patterns towards sustainable production and sustainable consumption.

We will never achieve the goal of Health For All without significant increase and universal dissemination of health literacy.

The planet's future is dependent on the capacity of citizens to share environmental concerns and responsibility. The unique enjoyment of a meal with family members and friends without fear of war or violence, will not be reached without grassroots diplomacy and mediation competence at all levels of social and political life.

Concrete action is required NOW to ensure the fundamental right of women and men to learn and to develop themselves throughout their life. At stake is the dignity of each citizen as well as his and her aspiration to share in the exploration and development of another possible world.

We know what kind of policies and actions are needed. So many success stories have been and could be told. We have discussed them at CONFINTEA V and explored them since. What is required now is action and, for this, political and community will.

Time is pressing. The risk of not acting is too high.

The message, received from all regions of the world, is clear: CONFINTEA VI is about achieving real, visible and enduring change.

Source: Convergence, Volume XL, Number 3-4, 2007, pp. 11-19

Adult Education and Development


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