Following twelve months of consultation by an Advocacy Commission convened at the initiative of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), the International Civil Society Forum (FISC), in a spirit of dialogue with Governments and international agencies, proposes seven key issues to be debated and decided at the CONFINTEA VI Conference.

Civil Society Advocacy Paper

(Final Draft) 

  1. Youth and Adult Education1 must be strongly enforced by all States as a fundamental human right. The application of this right must follow the principle of equal treatment and nondiscrimination.
  2. Youth and Adult Education is crucial for overcoming poverty and for ad-dressing the global food, fuel, environmental and financial crises. The silent violence of economic, social and cultural inequality is intolerable; equal opportunity should be a central concern in the reorientation of adult learning and education (ALE), including youth education.
  3. Youth and Adult Education, as well as literacy, must be clearly prioritised within international frameworks and national state policies. Goals 3 and 4 of Education For All (EFA) on youth and adult literacy can no longer be ignored.
  4. Literacy policies must be clearly articulated within a Lifelong Learning framework and linked to other intersectoral actions and policies. Literacy and Lifelong Learning are essential elements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). States and international agencies must commit to developing qualified Youth and Adult Education practitioners and professional, secure and appropriate work conditions.
  5. The right to education and Lifelong Learning for migrant women and men has to be recognized together with the right of refugees. Migrants and refugees have the right not only to survive, but to rebuild their lives.
  6. What is needed now is ACTION: appropriate legal and policy frameworks as well as governance structures and mechanisms are necessary to ensure the right of all to Youth and Adult Education. International monitoring and follow-up mechanisms of commitments to be made at CONFINTEA VI are essential.
  7. States must demonstrate clear political will and allocate necessary resources for the full exercise of the right to Youth and Adult Education. States and aid agencies must increase their resource allocation to Youth and Adult Education; privatization must be challenged upfront as well as internationally imposed macro economic conditions that undermine investments in education.

1. Youth and Adult Education is an enforceable fundamental human right

”It should be emphasized that enjoyment of the right to fundamental education is not limited by age or gender; it extends to children, youth and adults, including young adults out of school and older persons. Fundamental education, therefore, is an integral component of Adult Education and Lifelong Learning. Because fundamental education is a right of all age groups, curricula and delivery systems must be devised which are suitable for students of all ages.”


“education must be accessible to all, especially the most vulnerable groups, in law and fact, without discrimination…The prohibition against discrimination… is subject to neither progressive realization nor the availability of resources; it applies fully and immediately to all aspects of education and encompasses all internationally prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

General comment nº 13 on the implementation of the international covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

We emphasize the need to end practices of discrimination towards indigenous peoples, as well as toward people with disabilities and imprisoned men and women. The application of the right to Youth and Adult Education must follow the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination. We therefore call on States to take affirmative and positive action (through nationally binding legislation and action plans) that seeks to overcome all forms of inequality and discrimination, including multiple discrimination, based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities or other grounds in Youth and Adult Education. Without outreach measures, the right to learn throughout life cannot be guaranteed.

2. Youth and Adult Education is crucial for overcoming poverty and for addressing the global food, fuel, environmental and financing crises

The present food, environmental and economic crisis exacerbates existing inequalities. Poverty and social exclusion cannot be dissociated from the structured inequalities reflected in and reinforced by the increasingly uneven distribution of learning provision. Within a Lifelong Learning framework, social exclusion not only means exclusion from learning opportunities but also the hegemonic insistence of a knowledge hierarchy denying legitimacy to certain types of knowledge. The learning demand of people active in the agricultural or craft economy and in the informal economy, of women in great numbers in care work, voluntary or civil society activity and subsistence production is not recognized because these activities remain hidden. The Belém deliberations must take into account the impact of this informal and invisible economy on the right of women to engage in learning activities.

Adult learning responses, including vocational Adult Education and training, to economic inequalities must be supported by, and linked to cross-governmental action. The Belém Framework should make clear that the rights of youth and adults to education and Lifelong Learning cannot be dissociated from economic, social and cultural policies, or from the model of societies and development that nations adopt. Presently, the global food crisis, worsened by the financial and economic crisis, must be tackled with absolute priority; it threatens the most basic need that impacts on the survival of millions of people. Adult learning is not in competition with such priority: it is part of the solution. Successful strategies on all continents include: strong, participatory agricultural extension programs, community organization and mobilization, as well as adult literacy provision in rural areas.

Another planet is possible, but not without profound transformation in the ways we produce and in which we live. A new way of life and a new ecological solidarity is in the making and it must be nurtured to reach the critical levels required to sustain action. However, it will only rise to the critical level required when billions of women and men will have the space and possibilities to meet, discuss issues and develop know-how, so as to sustain their will to act. Adult learning relative to the environment, to learn how to transform humanity’s relationship with physical environment and how to build greener economies, is no longer an option and the current initiatives in study circles, literacy groups, village councils, urban citizens committees and adult learning networks are already showing the way. The Belém Framework For Action should underline the urgency of environmental Adult Education. The impact of nonaction is global and for that reason it must be debated not only by the G8 and the G20 but by the entire G192 and by civil society. Humanity will not survive without the emergence of an active, creative eco-citizenship sustained by global solidarity and based on informed action at local, regional and planetary level.

3. Youth and Adult Education, as well as literacy must be clearly prioritized within international frameworks (including EFA) and national state policies

The neglect of Goals 3 and 4 of the Dakar Framework for Action on Youth and Adult Education as well as adult literacy must be repudiated. This neglect persists in spite of powerful evidence on the contribution of youth and Adult Education and literacy to improving people’s quality of life, to the educational achievement of children, to the increase of agricultural productivity and food production, to community-led conflict resolution, to basic skills improvement in the work place, and to the efficient delivery of universal health care, among other direct and indirect benefits.

A substantial policy shift is required. Concrete benchmarks should be clearly stipulated in the Belém Framework for Action to measure progress and reverse the current trend. States, as well as multilateral and international aid agencies, must urgently place due emphasis on Goals 3 and 4 of the Dakar Framework for Action. They must recognize Youth and Adult Education and literacy as a necessary, crosscutting component of the Millennium Development Goals, since none of them can be achieved without the creative and informed participation of people. They must also guarantee that the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) ensures the integration of Youth and Adult Education in National Education Plans.

Similarly, the past and current conditionalities imposed by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) which require national governments to freeze investment in education and to marginalize Youth and Adult Education must be challenged by CONFINTEA VI.

4. Literacy policies must be clearly articulated within a Lifelong Learning framework and linked to other intersectoral actions.

Literacy must be conceived of as on a continuum and the polarized dichotomy of literacy and illiteracy must be abolished. This shift would better guarantee all citizens the opportunity to acquire and develop literacy skills and participate in a literate society. New data must therefore be produced that reflects this understanding. Present literacy statistics significantly underestimate the scale of the problem. National youth and adult literacy surveys are needed to build comprehensive new evidence on the number and profile of people facing literacy challenges. Within this understanding, we call on States to overcome initiatives based on short term literacy and post literacy campaigns, towards more comprehensive, long-term and intersectoral policies and programmes, which foster sustained formal and nonformal learning and literate environments. Under no circumstances (for example in the drive to overcome poor ranking in literacy statistics) must States compromise the quality and relevance of learning.

Policy and programmes must be put in place to guarantee Lifelong Learning, which encompasses literacy and basic education, and to foster reading and written culture. The specificities of both youth and adults must be recognised and addressed, as the older population is often more excluded. It is also important that Youth and Adult Education policies be oriented towards the recognition of cultural diversity and of linguistic, ethnic, racial and gender rights, including concern for decent work, active citizenship and peace. This, in turn, implies the need for an intersectoral approach and cooperation between agencies and ministries.

States and international agencies must commit to developing qualified and professional Adult Education facilitators, teachers, administrators and researchers , literacy included, and secure enabling conditions for effective programme delivery. Professional and properly paid facilitators and teachers are needed who are knowledgeable bearers of critical thinking and sensitive to the contexts of adult learners. Conditions and structures must be set in place to ensure that youth and Adult Education practitioners and professionals have viable and meaningful career options.

5. The right to education and Lifelong Learning for migrant women and men has to be recognized together with the right of refugees.

Migration is a global phenomenon between continents and countries as well as within national borders. The Belém Framework For Action should recognize the fundamental human rights of tens of millions of migrants and refugees struggling to survive and support their communities, further the Belém Framework should ensure their rights to language education, to vocational training, to citizenship education, and to recognition and validation of past experience and qualification.



Source: Maria de Fatima Rodrigues



Youth and Adult Education that does not discriminate against migrants entails learning responsibilities of the receiving communities, of their local leaders, service providers, employers, trades unions, and the general public. Migration offers unique opportunities, for learning to live together, for multicultural and intercultural education. Financial responsibility for draining other nations of skills and expertise should be addressed. Such brain drain deserves international compensation. The Belém Framework could not ignore this bias in bilateral cooperation.

6. What is needed now is action: Appropriate legal and policy frameworks as well as governance structures and mechanisms are necessary to ensure the right of all to Youth and Adult Education.

The development of Youth and Adult Education is taking place in an environment much different from the one in the seventies. UNESCO therefore needs to appraise the continued relevance of various forms of youth and Adult Education with respect to 21st century global and local realities. To that end, UNESCO, through UIL, should update its Recommendation on the development of Adult Education adopted in Nairobi in 1976.

The need for Youth and Adult Education is to be seen across sectors of activities. It concerns multiple ministries: Justice, Agriculture, Employment, Health, Social Affairs, Culture. Such adult learning activities outside the formal education domain should be identified and monitored in each ministry and across them in order to build a synergy. In such interministerial cooperation, the role of the Ministry of Education is central as convener and the lead department.

The economic and social contribution expected from Youth and Adult Education will only be achieved through appropriate legal frameworks, explicit and enforceable State public policies, higher allocation of resources, more space for civil society participation in decisionmaking and transparent monitoring of process and outcomes.

a) Appropriate legal and policy frameworks

States should commit themselves to adopting legislation confirming the legal right to Lifelong Learning, including basic education. Such legislation should state that everyone, youth and adult, are entitled to literacy and basic education without distinction.

b) Civil society participation

Civil society must be actively involved in the policy debate on Youth and Adult Education, guaranteeing a more sustainable approach and relevant policies. Civil society must actively engage in monitoring programmes and policies and in holding governments accountable to secure education throughout life. National Action Plans on EFA, FTI programmes in-country and national Youth and Adult Education policies should provide for explicit, formal mechanisms of representation by civic society as co-equal stakeholder in joint bodies where government agencies and international actors or external donors discuss education and Lifelong Learning financing.

Adult learners telling their successful stories are the strongest advocates for the right to learn and living proof of the positive impact of investing in adult learning. They should be actively and meaningfully involved in all these policy processes.

c) Monitoring and benchmarking

A culture and system of accountability and transparency are needed along with monitoring and benchmarking mechanisms. The Belém Framework For Action should mandate the generation of new Adult Education and literacy benchmarks to be adopted and monitored both within the EFA framework and the MDGs policy framework. Such benchmarks should include the addition of EFA Goal 4 on adult literacy as one of the indicators of Goal 1, the production of relevant adult learning indicators specific to each of the respective MDGs goals as well as for the next phase of the Fast Track Initiative and for the UN literacy Decade. Such indicators should be built using, among other sources, the Global Campaign on Education (GCE) benchmarks.

Clear, international, quantitative and qualitative benchmarks are required to keep an eye on the state of adult learning participation, to expose instances of discrimination, to appraise the conditions of work of adult educators as well as of their education and training, to assess the development and availability of appropriate learning materials, to look at the improvement of learning environments, and to monitor public, national and international investments, mindful of their sustainability and appropriateness. We call on all UNESCO offices and institutes to monitor and assess, in a coordinated effort, the progress made toward this Framework for Action, every two years.

7. States must demonstrate clear political will, allocating necessary resources for the full implementation of the right to Youth and Adult Education

States should commit themselves in the Belém Framework for Action 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. In so-called developing countries, 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.

The FTI, as well as other future global financing mechanisms for education, should include specific benchmarks on literacy and on Youth and Adult Education and should actively require education sector plans to include credible strategies to address the issue. Privatization of basic Youth and Adult Education initiatives must be challenged upfront. The International Monetary Fund macro-economic conditions that undermine investment in education should, especially in the present context, be challenged so that States can adequately invest in the full EFA agenda and for the emergence of active learning societies.

Conclusion: CONFINTEA VI, Time for action

CONFINTEA VI is about the dignity of all human beings, their right to learn, to improve their life conditions, to dream about their future and to be able, with others, to construct and reconstruct their lives and their environments. The exercise of this fundamental enabling right is more urgent than ever.

Youth and Adult Education, including literacy, is the cornerstone of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and a critical instrument for all peoples to combat the current food, financial and environmental crises. There will be no solution to the food or water crisis without the increased capacity of women and men to act individually and collectively. We will never achieve the goal of Health For All, without significantly increasing and universally disseminating health literacy. The planet’s future is linked to the will and capacity of citizens to share environmental concerns and responsibility. Real peace, without fear of war or violence, will not be reached without grassroots diplomacy and enlarged possibilities to learn to live together. When achieved, peace will not be sustainable without cross cultural and continental exchange at the community level.

Concrete action is required NOW to ensure the fundamental right of women and men to learn and develop their full human potential throughout their life and, in so doing, to give themselves the capacity to construct another world. We know what kind of policies and actions are needed. So many success stories have emerged and so many more could be told. We have discussed these at CONFINTEA V and explored them since. What is required now is action and, for this, political and collective commitment to be formally codified in the Belém Framework For Action, backed up by clear benchmarks and a defined, transparent and efficient monitoring mechanism.

Lifelong Learning for all in all countries is the key to the future. Time is pressing. The cost of not acting is too high.

As it was agreed upon in Belém do Pará (Set, 2009), this document remains as a draft but we are not going to introduce changes directly into the text from now on. People are encouraged to send contributions and suggestions that will be compiled before CONFINTEA. For the purpose of receiving these contributions and comments, a special address has been created. advocacy@fisc2009.org


1 Youth and Adult Education might have different meanings depending on specific realities. In the context of Europe it is better to use “education for adults and young people/adults”.

Adult Education and Development


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