Meeting new challenges and societal developments with new adult education approaches

In an editorial, Christoph Jost, Director of DVV International, reflects on new societal challenges and the approaches adult education must take to meet them.

DVV International and its worldwide network of offices and partners continue to face new challenges in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the shrinking space for civil society organisations. Political upheavals and increasingly autocratic regimes make the Institute’s engagement more difficult. In this context, we unfortunately have to close our long-established office in Belarus this year. The work with our central partner in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Association for Adult Education (ANAFAE), faces unclear future prospects due to the Taliban’s seizure of power. We are looking for new forms of cooperation and project approaches in order to continue our engagement and maintain the valuable contacts with our partners.

In other regions of the world, there is a growing recognition that civil society is central to the future of adult learning and education (ALE) and sustainable development. However, involvement in policy processes and the design of the ALE sub-sector is often weakly developed. Public budgets and the budgets of education ministries are suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The strained financial situation also affects the international donor community, which continues to be of central importance for the promotion and structural development of ALE.

New approaches for new challenges

DVV International must meet the challenges with new solutions and approaches. Digital teaching and learning formats as well as regional or cross-national measures are becoming increasingly important in order to be able to continue working with target groups that are difficult to reach – be it in the case of shrinking spaces, pandemic-related obstacles to mobility or even financial bottlenecks.

Stagnating and declining budgets in the education sector must be countered more strongly with cross-sectoral approaches and inter-ministerial lifelong learning strategies. Dialogue measures that highlight the opportunities and benefits of ALE and lifelong learning for society are central in this context. The simplified message must be that without broad-based education for people of all ages, no development can take place.

Making use of digitalisation

ALE is undoubtedly linked to face-to-face encounters and exchanges. Nevertheless, digital formats – building on the experience of the COVID-19 crisis – should be understood as added value and used in a complementary way as far as possible. After all, digital skills and the confident use of new media will be even more important in the future for critical participation in social, political and economic processes.

Moreover, it is important not to let the digital gap widen and not to leave the most disadvantaged people behind in the virtual world. Last but not least, digital working, learning and meeting formats contribute to climate protection. Digitalisation and sustainability are thus current and future trend topics, not only for ALE, but for the development of society as a whole.

Putting political commitment into practice

At the global policy level, ALE must be perceived and understood even more as a driver and cross-cutting issue for achieving the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. The 7th International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) which will take place in 2022 will be a good opportunity for this. DVV International has consistently participated in the (sub-)regional preparatory conferences with its offices and partners. We are committed to making the voice of civil society and our state partners heard.

In addition, the Institute is involved in the Consultative Group steered by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL). The next step is to ensure that the concerns of our global network are reflected in the official outcome documents of the conference. After the conference, it will be a matter of making the results known beyond the actual ALE community. Otherwise, it will be difficult in the coming years to translate political commitment into tangible results that promote sustainable ALE structures and enable more education for all.

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