Maria Lourdes Almazan Khan

“Formal schooling alone cannot offer the education responses that citizens and societies require to prevail over humanity’s current and growing challenges”, asserts Maria Lourdes Almazan Khan, since 1995 Secretary General of the ‘Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education’ (ASPBAE) which is proud to celebrate half a century of commitment and action on behalf of adult learning in the vast Asia Pacific region. Beginning as a small group of dedicated scholars and educators, it has grown to be a network of 179 member organisations that is recognized as an indispensable partner in the regional and global development of educational policies.

Daring to Persist: ASPBAE @50

ASPBAE is one of the longest standing regional networks on Adult education in the world. on January 30, 2014, it will commemorate 50 years of work and contributions to the advancement of Adult education and learning.

Born from the vision and daring of a small band of passionate adult educators, ASPBAe persisted and survived through the same audacity of its subsequent members and leaders – enabling ASPBAE to evolve with, respond to and shape the many contexts it lived in.

Dr. w.M.k. wijetunga, ASPBAE’s Secretary general from 1985 to 1995 traces ASPBAE’s beginnings to the impetus created by the 2nd uneSco International conference on Adult education, August 1960 in Montreal, canada.1 the Montreal conference called for greater international and regional cooperation, greater exchange and interaction among researchers and providers of Adult education from different countries to enhance Adult education practice. Spurred by the call for international outreach, a group of Adult education professionals from the Asia Pacific met during the Montreal conference to explore the possibility of creating a network on Adult education in the region. Arnold Haley of the university of Adelaide in Australia, led on these efforts. drawing on his extensive network of international contacts, Haley eventually mustered the resources and wherewithal to organise a uneSco regional seminar to catalyze the formation of a regional platform on Adult education. A uneSco seminar on ‘the role of schools and universities in Adult education’ was thus convened in January 18 to February 1 1964 at the women’s college, university of

Sydney, Australia. ASPBAE Life Member, roger Morris of Adult Learning Australia writes that several aspects of the seminar were not particularly “helpful” in addressing the conference theme. A participant had observed,

”..There was a domination of the proceedings by the English-speaking ‘experts’among whom there appeared to be little real understanding of the region’s needs and potentialities.”

Despite this, Adult education history will remember it as a worthwhile event: its lasting and most important outcome was the creation of the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult education (ASPBAE). the founding meeting was convened on January 30, 1964 with 33 foundation members. Haley was elected its first Secretary general and Shiva dutta of India, its first President.2

ASPBAE’s initial ambitions were modest, owing to the limited resources available to the newly formed organization. As a first step, it agreed to prepare a roster of Adult education professionals working full time in Adult education in Asia and the Pacific.3

The founding decade of ASPBAE was fraught with difficulties, and it barely survived Arnold Hely’s untimely death in 1967. the organization had no real funds, hence could only organize a few regional events tagged on to activities funded through other sources.4 In 1972, dr. chris duke, who was to become ASPBAe’s second Secretary general, described his first encounter with the organization and his subsequent involvement:

It was a small, shallow-rooted club of people in universities, government departments and in a few cases national associations. My first encounter was in a Stiftung-funded regional workshop in New Delhi in 1972. Here I learned (too late!) that the price of participation was to agree to take on the secretarial work and fan life into what had become a shell organisation. In the next two years the main sign that ASPBAE existed was a Newsletter (Courier)..”5

Daring to Grow

ASPBAE’s substantive work as a regional network really began in 1977, coinciding with the start of ASPBAE’s partnership with dVV (german Adult education Association) and its Institute for International cooperation (IIZ), now DVV International. In that year, chris duke attended a meeting of adult educators in tehran where he held extensive discussions on ASPBAE with Bernd Pflug of the DVV. It was not ASPBAe’s first encounter with DVV – Helmuth dolff, then-Secretary general of the DVV, participated at the 1964 seminar in Sydney where ASPBAE was founded. And it certainly was not to be its last.

ASPBAE Basic Leadership Development Course
Source: Maria Lourdes Almazan Khan

The ASPBAE that DVV encountered in 1977 had progressed in its shape and work since its early founding years. the work of dr. Joan Allsop, dr. Arch nelson and dr. chris duke in anchoring in Australia a widening correspondence and information system by means of a newsletter, the ASPBAe courier, contributed well in establishing ASPBAE’s profile.6 A number of international events on Adult education in the early 70s also stimulated ASPBAe activity and sense of purpose: the in 1972 3rd UNESCO International conference of Adult education in tokyo catalyzed the formation of the International council of Adult education (ICAE) in 1973, with ASPBAE as one of the founding members and its regional arm for the Asia Pacific. In 1976, ICAE’s first world Assembly was organized in dar es Salaam, inaugurated by tanzania President, Julius nyerere. In november 1976, the

UNESCO general conference adopted the “Recommendation on the development of Adult Education”, a uneSco key normative instrument on Adult education, offering guiding principles and a global approach to promote and develop Adult education within uneSco member states.

The climate was thus ripe for uniting and mobilizing, as chris duke describes, like-minded individuals from all over the region, “passionate about educating adults, developing communities, and supporting balanced human development which combined economic and social purposes with an emphasis on “the poorest of the poor7 to come together and interrogate the expanding global discourses on Adult education that increasingly spoke to Adult education as an instrument of democracy, social justice and liberation.

It was within this context that DVV and ASPBAE jointly organized a workshop in chiangmai, thailand in 1977 to jointly define the features of the ASPBAe-dVV partnership. the partnership was to be instrumental in expanding ASPBAe’s work then and decades after. over the next years, national Adult education associations involving Adult education professionals from universities and government, developed and thrived. national and cross-country trainings, workshops and conferences, exchanges through travel fellowships in the Asia Pacific region were organised. ASPBAE’s governance structure was strengthened through an annual executive meeting and information sharing through an expanded ASPBAe courier. ASPBAe also increased its work in wider international exchanges and South-South dialogue especially through ICAE.8 Along with other ngos, ASPBAe and its members played a significant role in introducing and lobbying for the adoption of the resolution on the “Right to Learn” during the 4th uneSco International conference on Adult education in Paris in 1985.

Daring to Change Course

In the mid-80s however, ASPBAe was in crisis. the landscape of Adult education had changed considerably since the last two decades with the growth and development of ngos and civil society organizations in the region. the dynamic and highly creative practice of and thinking on Adult education was clearly no longer confined to universities nor education departments of governments. they were increasingly happening in communities as farmers organized to call for genuine land reform; within indigenous people’s struggles for self-determination and rights to ancestral domain; among women’s groups demanding an end to discrimination

and inequality; in the anti-dictatorship movements and struggles advancing popular democracy; within peoples organizations asserting participation of citizens in polity and decision-making to craft for humanity, a more just and sustainable development path.

ASPBAE needed to keep in step with this profound change – in the way it defined and organized its efforts and in its constituency. working closely with IcAe’s strong partners in the Asia Pacific region, notably rajesh tandon of PrIA, India, carol Anonuevo of the center for women’s resources, Philippines (currently deputy director of unesco Institute for Lifelong Learning), the late om Shrivatsava of Astha, India, then ASPBAe Secretary general w.M.k wijetunga, steered a strategic assessment process in 1989-90. the process set out to identify the new players in Adult education in the region embedded within ngos and civil society groups, and to ascertain the key development issues in the Asia Pacific that Adult education should interact with and respond to. the results of the exercise were presented to the ASPBAe executive council in its meeting in September 1990 in Macau. Among its strong recommendations was to convene an assembly of all potential new members of ASPBAe to better root ASPBAe’s work in the realities of the region, and to redefine its structure and priorities in this regard.

ASPBAE’s First general Assembly was convened on december 8-14, 1991 in tagaytay, Philippines, a year following the historic world education conference in Jomtien, thailand where governments from 155 countries committed to universalize basic education, eradicate illiteracy by the year 2000 and guarantee education for all.

The First general Assembly ushered in strategic shifts in the formation and functioning of the (then) 27-year-old regional association for Adult education. From an exclusive, one-member per country structure (national associations), ASPBAe shifted to accepting direct membership of individual organizations, thus widening its base of non-governmental and civil society organisations (ngo/cSo). the general Assembly reconstituted the executive council to ensure geographic and for the first time, gender balances. Members of the executive were now elected by the ASPBAe membership. to support the new programmes and sustain the involvement of its expanded membership, ASPBAe also expanded its professional staff complement.

Daring to “Make a Difference”

The years following the tagaytay Assembly were devoted to building and strengthening the network capable of carrying out its mission. In 1995, ASPBAe appointed its first woman Secretary general, Maria Lourdes Almazan khan, signaling another significant leadership change in the organization. other big changes were to also come soon: during its 3rd general Assembly in 2000 in chiangmai, the members analysed the findings from a broad-based review of its work and current context summarized in a document, ‘Learning to Make a difference’. It observed that:

“As a network and a movement for a transformative and empowering Adult Education, ASPBAE has done well.

  • ASPBAE has built its network. It is a network of significant depth and reach
  • It has provided a platform for exchange across a fairly wide diversity of group; fostered a greater appreciation of diversity, respect and tolerance for differences, a wider-world view.
  • It has developed a significant pool of organisational and individual members; affiliates and supporters, willing and able to devote time and energy towards pursuing shared goals. Its leadership development programme has enhanced the capacity not only of ASPBAE as a regional organisation but has contributed in strengthening the institutional sustainability of its members.
  • It has set up a transparent mechanism of governance and accountability with a leadership tradition that is visionary and pro-active.
  • The values and philosophy of a transformative Adult Education are now more entrenched in the organisation. The commitments to social justice, gender justice, sustainable human development, equity and peace are explicit in the organisation’s philosophy.
  • It is the only regional organisation at the moment attending to issues of Adult Education.”

The review observed, however, that the strength of the network has so far not been successfully harnessed to influence education policy reforms or to challenge dominant paradigms of education and learning where needed. ASPBAE’s profile globally as a CSO player was also limited and this lack of visibility and limited positioning restricted ASPBAe’s ability to argue its relevance and mobilize further funds for its work.

In defining therefore how ASPBAE can better “make a difference”, the general Assembly of 2000 mandated a much stronger emphasis on ASPBAE’s policy advocacy role.9

The features of ASPBAE’s contemporary work, constituencies and structures have been significantly shaped by the decisions of the general Assembly in 2000. In the period following this assembly, ASPBAE’s alliance and coalition-building efforts

ASPBAE Members’ Forum – Jakarta
Source: Maria Lourdes Almazan Khan

Were substantively motivated by campaign and policy advocacy imperatives. new leadership and capacity-building activities were pursued to shore up policy advocacy competencies of ASPBAe at various levels, while retaining demand-driven capacity-building support to “enable the enablers” especially those working with marginal groups.

By far the most effective and useful space for policy engagement on education for that period was the education for All (EFA) follow-up processes. In April 2000, the world education Forum was convened in dakar, Senegal. recognising that the Jomtien targets had not been met, the international community recommitted to accelerating efforts to achieve “Education for All”, redefined into 6 goals and targets within a new deadline of 2015. goals 3 (on life skills for young people and adults) and 4 (on adult literacy) were especially important for Adult education advocates. the eFA commitments offered clear reference points for donors and governments and, thus, for cSos seeking to shape policy. Spaces were expanding for CSO participation in eFA policy processes: Voices of Southern-based ngos were increasingly heard in global arenas; new policy arenas were opened regionally and nationally; CSOs were increasingly recognized not only for their contributions in education provisioning – but for their roles and competencies in shaping policy. “EFA” therefore provided the main platform for policy engagement and advocacy of ASPBAE.

ASPBAE subsequently aligned itself strongly with the main EFA CSO formations globally: the global campaign for education (gce) and the uneSco collective consultation of ngos in eFA, while retaining its long-standing, strong partnership with the International council for Adult education (IcAe) and DVV International. ASP-BAe increasingly expanded its interactions with the broader eFA cSo stakeholders and interest groups, notably child rights groups, teachers unions, networks on early childhood care and development (eccd), who, along with literacy associations, education and training ngos, and popular education groups, were to be the base constituents of national education campaign coalitions in the different countries of the region, spearheading eFA advocacy work.

ASPBAE’s fundamental commitment to advance the right of all – especially the most marginalized groups – to learn throughout life (Lifelong Learning) made ASPBAE a “natural” participant and important partner in the “education for all” processes. Adult literacy, life skills education, HIV/AIdS education, education for marginalised groups, after all, formed part of the eFA goals and targets. Moreover, ASPBAE increasingly realized that to secure gains for Adult education within the current policy context, it has been necessary to underscore, within a rights perspective, the indivisibility of the “education for all” (children and adults, men and women) agenda: that universal quality primary and secondary education cannot be achieved in the continued absence of safe, enabling learning environments for girls and boys in their homes and communities that literate, critically-aware parents can provide. conversely, the potential for meaningful “learning throughout life” for all citizens rests on a strong basic education foundation. clearly, especially in the Asia Pacific region, Adult education advocates could not but make the case of universal primary education part of their main business as well. 10

In 2008, ASPBAE’s 5th general Assembly mandated an important change in its constitution: It agreed a name change to “Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education” whilst retaining the acronym “ASPBAE”. “Bureau” was replaced by “Association” in ASPBAe’s name – underlining the changed structure and constituency of the organization since 1991; and “Basic education” was introduced, reflecting the organisation’s support for the broad eFA agenda while retaining a clear focus and priority to advancing Adult education and learning.

The Assembly also re-affirmed ASPBAE’s vision:

“ASPBAE’s fundamental purpose is to advance and defend the right of all people to learn and have equitable access to relevant and quality education and learning opportunities throughout their lives, enabling them to cope, survive and transform their conditions and define their own destiny.”

The Assembly further re-asserted commitment to the transformative function of adult and basic education, especially to promote the learning interests of the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

The Assembly affirmed ASPBAe’s pursuit of four main strategies to advance its vision: 1) Leadership and capacity development; 2) Policy Advocacy for equitable access to quality Lifelong Learning opportunities and education for all; 3) Building Strategic Partnerships; and 4) Institutional Strengthening.

Daring to Persist: ASPBAE Today

The wisdom and bold ambition of ASPBAe’s membership and leadership through the years have held the organization in good stead.

To date, ASPBAe has 179 member organizations and around a hundred individual members in 33 countries all over the Asia Pacific. ASPBAe members, bound by a common vision, consist of a wide diversity of ngos, community organizations, education coalitions, Adult education practitioners and campaigners, researchers and activists, operating in a wide range of contexts – communities, universities and policy arenas.

ASPBAE has contributed well in enhancing the practice of transformative Adult education in the Asia Pacific. It has offered arenas for trainer-facilitators in Adult education to scale up their competencies, building an expanded pool of trainers able and willing to operate not only nationally, but at regional and cross-country teaching-learning arenas. this has expanded the resource base of highly capable Adult education practitioners, from which ASPBAE draws support from to run its programmes. through its work in leadership development, ASPBAE has helped strengthen the middle-level leadership of its member organizations through its annual Basic Leadership development course (BLDC) and indeed through membership involvement in ASPBAE’s different programmes as organizers, resource persons, participants. ASPBAE’s own leadership renewal has been fostered by opportunities offered by the network – with several of the ASPBAE executive council members having been products of the BLDC.

ASPBAE’s work in such diverse areas in Adult education and Lifelong Learning as adult literacy, education for women’s empowerment, education for peace and conflict prevention, technical vocational education and training (TVET) and life skills, education for sustainable development and climate change, indigenous peoples education, education for citizenship and good governance, migrant workers’ education, education for older people – have offered platforms for Adult education practitioners in the region to learn from each other’s experiences to strengthen their practice. ASPBAE has enabled greater visibility of the highly creative and dynamic work of ngos and community-based groups through ASPBAE documentation, research, publications and information and communications work – offering opportunities for the experience and frameworks of grassroots practitioners to inform Adult education scholarship and policy work.

ASPBAE has helped strengthen the CSO infrastructure nationally to advance the right to education and learning through effective policy advocacy, employing a wide range of capacity-support: trainings, policy research, the development of toolkits, institutional development support and mentoring in organising and running policy advocacy campaigns and actions. during the dakar conference in 2000, there was only one education campaign coalition in the Asia Pacific region (CAMPE, Bangladesh). ASPBAE has since helped build and strengthen 14 national education campaign coalitions in developing countries in the region. these coalitions have gained credibility with decision-makers in government in their respective countries: 8 are members of important education committees, 7 participate in multi-stakeholder (government and donors) Local education groups, and 5 are represented civil society at annual national education sector reviews. Several of the coalitions can claim to have won modest policy gains: coalitions in Papua new guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have brought back prominence and priority to adult literacy in education policy and planning and in the public consciousness, after presenting governments with the results of literacy assessment surveys indicating the wide variation between official literacy statistics based on self-reporting and the outcomes of the literacy assessments, pointing to huge literacy gaps. In cambodia, the coalition’s proposed guidelines to eliminate school fees were incorporated in their government’s national Social development Plan (2009-2013) and the education Sector Plan (2009-2013). the coalition in Vietnam has been in close dialogue with the government on strengthening community Learning centres (CLCS) based on a clear assessment criteria proposed by the coalition. enet Philippines’ “Fast Track Plan to reach the Marginalised” has informed the department of education’s 2013 plans and budgets. ASPBAE’s recent efforts in capacity-building for advocacy on women’s literacy funded by the eu have expanded constituencies for women’s literacy in India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Png with the establishment of women’s literacy networks (India and Indonesia) who have began to engage governments on women’s literacy policies; and in strengthening the competencies of national education coalitions in the Philippines and Png on policy work in women’s literacy. the strong and positive features of the outcomes document of the in 2009 6th International conference on Adult education (CONFINTEA 6), the Belem Framework for Action, are due in no small part to the strong lobbying of CSOS in this policy process – and the highly organized ASPBAe presence and input within this.

ASPBAE has built a strong leadership tradition with an active, much engaged governing body. Members of the ASPBAe executive council are drawn from ASPBAE’s four (4) sub-regions: South and central Asia, east Asia, South east Asia and the South Pacific, and along with the ASPBAE President, are elected once every four years by its general Assembly. The Secretary general currently leads a competent and highly dedicated team of 18 professional staff. core funds offered through the long-standing partnership between ASPBAE and DVV have been the bedrock of ASPBAE ‘s sustained work, leveraged to develop new partnerships and diversify ASPBAE’s resource base. In the decade of the 1990’s, dVV support represented more than 70% of ASPBAE’s grant base; in the following decade, DVV’s contributions averaged at 46% of ASPBAE’s grants. over the last 3 years it was less than a third of the total grant base. the active professional support, engagement and solidarity of DVV especially through Hanno Schindele, Asia coordinator for several years, and Heribert Hinzen in his several DVV roles, were critical in developing ASPBAE’s confidence to dream and shape its work to more effectively respond to the changing contexts in its long history.

Young people in rally
Source: Maria Lourdes Almazan Khan

There is certainly much to celebrate as ASPBAE approaches its 50th year. But the current context poses several challenges to ASPBAE’s ability to sustain its good work. the financial crisis in europe and the uS has affected economic growth worldwide resulting in decreased budgets for education in many poor countries and a decline in official development assistance. despite its persistent, wide-scale poverty, Asia is increasingly seen as a growth center and being home to emergent non-traditional donors, it is diminishing in consideration as a priority recipient for aid. education and human development which enjoyed priority in the last decade, are losing traction in the policy debates with the emphasis now on jobs, growth, sustainability/’green economies’ and conflict/terrorism. It has been argued that underscoring education’s essential role and contribution in addressing the current issues that dominate will push education up in consideration. this presents an opening for advancing a Lifelong Learning frame in the current discourse. without question, quality formal schooling offers the essential foundational competencies that citizens need and should acquire by right. But formal schooling alone cannot offer the education responses that citizens and societies require to prevail over humanity’s current and growing challenges.11 A strong, articulate assertion of the value and contributions of non-formal, Adult education and a Lifelong Learning framework may indeed be the key to sustain policy attention and priority to education in its broader frame – thus offering a more hospitable environment for education CSOS, and indeed ASPBAE, to sustain its work and accelerate efforts to meet the learning needs especially of those left behind. ASPBAe is poised to meet this challenge with the same commitment, courage and passion that has been the hallmark of its life and its inception.


1 wijetunga, w.M.k, “ASPBAE (1964-1997), A Glimpse at its Past, Present and the Future”, ASPBAE internal discussion paper, 1997.
2 Morris, roger, “Arnold Hely and Australian Adult Education”, Australian Journal of Adult Learning Volume 51, Special edition, december 2011.
3 Ibid.
4 Morris, 2011 and wijetunga, 1997.
5 duke, chris, “DVV and ASPBAE – the early years”, Adult education and development (AED), Issue no. 60, IIZ/dVV, 2003.
6 wijetunga 1997.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 ASPBAE, “Summary of Discussions ASPBAE Executive Council Strategic Review and Planning”, ASPBAE discussion paper, 2000.
10 Ibid.
11 khan, Maria Lourdes A., “Transforming our Future: Opportunities and Challenges for Civil Society”, ASPBAe edlines Issue no. 5, ASPBAe, September 2012.

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