Jorge Osorio Vargas

Ever since the seventies of last century, education has dealt with new issues. Diversity, intercultural relations. Respect for languages and values of indigenous peoples, sexuality and gender issues are a few of the new challenges. To an increasing extent, Youth and Adult Education has to cater for those who, for the most diverse reasons, fail in their school careers and at best qualify for precarious employment. Institutions and teachers alike have to adapt to these new tasks. But they need to succeed for the sake of social cohesion which is indispensable for the development of active democratic civil societies. Starting with the Chilean example, Jorge Osorio, who works as a professor for Adult Education at the University of Playa Ancha in Valparaiso, analyzes the situation of Adult Education in Latin America. Jorge has been involved in Adult Education ever since he engaged in Salvador Allende’s literacy campaign as a 15-year-old youth.

Critical Debates about the State of Education of Young People and Adults (EYPA) in the Context of the Right to Lifelong Learning (some Thoughts from Chile)1

1. Diversity and EYPA

Resistance to the military dictatorship followed by the transition to democracy brought with it some highly relevant cultural processes: a) the strengthening of a social fabric that turned diversity and political recognition of it (gender, indigenous people) into a programme; b) the development of a new leadership in indigenous communities that are organising platforms to defend their cultural and property rights; c) the politicisation of the issues of diversity and equity in everyday life, giving rise to anti-discrimination movements on the grounds of sexual choice, gender and cultural affiliation.

The political system and educational reforms since the 90s have continued to take these new demands on board, but not without opposition from conservative forces. “Diversity” and its correlates of recognition, identity, language rights and access to multicultural educational systems have been recognised as key elements of the curricular and cultural relevance of schools. this process has not taken place without resistance, by both conservative elements such as some of the “school system’s” own key players, who see in these changes a requirement that the school cannot fulfil, given its structural inability to incorporate institutional innovations and the shift in the theory of knowledge and teaching which involves thinking and practising a “school of diversity”. However, the development of intercultural schools, teacher training on the subject of non-discrimination and mainstreaming (human rights), the de-stigmatisation of indigenous cultures in textbooks, official recognition of teaching in indigenous peoples’ languages, among other achievements, are setting a standard, often unstoppable, given the moderate management of educational policy, which is notably expressed in how the subjects of sexuality, the sexual and reproductive rights of women, gender equality and sexual options are dealt with in the official curriculum.

In the context of Adult education, it is important to note the following:

a) originally (towards the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century), “Adult Education” was linked to social movements; it was political in nature and associated literacy and basic education with the organisation and cultural life of the working classes.

b) In the 60s, a key Adult education project was developed in association with political reforms, involving the implementation of educational projects with peasants through institutional land reform, which included the indigenous sectors as producers; in addition to this, literacy was identified as a process of developing consciousness and of support for the local union organisation.

c) Alongside public initiatives in Adult education, which involved the creation of institutions, a curriculum framework and a system of educational services, a major popular education movement based on the ideas of Paolo Freire was developed and played a key part in the development of the social fabric during the military dictatorship.

d) In the popular education of young people and adults a pedagogical and social model is created that recognises the value of diversity and the right to difference as a key to educational change. Popular education in chile has been an expression of working with “diversity”, promoting the right to difference, non-discrimination and knowledge of local and indigenous cultures, in both rural and urban contexts. the role of popular education in expanding the women’s movement for gender democracy should also be noted.

e) Today, the public education of young people and adults is developing in a wide range of old and new contexts. those taking part, especially young people, come to schools for adults in a state of educational failure and extreme social exclusion, transferred by the prison and rehabilitation services. other participants are young people who exhibit a strong allegiance to urban tribes, which are radically critical of the established system. given this situation, the experience of many teachers is to process these new realities under pedagogical models of restraint, supporting resilience and promoting social lessons for participatory inclusion in social and civic life. under these conditions, the current challenges are: adaptation of the curriculum, training teachers to work with different identity groups, the ability to include the indigenous people living in cities (a very recent phenomenon) to the way of a “citizenship of recognition”, the adaptation of school time and territories for lessons to the diverse identities of the participants, creating greater ability to work with “paradoxical” groups who, living in conditions of “exclusion” or of “self-exclusion through resistance” are subjects connected through social networks and other means made possible by the Internet and that the codes of a “digital age” use, the empowerment of the public leadership of principals and teachers as regards the requirements for reforming the education of young persons and adults in its school and non-school version to meet the demands of the old and new literacies and forms of learning and of the way of life of the participants who come from various age groups and cultural backgrounds.

2. EYPA and Youth

Experts are of the opinion that in 2011 around 70% of adults under the age of 25 were enrolled in the standard educational system. the involvement of young people in Adult education has been a growing trend since the beginning of the century. this has created a set of situations and new challenges for both the standard system and for teachers. we will list some of them below:

a) The young people in the current eyPA consists in particular of youngsters of both sexes who have abandoned, “failed” or have been expelled from the standard system for children and young people. this situation requires recognition of the fact that these young people come from poor sectors and high social vulnerability. there is evidence that dropping out of school is directly linked to the social background of young people. this can be seen clearly in the schools of the standard Adult education system: juvenile offenders, in social rehabilitation, teenage mothers living in extreme poverty. to this profile it is necessary to add: young people who have failed in their first work experience, who have not completed their primary and secondary schooling and are coming to improve their “position” in the labour market; young people reluctant to attend school because of their social and family situation, who do not see any point to formal education, and who are attending in order to satisfy the educational formalities that will enable them to get a job in the future. In addition to this type of participant, who forces eyPA schools to re-examine their social function and pedagogical strategies, it is important to point out those young people who are working in jobs that are insecure or that require additional qualifications and who are attending in order to satisfy the requirements of their formal studies, which will enable them to have new and improved working conditions and provide a gateway to higher levels of training.

b) This situation has required the eyPA to develop critical learning processes and to adapt to the new social demands of the training processes in particular those related to knowledge of the cultures, languages and forms of identity of these new subjects of eyPA, as well as to the pedagogical and emotional education strategies in relation to restraint and empowering resilience and autonomy, self-help and the protection of civil rights. In this way, eyPA is achieving an approach for developing capabilities throughout its range of activities, including both those needed for undertaking work and for social interaction and participation in civil society. It should be pointed out that this “social learning” dimension is not always accompanied by full compliance with the requirements of the contents of the curriculum and of the regular assessments typical of schooling. How the social aspect of eyPA (shelter, restraint, interaction) is to be reconciled with its cognitive learning processes in the context of a synergistic teaching method is a task still to be developed. It is no small task, since the professional nature and careers of teachers in Adult education does not always allow this social enlargement of the educational task because they are trapped in a traditional model of schooling that is appropriate for teaching children.

c) The new realities of eyPA have led to an assessment being made of the community aspect of schools, either because of the need to relate the family and neighbourhood contexts of the eyPA young people to achieve good results in their studies, or because of the need to adapt teaching styles and the organisation of learning areas or environments for young people, leading to more active involvement of the school in the dynamics and cultural codes of the places of origin and initial socialisation of young people. Positive glimpses can be seen, but without the desired intensity, of the linking of eyPA with the set of social protection policy programmes of the state, and those promoting youth employment and entrepreneurship. the latter has resulted in many eyPA schools taking advantage of the flexible methods of the standard system to develop training programmes in trades and in undertaking technical level work.

d) The interaction between traditional and emergent age groups in eyPA has been reported by teachers more negatively than positively. But the fact is that teachers are making every effort to deal with the age, cultural and motivational differences of those taking part in eyPA at classroom level. there is a lack of research into and lack of a systematic approach to practices in this area of interest: it is important to understand the itinerary of young people in eyPA in more detail, that is the day-to-day nature that their transitory or intermittent nature takes in these institutions; the form and content of community and family monitoring of participants by the school; the creation of collaborative areas that are socially meaningful and attractive to keep young people in annual processes, which involves associating educational activities with the development of cultural and sporting spaces; the creation of new educational languages that are in tune with young people’s cultural expressions with the indicated profiles: their cultural and associative routes, their musical tribes, their modes of expression or reaction as citizens, how they are linked to the new communication technologies, their hybrid processes to constitute subjectivity (neighbourhood culture + social vulnerability + exposure to drugs + use of violence + digital culture + public protest + urban tribes + identity-forming through consumption and brands + processing resilience + restraint by traditional institutions (family, church, sports clubs) + appraisal and motivation by formal accreditation of studies, etc.)

e) The testimonies of teachers and participants document the various factors that motivate students to attend the standard eyPA system, and the conflict that will be produced in areas such as: gradations and continuity of studies, compliance with standards of work and interaction at school, use of language in relationships with peers and teachers, subjective assessment of educational activity aimed at the certification of studies which determines discipline and guidance in learning achievements, ownership through motivation of the requirements of the official curriculum which vary by age group and also by the type of profile of the young people taking part, projection of the studies in future intra-system work activities versus the trivialisation of remaining in school by “young people emerging in EYPA”. what seems urgent to us in this context is to have more teaching leadership and the authority of the sector to identify the challenges of the standard Adult education system to systematise good practice, to see the youth component of Adult education not as a temporary additional measure but as a structural outcome of the conditions of social reproduction of the most vulnerable sectors, to strengthen the social and cultural role of Adult education in relation to the social education of young people, to achieve a virtuous link between the social function of Adult education and its usual role of accrediting knowledge, to open up Adult education to the wider role of community education linked to popular social methods of education that are being developed in the common areas dependent on an education authority, to train teachers in Adult education in social pedagogy and to have the ability to work collaboratively with other professionals in the psycho-social field.

3. EYPA and Social Cohesion

The concept of social cohesion in a society like that of chile must be understood in three ways: economic inclusion through decent employment; recognition and enforcement of social and cultural rights through a constitutional state; and participation by its citizens and consolidation of democratic life, as ways of generating “common feelings” and the new social contracts that satisfy the demands for equality and non-discrimination. the role of a “socially intelligent state” is key to identifying areas where conditions for access to quality public services and to managing the common assets of society (such as governance of territories and natural resources) must be created, and the creation of educational and cultural policies of inclusion and democratisation of access to knowledge for everyone throughout their lifetime. In a Lifelong Learning approach, Adult education helps to create the ability to participate in social life, strengthens the cognitive and cultural power of the population in line with development projects in the regions and localities and stimulates the experience of civic values which is the mainstay of active democratic citizenry.

4. The Freire Matrix of EYPA

Freire sees learning as an individual-social construct, mediated by language and by the ability of people to make sense of their own world and the world with others. the subject of his research is a strategy for decoding the keys of the structural dynamics of society, and in particular those relating to subordination. Being a strategy of resistance, it is also a strategy of strengthening subjectivity such as identity building and awareness of being colonised and the potential for liberation. the role of the educator is that of a mediator, able to organise spaces for learning in the context of the collective life of the subjects with the aim of empowering his “word” and stimulating collective action. From these points of view, Freire’s thoughts can be regarded as constructivist pedagogy that enquires into the opaqueness of reality constructing a “say” and a language on it. In this sense, reality is always a language. For Freire this gradual process of appropriation of the world through the expression of knowledge through language is always a social process mediated by cultural codes and by the hybrid nature of hegemonic ideological structures. Because of this, the knowledge built into the educational process (as regards ownership and development of knowledge and skills) should aim to de-submit the prevailing codes, aspiring to a knowledge of liberation from the point of view of politicisation through the circles of culture and collective movements. Freire’s proposal is definitely political, insofar as he makes the educational process a communication process referring to both individual dynamics and public components (expression, recognition, reasoning, dissemination of own codes, “say the word”, empowerment and autonomy) of every educational process. Pedagogy as discourse and practice of teaching-learning is a reflexive-critical spiral, rather than a vertical one, of collective creation and must have learning mechanisms that allow the cognitive and political appropriation of reality: “de-construction – reconstruction”, social validation of new knowledge, openness to “understanding the world” as a place where human fulfilment-liberation takes place, creation of new languages of opposition and participation in generating socially meaningful knowledge in both a cognitive and ethical-political sense.

5. Popular Education and EYPA: the Politicisation of Education

One version of Popular education (Pe) attaches a predominant characteristic to its ability to associate education with the political involvement critical to the predominant system, and experience in previous years reaffirmed this view. consequently, in previous decades Pe was associated strategically with the Sandinista movement, or with the struggle for human rights through organisations resisting the dictatorships in the Southern cone of South America. Subsequent development, by means of rebuilding processes, resizes the pedagogical nature of Pe, strengthening learning strategies such as research-action, adopting a systematic approach to educational experiences, developing a dialogue with active, critical and socioconstructivist pedagogy, and also broadening the scope of its work to the school environment in the popular urban and rural sectors. the theory of Pe develops a synthesis integrating the political and pedagogical spheres, empowering learning processes linked to the social economy, caring for the environment, defending the rights of women and recognising indigenous peoples. one contribution of Pe has been the empowerment of various spaces of socialisation such as educational spaces and communitisation spaces for lessons, for working and civic life, and formal and non-formal eyPA cannot learn a lot about this. In this respect, Pe has developed successful methodologies for “teaching” in community environments through participatory methodologies that are established by the communities themselves to support and manage their own education. Pe has worked with Foucault’s capillary concept of domination-power, identifying the politicisation of education not only in the public sphere but also in those dominating everyday life (gender, sexism, urban discrimination, repression, etc.). teachers as reflective individuals, capable of being systematic in their work and of being part of learning communities that bring the epistemic vision and the participatory, critical teaching culture to life, are symbolic mediators capable of broadening their lessons and teaching experience hermeneutically: teachers must assume the character of symbolic producers and active subjects in the founding of the school as a public sphere.

6. EYPA as Synergetic Capital of Human Development

EYPA must be able to develop from the social and cultural demands of specific territories. It is therefore an expression of synergetic capital in development. enhancing capabilities to enable the people to be subjects of communal life (citizenship) and working life. For this reason, the curricular aspect of eyPA should integrate institutions and teaching with the dynamics that contribute to development and subjective well-being from other fields. For example, cultural policies, participation by citizens and management of basic community spaces. teachers of eyPA should be able to organise schools with projects from their environment and the communities linked to their work. In this way, their public profile and nature as a catalyst of the dynamics which contribute to inclusion and well-being will be expressed in every possible way, both tangible and intangible, including the following aims: healthy living, self-care, active participation in managing spaces intended for leisure, environmental protection, civic participation through arts, sport and associativity, depending on communal interest at local level.

7. Learning Strategies in EYPA

It is important to identify the learning strategies in eyPA, the influence of the predominant theoretical and practical trends about learning in terms of both pedagogical theory in schools for young people and adults, and the teaching culture of those who play a part in it.

a) In the “modern” cycle of Adult education (from the 60s) a critical view of vertical and banking pedagogy has predominated, that assumes that active and participatory education and learning methodologies that transcend the technical and conventional handling of reading and writing to make learning a cultural, contextualised, community and critical construct are relevant for educational work with adults. this view emerges in an historical context of empowerment of social movements, so that Adult education is associated with political reform processes in which the action of collective subjects are promoted to develop institutional transformation projects. this is the fundamental cycle of Freire’s pedagogy and its constituent core elements are: the construction and collective appropriation of knowledge through problemposing methods of teaching, thematic investigation of the active-mediating action of educators as systematisers and organisers of community learning environments. this view represents a constructivist version strongly rooted in a culturalist paradigm of educational development in a meta-policy: that of liberation and overcoming domination.

b) In the same context that we describe, modernising educational reforms consolidate as pedagogical strategy that of educational technology as Skinnerian behaviourist roots. the modernising aim, identifying the teacher as a technologist capable of developing “predictive” programmes validated as successful in core countries are very seductive sources in educators. the need to demonstrate results, the fetish of measurement and the availability of a range of tests and instructional programmes seem to be converging with projects for the growth of school services, for ensuring a common curriculum and for the ability to measure the results homogeneously and in accordance with previously configured profiles from national policy managers. In this framework, the cultural component of education and identification of special ways of establishing the subjects according to their living environment and own cultural styles is removed. those being educated are seen as recipients of modernising educational activities to integrate them in the western urban style.

c) The development of cognitive approaches to the training of teachers will shape a new wave in teaching: that has its roots in Piaget’s theories. educational work means recognising the complexity of the psychological development of children and young people which requires attention to the deepest processes of learning which are not always observable and measurable in a behaviourist way. understanding learning as a complex cognitive process means developing pedagogical strategies that set the finest teaching skills in motion, together with recognition of different ways of learning and the individual ways in which people learn.

d) A new stage in teaching occurred with the development of the socio-constructivism of the russian school, which went on to inspire many of the educational reforms of the 90s. Learning is a cultural construct. Learning strategies should consider students as subjects carrying knowledge which has been stored and organised according to its cultural and social position in the world, and which through the mediating action and “guidance” of teachers can hold a dialogue with the accumulated knowledge in the disciplines and culture, creating a process for appropriating knowledge that shapes new potential and opportunities for access to new knowledge. through the heuristic and pedagogical guidance (structures) of teachers, the processes of “problematisation”, “discovery” and appropriation give rise to journeys of the learning of new epistemic “complexes” associated with achieving meta-cognitive abilities that reinforce the autonomy and continuous process of learning.

e) Cognitive approaches have a positive influence in Adult education since they are reconfigured under Freire’s critical socio-cultural reading, giving rise to learning strategies centred on recognition of the students’ own skills, of their ways of establishing their identity and their own languages: this is expressed in participatory methodologies, in community systematisation of knowledge, in strengthening the role of teachers as “teachers-intellectuals-critics” able to play their part in distributing tools, configuring learning spaces and making content available to students. It entails fostering “meaningful” learning as a condition for an equal and just curriculum so that Adult education is no longer conceived as a school for the poor (as it is perceived in many places) but rather as an institutional training space for exercising citizenship. this approach has led to pedagogical innovations (ethno-pedagogy, gender pedagogy) and investigative innovations (investigation-participatory action, critical-hermeneutical systematisation of educational experiences, bio-narrative research and illuminative evaluation) being used in Adult education in the training of teachers.

8. Leadership in EYPA

EYPA activity is institutionalised according to a curriculum framework and is managed administratively based on procedures for management and organisation required by the relevant laws. the main topic is to make the “machine” run, paying special attention to the educational management of the eyPA centre. to identify the list of educational demands of the territories and to succeed in coordinating policies and resources to implement relevant actions.

It entails strengthening the leadership in eyPA, creating a collaborative culture among teachers and improving their ability to process teaching cultures as regards the profiles of those participants leaving Adult education (young people). to do this, recognition must be given in terms of time and salary to the planning, design and systematic approach to practices and ongoing self-assessment of the project for instituting the establishment of Adult education.

At public and governmental level there must be future policies that take account of the complexities of educating young people and adults at all times throughout their lives, using all the means that communication technologies provide. this involves being innovative in creating public institutional initiatives and in organising eyPA schools together with the programmes of non-governmental bodies that provide popular and community education.

Social policies also create educational environments which should be part of a co-ordinated action with the teaching capital and accumulated experience of school educators and of popular and community educators. In setting priorities for Adult education the synergetic capital it represents as a way of sustainability of economic social and political development of the country must be identified. this requires going beyond the gdP indicators of development to achieve recognition of the added value of Adult education in all its aspects in overall human development, in subjective well-being and in the indices of democratic conviviality.


 UIL Hamburg                                                                                                        Source: UIL