Getting the job done: What actually happens after an international action plan has been approved?

John Aitchison
Education specialist, South Africa

 

 

 


Abstract
– The Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI) held in Belém, Brazil, in December 2009, adopted the Belém Framework for Action (UNESCO 2009b), to guide and revitalize Adult Education in the world. Among the follow-up activities have been regional meetings of Adult Education experts such as the one held in Cape Verde in late 2012 where African developments and examples of good practice were examined and an action plan to help put the Belém Framework for Action into operation were approved.

In the buildup to CONFINTEA VI, African participants at the Nairobi sub-Saharan Africa Conference had placed heavy stress on combining delivery to both youth and adults (UNESCO 2009a), and one of the studies reported on at Cape Verde was a five nation Youth and Adult Education study conducted in 2011 and 2012 in the following Southern Africa Development Community nations: Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Swaziland. The urgency of developing policies catering to youth was strongly reconfirmed by results from this study.
 



Tell me this: What do Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Swaziland have in common?

If you answered that they are all located in Southern Africa you would be right. But only partly. These five countries were selected as research objects. The mission: to find out what had happened with the implementation of the Belém Framework for Action, which had been adopted at the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI).

The research study was funded by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and supported by DVV International. The study was deliberately designed to map what had happened since CONFINTEA VI. The task: to generate usable popular reports on each country and a general synthesis report, including recommendations for ways forward as well as models and templates for data collection and analysis.

One or several researchers were identified in each country and supported by a local host NGO helping with practical arrangements. These researchers looked at the laws, policies and institutional frameworks governing the sector as well as funding sources. They also identified the key stakeholders and role-players. Their findings highlighted the failure of the education sector to address the needs of young people who end up with no skills and no prospects for the future. Two regional research meetings brought all the researchers (and host organisation representatives) together. Country verification and report workshops were also held. In addition, a high-level roundtable meeting and report launch was held in August 2012.

This study focused on “Youth and Adult Education”. The definition included “all education and training (including non-formal education and informal learning) for adults and out-of school youth that is not part of the regular schooling, business, technical and training college and higher education system that children enter at about age 6 or 7 and exit from in their mid-teens to early twenties.” It is worth noting that the researchers argue for the use of internationally recognised standardised terminology as an aid in avoiding the narrow identification in much of Africa of “Adult Education” meaning only literacy and adult basic education, not to mention the confusing use of the term “non-formal education” for school equivalency education.

“More than half of the children in southern Africa who enrol in grade one don’t make it to secondary school.”

The shape of educational achievement

A starting point for the analysis of the situation of Youth and Adult Education in these countries was the acknowledgement that they all had a “shape of educational achievement” typical of poor developing countries. This shape includes a majority of the population only having primary education, a very limited group having secondary schooling and a tiny minority having post-school education.

Compare this to highly developed societies and you will find that there the majority of the population has either secondary or post-school education. Modern economies require people with at least secondary and, increasingly, post-school education and training. Thus modern economies have little scope for the employment of people with only primary or limited primary education. This leads to the vexing problem of the NEETs.

The rise of the NEETs

More than half of the children in southern Africa who enrol in grade one don’t make it to secondary school. Many drop out before they even complete primary school and some do not even have the opportunity to enrol. Unemployment is high. The result is a large number of young people who are neither in education, employment nor training – and hence the new acronym now becoming current in the development and educational discourse – NEET. It stands for those “who are Not in Employment, Education or Training”. In Southern Africa (and indeed in most of sub-Saharan Africa) to be a NEET is the fate of most school-leavers. Recently a senior World Bank official working with Southern Africa, Dr Chunlin Zhang, warned South Africa that the high number of young people not in employment, education or training had emerged as South Africa’s most urgent challenge (Creamer 2013). That some 70% of the nearly 5-million South Africans who are currently unemployed were youth he likened to a “bleeding”, which required decisive intervention to stem.

The situation in the five countries studied can be characterised as a “perfect storm” of low levels of general schooling (1.2 to 7.1 years on average and a looming problem of male under-education), many out-of-school children (1.5 million), high unemployment (21% to 60%), adult illiteracy (overall some 9.1 million adult illiterates, some 2.4 million of whom are youth), and nowhere for them to go for education and training. In particular, vocational education and training facilities are totally inadequate. For example in Namibia, with some 47,000 school-leavers a year, there are only 1,500 places in vocational education and training institutions. In Swaziland, with some 7,500 school-leavers and 6,500 school-dropouts each year there are only 1,000 places. With a bulging population of young people in every country, such a trend threatens the economic and political stability of the region.

The Adult Education alternatives available are few, quantitatively simply inadequate, and poorly funded. Formal schooling already takes a high proportion of national budgets. The policy frameworks for addressing this situation are generally weak, complex and unclear. Designed largely for illiterate adults, the non-formal sector fails to accommodate out-of-school youth and its curriculum often does not meet the needs of this generation.

The data desert

The situation is made worse by a data desert – the death of hard information and data – and the lack of any real effort at a policy level to aggregate data to get a clearer view of the picture and magnitude of the problem. There is generally a poor capacity in (or prioritisation of) data collection, analysis, dissemination, maintenance and updating that leads to no data or out of date data. This weakens the capacity for evidence-based monitoring, evaluation and research. When research is done it is not capitalised on or updated. When it comes to analysing financial data and the cost effectiveness of interventions the situation becomes catastrophic. The data desert also means that aggregations of interpreted data into “big pictures” (that politicians and other decision-makers might understand) are seldom attempted.

There is a need for a standardisation of the data required from Youth and Adult Education providers and all providers should be encouraged to develop their own capacity to supply this information. Digitised, online libraries of reports, research, evaluations and other documentation are needed. There should be a strong commitment to share documentation and materials. A comprehensive, systematic regional web-based database on Adult Education provision and practice is needed. Governments should work hand-in-hand with universities and other research-based institutes to strengthen or revive research capacity in the field. The research findings should also inform policy and practice.

“Governments in southern Africa must urgently reform their education systems so that they respond better to the needs of illiterate adults and out-of-school youth and are more relevant to contemporary economic trends.”

Conclusions from the findings

The study’s conclusions highlighted the urgent need to rethink policy around youth and adult learning and education. It is necessary to address the needs of the many youth not in education, employment or training. The challenges are not incidental temporary misfortunes – they are the result of systemic and endemic factors. They can only be altered by systemic changes.

Some of the systemic changes required are:

     

  • the ending of the ongoing ambiguity on what Adult Education is. Is it only adult literacy and adult basic education/school equivalency “non-formal education”? What about vocational and life skills education?
  • the ending of the broad and vague statements (by discordant actors) about Youth and Adult Education and the development of comprehensive and detailed policies (including the ratification of those that have existed, sometimes for decades, in unratified form) that are specific (and not tagged onto other policies).
  • the coordination of Youth and Adult Education policies and effective fundraising for them.
  •  

     

     

The researchers argue that the main immediate challenges to be tackled are:

     

  • the effective implementation of already existing education policies,
  • appropriate coordination mechanisms,
  • the recognition of Adult Education as an autonomous sector.
  •  

Recommendations

Each of the country reports (Figueri and Inácio 2012; Jele 2012; Luis 2012a; Setoi 2012; Shaleyfu 2012) listed a set of recommendations which in the synthesis report (Aitchison 2012a) were summarised into a list of 45 (Aitchison 2012a: 32-36). What is particularly notable about these recommendations is that they are almost identical to those generated at Nairobi and Belém.

In essence they say that:

     

  • Each country needs a comprehensive consolidated youth and Adult Education policy.
  • There must be appropriate coordination mechanisms.
  • Governments in southern Africa must urgently reform their education systems so that they respond better to the needs of illiterate adults and out-of-school youth and are more relevant to contemporary economic trends.
  •  

Whilst the congruence might be seen as some kind of achievement, its import could be more negative – we know what needs to be done and have known it for some time. “What is to be done?” is no longer the question. It is replaced by a double one: “How are we going to do it and when?”

Changes are necessary – and they might be coming

The official launch of the report in Johannesburg was attended by ministers of education and over 50 national, regional and international experts. Mrs Graca Machel emphasised the need to rethink Youth and Adult Learning and Education:

“The demographics are changing dramatically in the region and the majority of our people are children and adolescents. These changes in demographics must inform our planning and resource allocation, but systems are not adapting to the new realities. Formal education, academic knowledge is not going to adequately prepare youth for the future.”

The regional launch was followed by launches in all five countries, which were also attended by high-level delegations from the ministries of education, including ministers – all of whom responded positively to the findings and recommendations of the study and agreed to use the study findings to inform their policy planning. Each country event developed its own “Ways forward” statement.

Following these launches, OSISA’s Education Programme received a number of enquiries about the studies, especially as the recently launched 2012 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report on education focuses on youth skills and addresses the very issues that were raised in the OSISA study. The Southern Africa Development Community Education and Training Portfolio has requested support in developing a regional youth education and development strategy, while the authorities in Malawi and Zimbabwe have expressed the need for similar studies to be conducted in their countries. In Angola, the government has responded by nominating a National Director for Adult Literacy for the first time, as well as making a budget allocation to the programme.

While the findings of the study have provoked muchneeded reflection and debate about Youth and Adult Education by policy-makers, experts and funders at national and regional levels, it is clear that the road toward educating Southern Africa’s out-of-school youth and adult population will be a long one. OSISA’s study is a catalyst. Real progress now requires a concerted effort by civil society, governments, donors, the private sector and other actors. Together they must address this challenge and ensure that the NEETs are given the opportunity to contribute to socioeconomic development instead of becoming a threat to economic growth and political stability.

This resonates with the key message from the Cape Verde meeting: it is necessary and urgent to clearly distinguish between the mere declaration of political will and the true manifestation of political will. True political will is translated into action and manifested by funds and implementation mechanisms. More than enough analyses of progress and gaps have been done – it is no longer a matter of the what to do but the how to do it. That requires operational strategies and recommendations. In practice this means the mobilisation of financial and material resources and inter-sectoral capacity building.

 


References

Aitchison, J.J.W. (2012a): Youth and Adult Learning and Education in Southern Africa. Overview of a five-nation study. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and DVV International. Available at bit.ly/13jOnsk

Aitchison, J.J.W. (2012b): A educação e aprendizagem de jovens e adultos na África Austral. Visão geral de um estudo para cinco nações encomendado pela OSISA. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and DVV International. Available at bit.ly/13jOFjd

Aitchison, J.J.W. (2012c): Adult education policy in Southern Africa: Results from the five-country study commissioned by OSISA. Presentation to the Regional Expert Meeting for the Follow up of CONFINTEA VI in Africa: Increasing participation of youth and adults in learning and education, 5–8 November 2012, Praia, Cape Verde.

Aitchison, J.J.W. and Alidou, H. (2009): The state and development of Adult Learning and Education in Africa: Regional Synthesis Report. Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. Available at bit. ly/14bkzZK

Creamer, T. (2013): ‘NEETs crisis’ emerging as SA’s most urgent challenge. In: Polity News, 25 June 2013. Retrieved from bit.ly/15Ip0e7

Figueri, S. and Inácio, E. (2012a): Youth and Adult Learning and Education in Angola. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and DVV International. Available at bit.ly/19v79zM

Figueri, S. and Inácio, E. (2012b): Ensino e Educação de Jovens e Adultos em Angola. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and DVV International.

Jele, D. (2012): Youth and Adult Learning and Education in Swaziland. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and DVV International. Available at bit.ly/1cNeuLH

Luis, R. (2012a): Youth and Adult Learning and Education in Mozambique. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and DVV International. Available at bit.ly/15DDQTd

Luis, R. (2012b): Ensino e Educação de Jovens e Adultos em Moçambique. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and DVV International. Available at bit.ly/124uWB8

Setoi, S. M. (2012): Youth and Adult Learning and Education in Lesotho. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and DVV International. Available at bit.ly/17p1QfK

Shaleyfu, K. (2012): Youth and Adult Learning and Education in Namibia. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and DVV International. Available at bit.ly/1d6ubMo

UNESCO (2009a): African Statement on the Power of Youth and Adult Learning and Education for Africa’s Development. CONFINTEA VI Preparatory Conference in Africa. Nairobi, Kenya, 5–7 November 2008. Hamburg: UNESCO.Available at bit.ly/1eLZfz0

UNESCO (2009b): Harnessing the power and potential of adult learning and education for a viable future. Belém Framework for Action. Hamburg: UNESCO. Available at bit.ly/13CedTw

UNESCO (2012): Draft report. Regional Expert Meeting for the Follow-up of CONFINTEA VI in Africa: Increasing the participation of youth and adults in learning and education, Praia, Cape Verde, 5–8 November 2012. Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.

 


About the Author

Emeritus Professor John Aitchison was Head of the School of Adult and Higher Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Prior to that he was head of the School of Education, Training and Development of the University of Natal. He was Director of the Centre for Adult Education on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of Natal from 1981 to 1999 and has played a significant role in Adult Education policy development at both national and provincial levels.

Contact

9 Forest Hill
165 St Thomas Road
Durban
South Africa
4001
aitchisonjjw@gmail.com

 

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