A Blessing in Disguise?


Messages for the Delayed CONFINTEA Meeting

Every twelve years since 1949 there has been a huge UN conference on adult education called CONFINTEA ... but the conference this year, due to have been held in May 2009 in Belém, Brazil, is now in doubt. Fears over a swine flu pandemic led the Brazilian government to postpone the meeting and at this moment it is not clear when the meeting will be re-scheduled. This is clearly very frustrating for activists who have been involved in preparing for CONFINTEA through regional conferences and national processes over the past year or more. However, it may turn into a blessing in disguise.

The present draft of the Belém-Framework for Action, which will be the key outcome and was circulated in advance of the conference, is a weak document which fails to present a clear vision or concrete commitments. Civil society actors, convened by the International Council for Adult Education, have worked on a draft civil society advocacy paper that was to have been finalised at a civil society forum just before Belém. This contains a much stronger basis for action. The Africa Platform for Adult Education has also prepared a strong paper outlining the key issues that they see.

The challenge is to boil these down into an agenda that can galvanise action. The Global Campaign for Education has made an attempt to do this, reviewing the existing documents and highlighting ten key points for advocacy during CONFINTEA (see table right).

In April 2009, over ten million people were mobilised in over 100 countries as part of GCE’s Global Action Week, focused around “The Big Read”. This shows that there is mass support for national and international action on youth and adult literacy. Now that CONFINTEA has been postponed there is time to translate this mass support into some serious policy engagement. GCE is proposing that civil society activists in each country around the world should set up a meeting with the Ministers/officials who will be on their country delegation to CONFINTEA. The ten points (right) could provide a simple framework for stimulating a dialogue about what should be agreed in Belém, whenever the meeting takes place. There can be little value to convening 2000 people in Brazil unless the outcome has real substance! The ten points in the box are a simple starting point.

  1. Youth and adult education must be recognised as enforceable human rights (see comment 13 on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and discrimination in provision must not be tolerated.
  2. Youth and adult education should be seen as the invisible glue, essential for the achievement of MDGs and national development goals; requiring inter-ministerial collaboration and active participation of civil society at all levels. Participation is essential to ensure that programmes take into account the specific needs of marginalised groups, and encourage development of active citizenship, improved health and livelihoods, and gender equality.
  3. Literacy must be seen as a continuum and the old polarized dichotomy of literacy and illiteracy must be abolished. New national surveys are needed that collect data on a spectrum of literacy levels to show the real scale of the challenge and to end the myth of there being a magic line to cross from illiteracy into literacy.
  4. There should be no more short-term campaigns to eradicate adult literacy. Rather, sustained investment is needed in programmes that work with learners for at least two or three years, with continuity into programmes of lifelong learning.
  5. There is an urgent need to develop qualified and professional adult education facilitators, teachers, administrators and researchers – and to ensure they are properly paid.
  6. The International Benchmarks on Adult Literacy, published by GCE (see Writing the Wrongs GCE 2005), should be used as a starting point for new national dialogue, for the design of effective programmes and as a basis for monitoring and evaluation of existing provision.
  7. States should commit themselves to allocate a minimum 6 % of their GNP to education and, within the education budget, to assign a minimum of 6 % for Youth and Adult Education, with a priority given to literacy.
  8. Donors should pay their fair share of the external financing requirement for Youth and Adult Education. At least 6 % of aid to education from all donors should go to Youth and Adult Education in order to fill the financing gap in this area, which is at least two billion dollars a year.
  9. The EFA Fast Track Initiative, and any future global financing mechanism for education, should actively require education sector plans to include credible strategies and investment to address adult literacy.
  10. The International Monetary Fund macro-economic conditions that undermine investment in education should be challenged, especially in the present context of global recession, so that States can adequately invest in the full EFA agenda. The G20 should not give the funds they have pledged to the IMF until there is real reform of the conditions that block investment in education.

For the wider civil society papers see or contact

Source: EducationAction, actionaid, issue 23, July 2009, p. 24.

actionaid, issue 23, July 2009


The EAEA Grundtvig Award 2009

Two projects of DVV International are the winners o the EAEA Grundtvig Award 2009

1. Non-formal Skills Training in Rural Kyrgyzstan

The project aims to deliver education and training courses to unemployed adults living in 36 rural villages, where no learning facilities exist. The courses relate to vocational areas such as dress making and milk processing as well as social competences and personal development. When completed the project will have provided 540 people with 150 training hours each. The project is innovative in the methods adopted, which include the use of mobile workshops, evening and weekend classes. The training workshops provide a trainer and all the necessary equipment and tools, which are delivered to the village and remain until the course is completed. Local Authorities provide the facilities to install the mobile workshops in the village school, library etc. For the first time poor local communities will have the chance to gain training where they live, in their own language, which is relevant to their needs to find employment or self employment and to develop self confidence. Staff and organisations contributing to the project will also benefit from professional development and gaining insights into how to develop training modules for unemployed people living in remote areas.

2. VEPS Virtual European Prison School Project

The main target group for this project are prisoners. The aim was to enhance the provision of prison education and to increase participation and widen access to education in European prisons. The primary activities involved the transnational transfer of best existing practice and the establishment of a web-based Virtual Prison School. The outcomes included the transfer of practice from three national systems to three other countries. One of the most innovative aspects of the project was the establishment of the Virtual Prison School, which is a repository for education programmes, teaching materials and courses which prison educators can access to assist prisoners to study in their mother tongue and achieve certification from their country of origin, while imprisoned abroad. The successful impacts of the project include the increased use of distance learning in prisons and a growing number of end users; provision for learners with special needs and juvenile prisoners; and upgrading methodologies, technologies and approaches to prison education in the partner countries to bring them into line with e-learning development and best practice in mainstream adult education. The project also opened new doors for prison educators to network transnationally and initiate developments adapted to their local or national context.

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