Rajesh Tandon


Making the Case


Times are Changing

We are living in turbulent times. The world is gripped by 3Fs – crises of food, fuel and finance. These crises are occurring at a time when humanity is faced with a trans-millennium challenge of survival; the spectre of global warming and climate change is looming large. Different parts of the world, and different communities in any given part, are experiencing the consequences of these crises differently. While North America and Europe are facing recession and unemployment, the poor in Africa are finding themselves almost abandoned by their own governments as aid is slowing down, trade is becoming protectionist and diaspora remittances are declining. The scenario in some of Asia is, however, somewhat different.

Many Asian economies are still growing at a decent pace – China at 7.5 % and India at 7 %. There is much greater business optimism in Asia today than anywhere else. There is also a much bigger youth population in Asia than in any other region of the world. The demographic profile in Asia is likely to be such over the next 50 years as to be supplying manpower for the rest of the world. So, the call for more economic growth is loud and strident in Asia today. Asian leaders have consistently rejected any targets for reduction of greenhouse gases, be it G20 (April 2009) or G8+5 (July 2009).

Demand for Education

So, in the region where I live and work, there is now a growing demand for education. Vast numbers of children are enrolling to attend primary schools; huge public investment is being made in secondary and tertiary education systems to cope with the pressures of massification. Even higher education is no longer considered as elitist in Asia. Indian and Chinese students constitute nearly two-thirds of all international students globally. So, the Asian governments and societies are investing in education in a massive way, a trend that is likely to continue over the next two decades.

In this rush to education in Asia, adult education finds hardly any space. There is a growing demand for vocational education which is not adequately met as yet; there is increasing supply of job-oriented skills training from governments and the private sector. Even the concern for retraining workers and employees in the context of the current recession is finding increasing support from policy-makers and political leaders.

Interestingly enough, most of these growing investments for the supply of education, primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational, are being financed by indigenous sources. Official Development Assistance has all but disappeared in Asia apart from a few countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Cambodia. Public and household resources are financing this “education rush” in Asia. The private sector is also coming into play in a big way, even though the policy framework for this is still underdeveloped in Asia.

The ironical situation in Asian countries is that governments are not looking at investing in adult literacy; as has been variously articulated, Education For All (EFA) is now focused exclusively on primary education, and, public provision of other forms of adult education is not even considered. Most Asian governments have not yet adopted a lifelong learning perspective for articulating their education policies and plans; as a result, the place for adult education as an integral component of national educational policy is unexplored and under-mentioned.

A Case is yet to be Made

It seems to me that the fraternity of adult educators, the champions of lifelong learning, the institutions of adult education, their networks and coalitions have not yet succeeded in getting any serious attention from the political leadership of various countries (or of international agencies) to accord a place of respect and value to adult education in their national education policies and programmes. So, the challenge for financing adult education is not merely to secure funds from various national or international agencies; it is also about “making a case” for the value of adult education to this stage of their societal development. “Making a case” for youth and adult education in the context of the current crises is the basic challenge for financing of adult education globally, and in particular in the developing world.

When we try to “make this case” in the Asian countries today, it may be useful to recall the present Asian context briefly enumerated above. In the face of the present Asian obsession with economic growth trajectories, how can the case for adult education be made today? Let us examine what are the key challenges that rapidly growing Asian societies are facing, and how the case for adult education can be made in addressing those challenges.

Source: Barbara Frommann

Pointers to the Case

First, overcoming social exclusion is a big challenge today. Many Asian societies are finding that certain sections of society are being excluded from participating in and benefiting from the processes of economic growth. Intra-country inequalities are increasing. Government leaders and policy-makers are concerned about social inclusion – growth with inclusion. Many policy-makers have recognised that education can be a lever for social inclusion. But their articulation of education is compartmentalised; the silos of education do not have space for adult education. We know that effective economic participation requires attitudes and competencies in addition to mere literacy skills; this is more so for many rural/agricultural households whose youth are entering a formal market economy for the first time. Is it possible to make a case for systematising the access to certain forms of adult education to this new generation of youth as part of the policies for inclusive growth? Can such a case be made, based on available evidence from around the world?

Second, most Asian societies are deeply disturbed by all forms of violence; threat to physical insecurity is paramount in the minds of citizens; coping with terrorism and other forms of organised violence is on top of the political agenda of most governments in Asia today – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, and now China. The current map of Asia is a map of violence and insecurity, caused by internal and external forces. We also know from historical evidence the world over that such violence can not be dealt with adequately militarily alone. Human security requires more than guns and bullets. A lot of this violence is also rooted in experiences of injustices and discrimination over decades; youth attracted towards taking up arms are actually demonstrating their disaffection with the system of governance. A part of this violence is also rooted in prejudices and stereotypes; differences around gender, caste, religion, ethnicity and language get accentuated into strife as impacts of these crises become more pronounced.

Can we make a case for adult education as one (only one but an important one) of the systematic responses needed to address the challenge of growing violence and insecurity? Can we demonstrate evidence of mutual respect, cohabitation, and peaceful resolution of conflicts being supported through active provision of adult education? Can we showcase adult education as a counter-terrorism measure? Then, we can make a case for 1 % of all military spending to be made available for public financing of adult education?

Third, despite official positions to the contrary, the challenge for sustainable development is most severe in Asian societies today. The model of development focused on rapid economic growth is causing widespread destruction of the environment: water resources are drying up and getting polluted; fertility of land is going down; forests are being destroyed; pollution in cities is causing serious health hazards; bird flu and other communicable diseases are spreading rapidly; climate changes are causing draughts and floods. We know from our experiences that adult education can promote learning about sustainable lifestyles and eco-friendly living. Can we make a case for adult education to be an integral part of strategies and policies for sustainable development? Is it possible to enable CONFINTEA VI to integrate its deliberations with the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009?

The time for “making the case” is now. The current context of crises has posed big questions about the conventional wisdom of societal development in the north and in the South. This is the time vigorously and boldly to make the case for youth and adult education to be made a part of national and global policy regimes. This is the time to engage with those who are trying to evolve new forms of global governance. This is the time for adult education to come out of the ghetto and be on the main street!

Source: Barbara Frommann

Adult Education and Development


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