Nélida Céspedes Rossel

In the eighties, several countries in Latin America saw the upsurge of military dictatorships, while others had not yet been able to rid themselves of them. Human rights were violated in a massive scale, and the development of free societies with full citizen participation appeared a distant utopia. However, utopias create movements that strive to make them real, and one of the expressions of such a movement was popular education which was inspired by Paulo Freire and others, and which was able to count on broad international solidarity. This, then, was the moment for a range of leading non-governmental organisations to join and form the Latin American Council for Adult Education CEAAL. CEAAL’s general secretary, Nélida Céspedes, analyzes its inception and development.

Networked, Building Dreams

Michael Samlowski invited us to reflect on the meaning of ceAAL as a network, because, as he puts it, for decades we have wagered that the quality and impact of our work as individuals and institutions is strengthened by linking it to the work of other people or institutions, exchanging information, learning from each other, defining common interests.

And it is no less a common interest in the ceAAL, to be a network that is engaged in every corner of Latin America and the caribbean, to contribute to make a reality of “Another world is possible”, “Another America is possible,” with a popular edu cation1 that contributes to this view of the life we aspire to: just, democratic, with solidarity, brotherhood among ourselves and with nature, with happiness for all.

We are not just a network for ourselves, we are the result of the raison d’être of our mission and objectives. we are engaged in these efforts, and we have redoubled our commitment to continue being so because we want to help change the face of Latin America and the caribbean to make it a place in which people and groups are empowered to build a better future.

the first thing is to share what is presented in this article with our friends, the readers, because it is a collective task that we must continue to build, and is to make good on one of the agreements from our last general Assembly.2 In it we noted that we must reconstruct our history as ceAAL, as regards contexts and our practices, its milestones, its problems, the program proposals, the challenges that we have responded or not responded to, its structures, its forms of management, our commitments with organised groups and the social movement, which are surely not going to be linear. remembering is to strengthen the present and build the future. remembering the past leads to a process of teaching – learning. with the recovery of historical memory, we will be challenged to recognise what binds us as well as what fortifies our mission, and it will strengthen our presence and what unites us as a network and gives us the strength to engage in networking. It is a big challenge.

Observations about Latin America and the Caribbean

we owe it to the people of Latin America and the caribbean. our America is the most diverse region in the world and the one with the most unequality, and it can be seen on the faces of millions of women, indigenous peoples, youth, seniors, especially among the broad population, millions of them excluded from all rights, and among that, most importantly, the right to education. Although this right does not cause the change by itself, without it, it is impossible for individuals and social actors to involve themselves in the subject of social rights.

Thus, in the world Social Forum recently held in Porto Alegre in January 2012, whose topic was Capitalist Crisis, Social and Environmental Justice, we reflected on the consequences of a capitalist development model which has resulted in false growth and progress.

In the social, economic and environmental order, we are witnessing profound inequalities: the rich have become richer and the poor, poorer. the current model of capitalism has plundered and subjected nature, destroying the conditions that make life possible on the planet. thus, some analysts say that today we have consumed so much energy that we have mortgaged three planets.

The system operates not only in the economic field, it is also expressed in human relations that have been disrupted because, instead of relying on cooperation, they promote competition. Love and mutual trust are replaced by commerce and the exchange of goods. Mankind, under the exploitation of wage labor, appears to be divided, oppressed, and thus slave labor can still exist.

These outrageous social, economic and environmental realities are the reason for the profound dissatisfaction among the people and in the media, sparking protests from various social movements on the continent who, from the bottom up, demonstrate their indignation and propose a different model for the building of a social, economic, political, cultural and environmental system that breaks with the capitalist development model which has not led us to the happiness which was promised but to quite the opposite.

The crisis is not minor – this is a crisis of civilisation, which requires other theoretical frameworks, other modes of interaction and production which call for an ethics of care between us and the planet.

We are assisting a culture that proclaims: Every man for himself! It is beyond the bounds of building an intercultural citizenry, and it has no ability to take care of us, to show respect for us in an inseparable relationship between the me, the you and the us.

Simultaneously, at this stage we have seen the emergence of progressive governments that have helped millions of people out of poverty, where there are broad social programs that reach the poorest, and that promote citizen participation as a way of governing. the paradox is that because they know the end is certain, they have not even broken with the capitalist model, since changes are extremely complex.

In the Field of Education

At this time, the defence of public education is an essential standard that must be borne by educators of the people, intellectuals and communities, because it is being threatened by policies of privatisation. these policies go against the right to education as a public good and are a product of the forward march of neoliberalism around the world, imposing its rules and commercialising education.

In this context the figures show an alarming rate of disregard for youth and Adult education, there being in total 34 million adults who cannot read or write. the alarming figures are: Haiti 50.6%, followed by guatemala with 42%, nicaragua 32.8%, el Salvador 25.9%, Honduras 24%, dominican republic 16%, Bolivia 14.4%, Brazil 14.6%, and 13.6% in Jamaica.3

Yet despite progress in areas of legislation, policies and development plans, systems of recognition and accreditation of learning styles of governance, finance, curriculum, monitoring, there is still a long way to go and to make the right to education visible to this sector of the population.

CEAAL works as a network in these areas, and it does so in accord with other networks because the task to change the outlook of our America is of great magnitude and requires many links and connections.

Foundation of an Encounter

Francisco Vio grossi, who was the first Secretary general of ceAAL, wrote about the birth of ceAAL for the commemoration of its 25th anniversary.4 I have made the choice to present it as he wrote it and thus indicate what I pointed out previously, the need to reconstruct, from the voices of its members, the trajectory of our beloved ceAAL.

Although these days we are joyfully celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the founding of the council of Adult education in Latin America (ceAAL), the fact is that this group began to ferment a few years before that. Actually, the International council for Adult education (IcAe), based in toronto, canada, was founded in 1973 and had regional organisations in europe, north America, Africa, Asia and the caribbean. In Latin America, however, there was no body strong enough to achieve integration of different streams of

Adult education, especially the living and dynamic vitality of popular education inspired by the outstanding figure of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. the IcAe began its activity in the region by organising an active Participatory research network, coordinated from Venezuela, and sponsored several regional meetings in caracas, Ayacucho, Pátzcuaro and elsewhere. they were articulating a growing movement of educators and social scientists interested in bridging the gap between teacher and learner, those who do research and those on whom the research is being done and, ultimately, between those who are thinking and those who are acting in the area of social transformation. In this process, figures who distinguished themselves were Budd Hall of canada, Mexico’s Anton de Schutter, ton of net, and Alfredo Vera gianotten Prado of Peru, orlando Fals Borda in colombia, among many others.

Before the network grew to maturity, there was an agreement by the IcAe to form a planning committee for Latin America (coPrAL), whose main task would be to prepare the formation of a regional body for the region. this committee worked for a while, until the creation of the council for Adult education for Latin America (ceAAL) was proposed. this council, whose presidency was held for several years by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, was established as an autonomous body in 1982. this organisation would bring together national Adult education organisations and popular education ngos. A central role in this process was played by a small newsletter which – with hardly any resources – was published periodically, distributing information “among” members and not “to” them as usually occurs. this monthly newsletter was published for over ten years, providing a place where hundreds of organisations in Latin America that were in the ceAAL could meet, exchange information and develop.

The central idea of the ceAAL was to link popular education with social movements. So they formed networks which were actively working on this relationship, such as with the Popular Education for Women Network, with the indigenous peoples, with older adults, with unions, with literacy learners, on topics such as Peace and Human rights and many other topics. these networks gave the ceAAL unexpected vitality, linking the work on the ground with the struggles of popular movements.

In 1985, the ceAAL actively collaborated in the organisation of the world Assembly on Adult education held in Buenos Aires and which was inaugurated by the newly elected President raul Alfonsin, the first head of state elected after the military dictatorship in Argentina. Afterwards, Latin America meetings were held in guanajuato, Mexico, Santiago de chile and elsewhere.

In a few short years the ceAAL became the main meeting space for the discussion and debate of the popular education movement in Latin America. this was recognised in several distinct instances up to the point that in the world Assembly of Adult education the author of these lines, and former Secretary general of ceAAL, was elected President of the International council for Adult education.

Throughout this process it is necessary to highlight the landmark participation of a group of Latin-Americanists who contributed their efforts to the development of this organisation. Among them one can give special recognition to the names of orlando Fals Borda, Antón de Schutter, Félix cadena, Jorge osorio, rodríguez Brandao, raul Leis and many others whose hard work made it possible to create this space for people to come together and engage in the social struggle.

On the completion of 25 years of life, we can affirm – without fear of error – that the dream of the founders of ceAAL has been more than fulfilled. today a strong and vibrant movement exists, with new leaders and in new places where the banner of social justice as well as the development and the centrality of the men and women in the development process in Latin America is held high and constantly renewed.

Our Identity

the identity of the ceAAL and its membership is primarily its mission, it says:

“We are a movement of popular education which, as a network, initiates and accompanies processes of educational, social, political, cultural and economic transformation in Latin American and Caribbean societies, in their local, national and regional settings, through dialogue with the world, acting in favour of sovereignty and integration, social justice and democracy for the people from the perspective of human rights, gender equity, critical multiculturalism and a policy of ethical, educational and political emancipation.”

This identity is built on a dialogue between the stakeholders in society and their contexts. It is not linear but it retains identifying features that distinguish it and it involves extensive reflections and discussions between us and popular educators and social scientists from various countries. that is why we see the ceAAL as multicoloured maize kernels where there is a confluence of organisations and individuals from diverse backgrounds which have emerged from different historical moments with a joint commitment to social justice, the validation of political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, and more precisely for a transformational popular education that promotes the empowerment of social actors and the transformation of all the conditions of exploitation, oppression and discrimination in our societies.

This option for popular education is a firm option and it has the characteristic of giving an impulse for critical and creative dialogue. throughout the existence of the CEAAL we have been enriched by various critical currents of political and pedagogical thinking, by the theology of liberation, by gender, intercultural and environmental perspectives, who through reason and rebellion question and remove the basis of unjust, undemocratic and discriminatory societies.

We have invested, and will continue to, in development models that dignify and humanise life, based on justice, valuing the “Good Life” as a paradigm for ethics and vitality, thus overcoming the life-limiting reductionism of the rules of the market. we have therefore assumed a critical role as regards the prevailing model inspired by neoliberal concepts. From a concept of human rights for everyone, we refuse to accept the commodification of health, education, culture, and demand public policy that is developed in a participatory manner, thus ensuring the common good.

In recent years, since the activation of ceAAL, we have sought to contribute to the reflection about and the construction of new paradigms based on human rights, sustainability, justice and the ancient wisdom of our peoples; proposals requiring the acquisition of more content and actions.

We Are Educators of the People

In our family tree, Paulo Freire is at its roots, is part of our identity and we are part of the fruit of popular education.

we take this approach not as a finished conceptual framework, but as a political pedagogical current that is built in relationship to the context. this understanding is basic in order to identify how different practices and discourses converge.5 As a result of this relationship between popular education and context, in the 1980s other theoretical frameworks were used for interpreting reality and guiding projects of social and political change.

The same happened with the understanding of the subject of social change which was previously focused on the grassroots, in its class character. this category of the analysis of reality was extended on our continent because of the presence of millions of excluded people, discriminated against because of their gender, ethnicity, social class, or their generation. the work with women and indigenous people are good examples, as well as the work done with the impoverished middle class, teachers, families, youth, etc.

In this sense, new contributions emerge in the development of social, cultural and scientific thought. categories like gender, ethnicity, generation are added to class and allow for wider reference as regards the understanding and transformation of reality. So the prospect of work in human rights, intercultural education, respect for the environment are part of justice and participatory democracy with human development in a sustainable world.

For us popular education is an education that can solve the problems of life. It is the answer. It is directed at social transformation and, therefore, requires the organisation of a new kind of education that doesn’t favour individualism and competition but rather solidarity and cooperation, which are at the basis of the organisation. It aims at democratisation and therefore rejects authoritarianism. It is linked to action. It is a political education and links the political with the importance of knowledge as a form of power.

In turn, the methodology with which one works with power and knowledge is primarily a process of dialog. this was a pivotal point in Freire’s thought that some authors relate to the approach of Jaspers:6 I cannot arrive at being myself if the other is not, I cannot be certain of myself if I am not also certain of the otherŸ (Jaspers, 1958a: 458). For Freire, the process of existence is a dynamic concept, it implies an eternal dialogue between person and person, between the person and the world, between the person and the creator (Freire, 1989: 53).7

The educational process must be supportive and cooperative in respect of the individual, incorporating subjectivity in the process of knowledge creation, and be aimed at interdisciplinary processes that revalue the micro as a substantive component in the construction of the macro.

The education Paulo Freire proposed is also an education based on ethics:8

“The ethics of which I speak are not inferior ethics, restrictive, of the marketplace, that bow in obedience to the interests of profit. At the international level there is beginning to appear a tendency to accept the crucial reflections of the ’new world order‘ as natural and inevitable. (...) I do not speak, obviously, of this ethic. I speak, on the other hand, of universal human ethics. Of ethics that condemn the cynicism of what I referred to, ethics that condemn the exploitation of the labor power of the people, that condemn ... the distortion of truth, that condemn misleading the unwary, attacking the weak and defenceless and burying the dream and utopia ...” (Freire, 1996: 17-18)

Another substantive aspect of educating raised by Freire is the urgent need to learn about the world. that’s why he said that the process of literacy education went beyond learning a e i o u.

In this sense yAe must have a solid approach to popular education mainly because:

  • Its educational policy approach seeks, through the empowerment of social actors, to subvert all exploitative, unjust, discriminatory order in pursuit of full democracy.
  • It aims at social transformation and, therefore, must present a new kind of education, for organisation, that promotes individualism and not competition but cooperation and solidarity, which are the foundations for organisation.
  • It is an education that nourishes itself on democratisation and seeks it, and therefore rejects authoritarianism.
  • Its methodology starts from the reality of excluded people, from the historical context of this and from its analysis in order to encourage commitment to change, and it works with power and knowledge as processes linked to dialogue, active listening and criticism.

Thus we work in the CEAAL to strengthen the rebellious and alternative character of YAE and the popular education movement in the region as part of a paradigm that will give meaning to education in general and the way of life in our societies.

Working in a Network: from Link to Link

There are many popular sayings that in a very significant way stress the importance of working in a network. we have for example: “We are never alone, no matter how long the road”; “In unity there is strength”; “We must unite, not to be together, but to do something together”; “Any power that is not based on being united is weak” – and many more that tell us of the importance of work in a team.

All these sayings point to the fundamental sense of working together, building links, to organise, to add more of the willing. this is about a profound process that affirms the importance of networking, which foreshadows a way of building the society to which we aspire, based on solidarity and cooperative work.

It is important to make explicit that our dreams are not small, or inferior. It is about changing structures, ways of organising societies, to overcome the crisis we are living through. to say: “We are never alone, no matter how long the road.”

There are many examples we could give about the strength and significance of networking in the ceAAL. In our experience, these range from the efforts of the national collectives in the 21 countries responding to building radical democracies, for an economy at the service of the people, for a State that guarantees rights, and to do so from our commitment as purveyors of popular education.

This is reflected in the way we organise ourselves as national and regional groups, and working groups. this sense of life and work is expressed in the multiplicity of strategies that give visibility to collective work such as, for example: collective positioning, proposal development, campaign development, political advocacy work, and educational interventions together with the social actors and people for building just and humane democratic societies.

Oscar Jara,9 whose article summarised its main ideas, points out that networking is: a) a way of doing things, which presupposes “weaving” relationships, learning, cooperation, moving from “link to link” until a common, open and diversified space is constituted in which new initiatives, proposals and efforts may be accrued. b) presupposes giving emphasis to the process of constructing new spaces for encounters and communal action ... It is not, therefore, to construct nets that one “throws” in order to “catch” others (individuals or institutions), but to call out for participation with creative initiatives in the process of building a dynamic with the network.

Membership: CEAAL from the Rio Bravo10 and the Caribbean Sea to Patagonia

For the ceAAL, its strength, its heart, its links, its network, its wings, is its membership, its teachers of popular education who span from south to north, from the caribbean to Patagonia. our network is made up of 150 civil society organisations, organised in the countries as national collectives. each national collective is part of a regional collective, so the Southern cone regional collective is made up of Argentina, chile, Paraguay and uruguay; the regional collective of Brazil, by extension, consists only of institutions in the country, and it is the same with Mexico. the collective for the Andean region is comprised of Bolivia, Peru, ecuador, colombia and Venezuela; the regional collective for central America is el Salvador, Honduras, nicaragua, costa rica and guatemala. For the caribbean it is the dominican republic, cuba, Puerto rico and Haiti.

There is also an alternative way to collectivise for programmatic issues such as gender, interculturalism, economic solidarity, impact on education policy, the youth, local power; as well as for the Latin American systematisation program and the network for human rights education. All of them develop the building of knowledge which is expressed in proposals, the exchange of experiences, and the exercise of advocacy, educational activities and the systematisation of experiences coordinated with social movements. Some of these subjects have more weight in the groups and a balance is sought for in all of them. what we are doing is that we build through the vision of popular education and we position ourselves in these subjects and with this power we add ourselves to other networks.

As regards the types of membership: At the last meeting, in May 2012, a debate was opened to extend membership to individuals who share the mission of ceAAL as well as to other organisations that may be parts of social movements. this expansion reflects the demand by some actors – a situation that is being debated and will be decided upon at our next Intermediate Assembly. By adding these actors they will be “embodied”. As our brothers in Mexico say: It is our identity.

Associated members, as the whole organisation, have rights and responsibilities, and permission for the widest possible participation, a fact that is based on the importance of a decentralised ceAAL with maximum representation and more power.

Each institution brings awareness and political commitment as well as ethical and pedagogical and programmatic components such as work on gender, interculturalism, economic solidarity, human rights, the youth and emancipatory paradigms, social movements, advocacy, the right to education and yAe, in addition to other areas of work arising from the interaction with actors with whom we work. this might give the impression of a certain topical diversity, but that which unites everything is the outlook of popular education.

The network as a whole provides collective action which gives its work in each particular country a continental strength of character in everything we all care about. All the struggles are our struggles and that’s how we are building our network. this is what inspires us. But there are multiple ways to do this, as we have already explained. what is valuable is that networking transcends boundaries of countries and continents, languages and cultures. the tools of communication with which ceAAL works, such as La Carta, Piragua magazine, other publications and the website are in the service of building the network.

The CEAAL is supported by a great amount of work by volunteers, and they contribute a symbolic annual fee. I can assure you that as a result of the crisis our institutions have strongly reduced their budgets. without a doubt, however, for the carrying out of the work and representation and the forms of cooperation, a better local, national and continental presence is visible. coming up with ideas for other ways to get funding is a difficult task, and here it is worth noting the issues raised in an assessment11 by DVV International on the work of networks:

“If networks and associations have effective organisational structures and meet certain conditions, they should also receive long-term institutional support either from DVV International or other organisations committed to development. Longterm support makes possible the creation and consolidation of organisational structures and facilitates access to resources”.

Working in a Network for the Right to Education of Youths and Adults

From conFIteA V to today, ceAAL has developed various efforts to work in each of the countries, initiatives to address the processes of exclusion that young people and adults experience. there have been a number of interventions developed that have focused on women, proposing an Adult education with a gender perspective,

Citizen empowerment and leadership. other focal points have been the indigenous people, proposing an intercultural perspective. there has also been work with migrants from urban and rural areas in order to build Adult education with proposals of social inclusion. Some institutions work with boys and girls from the working class, trying to contribute an intergenerational perspective to the education of young people and adults, others are working for good standards in basic education as well as policies of equity in order to ensure the right to education for all. And in general, the institutions work to link Adult education to leadership processes, to citizenship and political education to influence changes at the local, regional and national levels.

For the struggle expressed in policy advocacy for the right to education, especially for the education of young people and adults, we coordinate with the Latin American campaign for the right to education, at the IcAe, because with these sister networks we also act in the world Social Forum of the Americas, and in the working group on education of the world Social Forum of education, in order to contribute toward the strengthening of a social, political, cultural and educational movement with the perspective of “another world is possible”.

The CEAAL has a long history of working in networks. For conFInteA V as well there was a process of reflection and expression prepared which was expressed in the publication Piragua 29. In the editorial it addressed many of the unresolved challenges in youth and Adult education (yAe) that have continued through to conFInteA VI since conFInteA V was held in Hamburg, germany, in 1997.

The Hamburg process is marked by broad consultation and dialogue, expressed in multiple strategies, including holding three subregional meetings involving some 260 experts from government agencies and civil society. these meetings formulated guidelines for the region and identified realities and challenges to respond to, as indicated in the text: Educating Youth and Adults in Latin America and the Caribbean. Priorities for Action in the 21st Century, published by uneSco, ceAAL, creFAL and IneA, in 2000. this presented a prospective view of yAe in the region, characterised by the dilemma it is living through and the challenge of building a modern society without exclusion – to expand human rights by ensuring relevant education.

It underlined priorities, content and multiple strategies. It envisions an unprecedented rapprochement between sections of governments, particularly ministries of education and civil organisations, made possible by changes in the regional situation. the process has been enriched through partnerships between organisations of different kinds pointing in the same direction: interest in education for young people and adults which wants to renew itself and respond to millions of men and women, not only the illiterate, but also those excluded from quality education which we still claim today as a fundamental right that allows the exercise of other rights, such as the right to decent work.

Today, we are in the process of monitoring the agreements of conFInteA VI. ceAAL, along with the IcAe, rePeM and the Latin American campaign for the right to education are busy stringing together networks.

Coordination with other sister institutions has always been essential, and it has always been essential to walk side by side with DVV International with the same sense of exchanging, searching and cooperating that we engage in with other networks and movements.

In Order to Continue Building the Network

Sharing is happening, but the road is not an easy one. However, we want to make our networking more profound as well as circulate it more, shake off what holds back our commitment to work as a network, which is based on promoting and deepening transformations of all kinds. It’s not easy. we have undertaken the process of renovation in the ceAAL, which does not happen in linear stages, but rather in complex processes, as differentiated as life. And we are united, shaping dreams in order to rid ourselves of anything which holds back a commitment to political, educational and ethical action. And here we are with everyone. they trust us. we accept these challenges and we will build them together.


1 though sharing many similarities with other forms of alternative education, popular education is a distinct form in its own right. In the words of Liam kane: “What distinguishes popular education from ‘adult, ‘‘non-formal,’ ‘distance,’ or ‘permanent education,’ for example, is that in the context of social injustice, education can never be politically neutral: if it does not side with the poorest and marginalised sectors – the ‘oppressed’ – in an attempt to transform society, then it necessarily sides with the ‘oppressors’ in maintaining the existing structures of oppression, even if by default.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_education
2 ceAAL VIII general Assembly from 28 to 31 May, Lima, Peru. Popular Education and the dynamics of the construction of power in Latin America and the Caribbean.
3 torres, rosa María. From literacy to learning throughout life. Trends, issues and challenges in the education of young people and adults in Latin America and the Caribbean. Mexico 2009.
4 the Letter 241. Panama october 16, 2007.
5 In the Southern cone it was linked to the processes of struggle against dictatorship and to the processes of democratisation; in the Andean countries such as Bolivia and Peru the obvious emphasis is on the ethnic and indigenous; in central America it was associated with the processes of insurrection; in Mexico it had its niche in the independent initiatives seeking alternatives to the ruling party. torres carrillo, Alfonso (2000), “Ires y venires de la Educación Popular en América Latina” (comings and goings of Popular Education in Latin America.) In: La Piragua. Revista latinoamericana de educación y política. educación Popular: nuevos horizontes y renovación de compromisos, nº18, México, ceAAL, p. 19.
6 Jaspers, karl (1958a): Filosofía. Volumen 1. Madrid: revista de occidente-ediciones de la universidad de Puerto rico.
7 Freire, Paulo (1989): La educación como práctica de la libertad. Madrid: Siglo XXI.
8 Freire, Paulo (2006), Pedagogía de la Autonomía, Siglo XXI, México.
9 President of ceAAL in the article entitled: networking: weaving cooperation and strength.
10 rio grande (known in Mexico as the río Bravo del norte, or simply río Bravo) is a river that flows from southwestern colorado in the united States to the gulf of Mexico. Along the way it forms part of the Mexico – united States border.
11 Building Adult education networks and Partnerships through DVV International. January 2012. Presented by Meike Pasch. german development Institute.

Adult Education and Development


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