Linking adult education and development

Christoph Jost is the director of DVV ­International, the Institute for International  Cooperation of the  German Adult Edu­cation Association.




Global development entered a new era with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Goals now apply to all countries, and no longer to developing and emerging countries alone. The footprint of education has also been considerably expanded. Goal 4 of the Agenda places the spotlight on lifelong learning. This also includes (non-­formal) adult education, which is implicitly covered in several sub-goals. Adult education therefore attracts greater attention when it comes to achieving the sub-goals such as literacy and numeracy, the elimination of gender disparities, vocational skills provision and education for sustainable development.

Education is pivotal to achieving all the Sustainable Development Goals. This particularly applies to non-formal skill-building and educational activities. The holistic understanding of education in the Agenda 2030 provides a potentially wider playing field for adult education. Thus, adult edu­cation and development come closer together. The SDGs provide adult education with a unique opportunity to play a larger role – both within the education sector and as part of the Agenda 2030 as a whole. The intersectoral approach pursued in the Third Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE III) takes a major step in this direction, ­revealing the contributions that adult education makes towards other areas of development such as health and well-being, employment and the labour market and social, civic and community life. The current debate however does not yet sufficiently illustrate how integrated approaches can simultaneously promote education and other goals that are anchored in the Agenda 2030. This is a matter not only of correlation, but also of direct interaction, when for instance literacy is linked with vocational skill-building, income-generating activities or political education.

Adult education and development are closely intertwined. Just look at key concepts and objectives followed by both: poverty alleviation, participation, the promotion of democracy, gender equality and health, conflict prevention and sustainability. Assuming the involvement of a strong civil society, adult education provides extremely important contributions and solutions to many development-related issues, in particular for people with disadvantages living in more remote areas. We need to better examine this context in an evidence-based manner and communicate it – far beyond the adult education scene.

Adult education matters. But today we need specific proof, both in the shape of measurable short-term results, and of long-term effects. We must focus on central aspects, despite the diversity of areas of activity and differences between regions. There is a need for clearly-understandable key messages and quantitatively-substantiated statements. This is a language understood by donors and governments. Gathering valid data is a particular challenge in light of the large numbers of small civil-society players. One solution might be to provide greater support to networks in order to be able to collect, aggregate and communicate results more systematically. Interdisciplinary studies should show more precisely what connections exist between adult education and development. Only if we are better able to present the potential offered by adult education in the context of the SDGs will it have a chance to attract the attention and funding which it deserves.

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