The new dynamics of adult learning and education in the corona pandemic

Uwe Gartenschlaeger, Deputy Director of DVV International, reflects on the implications of the corona pandemic on adult learning and education (ALE) around the world but also highlights the potential of ALE in giving answers to the societal challenges arising from this crisis.

The pandemic has created new realities all around the globe. Many people are struggling to secure their livelihoods, pre-existing divides within society are widening, and the feeling of insecurity is growing. While more wealthy countries and regions are equipped with resources enabling them to offer support to their populations and economies, many countries in Africa, Latin America and parts of Europe and Asia are being forced to balance their measures between the need to fight the spread of the virus, and the demands of the poorer parts of their population to earn a living in order to avoid hunger, unrest and confrontation.

The impact of the crisis on Adult Learning and Education (ALE) is somehow at odds with itself: On the one hand, the pandemic has created an existential crisis for many providers of ALE. They were forced to close their doors, traditional ways of teaching and learning became impossible, and opportunities to generate income were reduced to a minimum. Support for struggling adult learning institutions is unfortunately very low on the agenda of many governments and development partners. Once more, the pandemic shows that the understanding of education using the lifelong learning concept is far from being established, with the majority of actors continuing to focus on the front-loaded formal education system.

The other side of the coin in this situation is the huge potential that ALE can offer to deal with the crisis in terms of outreach, mitigation of the impact of the crisis, and delivering desperately needed information.

The potential of ALE – some good practices

Experience during the initial months of the crisis proved that ALE offers a unique combination of measures and services which are of particular value in the current situation. This is based on the extraordinary flexibility of the sector, which is strictly demand driven, mostly non-formal, and action-orientated. ALE providers and projects have the potential to support people in many ways. Several experiences from DVV International’s projects and networks demonstrate this specific value:

  • ALE providers offer support to parents in arranging home-schooling, or consultation on how to deal with the extraordinary situation when many family members are locked within their small apartments or shelters: PRIA in India trained volunteers to visit these target groups, while AONTAS in Ireland additionally established a hotline for consultation.
  • ALE providers offer reliable information to all segments of the population to combat fake news on the nature of the virus: Community Learning Centres in Ethiopia supported government partners to conduct trainings in order to provide information about the virus and familiarise the population with simple protective measures.
  • ALE has established cooperation with radio networks in order to deliver learning opportunities: Several of our partners in Latin America have started to broadcast regular training activities on various topics. Additionally, they use these channels to provide information about the importance of ALE and the latest developments in our sector.
  • ALE providers are encouraging marginalised groups to reflect on their situation and articulate their needs: The Asian Association ASPBAE encouraged young marginalised people from seven countries to initiate action research on the impact of the crisis on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (PDF). The results were presented to local and national decision-makers.
  • ALE providers have started to offer online training resources that are tailor-made for diverse target groups among the population: Our partner ANAFAE in Afghanistan produced more than 100 videos with learning materials. As Internet traffic is too expensive for many participants, our colleagues decided to offer these resources not only online, but to also deliver them to the homes of their participants on USB sticks. Additionally, learning services on Moodle platforms were developed.
  • DVV in Germany expanded its support to member Adult Education Centres (VHS - Volkshochschulen) through a virtual platform for exchange, teaching and learning known as “vhs cloud”. More than 800 Adult Education Centres are currently using the tool, for instance to move their services into the digital domain. The number of users has increased tenfold since the beginning of the pandemic.

Further examples on how DVV International and its network reacted to the corona pandemic will be presented in this newsletter, and can furthermore be found on our website.

The need for support

ALE providers have been forced to adapt the activities that they offer to the new reality at short notice. The rapid development of virtual learning opportunities plays a key role nearly everywhere. This requires investment in digital access, capacity building, especially for teachers, and the development of new ALE programmes and approaches. These investments have to be made in order to ensure that no one is left behind. Access to the Internet should be regarded as a public good, funded by the State and the community.

Governments, development partners and international agencies are called on to support ALE providers in their efforts to develop new, demand-orientated digital learning opportunities, and to ensure that all learners will have the opportunity to use them.

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DVV International operates worldwide with more than 200 partners in over 30 countries.

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