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Adult education “not reaching those who need it most”, says UNESCO

Adult education is failing to reach those who need it most despite participation increasing across over half of UNESCO’s member states since 2018, according to a new report.

The GRALE 5 was unveiled to member states at the Seventh International Conference on Adult Education in Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: iStock

The thematic focus of the report focuses on the growing need for citizenship education in an increasingly globalised world

The fifth edition of the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education outlines a “clear and comprehensive” picture of the state of adult learning and education across the globe, using five key pillars – policy, governance, financing, participation, and quality.

“For the first time, we also introduced another layer – the three fields of learning,” Werner Mauch, the team leader for the Seventh International Conference on Adult Education, told The PIE News.

“It was encouraging news, especially from Africa, finding that participation is rising in a big majority of countries”

“These fields of learning literacy and basic skills, vocational skills and professional development, and citizenship skills made it so we could introduce a set of questions that really captured a complete picture,” he explained.

The report was unveiled at the Seventh International Conference on Adult Education held on June 15 in Marrakech, Morocco, and Mauch said that this edition of the report – which is published every three years – showed how progress varies strikingly across different geographies.

For instance, many in Africa, Mauch explained, have a major concern about literacy, but in North America and Europe there is a much bigger focus on vocational skills and professional development.

“It was encouraging news, especially from Africa, finding that participation is rising in a big majority of countries – while participation is not as much of an issue for instance in Scandinavia, it is still surprising that the improvement from Africa was so significant,” he commented.

The thematic focus of the report focuses on the growing need for citizenship education in an increasingly globalised world.

Drawing on the idea of citizenship in relation to education, gender, indigenous citizens, literacy and higher education specifically, the report also explores the themes and how they “offer insights into the multifaceted nature of ALE”.

The report indicated “significant progress” in citizenship education in the last three years, and that member states’ responses reflect “an increasing policy attention” on it, and that it is “key to responding to contemporary challenges”.

Asked about the idea of standardisation on the report’s findings, Mauch was clear in his opinion that there must be a degree of handling from member states, given the cultural differences of so many different countries.

“They decide whether they put more efforts into literacy, or citizenship – but this is something we also try to help them with, to show them that there are areas which are also important – but the decision at the end is with them.

“It is not a surprise that, especially in Africa and in many largely populated Asian countries, there is a focus on literacy – but we cannot forget that, in the so-called north, such as Europe and North America, there is still a literacy problem,” he said.

The report showed that almost a quarter of participating countries had seen a decline in the participation of older adults in adult learning.

Mauch believes that future issues may arise from the fact that, while many countries said in the report that they had plans to increase public spending on ALE, those good intentions don’t always “translate”.

“It’s a bitter situation – those who already have the skills find it easier to get to the learning, and it’s not new”

“Unfortunately, adult learning and education somehow remains slightly neglected in the education system – I imagine that this will never change very drastically – it’s understandable that countries have a focus on formal schooling, and on children, as they are the future – and that is the way it shall be,” he relented.

But Mauch was clear that UNESCO would continue to remind countries that ALE is still something that needs attention – and will always be a “continuous process”.

The report stated that while there is progress on the whole, including that “women’s participation is especially rising”, populations in rural areas, older citizens, people with disabilities and prisoners are still being “deprived of access to learning opportunities”.

“We call it the Matthews effect – those who have, always get more. It’s a bitter situation – those who already have the skills find it easier to get to the learning, and it’s not new,” Mauch said.

“But the interesting part is that these most difficult-to-reach groups provide the most return on investment – investment in marginalised groups is also the most rewarding for those countries.

“So if funds are scarce, it should be reasonable to invest; it would not be that expensive to get these people over a certain threshold where they can then engage further,” he added.

At the conference in Marrakech, conclusions drawn from the GRALE 5 were presented to delegates, including a call for “accelerating progress” in all areas stipulated in the report (such as policy and governance), backed by “increased investment”.

This was accompanied by a call for a stronger impact on active citizenship, social cohesion, diversity and gender equality.

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