Vernor Muñoz

Vernor Muñoz from Costa Rica is Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education of the United Nations. According to him, education “is not limited to a period of time in men and women’s lives but it encompasses the full course of their existence”. We reprint the article he sent to the Virtual Seminar “Is education also in crisis? Proposals and challenges for another possible world”.

The Right to Education

Education is an individual right but it is also a social right whose maximum expression is the full exercise of this right by a person; it is not limited to a period of time in men and women’s lives but it encompasses the full course of their existence.

Jean-Claude Forquin affirms that continuing education encompasses all the personal and social dimensions and all the modalities of the pedagogical processes.

Formal schooling is therefore a mechanism that is part of education processes but it is never a phenomenon that exhausts the learning processes since, in many cases, it reduces the options for adults in those cases where the State limits the education proposal without taking into account the needs and interests of that population.

Said exclusion draws on the wrong premise that “education services” should be aimed only to minors, thus strengthening the stereotype that presents the subjects of education as mere receptors of the socializing power of the State.

This etiological distortion is put into relief when education is disconnected from its true purposes, condensing the contradictions and tensions of economic systems and patriarchal cultures.

Young people and adults face multiple obstacles to realize their right to education. There are, however, two capital dangers we should mention:

The first one is the lack of educational opportunities and exclusion.

The lack of opportunities for young people and adults is expressed not only in the concrete absence of availability and access but also in the disarticulation of the existing offer.

It is a common occurrence to find multiple and different structures in the education subsystem of young people and adults, which hinders students’ mobility in the different jurisdictions and their re-insertion in the regular education systems.

The very notion of “subsystem”, when speaking of youth and Adult Education, reflects a treatment of undervaluation of the needs of this population.

This kind of problem has been detected in many countries and it refers to the dispersion and overlapping of the offer, the lack of attention to social inequalities and the systematic absence of pedagogical responses that allow to rescue, strengthen and develop the cultures, languages and cosmovisions of Latin American indigenous communities.

In many cases, literacy campaigns are undertaken without taking into consideration the cultural situation of the native peoples and they rarely advocate for the rights and needs of people with disabilities, migrant people or persons deprived of freedom.

Exclusion from educational opportunities is particularly alarming in Latin America which, not without reason, is the most unequal and inequitable region in the world.

As our Brazilian colleagues have rightly mentioned:

“the panorama resulting from the economic and social indicators shows a perverse contradiction. On the one hand, the option pro growth did not manage to socially include the poorest population sectors. On the other hand, the scarcity of jobs in the formal market increasingly demands more schooling and technical specialization”.

This demand is not fulfilled by the education policies aimed at this segment. Despite the lack of data that confirm the real education demand of young people and adults, and that 15 years old is the maximum age considered by basic education, when drawing on the number of illiterate young people and adults – potential demand – it is verified that only 2.89 % attended literacy courses in 2000 in Brazil.1

Precisely, the second danger is the curricular tendency that considers schooled adults or adults who have been incorporated to the formal and non-formal systems, only as “labor resources” and not as full subjects of the right to education and to the full enjoyment of knowledge.

In the first case, it is about a complex network of discriminations and exclusions based on gender, age, poverty, socio-cultural origin, ethnicity and beliefs.



Delegation from Canada
Source: Joseane Nunes


The uniformizing role that globalization imposes on the education sphere generally proposes itself as a selective mechanism that relegates adult people to a reproductive role that has been moved further away from pedagogical opportunities since these persons are considered displaced individuals who have lost their chance to get educated.

In the practice, this kind of exclusion manifests itself in the absence of education centers for adults and alternative systems and modalities, in the lack of public policies oriented to meet their needs, and in the limited financial resources (anyway always scarce regarding education) to guarantee this fundamental human right to them.

If globalization seeks the maximization of commercial and technological opportunities at the lowest possible cost, it is to be expected that this logic will translate to the social and cultural spheres, thus promoting the false idea that education is a factor for the market and, as a means for socialization, one of its priorities is to form individuals who respond to that aim from the earliest age.

Adult people’s lack of opportunities and social exclusion stems from the structural response of a system that regards them as “useless” as education subjects, as they already perform their assigned role in the dynamics of the globalized world.

Over the last years, for instance, the analysis of the labor market in Chile has allowed to verify the fragility of the income, permanence and access to stable and adequately remunerated jobs on the part of youth and adults with low or incomplete schooling.

It is estimated that over 5 million people in that country (approximately 30 % of the total population) are able to apply for some modality of leveling studies for adults and that the coverage of such offers reached only 165 thousand students.2


As proved by studies conducted in Nicaragua, people with more than 12 years of schooling have more chances to reverse poverty and, consequently, for those people with low schooling, poverty leads to a vicious circle that is very difficult to break and that transcends even to the next generations.

In the second case, when the access of adults to education systems or modalities is achieved, these, however, do not manage to overcome, in many cases, the utilitarian tendency imposed by neoliberal models. Hence the curricula are shaped mainly as training for work, many times for sub-employment.

We are not against linking education processes with the improvement of people’s economic conditions. But neither can we accept that education’s main purpose is to address the labor demand, separating it from the need to develop people’s integral capabilities (which will enable them, anyway, to link successfully with the productive processes).

The excessive emphasis on market mechanisms and the scant curricular pertinence constitute the most noticeable risks and failings in youth and Adult Education, as usually these people participate precariously in education processes,3 in other words, they go through pedagogical practices that do not meet their needs, do not satisfy their interests and do not fulfill their rights. Precarious inclusion means that, even with schooling, people lose the right to enjoy the benefits of education.

As a result of the above, people are denied their human right to education. Furthermore, it is detrimental to its specific content since the knowledge that is not built upon the development of a personality respectful of human rights results in low quality knowledge.

The need to develop intercultural responsibility, solidarity and respect compels education to form persons who discern their reality, and to allow all persons, with no exceptions, to develop our talents and capabilities in the construction of a conscious, discerning and just society in solidarity .4


1 Executive Summary of the Report on the State of the Art of Youth and Adult Education in Latin American countries. Information obtained from: La Carta, N°290 – 315, CEAAL.
2 Ibídem.
3 The expression “precarious inclusion” is José de Souza Martins’, quoted by María Malta Campos in “Reflexionando sobre la calidad educativa”, Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education, Mexico 2004,
4 In the same sense, Mesa de Educación de Personas Adultas, ALFALIT-CEES, San Salvador, 2004. “In the political sphere, education is a requirement in the construction of a democracy sustained by the Social State based on the rule of law. Education for democracy, human rights, peace, tolerance. In one word, political education. Likewise, democracy implies the production and real access to education, and scientific, artistic, and political knowledge for all. The construction of democracy implies the education of the citizens. Education is the privileged vehicle of that necessary socialization”. Sánchez Angel. El sentido de la época: sobre globalización y educación en derechos humanos. In: De miradas y mensajes a la educación en derechos humanos. Fundación Ideas, Santiago de Chile, 2004, p.23.

Adult Education and Development


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