Education is a Universal Human Right, and it is a Public Responsibility

For the development of Adult Education, the UNESCO – Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) in Hamburg is a critical link between governments and civil society. One of its many tasks is the organization of the CONFINTEAs, the world conferences for Adult Education that UNESCO convenes regularly every ten to twelve years. It is also responsible for mapping global developments and monitoring progress in the pursuit of the “Education for All” goals. Although itself a governmental institution, UIL has bridged the gap between state and civil society and has always consulted with the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), the regional Adult Education associations and other non-governmental organizations of adult learning when developing its plans and strategies. Arne Carlsen has been at the helm of UIL since June 2011. Talking with AE+D, he tells us how he came to make Adult Education his vocation and his career, and about his views on major issues of Adult Education and the roll that UIL intends to assume for its promotion.

Education is a Universal Human Right, and it is a Public Responsibility

Interview with Arne Carlsen, Director of UIL

AED: As of June 2011, you have been the director of one of the world’s most prestigious international institutions for education, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning in Hamburg (UIL). Tell us a little about yourself. How did you find your way to work in the field of education, and in particular Adult Education?

Arne Carlsen Source: UIL I Arne Carlsen: I started very young as an adult educator in prison education in denmark. My father was running one of the local evening schools for adults, and initiated education activities for prisoners in the state prison in my hometown. So as a 14 year old I started to play the organ on Sunday mornings in the prison church, and at the age of 16 and onwards I gave weekly music classes for the church choir. We                         organized some very popular music events.

Arne Carlsen
Source: UIL
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From here I continued with teaching political refugees, and in parallel with my university studies in Philosophy and French, I was giving science classes in local evening schools and study associations for the unemployed, and later on French language classes for the general public. After finishing university studies, I went to work as lecturer in the nordic Folk Academy in Sweden, which was the nordic council of Ministers’ joint development and course center for adult educators, and ended up being secretary-general of the nordic Folk High School council. the council consisted of the national folk high school associations in the five nordic countries, but also involving greenland, the Faeroe Islands and the Aaland Islands. I served afterwards for four years as the rector of the Academy. during this time I was involved in supporting the development of civil society and active democratic citizenship in the Baltic countries, and organized the 6-week nordic-Baltic Summer Academies for senior civil servants, leaders of university continuing education departments and the leaders at municipal level. this was also the time when I was involved in supporting the european commission in moving from Adult education to Lifelong Learning. I then went back to research. In the danish national Institute for educational research I was happy to lead a comparative research study on development of Lifelong Learning policies in the nordic countries in relation to policies in eu, oecd and uneSco. when the Institute merged into the danish university of education, I was appointed vice-rector for education, and was manager of the university’s professional master’s programme, of which the Master’s Programme in Adult education was the biggest. Before coming to UIL, I was programme manager of the erasmus Mundus european Master’s programme in Lifelong Learning: Policy and Management, executive director of the International Alliance of Leading education Institutes, and founding chairman of the ASeM education and research Hub for Lifelong Learning.

So I have pursued a double track over many years with a long period as practitioner, and as researcher, with the last few years as manager, trying to build fora for exchanges between practice, research and policy-making in the field of Lifelong Learning.

AED: The director of UIL deals with issues of education and Lifelong Learning all over our globe. Do you find that as educators we basically face the same tasks and challenges everywhere, or are there differences that influence the setting of priorities and require different approaches?

Arne Carlsen: education plays a key role in ensuring knowledge, skills and competence development everywhere. It is in all countries central to socio-economic growth, personal fulfilment, social inclusion, and active citizenship. education is a universal human right, and it is a public responsibility. I would say that the fundamental issues in education are universal. But at the concrete level these issues are inscribed in different contexts that make the approach and priority differ. dealing with literacy in europe is different from dealing with literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa or in Asia, even though in both contexts we often use the same words, terms and concepts. the institutional setting is also different – in some countries there are laws on Adult education, in others not. Some countries have national strategies on Lifelong Learning, others do not. So we can talk about, and understand, the same issues, but it is clear that a country like Burkina Faso with a literacy rate of 28% faces other challenges in relation to policies, governance, financing, participation and quality, than a country like germany, Austria or Switzerland.

Adult educators include teachers, career advisers, human resource managers, course designers, museum guides, librarians and the teams that are part of the institutional or organisational settings, and I would say that the approach of these adult educators anywhere in the world would be to meet the adult learner at the level of the adult learner.

AED: Your institute has changed its name. The UNESCO Institute for Education has become the UNESCO-Institute for Lifelong Learning. This name change reflects a change in paradigm. What prompted the decision, and how has the new orientation changed in the institute’s practical work?

Arne Carlsen: In 2007, the Institute was transformed from a foundation under german civil law into a fully-fledged uneSco Institute. A Host country Agreement was negotiated between the german government, uneSco and the Free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg, where the Institute had been based since 1952. the city provides the Institute with premises at the historic Albert Ballin villa in Feldbrunnenstrasse.

Lifelong Learning got increasing attention from policy-makers in the 1990 es and influenced the agendas of all international organisations dealing with education policy. For uneSco this came through in the report “Learning – The Treasure Within” from 1996. In connection with the change of the Institute’s legal status, it also came to reflect the new education policy discourse. Adult education became part of Lifelong Learning, and a big part, as people are adults the longest part of their lives. From then on, the Institutes mandate was in relation to literacy and Adult education in the perspective of Lifelong Learning. the Institute organized itself with grouping its activities in clusters, that reflected this new mandate.

In 2012 UIL has further strengthened this new orientation by organizing its activities no longer in clusters, but in programmes. the Programme for Literacy and Basic Skills, the Programme for Adult Learning and education, and the Programme for Lifelong Learning Policies and Strategies. the librarians have become part of these programmes in order to strengthen the clearinghouse function of UIL, and its publication “International Review of Education” is publishing more articles on Lifelong Learning research.

UIL has a unique position as the only organisation within the un system with a mandate to support Lifelong Learning. we can proudly say that this Institute is regarded as a real treasure within uneSco and the un system. As uneSco’s resource centre in Lifelong Learning, UIL conducts and collates research through its extensive networks to make a case for – and to monitor progress towards – the achievement of literacy as the foundation of Lifelong Learning and the promotion and improvement of youth and adult learning and education as an integral part of Lifelong Learning.

AED: On the one hand, adult educators welcome the emphasis on Lifelong Learning as it shifts public attention away from an all too often exclusive focus on the formal education sectors. On the other hand they are concerned that by subsuming Adult Education under the all-encompassing category of “Lifelong Learning”, the sector may lose its distinctive profile and identity. How does UIL see this dilemma? Does Adult Education count as a field in its own right, and is it recognized as such?

Arne Carlsen: Adult learning and Adult education are core pillars of Lifelong Learning. However, they are the least institutionalized part of education systems. Adult education is very much recognized in its own right, but formal education is still seen as having priority to non-formal education. Adult education is often seen as a sector that is offering complimentary courses to make up for the failures of the initial formal education system, offering second chances. In many countries however, the civil society organisations offer organized learning where there is no other provision. However Adult education is recognized in most countries, and in some regions it is playing a very important role in national or regional strategies for Lifelong Learning. I do not see a dilemma, but I see an issue of having non-formal learning recognized, validated and accredited, so it can be part of people’s learning and education careers and of their professional development.

the International conferences on Adult education (conFInteA) organised by uneSco are an important platform on this subject. we really hope that with conFInteA VI follow-up the time has come to implement policies and many regions are already moving towards this.

AED: Why has Adult Education not been specifically designated in global education campaigns as a priority sector with its own set of objectives that need to be formally recognized as politically binding for all governments?

Arne Carlsen: Adult education is rarely embedded in national educational policy and reform, and wide gaps between Adult education policy and implementation ex-ist. Inter-ministerial cooperation is scant, and there are insufficient links between the different forms of education (formal and non-formal), as well as between education and other sectors. Adult education programmes are not sufficiently responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised people. the major impediment for developing Adult education within a Lifelong Learning framework lies in the non-availability of funds, leading to insufficient provision and inadequate quality of learning opportunities for out-of-school youth and adults. Assessing the impact of uIL’s work on the educational realities at country level remains a challenge because it is difficult to demonstrate a clear and immediate relationship between research results and their application to policy and practice.

But Adult education is part of global campaigns. In the uneSco context there is a legal instrument for Adult education, which is the nairobi recommendation on developing Adult education, from 1972. the 36th general conference in 2011adopted a decision to monitor the nairobi recommendation as part of the conFInteA follow-up, and uIL is now further establishing an expert group to analyse the desirability to update the nairobi recommendation itself.

The education For All Initiative operates with six goals, of which at least two put Adult education on the agenda. no. 3: ensure that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programs. And no. 4: Achieve a 50% improvement in adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults.

CONFINTEA, uneSco’s global Adult education conferences which are held every 12 years, put Adult education on the agenda. there is a big effort to follow up on CONFINTEA VI, organised two and a half years ago in Brazil, with the conFInteA Bulletin, conFInteA Portal, conFInteA scholarships and fellowships, and national and regional follow up meetings and conferences. the european conFInteA VI follow up conference will happen in 2013.

AED: What are the fields of particular emphasis for UIL in the coming years?

Arne Carlsen: uIL will strive at becoming the global center of excellence for Lifelong Learning. the emphasis will be on advocacy, research, capacity building and networking in three areas: Literacy and basic skills, adult learning and education, and Lifelong Learning policies and strategies. the two priorities will be Africa and gender, but uIL will strive at developing 2-3 big projects with each of the five regions.

This will involve strengthening uIL’s research capacity by partnering with existing research networks, and with international education programmes. uIL will increasingly offer capacity building in the form of educational modules in cooperation with accrediting institutions, and will work to achieve the highest level for its journal “International Review of Education”. uILs sector-wide approach to Lifelong Learning will also take it to partnerships with other un agencies like wHo and ILo and other international organisations.

In order to support the development of Lifelong Learning policies and strategies, uIL will finalise the uneSco guidelines recognition, validation and accreditation of the outcomes of non-formal and informal learning.

UIL will also strengthen national capacities to plan, implement, manage and scale-up high-quality literacy programmes to achieve national and global literacy goals.

In the context of the conFInteA VI follow-up and its global monitoring, uIL will continue to support gender-responsive provision of adult learning and education by strengthening capacities for sector-wide policy, quality programme delivery, improved governance, increased participation, financing and partnership-building. the Institute will accord priority to African Member States and support the capacity development of governments and civil society in its areas of expertise, with the aim of accelerating progress towards the eFA goals.

The conFInteA VI preparation process led to the publication of the first global report on Adult Learning and education (grALe). designed to act both as a reference document and as an advocacy tool, it is, moreover, set to be the forerunner of a series of reports planned to be produced following the related recommendations made by Member States at conFInteA VI. the next grALe will be published in december 2012.

AED: How do you envision the roll of civil society and non-governmental organizations in the education strategies of UNESCO?

Arne Carlsen: UNESCO is an inter-governmental organization, but these partnerships are indeed becoming very crucial in the education strategies of uneSco. UNESCO recognises that success in addressing complex sector challenges requires broad-based and strategic partnerships going beyond traditional partners

– Member States, un agencies, EFA convening agencies, bilateral and multilateral agencies – and more decisively engaging civil society, community- and faith-based organizations, the private sector and emerging donors. uIL in particular has a longstanding tradition for involving civil society and ngos in its work.

AED: As a Dane who certainly grew up in the tradition of Grundtvig, what are your views on the fact that public policies tend to reduce the function of Adult Education to the enhancement of employability?

Arne Carlsen: It is estimated that every year added to the adult population’s education leads to an increase of 3.7% in long-term economic growth and a 6% increase in per capita income. However, adult learning and education are much more than a social cause or an item on a budget agenda and thus it should not only be reduced to the enhancement of employability.

Without contesting that adult learning and education is needed for economic development, uneSco looks beyond this economic factor. It underlines the need for clearly stated human values of peace, democracy, tolerance, respect for others, intercultural understanding, and sustainability. It aims to promote a vision where every citizen has equal access to quality education and effective learning delivered through multiple pathways to meet their learning needs throughout life, to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge, skills and competencies relevant to their individual development and to the development of their diverse collectives – families, communities, countries and the world.

AED: Are public subsidies for general Adult Education still justified in times of financial constraints, or should participation be left to the initiative and responsibility of learners?

Arne Carlsen: yes they are, especially in today’s world, because the access to learning and education opportunities allows individuals to cope with the challenges they are confronted with like critical economic development, societal changes, climate change, peace and security. while governments remain the main providers, there are other stakeholders who are clearly associated with particular forms of Adult education, ranging from basic literacy and vocational education to awareness-raising with regard to health, women’s rights and gender equity. these provisions, often funded by ngos, are both more flexible and wider in outreach.

AED: The next Global Monitoring Report will address the acquisition of life skills. Will the Report take the achievements of Adult Education and non-formal and informal learning into account?

Arne Carlsen: the 2012 gMr will focus “Youth, Skills and Work” on the role of technical and vocational education and training and other forms of skills training in creating opportunities for marginalized groups, highlighting linkages with broader problems such as youth unemployment and low pay. the report will explore the public policy approaches needed to extend employment-relevant training to vulner able groups such as early school leavers, young adults who never attended school, and those who left school lacking the cognitive and life skills needed to thrive in literate societies. the ways in which ‘second-chance’ programmes can provide a route back into education and employment for young people will be identified.

The report will address following questions among others like: do initial education and training systems equip students with the skills demanded by labour markets? Are there sufficient provisions for continuing education and training? who should provide these programmes, and who should pay for them? How can non-formal learning programmes be used to supplement formal ones, and how should the skills that are acquired be assessed and certified? what wider policies are necessary to ensure that skills training programmes help to overcome high levels of unemployment?

AED: Qualifications frameworks are meant to make learning achievements and standards comparable and compatible. What concrete progress if any has been made, in your estimation, in the successful measurement of informally acquired competencies?

Arne Carlsen: It is widely recognised that the formal educational system can only provide part of the competences people need. this is why there is a need to recognise the competences people acquire elsewhere, through non formal and informal education and learning. Qualifications frameworks based on learning outcomes are an important instrument to describe competences and improve mobility and Lifelong Learning.

The european union has developed a common reference framework – the european Qualification Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF) helping education institutions, employers and individuals to compare qualifications across the eu’s diverse education and training systems. It encourages countries to relate their national qualifications systems to the eQF so that all new qualifications issued from 2012 carry a reference to an appropriate EQF level. An EQF national coordination point has been designated for this purpose in each country.

The OECD is conducting the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult competences (PIAAC), which is understood as the “interest, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use socio-cultural tools, including digital technology and communication tools, to access, manage, integrate and evaluate information, construct new knowledge, and communicate with others”.

In addition, PIAAc will collect information from respondents concerning their use of key work skills in their jobs. results of this study are expected to be released by 2013.

I think that a very interesting development is a project uIL is coordinating on measuring the learning outcomes for participants in literacy programmes in Senegal, niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Morocco. we will see the concrete progress in the coming years.

AED: All over the world, Adult Education has to struggle for recognition as a priority in education policy and for adequate budget consideration. How can the sector more effectively document its achievements and its benefits for learners and society as a whole?

Arne Carlsen: In a european context I would recommend to support secondary research on the results from the Adult education Survey of the european commission, engage in PIAAc, and in the follow up activities of conFInteA VI.

The Sixth International conference on Adult education (conFInteA VI), “Living and Learning for a Viable Future: The Power of Adult Learning” held in Belém, Brazil in december 2009, provided an important platform for policy dialogue and advocacy on adult learning and non-formal education at global level. Its overarching goal was to harmonise adult learning and education with other international education and development agendas and its integration within national sector-wide strategies.

The Belém Framework for Action (BFA) – the outcome document of conFInteA VI – testifies to the consensus and determination of the international community to create a new course of action for adult learning by taking forward, with a sense of urgency and at an accelerated pace, the agenda of adult learning and education. now it is about making its follow-up a success.

Also, UIL will publish the second edition of the global report on Adult Learning and education (GRALE) for 2012. the title will be Adult Literacy. As I mentioned above this publication is aimed to act both as a reference document and as an advocacy tool.

AED: Over the years, UIL and DVV International have cooperated in many different efforts. How do you see the future of this partnership?

Arne Carlsen: dVV and uIL have indeed cooperated in a very trustful partnership over many years. I am very grateful for that and hope that the future cooperation remains just as fruitful in order to advocate for adult learning and education, for adult literacy and basic skills, and for Lifelong Learning as a sector-wide and integrated framework. Adult learning and education is as important as ever, both in developing and in developed countries.