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Global Report on Adult Learning and Education

Published 2009 by
UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning
Feldbrunnenstraße 58
20148 Hamburg
© UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning
While the programmes of the UNESCO
Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) are
established along the lines laid down by
the General Conference of UNESCO, the
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under its sole responsibility. UNESCO is not
responsible for their contents.
The points of view, selection of facts
and opinions expressed are those of the
authors and do not necessarily coincide
with official positions of UNESCO or the
UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.
The designations employed and the
presentation of material in this publication
do not imply the expression of any opinion
whatsoever on the part of UNESCO or the
UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning
concerning the legal status of any country
or territory, or its authorities, or concerning
the delimitations of the frontiers of any
country or territory.
ISBN 978-92-820-1167-6 (print)
ISBN 978-92- 820-1169-0 (electronic)
Koïchiro Matsuura
Chapter 1 The case for adult learning and education
1.1 Adult education in the global education and development policy agenda
1.2 Adult education within a perspective of lifelong learning
1.3 The need for a strengthened adult education
Chapter 2 The policy environment and governance framework of adult education
2.1 Policy development in adult education
2.2 Coordinating and regulating adult education: some governance issues
2.3 Conclusion
Chapter 3 The provision of adult education
3.1 The broad range of adult education provision
3.2 An international typology for understanding adult education
3.3 Conclusion
Chapter 4 Participation and equity in adult education
4.1 Low overall rates of participation
4.2 Inequity in participation
4.3 Multiple and structural causes for low and inequitable access to adult learning
and education
4.4 Increasing participation rates and addressing quality
4.5 Conclusion
Chapter 5 Quality in adult education
5.1 Relevance as a quality indicator
5.2 Effectiveness as a quality indicator
5.3 Assuring quality
5.4 Adult education personnel as the key to ensuring quality
5.5 Conclusion
Chapter 6 The financing of adult education
6.1 The current state of adult education financing: an overview of available data
6.2 Under-investment in adult education
6.3 Stakeholder contributions: experiences and problems in determining
who should pay
6.4 Moving forward in mobilising resources
6.5 Conclusion
Key issues
National Reports and Regional Synthesis Reports prepared for CONFINTEA VI
List of Tables
2.1 Examples of major legislation and policies specific to adult learning and education
introduced since 1997
2.2 Countries stating more than one Ministry involved in adult education
2.3 Decentralised organization of adult learning and education
3.1 Type of adult education provision, as recorded in National Reports, by region
3.2 Stakeholder involvement in adult education provision by region, as recorded in
National Reports and based on multiple responses (percentage of countries)
4.1 Information on participation in adult education, by type of programme, by region
4.2 Participation by adults in formal or non-formal education and training, by country,
gender and age, 2007 (percentages)
4.3 Formal adult education participation rates, by selected demographic characteristics
and type of educational activity, USA, 2004-2005
4.4 Proportion of population overcoming barriers to participation, countries grouped by
adult education participation rate, multiple sources, 1994-2003
5.1 Qualifications and training levels of adult education personnel
6.1 Allocations to adult education as a share of the education budget
6.2 Trends in public spending on adult education
6.3 Sources of adult education funding, by region
6.4 South Africa: provincial spending on adult basic education and training (ABET),
2003-2007 (millions of Rands)
6.5 Republic of Korea: lifelong education budget by government office (2006)
List of Figures
3.1 An international typology of adult education provision
4.1 Relationship between per capita GDP and rate of participation in adult education
4.2 Relationship between per capita GDP and functional literacy rate
4.3 The upward spiralling effect of learning, literacy and literacy practices
5.1 An adapted framework for understanding education quality
List of Information Boxes
Definitions of adult education and related concepts
1.1 The Dakar Education for All Goals
1.2 The Millennium Development Goals
1.3 The enormity of the remaining MDG challenges
1.4 How literacy helps to attain the Millennium Development Goals: evidence from
evaluation and research
1.5 Lifelong education according to Faure and Delors
1.6 The Hamburg Agenda for Action
2.1 The learning continuum
2.2 The Lisbon Strategy, the Communication on Adult Learning and the Action Plan
on Adult Learning
2.3 Adult education policy: key points from the CONFINTEA VI Regional Synthesis
2.4 Challenges in the establishment of legal frameworks for adult education in
Bulgaria and Romania
2.5 Governance patterns drawn from Regional Synthesis Reports
2.6 Adult education governance by autonomous agencies
3.1 Literacy programmes – a key area of provision
3.2 Examples of vocational education and training initiatives
3.3 University-based adult education programmes
3.4 Community learning centres – examples of provision at the community level
3.5 Education for All Development Index (EDI)
3.6 The faire-faire strategy
4.1 Country groupings by participation in organised forms of adult education
in the previous year, population aged 16-65
4.2 Impediments to participation in learning
4.3 Measures to mobilise adult learners in Ghana
4.4 Improving equity: examples of measures to improve participation in adult
4.5 Women’s Literacy and Empowerment Programme, Sindh Education Foundation,
4.6 Education at distance centres in rural areas, Poland
4.7 Addressing language
4.8 “Second Chance” Project, Montenegro
4.9 Adult learners’ festivals
5.1 Quality improvement in the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment
5.2 Recognition, validation and accreditation of non-formal and informal learning
5.3 Examples of measures to crate National Qualification Frameworks (NQFs)
5.4 Information for research and policy-making
5.5 Improving literacy measurements: the Literacy Assessment and Monitoring
Programme (LAMP)
5.6 The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competences
5.7 Writing the Wrongs: the 12 Adult Literacy Benchmarks
5.8 Adult education teacher development in Eritrea
6.1 The wider impacts of literacy education
6.2 Pilot study in Latin America and the Caribbean on the costs of illiteracy
Table 1 Laws or policies on adult learning and education, as reported in National Reports
prepared for CONFINTEA VI
Table 2 Estimated educational attainment of the population aged 25 years and older for
countries with available data by region, sub-region and income group, latest
year available
Table 3 Proportion of adults aged 16 to 65 participating in organised forms of adult
learning and education during the year preceding the interview, by country
groupings and various classification variables, multiple sources and (1994-2003)
Table 4 Actual versus recommended expenditure on adult education
Table 5 Estimated adult literacy rate and number of adult illiterates for countries with
available data, by region, sub-region and income group, latest year available
within two reference periods (1988–1997 and 1998–2007)
Figure 1 Classification of regions and countries by EFA Development Index (EDI), 2006
Lifelong learning is at the core of
UNESCO’s mandate. Since its founding,
the Organization has played a pioneering
role in affirming the critical role of adult
education in the development of society
and promoting a comprehensive approach
to learning throughout life.
The universal right to education for every
child, youth and adult is the fundamental
principle that underpins all our initiatives.
Adult learning counts more than ever in
the era of globalisation characterised by
rapid change, integration and technological
advances. Learning empowers adults by
giving them the knowledge and skills to
better their lives. But it also benefits their
families, communities and societies. Adult
education plays an influential role in poverty
reduction, improving health and nutrition,
and promoting sustainable environmental
practices. As such, achieving all the
Millennium Development Goals calls for
good quality and relevant adult education
Since the First International Conference
on Adult Education in 1949, UNESCO has
worked with Member States to ensure that
adults have the basic right to education. In
1976, the UNESCO General Conference
approved the Nairobi Recommendation on
the Development of Adult Education which
enshrined governments’ commitment to
promote adult education as an integral part
of the educational system within a lifelong
learning perspective.
Two landmark documents – the Faure
Report (1972) Learning to Be and the
Delors Report (1996) The Treasure
Within – were instrumental in promoting
a framework for lifelong learning. The
publication of this Global Report on Adult
Learning and Education (GRALE) marks a
timely contribution as the Sixth International
Conference on Adult Education meets for
the first time in the Southern Hemisphere,
in the Brazilian city of Belém. Based
on national reports from 154 Member
States, GRALE analyses trends, identifies
key challenges and best practices, and
recommends a course of action to improve
vastly the scope of adult education and
As this Report shows, the field of adult
education is highly diverse. Literacy classes
provide women and men with foundational
skills which empower them, increase their
self-esteem and enable them to continue
learning. Vocational training courses
improve the employment prospects of
youth and adults, enabling them to acquire
or upgrade their competences. Life-
skills programmes equip learners with
knowledge and values on how to deal with
issues like HIV prevention. Learning to
use new Information and Communication
Technologies (ICTs) effectively is now a
must for many, if not all.
While this Report demonstrates the value
of adult education in helping women and
men to lead better lives, it also underlines
that large numbers of adults are still
excluded from learning opportunities.
Low participation among groups who
stand to benefit most from learning
programmes maintains a cycle of poverty
and inequity. Addressing this is the key
challenge facing policy-makers and the
international community at CONFINTEA
VI. Governments, the private sector and
civil society need to work around well-
articulated policies with clearly defined
targets and governance arrangements.
Such synergies, together with adequate
funding, are central elements of a strategy
to make lifelong learning a guiding principle
of educational policy.
The Report finds that in industrialised
countries, adult education policies are
informed by a lifelong learning perspective
and integrated into other policy portfolios.
But globally, successful coordination of a
wide range of stakeholders is rare. Adult
educators all too often suffer from low
status and remuneration, affecting the
quality and sustainability of programmes.
Sufficient, predictable and well-targeted
funding is more the exception than the rule.
We are not short of answers. Good
practice exists on how to develop policies
that integrate adult education with
poverty reduction strategies. Governance
frameworks that promote genuine
participation of all stakeholders are found
in some countries. A few governments
have measures in place to increase funding
in this chronically-under-funded sector of
education. Accounts of how governments,
civil society and the private sector assure
quality in adult education programmes
warrant broader analysis and dissemination.
Five CONFINTEAs have provided us with
many recommendations on how to improve
the situation of adult education and, by
doing so, to reach out to the marginalised
and disadvantaged who stand to benefit
most from learning opportunities. We
need to translate these into policies and
programmes now. Two UN Decades – the
United Nations Literacy Decade and the
United Nations Decade of Education for
Sustainable Development – are occasions
for advocating adult education and
promoting equitable and inclusive policies.
The Literacy Initiative for Empowerment
(LIFE), which I launched as a flagship
programme, is proving that the concerted
and coordinated efforts of all stakeholders
towards a common vision make a real
I hope that this Report will contribute
to clarifying the main challenges and to
providing some pointers on how we can
make sure that adult education truly counts.
Koïchiro Matsuura
Director-General of UNESCO (1999-
November 2009)
This first-ever Global Report on Adult
Learning and Education is the result of a
20-month collaborative effort, involving
many individuals and organisations around
the world.
One hundred and fifty-four UNESCO
Member States submitted reports on
the state of adult learning and education
in their countries. We are grateful to the
governments of these countries, who
provided us with a valuable source of
raw material. The support of the staff
in UNESCO Field Offices and UNESCO
National Commissions in facilitating these
National Reports is greatly appreciated.
On the basis of these National Reports,
five Regional Synthesis Reports were
drafted, and we owe an enormous debt
to the authors for piecing these together
from such a mass of information: Manzoor
Ahmed, John Aitchison, Hassana Alidou,
Helen Keogh, Rosa María Torres and
Abdelwahid Abdalla Yousif. We specially
would like to acknowledge CREFAL
for supporting the Latin American and
Caribbean Regional Synthesis Report.
We wish to express our gratitude to the
host countries of and participants in five
Regional Preparatory Conferences (Mexico
City, September 2008; Seoul, October
2008; Nairobi, November 2008; Budapest,
December 2008; and Tunis, January 2009),
during which the draft Regional Synthesis
Reports were presented. These events
provided some initial feedback which
was used to give pointers to the further
development of the eventual Global Report.
Producing the Global Report was nothing
if not an iterative process. The very first
incarnation was in the form of chapters
written by Richard Desjardins, Soonghee
Han, Sylvia Schmelkes and Carlos Alberto
Torres. We are very grateful to them for
their important contributions, in putting
together vital information from the National
and Regional Synthesis Reports, but also
from their own wide and deep experience.
Lynne Chisholm and Abrar Hasan as lead
editors had the task of ensuring editorial
coherence and reconstruction of the text
following various rounds of extensive
feedback. This they undertook in excellent
spirit, and we are extremely grateful to
them for their efforts which produced the
first draft of the Report.
The CONFINTEA VI Consultative Group,
which convened on several occasions to
prepare the Conference, provided valuable
editorial guidance and comments. We
would like to thank Paul Bélanger, Jean-
Marie Ahlin Byll-Cataria, Arne Carlsen,
Marta Maria Ferreira, Lavinia Gasperini,
Heribert Hinzen, Timothy Ireland, Joyce
Njeri Kebathi, Maria Lourdes Almazan
Khan, Ki-Seok Kim, Ana Luíza Machado,
Ann-Therèse Ndong Jatta, Abdel Moneim
Osman, Clinton Robinson and Einar
Steensnaes for their contribution to this
The following colleagues at the UNESCO
Institute for Lifelong Learning gave
precious feedback as well as additional
information: Bettina Bochynek, Christine
Glanz, Ulrike Hanemann, Lisa Krolak,
Werner Mauch, Madhu Singh, Raúl Valdés-
Cotera, Christiana Winter and Rika Yoruzu.
At different stages of the Report, we also
received feedback from Massimo Amadio,
Sergio Haddad, Christopher McIntosh and
Ekkehard Nuissl von Rein.
As the drafting and redrafting of the text
neared its final phases, a helpful meeting
took place in Belém, Brazil, to discuss
the latest version. We are grateful to Ana
Agostino, Michelle Berthelot, Vincent
Defourny, Cheik Mahamadou Diarra, Celita
Eccher, Jorge Bernardo Camors, Abrar
Hasan, Timothy Ireland, Gwang-Jo Kim,
Ki-Seok Kim, André Luiz de Figueiredo
Lázaro, Giovanna Modé, Albert Motivans,
Mohammad Tanvir Muntasim, El Habib
Nadir, Abdel Moneim Osman, Pedro
Pontual, Jorge Teles and Yao Ydo.
The macro statistics referred to in this
Report have been reviewed by colleagues
at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
We are thankful to Said Belkachla, César
Guadalupe, Olivier Labe, Albert Motivans
and João Pessao for their contribution as
well for additional information they have
provided. Soo-yong Byun likewise provided
technical support for the statistical analysis.
Complementary information was also
supplied by William Thorn of OECD.
This Report was produced under the
guidance and supervision of the Director of
the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning,
Adama Ouane. The Coordinator of GRALE,
Carolyn Medel-Añonuevo, shouldered the
final editorial work of the Report, with the
invaluable editing advice and support from
Aaron Benavot, Chris Duke and Sue Meyer.
Copy-editing was undertaken by Virman
Man. Without the invaluable research
assistance of Anna Bernhardt and Jung
Eun Lee, the writers and editors would not
have had access to the data from National
Reports and other secondary literature.
They were supported by Markus Ginter,
Marianne Kraußlach, Tanveer Maken,
Daniel Marwecki, Tebeje Molla, Sonja
Richter and Nasu Yamaguchi. Cendrine
Sebastiani has been most helpful in
coordinating the translations as well as
providing support in translating French
We are thankful to Philippe Boucry, Aurélie
Daniel, Jean-Luc Dumont, Sara Martinez,
Nathalie Reis, Ann-Sophie Rousse and
Véronique Théron for French translation,
under the auspices of Network Translators,
and to Alfonso Lizarzaburu for Spanish
translation. Thanks also to Christiane
Marwecki of cmgrafix, who speedily
designed and produced the layouts.
Finally this Global Report would not have
been possible without the generous
financial support of the governments of
Denmark, Germany, Nigeria, Norway,
Sweden and Switzerland.
Adama Ouane
UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning
In the 21st century, the rapid pace and
complexity of economic, technological
and cultural changes require women and
men to adapt and re-adapt throughout their
lives – all the more so in the context of
globalisation. In this era of the knowledge
society – where production structure is
shifting towards greater knowledge use
and away from reliance on physical capital,
manufacturing and agricultural production
– growth in personal, national and regional
incomes is increasingly defined by the
ability to create, manage, disseminate and
innovate in knowledge production.
The new information and communication
technologies (ICTs) intensify the rate of
exchange of information. They also allow
users to participate actively in virtual
networks that can easily be mobilised to
shape public opinion. Globalisation means
that individuals and families are crossing
national borders in large numbers. They, as
well as the receiving communities, need to
learn new ways of living together amidst
cultural differences. These developments
not only highlight the importance of
continuous learning in general; they also
demand that adults keep on acquiring more
information, upgrading their skills and re-
examining their values.
The critical role of adult education in the
development of society has long been
recognised. Since the First International
Conference on Adult Education in 1949,
UNESCO member states have dedicated
themselves to ensuring that adults are able
to exercise the basic right to education.
Later Conferences in Montreal (1960), Tokyo
(1972), Paris (1985) and Hamburg (1997)
reaffirmed this right, and proposed ways of
making it a reality. In 1976, the UNESCO
General Conference approved the Nairobi
Recommendation on the Development of
Adult Education (UNESCO, 1976) which
enshrined governments’ commitment to
promote adult education as an integral part
of the educational system within a lifelong
learning perspective.
Over the course of these 60 years the
landscape of adult education has evolved.
This Global Report aims to describe
the current position. First it sets out to
document trends in key areas of adult
education at the global level, intended to
serve as a reference document for policy-
makers, practitioners and researchers.
Second, it provides an advocacy tool
to promote the importance of adult
education as well as to share effective
practice. Finally, as one of the key inputs
to CONFINTEA VI, it will provide evidence
to support the outcome document of the
The understanding of the role of adult
education has changed and developed
through time. From being seen as
promoting international understanding
in 1949, adult education is now seen
as a key in the economic, political and
cultural transformation of individuals,
communities and societies in the 21st
century. While UNESCO has spelled out a
definition of adult education in the Nairobi
Recommendation, what is considered as
adult education is still subject to a wide
range of interpretations. The shift from
education to learning also constitutes an
important change in conceptualising the
field (see Definitions panel).
But what, exactly is an “adult”? Cultural
and social factors have significant impact
on the division of the human life-course
into age-linked stages and phases. These
phases vary widely across time and space.
Furthermore, there is no inevitable or
automatic correlation between age and
learning needs or preferences beyond
For a very large number
of people, adult
education means making
up for the basic education
they missed. For the
many individuals who
received only a very
incomplete education,
it is the complement
to elementary or
professional education.
For those whom it
helps to respond to the
new demands which
their environment
makes on them, it is
the prolongation of
education. It offers
further education to
those who have already
received high-level
training. And it is a
means of individual
development for
(Faure et al, 1972: 205)
Adult education “denotes the entire body of organised educational processes, whatever
the content, level and method, whether formal or otherwise, whether they prolong or replace
initial education in schools, colleges and universities as well as in apprenticeship, whereby
persons regarded as adult by the society to which they belong develop their abilities, enrich
their knowledge improve their technical or professional qualifications or turn them in a new
direction and bring about changes in their attitudes or behaviour in twofold perspective of
full personal development and participation in balanced and independent social, economic
and cultural development, adult education, however, must not be considered as an entity in
itself, it is a sub-division, and an integral part of, a global scheme for life-long education and
(From the Nairobi Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education, UNESCO,1976: 2)
Lifelong education and learning “denotes an overall scheme aimed both at restructuring
the existing education system and at developing the entire educational potential outside the
education system in such a scheme men and women are the agents of their own education,
through continual interaction between their thoughts and actions; education and learning,
far from being limited to a period of attendance at school, should extend throughout life,
include all skills and branches of knowledge, use all possible means, and give opportunity to
all people for full development of the personality; the educational and learning processes in
which children, young people and adults of all ages are involved in the course of their lives, in
whatever form, should be considered as a whole.”
(From the Nairobi Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education, UNESCO, 1976: 2)
Adult learning encompasses both formal and continuing education, non-formal learning and
the spectrum of informal and incidental learning available in a multicultural learning society,
where theory- and practice-based approaches are recognised.
(From the Hamburg Declaration, UIE,1997: 1)
Non-formal education, contrary impressions notwithstanding, does not constitute a distinct
and separate educational system, parallel to the formal education system. It is any organized,
systematic, educational activity, carried on outside the framework of the formal system, to
provide selected types of learning to particular subgroups in the population, adults as well
as children. Thus defined, non-formal education includes, for example, agricultural extension
and farmer training programmes, adult literacy programmes, occupational skill training given
outside the formal system, youth clubs with substantial educational purposes, and various
community programs of instruction in health, nutrition, family planning, cooperatives, and the
(Coombs and Ahmed, 1974: 8)
Definitions of adult education and related concepts
the boundaries of childhood and early
adolescent development. The parameters
vary with personal and social circumstance,
as has always been the case. The
boundaries between youth and adulthood,
and between adulthood and old age, are
much more fluid than cultural and social
conventions imply. Especially within a
lifelong learning paradigm, it is increasingly
unhelpful to make sharp distinctions
between ‘youth education’ and ‘adult
Adult learning and education are located
at the heart of a necessary paradigm
shift towards lifelong learning for all as
a coherent and meaningful framework
for education and training provision
and practice. The framework given by
the concept of lifelong learning should
engender borderless education. This means
open, flexible and personally-relevant
opportunities to develop the knowledge,
competences and dispositions that adults
at all stages of their lives need and want.
It means providing learning contexts
and processes that are attractive and
responsive for adults as active citizens –
at work, in the family, in community life
and, not least, as self-directed individuals
building and rebuilding their lives in
complex and rapidly-changing cultures,
societies and economies.
Lifelong learning as an integrating
framework for all forms of education and
training is not new. However, its recent
rise as a feature of policy discourse derives
from linked changes of global relevance:
economic and cultural globalisation;
simultaneous dominance of and crisis in
market economies; social modernisation
processes and the transition to knowledge
societies (Torres, 2009; UNESCO, 2005a).
In this complex change scenario, Held and
McGrew (2007: 243) identify a number of
global “deep drivers” as follows:
changing global communications
infrastructures prompted by the IT
developing global markets for goods
and services, consequent on global
information distribution patterns;
rising rates of migration and mobility,
driven by shifting patterns of economic
demand, demographic changes and
environmental problems;
transformation of state socialist systems
into more open societies based on
democratic principles and market
relations, with accompanying spread of
consumerist and anti-globalisation values;
emerging global civil society formations
and associated incipient global public
Within the rich overall concept of lifelong
learning, adult learning and education must
be anchored in respect for the integrity
and dignity of adults’ lives in their social
diversity. It is in this spirit that this Global
Report approaches the available information
and data on the sector.
Lifelong learning remains more a vision
than a reality. However, the concerted
modernisation of education and training
systems to meet the challenges posed by
contemporary social and economic macro-
change – affecting the whole world – is now
high on policy agendas. This has brought
adult learning into higher profile. However,
policy attention thus far typically focuses on
vocational education and training of all kinds
– public and private, inside and outside
workplaces, formal and informal – rather
than on general adult education.
Adult literacy rightly continues to occupy
centre-stage with respect to international
policy initiatives and programmes. It has
also re-surfaced as an important issue for
the high-income countries, as low levels of
functional literacy for living and working in
these kinds of countries turn out to be more
widespread than had been assumed in
recent decades. The Global Report argues
that both of these areas are important; but
that they are just part of the potential that is
offered by real integration of adult learning
into the policy goals of governments.
Most importantly, it is clear that those
who need it most are the ones who are
systematically marginalised from enjoying
the benefits of adult education. Low rates
of participation and inequitable access
therefore remain the key challenges for
adult education today.
This Global Report is the outcome of
many people working together through
several phases. In late 2007, UNESCO
member states were requested, on the
basis of a structured set of questions and
topics, to provide a National Report on
progress in adult learning and education
policy and practice since CONFINTEA V in
1997. These guidelines covered the key
areas of policy, governance, participation,
provision, quality and resources. A total
of 154 National Reports were submitted.
Most were delivered in time and in formats
that could be used for the preparation of
Regional Synthesis Reports for sub-Saharan
Africa, the Arab states, Asia and the Pacific,
Europe and North America, and Latin
America and the Caribbean.
The Global Report uses the information
and analyses in the five Regional Synthesis
Reports, together with comparative
statistical and survey data (where available)
and contextualising research-based
material, to provide an overall view of the
issues and challenges facing adult learning
and education today, and a set of thematic
discussions around key dimensions for
While the National Reports constitute a
wealth of information, there are some
limitations in their use as primary data. As
a mechanism for accounting for what the
countries have accomplished, the data are
based on self-reporting, written by either an
individual or a team of authors. Except for
some countries who validated their National
Reports through stakeholder consultations,
it has not been possible to verify the data
that has been presented. Due mainly to
lack of regular and systematic collection
of data on agreed areas, most of the
information from the National Reports is not
comparable. Finally, most of the National
Reports covered only the education
sector, although the Report Guidelines
had specifically advised that governments
should incorporate information from other
The Global Report is divided into six
chapters. The first, The case for adult
learning and education, examines the
international educational and development
policy agenda and the place within it
of adult education. It reflects on the
importance of situating adult education
within a lifelong learning perspective.
Finally it draws attention to the
opportunities offered by CONFINTEA VI
to strengthen and gain recognition for
adult learning as a central tool in resisting
marginalisation across the world. Chapter
2 presents developments in the areas of
policy and governance. It looks at how far
appropriate policies have been adopted
and then examines governance issues
in adult education. Chapter 3 describes
the range and distribution of provision
of adult education, as reflected in the
National Reports, and offers a typology
for understanding the variety of provision
in the sector. Chapter 4 reviews patterns
of participation and access to adult
education. It specifies the obstacles to
raising participation levels and proposes
the directions in which adult education
policy must move if these are to be
overcome. Chapter 5 deals with quality in
adult education, with a particular focus on
relevance and effectiveness. It also reviews
the status of adult education personnel,
given their critical role in ensuring quality.
Chapter 6 appraises the current state
of the financing of adult education. In
particular, it assesses the extent to which
the commitment to improve this, made at
CONFINTEA V in the Hamburg Agenda for
the Future (UIE, 1997), has been met. A
concluding section synthesises the main
points of all six chapters to provide an
overview of trends in adult education.
Finally there are some reflections on
building the data and knowledge base in
adult education.
The world’s leading economies are
slowly recovering from deep recession
following the collapse of overblown
financial markets in late 2008. Many
fragile and weak economies will share
the resulting unpleasant consequences,
the ultimate depth of which is currently
unknown. For public services, including
education, the outlook for the coming
years is not promising. Progress to achieve
the Education for All (EFA) Goals and the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
by 2015 is mixed and patchy. There
continue to be enormous challenges in
eradicating poverty, improving maternal
health, reducing child mortality, promoting
gender equality and ensuring environmental
sustainability. At the core of meeting
these broad development challenges is
the importance of respecting, protecting
and fulfilling the right of all to quality basic
The current situation both exacerbates the
problems facing the most marginalised
and threatens the funding necessary
for education to combat disadvantage.
The reality is that side by side with the
precarious economic environment, a host of
other challenges impinge on adult learning
and education. Disease, hunger, war,
environmental degradation, unemployment
and political instability continue to dominate
the lives of millions. These inter-related
problems destroy the social fabric of
communities and families. Citizens in many
countries experience the effects of an
erosion of social cohesion. And for many,
the cycles of exclusion and marginalisation
persist and are passed on from one
generation to the next.
Education alone cannot resolve these
problems but it is certainly part of the
solution. Laying a strong foundation
for continuous learning and capacity
development are critical measures for
all societies. Adult education plays an
important role by providing space, time and
settings in which adults can – using the
terms of the Delors Report (Delors et al,
1996) – learn to know, learn to do, learn to
live together and learn to be.
An active and productive citizenry is a
fundamental societal asset. Mobility within
and across national borders provides
possibilities for individuals and communities
to experience and learn about other
peoples, cultures and languages; and all
kinds of knowledge are available through
new information and communications
technologies to those who have internet
access. Indeed, in a connected world, the
opportunities for learning are vast and
diverse. Adult education – provided in
formal, non-formal and informal settings –
supports these opportunities as it facilitates
learning for all, wherever their location
and whatever their particular needs and
Yet all those working in education know
only too well that inadequate resources
limit such opportunities, erode the quality
of education and reduce learning outcomes.
These issues are accentuated in the adult
education sector, which is seldom a policy
priority and suffers from chronic under-
This chapter examines the global
educational and development policy
agenda, the significance of adult education
as a means to meet the goals of such
policy and the evidence that adult learning
is key to the achievement of world
targets for greater equality. It explores the
development of the concept of lifelong
learning and the rationales it has been
associated with, from the economic goals
of education to the wider societal and
personal benefits that learning brings.
Finally it evaluates the issues that have
arisen since CONFINTEA V and draws
attention to the opportunities offered
by CONFINTEA VI to strengthen and
gain recognition for adult learning as a
central tool in combating oppression and
marginalisation across the world.
1.1 Adult education in the global
education and development policy
Equalising opportunities in education is
“one of the most important conditions for
overcoming social injustice and reducing
social disparities in any country […] and is
also a condition for strengthening economic
growth” (UNESCO, 2008a: 24).
Since the Dakar World Education Forum
in 2000, there has been uneven progress
towards achieving the EFA Goals (Box 1.1)
mainly in relation to universal primary
education (UPE) and the reduction of gender
disparities (UNESCO, 2008a).
Improvements in early childhood care and
education have been limited to date, and
wide disparities in pre-primary enrolment
ratios between countries in the North and
the South remain. During the 1999-2006
period average net primary enrolment ratios
rose approximately 10 to 15 percentage
points in sub-Saharan Africa and South and
West Asia. Yet more than 75 million children
of primary school age (55% of whom are
girls) were not enrolled in school in 2006.
Unsatisfactory progress is especially
apparent for the EFA Goals directly related
to adult education – namely, ensuring that
the learning needs of all young people and
adults are equitably met and reducing adult
illiteracy rates by 50% by 2015.
Education for All called for a collective commitment
to the attainment of the following Goals:
1 expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education,
especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;
2 ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult
circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and
complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
3 ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through
equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes;
4 achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially
for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults;
5 eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and
achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’
full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality;
6 improving all aspects of the quality of education an ensuring excellence of all so
that recognised and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially
in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.
(UNESCO, 2000)
Box 1.1
The Dakar Education for All Goals
Limited access to educational opportunities
in the past has left 774 million adults lacking
basic literacy skills, of whom about two
in every three are women. In some 45
countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and
South and West Asia, adult literacy rates are
below the developing country average of
Gender disparities in primary and secondary
education participation rates had been
eliminated in 59 of 176 UN countries by
2006, although most countries in sub-
Saharan Africa, South and West Asia and
the Arab States have yet to achieve this
EFA target.
In the end, because the learning needs
of children and adults have received
inadequate attention in implementing EFA,
the goal of improving educational quality
and excellence (Goal 6) is also off target.
Of course, overall progress in early
childhood care and education and in basic
education has a positive impact on adult
learning and education in the medium-term,
since children and young people who have
had greater access to formal education are
more likely to continue their participation
in various learning settings as adults.
Nevertheless, this progress has to be put
in context: poverty, living in rural areas or
urban slums and belonging to an indigenous
or migrant minority still significantly
constrain educational opportunity. Around
the world, girls are still educationally
disadvantaged – and disadvantage is
Worldwide agreement on the EFA
agenda was critical in focusing on the key
educational challenges. However, the slow
and uneven progress sends a message
that certain goals are more important
than others and therefore should be
prioritised when, in fact, all the goals are
inter-connected and need to be addressed
concurrently. The continued dominance
of universal primary education, whether
measured by enrolment ratios in the EFA
agenda or completion rates in the MDGs,
underscores the marginalisation of the
youth, adult literacy and lifelong learning
objectives which are vital to overall success.
The consensus on the Millennium
Development Goals (Box 1.2) was part of
an international compact meant to address
key global problems at the start of the 21st
century. The MDGs not only summarised
the development aspirations of the world
as a whole, but also brought attention
to universally-accepted values and basic
rights. Building on the recommendations
of UN Conferences in the 1990s, they
set out development benchmarks to be
reached by 2015, with clear indicators
to track progress. However, out of close
to 100 strategies enumerated on how to
move the MDGs forward, not a single one
refers to adult learning and education as a
means (United Nations, 2001). The absence
of adult education as an MDG strategy,
despite overwhelming evidence of its
transformative power, is astounding,
We should never set adult
education against the
education of children and
young people…It follows
that adult education can
no longer be a fringe
sector of activity in any
society and must be given
its own proper place in
educational policies and
budgets. This means that
school and out-of-school
education must be linked
firmly together.
(Faure et al, 1972: 205)
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
(United Nations, 2001: 56-57)
Box 1.2
The Millennium Development Goals
The 2008 MDG Mid-Term Review reported
some improvement in relation to MDGs 2
and 3, which approximate to EFA Goals 2
(universal primary education) and 5 (gender
equality), and modest progress in relation
to the other MDGs. For example, 51.4%
of employed people in sub-Saharan Africa
lived on less than US $1 per day in 2007
(compared with 55.5% in 1997).
There were also improvements in maternal
and reproductive health. Yet in all regions,
mortality rates continue to be higher for
children from rural areas and poor families
and those where mothers lack basic
education (United Nations, 2008). Overall,
despite limited progress, the international
community remains off-track in fulfilling its
MDG commitments (Box 1.3).
learning with resultant parental involvement
in schools is shown to be more important
than socio-economic class in influencing
pupil performance at 16 (Nunn et al, 2007).
Young men and women with better
education, training and qualifications can
improve their life chances and standards
of living. They are more likely to be
gainfully employed and able to venture
into self-employment. Later life learning
brings a return through an improvement in
occupationally-based social status (Blanden
et al, 2009).
Better educated adults are more able
to take care of their health and protect
themselves from sexually-transmitted
diseases more effectively. They know
more about family planning options and the
care of young children. Informed parents
perceive the connections between infant
survival and maternal and reproductive
health, and are more equipped to educate
and protect their children from life-
threatening diseases.
Studies in Bolivia, Mexico, Nepal and
Nicaragua show that women participating
in adult education programmes, who also
have access to radio and other information
sources, have become more proficient in
managing health issues in their families.
Higher levels of education for women have
been shown to increase their knowledge
of HIV-AIDS prevention (see UNESCO,
2005b; 2007). Meanwhile as a result of their
participation in adult literacy programmes,
many women have higher self-esteem and
confidence in their own abilities (Box 1.4).
Adults of all ages who continue to
participate in education have greater
access to information and knowledge
that are important for forming views and
taking action with respect to key social
and political issues, such as environmental
protection. They are also better able
to use new sources of information and
knowledge – in particular, information
and communication technology (ICT) –
independently and meaningfully.
• Theproportionofpeopleinsub-SaharanAfricalivingon
less than $1 per day is unlikely to be reduced by the target
of one-half;
• AboutaquarterofallchildrenintheSouthareconsidered
to be underweight and face the long-term effects of
• 113countriesfailedtoachievegenderparityinbothprimary
and secondary school enrolment by 2005, and only 18 of
them are likely to achieve this by 2015;
• AlmosttwothirdsofemployedwomenintheSoutharein
vulnerable jobs;
• InathirdofcountriesintheSouth,womenmakeupless
than 10 per cent of parliamentarians;
• Morethan500,000prospectivemothersindeveloping
countries die annually in childbirth or of complications from
• Some2.5billionpeople,almosthalfthedevelopingworld’s
population, live without improved sanitation;
• Carbondioxideemissionshavecontinuedtoincrease;
• Foreignaidexpendituresdeclinedinboth2006and2007,
and risk falling short of the commitments made in 2005;
(United Nations, 2008: 4)
Box 1.3
The enormity of the remaining MDG challenges
Careful consideration of the MDG
challenges reveals a simple truth:
improvements in the provision of,
participation in and quality of adult
education can accelerate progress towards
all eight Millennium Development Goals.
Research convincingly demonstrates that
parental education and qualification levels –
especially those of mothers – are positively
associated with children’s (particularly girls’)
educational participation and attainment.
Better educated parents understand more
readily the importance of ensuring that their
children – and especially their daughters
– attend school and gain qualifications
that enable them to lead, in turn, more
independent and active lives. Family
MDG 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
When adult literacy is an integral element of skill training programmes, e.g. farming, with
content derived from the skill and knowledge set, it enables significant minorities of learners
– 20 to 30 per cent – to upgrade their productivity. The effects depend also on a context that
facilitates and supports behavioural change.
In addition, participants who became literate said that they could handle money, especially
paper money, more confidently as a result. More importantly, they felt less vulnerable to being
cheated in monetary transactions. This is a key gain for people who are micro-entrepreneurs,
enabling them to better manage their businesses – and thus a key signal for initiatives that
offer to train women and men in managing micro-credit and small enterprises.
MDG 2: Achieve universal primary education
60 to 70 per cent of participants, particularly mothers and female carers, in literacy classes are
more likely to send and keep their children in school, as well as monitor
their progress.
MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
30 to 40 per cent of women in literacy education develop greater confidence in
helping to make family decisions and in participating in local public affairs.
MDG 4: Reduce child mortality and MDG 5: Improve maternal health
20 to 30 per cent of participants show increased likelihood of improving the health
and nutritional practices of their families, while a long-term study (in Nicaragua) found that
‘graduate’ mothers had healthier children and fewer child deaths.
MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
30 to 40 per cent of participants in literacy education develop a stronger awareness
of the need to protect the environment and a willingness to take action for it.
(DFID, 2008)
Box 1.4
How literacy helps to attain the Millennium Development Goals:
evidence from evaluation and research
Improving and enriching knowledge, skills
and competences, together with growth in
personal development and self-confidence
for youth and adults, bring benefits far
wider than just those to individuals and their
families – valuable and legitimate though
these certainly are. There is evidence that
the social returns on investment in adult
education (starting with adult literacy)
compare well with those on investment in
primary education (UNESCO, 2005b). Three
World Bank literacy projects showed a
private rate of return to investment ranging
from 25% in Indonesia (1986) to 43%
for females and 24% for males in Ghana
(1999) and 37% in Bangladesh (2001).
In the Ghana project, the social rate of
return for females was 18% and for males
14%. Moreover, data from 32 countries
indicate that training programmes that
incorporate literacy and numeracy bring in
significant rates of return to investment
(both individual and social) and contribute
to the acceleration of the attainment of the
seven MDGs (DFID, 2008). A study of the
social and personal benefits of learning in
the UK demonstrates strong influences on
health (cancer prevention up and smoking
down), improved racial tolerance and
increased civic participation among the least
educationally qualified, even when courses
taken are primarily for leisure purposes
(Feinstein et al, 2008). These examples
further reinforce the essential point that
the MDGs can only be achieved if adult
education receives higher priority in the
international policy agenda. Its contribution
can no longer be ignored. Confronted with
such complex development questions,
adult learning and education offer a clear
1.2 Adult education within a
perspective of lifelong learning
Adult education has long been defined as a
vehicle for social change and transformation
(Baumgartner, 2001; Mezirow, 1990;
2000). As far back as 1900, Dewey had
asserted that adult education is at once an
entitlement and a public good, to which
all should have access, but in which all
equally have a responsibility to participate
– in the interests of building and sustaining
Fostering capacities for critical reflection
and learning to learn were central in the
traditions of the Folk High Schools of
Europe’s Nordic and Baltic countries, and
of popular education that originated in
nineteenth-century European and North
American workers’ movements. Emphasis
was placed on the importance of cultural
and socio-political fields of knowledge and
on the development of community-based,
non-formal adult education.
From Latin America, Paulo Freire’s
pedagogy of the oppressed became the
most internationally celebrated model
of adult education as a cultural act of
empowerment and social change (Barreiro,
1974; Freire, 1968; 1996; Puiggrós, 2005;
Torres, 1998). It provided a dimension
of structural transformation from below,
beginning with the circumstances of
people’s daily lives and ultimately aiming to
shape a more just society.
Many social and political movements have
integrated adult learning and education
as a powerful means for supporting
personal, social and political empowerment
(Antikainen et al, 2006; Chrabolowsky,
2003; Gohn, 2008; Mayo, 2009). For
example, in Tanzania, Julius Nyerere’s
vision of socialism embraced adult
education as a means of mobilising people
for self-reliant community development and
societal transformation.
In the 1960s such community-based
political and cultural traditions of adult
education were challenged by the
introduction of adult education policies as a
means for economic development. Framed
within the notion of human capital, these
policies were developed, either solely
or partly, on principles of instrumental
rationality that consider the outcomes of
learning primarily in terms of use-value.
In its narrowest interpretation, such a
perspective places education at the service
of competitive economies.
Alongside the emergence of this purely
economistic interpretation of adult
education was the development of policy
thinking that situated adult education within
the broader framework of lifelong learning.
Two UNESCO reports elaborated key
principles in a lifelong learning perspective.
Both the Report of the International
Commission on the Development of
Education, Learning to Be: The World
of Education Today and Tomorrow (the
Faure Report, 1972) and the Report of the
International Commission on Education
for the Twenty-first Century, Learning: The
Treasure Within (the Delors Report, 1996)
pointed to the need for a learning culture
that is open to all and embraces a learning
continuum that ranges from formal to non-
formal and informal education. They further
maintained that learning is not only lifelong
but also ’life-wide’, taking place in all
spheres of an adult’s life, whether at home,
at work or in the community (Box 1.5).
The Delors Report (Delors et al, 1996),
while supporting the same humanist
tradition as the Faure Report (Faure et al,
1972), also addressed the challenge posed
by education and training policies, through
the lens of human capital theory.
The 1996 Report also marked a shift from
the use of the term ‘lifelong education’
in the Faure Report to ‘lifelong learning’,
which is presently more commonly used.
This change signalled not only a semantic
change but in fact reflected a substantive
development in the field. Lifelong education
as put forward by the Faure Report was
associated with the more comprehensive
and integrated goal of developing more
humane individuals and communities in the
face of rapid social change. On the other
hand, the more dominant interpretation of
Human capital theory
The phrase “human
capital” was originally
coined by the economist
Adam Smith in 1776
but taken further in the
1960s by Theodor Schulz
and Gary Becker. Human
capital theory posits that
investment in education
and skill formation is as
significant for economic
growth as investment in
machines and equipment.
Economists have tried
to measure the rate of
return on investment in
human capital. However,
the validity of applying
narrow econometric
analysis to educational
inputs and outputs for
individuals has been
subject to thorough-going
For a fuller discussion,
see Schuller and Field
“Now, finally, the concept of lifelong education covers the entire educational process, from
the point of view of the individual and of society. It first concerns the education of children
and, while helping the child to live his own life as he deserves to do, its essential mission is
to prepare the future adult for various forms of autonomy and self-learning. This later learning
requires many wide-ranging educational structures and cultural activities to be developed for
adults. These, while existing for their own purposes, are also a pre-condition for reforming
initial education. Lifelong education thereby becomes the instrument and expression of a
circular relationship comprising all the forms, expressions and moments of the educative
(Faure et al, 1972: 143)
“This has led rethink and update the concept of lifelong education so as to
reconcile three forces: competition, which provides incentives; cooperation, which
gives strength; and solidarity, which unites “ (p 18) “...human resources in every
country must be activated and local knowledge and local people and institutions must
be mobilized to create new activities that will make it possible to ward off the evil
spell of technological unemployment….” (p 80)
(Delors et al, 1996)
Box 1.5
Lifelong education according to Faure and Delors
The capability approach
to development
Amartya Sen’s (1999)
understanding of
development entails much
more than increasing
income and wealth.
Poverty can be seen as
a deprivation of basic
capabilities, in the form of
high mortality, significant
morbidity and widespread
illiteracy. It is, in this
sense, a limitation on
freedom. For Sen, the
enhancement of human
freedom is both the main
object and the means
of development. Human
freedom is founded on
economic facilities,
political freedom, social
opportunities, transparency
guarantees, and protective
People have to be seen
to be actively involved
in shaping their own
destinies, rather than
as passive recipients of
development programmes.
In this context, then, adult
education is an important
component in enabling and
empowering communities
to strive for social, political
and economic freedoms.
lifelong learning in the 1990s, especially
in Europe, was related to retraining and
learning new skills that would allow
individuals to cope with the demands of
the rapidly-changing workplace (Matheson
and Matheson, 1996; Griffin, 1999; Bagnall,
2000). On the other hand, the emphasis
on the learner in lifelong learning could
also be interpreted as assigning greater
agency to individuals, in contrast to
lifelong education’s thrust on structures
and institutions (Medel-Añonuevo, 2006).
This shift also influenced the outcomes
of CONFINTEA V, which discussed adult
learning more prominently than previous
International Conferences on Adult
We now have a landscape of adult
education and lifelong learning where mixed
principles, policies and practices co-exist,
with the evolution of open and flexible
systems of provision capable of adapting to
social and economic change. Repositioning
adult education within lifelong learning
therefore requires a shared philosophy of
the purposes and benefits of adult learning.
Global complexity calls for the contribution
of both instrumental and empowering
rationales for adult education. In recent
decades, it is the former that have become
more prominent, with human capital
approaches shaping policies more strongly
than in the past. In contrast, the original
vision of adult education as contributing
to political empowerment and societal
transformation has receded: it is rarely
considered in policy-making.
This is changing as a more encompassing
perspective – the capability approach (Sen,
1999) – considers the expansion of human
capabilities, rather than merely economic
development, as the over-arching objective
of development policy. This approach looks
beyond the economic dimension, and the
mere pursuit of happiness, to encompass
concepts of affiliation such as the capability
to interact socially and participate politically.
Today’s case for adult education must begin
from the view that it is precisely these
values and principles of empowerment that
need to be put at the centre. It is this sense
of distinct purpose and its accumulated
experience of grounded and socially-
worthwhile educational practice – that are
its critical and indispensable legacy. The
principles of the capability approach offer
this connection.
In the shift towards lifelong learning, adult
education has a pivotal role to play in
ensuring that equity and social justice are
pursued, together with the sustenance
of democracy and human dignity. These
principles stand at the heart of the future
global adult learning and education agenda.
The real value of lifelong and life-wide
learning is personal and social agency,
enabling people to equip themselves to
act, to reflect and to respond appropriately
to the social, political, economic, cultural
and technological challenges they face
throughout their lives (Medel-Añonuevo
et al, 2001)
1.3 The need for a strengthened
adult education
The Five International Conferences
on Adult Education were landmarks in
supporting international and national efforts
to establish and expand adult education
programmes and policies. Moreover, they,
along with other milestones such as the
Faure and Delors Reports and the influential
1976 UNESCO Recommendation on the
Development of Adult Education, set out
the vital role of adult education as “forming
part of lifelong education and learning”.
CONFINTEA V broke new ground in
1997 with the Hamburg Declaration on
Adult Learning and Agenda for the Future
(UIE, 1997). It identified adult learning
and education as “both a consequence
of active citizenship and a condition for
full participation in society”. They were
considered to be a key to reaching the goal
of creating “a learning society committed to
social justice and general well-being” in the
21st century.
Reaffirming the centrality of the right to
basic education and skills for all throughout
life, with adult literacy as the cornerstone
of entitlement, the Hamburg Declaration
underlined public responsibility for adult
education provision, funding and quality. It
drew attention to the need for partnerships
between state, civil society and the private
sector in developing and sustaining adult
learning and education. The Declaration
highlighted the importance of promoting
gender equality, the integrity of cultural
diversity and indigenous knowledge, the
need to extend provision for older adults,
and the need to assure education for peace,
democracy and environmental sustainability.
Addressing the themes set forth in the
accompanying Agenda for the Future (Box
1.6) would demand considerably more
investment in adult learning and education
at both national and international levels.
However, from a worldwide perspective,
as evidenced from country reports in
the period since 1997, many national
government education and social policies
have not prioritised adult learning and
education as had been expected and hoped-
for following the Hamburg Declaration.
Some of these issues were already flagged
in the Mid-Term Review of CONFINTEA
V (UNESCO, 2003). Two international
agreements – the Dakar Framework for
Action and the Millennium Development
Goals – are weak in their advocacy for
adult education. There is a lack of shared
understanding of adult learning which has
led to a policy discourse divide between
the North and the South, with the former
concentrating on the operationalisation
of the discourse of lifelong learning and
the latter, focusing on basic education for
all. The contribution of adult education in
development remains unrecognised and
While countries have reported
improvements, adult education as a sector
still needs to be strengthened. Some
factors that need to be examined in the
process are the following:
First, despite the frequent use of the term
‘lifelong learning’ in a variety of legal, policy
and programme documents, conceptual
clarity about what constitutes lifelong
learning and the place of adult learning
and education within it has not become
generalised. This lack of clarity has not
only resulted in a tendency for discussions
to continue to prioritise education for the
young but has also often resulted in a
division of the adult education field between
general adult education, on the one hand,
and vocational adult education and training
on the other. Each set of distinctive actors
emphasises differences in principles,
purposes and practices rather than
establishing connections and seeking
cross-cutting alliances and partnerships.
Second, the narrow association of adult
education with literacy education and basic
skills development in many countries has
Theme 1: Adult learning and democracy: the challenges of
the twenty-first century
Theme 2: Improving the conditions and quality of adult
Theme 3: Ensuring the universal right to literacy and basic
Theme 4: Adult learning, gender equality and equity, and
the empowerment of women
Theme 5: Adult learning and the changing world of work
Theme 6: Adult learning in relation to environment, health
and population
Theme 7: Adult learning, culture, media and new information
Theme 8: Adult learning for all: the rights and aspirations of
different groups
Theme 9: The economics of adult learning
Theme 10: Enhancing international co-operation and solidarity
(UIE, 1997)
Box 1.6
The Hamburg Agenda for the Future
often resulted in educationally low-status
content and outcomes. Precisely because
of this feature of adult education provision,
participants – especially in the countries
of the South – are likely to be drawn from
socially and educationally disadvantaged
populations and hence represent a weak
political constituency.
Third, adult education provision straddles
the entire education continuum, with strong
roots in non-formal and informal education
contexts and methods. Participation in
adult education does not necessarily or
even typically lead to formal credentials
with high marketable or social value. The
quantification of outcomes from investment
is also challenging.
Fourth, few countries have allocated the
necessary financial resources for adult
education. Low prioritisation, public
spending constraints and the unequal
distribution of resources all contribute
to inconsistent, non-predictable and
inequitable funding patterns.
Fifth, with such poor resourcing the
adult education sector remains under-
professionalised. Too many practitioners
have minimal specialised training or
recognised qualifications, and arrangements
for the accreditation of prior learning and
experience for those working professionals
are insufficiently developed. Employment
conditions are typically poor, a situation
which does not favour long-term
retention of experienced and competent
practitioners. These conditions affect the
quality of adult education practitioners’
performance and necessarily have an
impact on the quality of adult learning
experiences. The fragmentation of body
of professionals involved means that the
ability to lobby for better training and
increased investment is difficult. The lack
of powerful institutions handicaps advocacy
for practitioners and target groups alike.
The interconnectedness of this lack of
power with the lack of funding mentioned
above is a serious problem for all involved.
Sixth, and again a connected issue, the
wide dispersion and diversity of adult
learning and education stakeholders
inhibits effective collaboration with
others who share similar agendas. While
recognising the state’s main responsibility
for the provision of adult education, the
contributions of civil society, the private
sector and other stakeholders have not
been properly acknowledged, valued and
Today’s international financial crisis, as
well as urgent development challenges,
has created a critical moment. If adult
education is to play a role in improving the
quality of economic and social life in the
21st century, considerably more resources
– efficiently used and distributed – are
necessary. Absolutely essential is a shared
vision of adult learning and education
that is achievable and that can engage all
stakeholders. Vulnerable and marginalised
groups need to be at the centre of this
vision. CONFINTEA VI offers an opportunity
to break new ground and to identify clear
objectives and feasible lines of action to
be achieved in the coming decade. Moving
from rhetoric to action is an imperative.
Recognising the importance of adult
education for achieving sustainable social,
cultural and economic development means
explicit and visible political commitment
translated into policy. It also means
allocating the resources needed to
implement measures well. The basis of any
policy should be that adult education is a
right for all, without exception.
A key issue for understanding adult
education policy, provision and governance
is the acknowledgement of a learning
continuum between formal, non-formal and
informal education and its implications for
life-wide and lifelong learning (Chisholm,
2008; Colley et al, 2004; Du Bois-Reymond,
2005; Otto and Rauschenbach, 2004)
(see Box 2.1). Recognising where and
how learning occurs, and appreciating the
full spectrum of learning processes and
outcomes, are fundamental for developing
the potential of adult education.
In countries that have poorly developed
education infrastructures, it is difficult to
establish the kinds of comprehensive formal
education and training systems that exist in
more affluent nations. Effectively, learning
in non-formal and informal settings is the
most realistic option in these countries. It
can also be innovative and empowering in
providing greater learning opportunities for
the population as a whole, using different
and culturally appropriate concepts and
practices. Adult education policies therefore
need to take into consideration the
significance of such learning for individuals
and communities.
This chapter first looks at how far
appropriate policies have been adopted
worldwide. It then examines how the
Formal learning
Formal learning occurs as a result of experiences in an education
or training institution, with structured learning objectives, learning
time and support which leads to certification. Formal learning is
intentional from the learner’s perspective
Non-formal learning
Non-formal learning is not provided by an education or training
institution and typically does not lead to certification. It is, however,
structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning
support). Non-formal learning is intentional from the learner’s
Informal learning
Informal learning results from daily life activities related to work,
family or leisure. It is not structured (in terms of learning objectives,
learning time or learning support) and typically does not lead to
certification. Informal learning may be intentional but in most cases
it is non-intentional (or ‘incidental’/random).
Source: European Commission, 2000; 2001
Box 2.1
The learning continuum
governance of adult education is managed
and, within this, the distribution of power
from the national to regional, sub-regional
and local levels. It concludes with a review
of policy and governance as interwoven
dimensions of adult education anchored in a
lifelong learning perspective.
2.1 Policy development in adult
Of the 154 countries which submitted
National Reports in preparation for
CONFINTEA VI, 126 (or 82%) declared
that adult education is covered directly
or indirectly by some kind of government
policy (Appendix Table 1). Regional
differences exist, with the European
region having the highest proportion at
92%, followed by Asia with 83%, the Latin
American and Caribbean region with 80%,
sub-Saharan Africa 79% and the Arab
region with 68%. Closer examination of
the responses, however, indicates the wide
range of interpretations of the term ‘policy’,
starting with the most basic law of the land,
the Constitution, through executive fiats
and legislative enactments to medium-term
development plans and decennial education
When asked about a specific policy on adult
education since 1997, only 56 countries (or
36%) responded affirmatively. Almost half
of these countries (27) are in the European
region. Nineteen (or 34%) countries are
from sub-Saharan Africa. The high rate
for the European region is to be expected
The Lisbon Strategy is the European Union’s overarching strategy focusing on growth and jobs. Within the EU, national
governments are responsible for education and training but the problems of ageing societies, skills deficits within the
workforce and global competition are seen as benefiting from joint responses and learning between countries. As part
of this response it is recognised that lifelong learning must become a reality across Europe as a key to growth and jobs
as well as being critical for full participation in society.
Member states have strengthened their political co-operation through an Education and Training work programme and
a strategic framework for co-operation in education and training. This strategic framework identifies four long-term
strategic objectives:
• Makinglifelonglearningandmobilityareality
• Improvingthequalityandefciencyofeducationandtraining
• Promotingequity,socialcohesionandactivecitizenship
• Enhancingcreativityandinnovation,includingentrepreneurship,atalllevelsofeducationandtraining
It is supported by benchmarks for achievement.
Alongside the Lisbon Strategy are specific communication and action plans for adult education respectively –
“It’s Never too Late to Learn” (European Commission, 2006) and “It’s Always a Good Time to Learn” (European
Commission, 2007) – which focus on adult education policy and practice across the EU. Five priorities are identified
for concrete action:
• Toreducelabourshortagesduetodemographicchangesbyraisingskilllevelsintheworkforcegenerally
and by upgrading low-skilled workers (80 million in 2006).
• Toaddressthepersistentlyhighnumberofearlyschool-leavers(nearly7millionin2006),byofferinga
second chance to those who enter adulthood without any qualifications.
• Toreducepovertyandsocialexclusionamongmarginalisedgroups.Adultlearningcanbothimprove
people’s skills and help them towards active citizenship and personal autonomy.
• Toincreasetheintegrationofmigrantsinsocietyandlabourmarkets.Adultlearningofferstailor-made
courses, including language learning, to contribute to this integration process. Adult learning can help
migrants to secure validation and ecognition for their qualifications.
• Toincreaseparticipationinlifelonglearningandparticularlytoaddressthefactthatparticipationdecreases
after the age of 34. At a time when the average working age is rising across Europe, there needs to be a
parallel increase in adult learning by older workers.
Source: European Commission, 2009
Box 2.2
The Lisbon Strategy, the Communication on Adult Learning and the Action
Plan on Adult Learning
given that since 2000, the Lisbon Strategy
– which considers lifelong learning as key
measure for making the region the most
competitive in the world – has been in
place (see Box 2.2). In eight of the African
countries reporting a specific policy on
adult education, closer inspection reveals
that these policies are actually centred on
improving literacy.
The National Reports prepared for
CONFINTEA VI point to some policy
features that appear to be shared by most
Adult education policy is usually
subsumed under general education
policies. It is rarely mainstreamed
within comprehensive development
frameworks. Adult education policies are
incoherent and fragmented – more like
a patchwork of measures responding
to specific issues than a framework of
linked principles and programmes.
There are wide gaps between legislation,
policy and implementation, with weak
relationships between formal policy-
making and practice. Adult education
policy-making and reform tend to take
place in a vacuum: high-level councils and
Arab Region
Throughout the region, adult education is seen as synonymous with youth and adult literacy, including education
for those who have left school early. The relevant policies are mostly incorporated into national education policies.
Egypt, Kuwait and Tunisia have specific laws on the eradication of illiteracy. Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen have
translated such policy into action plans.
Asia-Pacific Region
Many countries lack a comprehensive adult education policy framework. Many are still struggling to provide basic
education for people of all ages, so policy is closely linked with literacy. China and India, the ‘Asian Giants,’ have both
focused on literacy, with gradually broadening policy agendas in recent decades. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines
and Thailand have been able to diversify their policy scope through non-formal programmes, and are now moving
towards a concept of lifelong learning. Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and Singapore have moved
towards a policy placing adult education within lifelong learning.
Europe and North America Region
General objectives and overall policy direction in the region’s countries display broad similarities, with the European
Union’s policies having clear influence. Nevertheless, many countries still do not have comprehensive and distinct adult
education policies. In former socialist republics, current policies are typically linked to continuing vocational training.
Many countries, including Canada and the United States of America, are now identifying the continued need for adult
literacy and basic skills programmes.
Latin America and Caribbean Region
Adult education remains primarily associated with basic and compensatory education, most specifically with respect to
adult literacy and the vocational and social integration of out-of-school youth. Recent policy documents – especially in
the Caribbean – include references to lifelong learning, typically a synonym for continuing education. Since 2000, adult
education has gained greater policy visibility. This is due both to the impact of poor progress of related EFA Goals on
public opinion and to civil society pressure for change and improvement. The majority of countries have improved laws
and policies with respect to the right to free education and provision for linguistic and cultural diversity.
Sub-Saharan Africa Region
Adult education is mainly associated with literacy and adult basic education and typically subsumed in general education
policies. Few countries have specific legal provisions. Few implement specific adult learning and education policies.
Cape Verde, Namibia and Seychelles are outstanding exceptions in their comprehensive and coherent approach.
Source: Ahmed, 2009; Aitchison and Alidou, 2009; Keogh, 2009; Torres, 2009; Yousif, 2009
Box 2.3
Adult education policy: key points from the CONFINTEA VI
Regional Synthesis Reports
elaborate advisory structures exist, but
have little concrete impact, with the risk
that these arrangements become a proxy
for implementation.
Coordination of policy and action within
government and between government
and stakeholders is often ineffective
– decentralisation to regional and local
levels is more apparent than real.
Responsibilities – including those for the
funding of adult education programmes
and activities – are more likely to be
delegated than are decision-making
powers. This shows that the ‘command
and control’ model of organisation and
governance remains predominant,
undermining local autonomy and
flexibility and lowering civil society
Together, these features account for many
specific characteristics of policy that affect
governance and provision in adult education.
Clearly there are important differences
between countries and world regions in the
way adult education policy is conceptualised
and realised. Box 2.3 summarises key
points from the Regional Synthesis Reports
prepared for CONFINTEA VI.
There are concrete examples of integrated
legislation that give equal visibility to initial
and continuing education for young people
and adults. One of these is Sweden’s
Education Act, in which such a holistic
approach is reflected at local level where
municipalities serve both secondary and
adult education needs. Table 2.1 lists the
range of legislation and policies adopted
since 1997 that countries reported as
specifically addressing adult education.
Table 2.1
Examples of major legislation and policies specific to adult learning
and education introduced since 1997
Country Legislation/ Major Policy (Year) Content
Draft law on Adult Education, 2007
Skilling Australia’s Workforce Act, 2005
Non-Formal Education Policy, 2006
Déclaration de Politique Nationale
d’Alphabétisation et d’Education des Adultes
(DEPOLINA), 2001
Administrative Resolution 008, 2004
National Policy on Vocational Education and
Training, 1997
Vocational Education and Training Act, 1999
Non Formal Education Policy, 2006
Drafted and presented for discussion, but then temporarily eliminated from
the list for general discussion, with a suggestion to make amendments
Strengthened the funding framework, and linked funding for the States
and Territories to a range of conditions and targets for training outcomes
To introduce a system and national framework for non-formal
education (with all the required flexibilities in-built) as supplementary
and complementary to formal education; to institute a framework
of equivalence for non-formal compared to formal education; and to
vocationalise non-formal education, keeping in view literacy levels
emerging from non-formal education
Announced a break with the concept of instrumental literacy and is part of
a holistic vision of adult education-based development activities
Regulates the process of accreditation of prior learning in literacy as part
of the primary education of adults
Laid down the broad framework, within which training activities
are carried out. For example, it made recommendations on skills
development and training, public institutional planning; employer-based
training; and training for both the formal and informal sectors of the
Regulates the vocational training of pupils – its objectives, principles,
stages, organisation, and management
To promote literacy and alternative forms of education as factors of local
development and to support access to lifelong learning opportunities
Burkina Faso
Country Legislation/ Major Policy (Year) Content
Law Number 34 ,1998
Law Number 38, 1999
Decree Number 414, 2007
The Master Plan for Education and Training
(PDEF) from 2005 to 2009
Adult Education Act, 2007
Draft National Policy on Adult Education (NPAE),
Lifelong Learning Strategy, 2005-2008
Vocational Adult Education Act, 1998
Liberal Education Act, 1998
Law for the Development of Alternative Non-
Formal Education, Decree No. 313, 1998
Sessional Paper No 1 on A Policy Framework for
Education, Training and Research, 2005
Draft National Policy Document on Non-Formal
and Adult Education, 1998
Law on Non-formal Education
Law on Vocational Education and Training 1997
National Policy on Literacy and Adult Education
(PNAEA), 2003
National Adult Literacy Policy, 2006
Approves the Curriculum of Basic Education for Adults
Approves the assessment system for learners of adult basic education
Establishes that the Ministry of Education has confirmed its commitment
in education and training of adults
Based on objectives defined in the National Plan for Education For
All, and composed of seven programmes to promote youth and adult
Specifies different forms of adult education and which bodies may
provide these under different conditions; introduces the concepts of
vertical mobility, educational study leave, adult education funding and
partnership principles
To promote a broad concept of adult education and create awareness
of adult education as a diverse multi-sectoral activity; to implement of
the right to education for all and to establish inter-sectoral co-ordinating
mechanisms for the implementation, monitoring, evaluation and
accreditation of adult education activities
To integrate adult education sectors (public, private and third sector),
specify their different roles in the meeting of social demand and
harmonise Estonian adult education with documents from the European
Commission and with EU standards
Regulates competence-based qualifications, including apprenticeship
Regulates adult learning and education at folk high schools, adult
education centres, study centres, physical education centres and summer
To promote education and training of school-age children outside school,
youth and adults, and at higher educational and technical levels
Recognises adult continuing education as a vehicle for transformation
and empowerment of individuals and society, and calls for its integration
into a national qualifications network
Has never been adopted as policy, but is referred to and used for
planning purposes. Cited liberally in the chapter on lifelong learning and
non-formal education in the Education Sector Strategic Plan 2005-2015
Regulates non-formal educational provision and gives legislative
guarantees to participants, providers and social partners
Regulates basic (formal) and general secondary education and labour
market vocational training; currently undergoing revision
Formalises procedures to coordinate literacy and adult education and
standardises performance criteria, facilitating the enhancement of
learner achievements and their reintegration into professional categories
of socio-economic sectors
To guide programme planners and decision-makers in establishing a
comprehensive set of programme and services to increase literacy levels
by 85% by 2011 and to create greater understanding of adult literacy
issues in national development priorities and concerns
Cape Verde
Country Legislation/ Major Policy (Year) Content
National Policy of Non-Formal Education, 2007
National Strategy for Adult Literacy and
Education and for Non-Formal Education
(AEA/ENF), 2003
National Policy on Adult Learning, 2003
Adult Literacy Strategy, 2001
National Policy of Non-Formal Education
(PNENF), 2008
Presidential Order, 2007
Lifelong Education Act, 2007
Seychelles Qualifications Authority Act, 2005
Act of Parliament, 2001
Adult Education Act, 2007
Education for Living: Policy on technical,
vocational education and training, 2005
Adult Basic Education and Training Act, 2000
Non-Formal and Informal Education Promotion
Act, 2008
To increase the adult literacy rate at least 50% (40% for women) and
allow at least 50% of school-leavers and youth aged 9 to 15 who have
never been to school to reach a minimum learning level
Designed mainly to eradicate illiteracy in the country
Provides a framework of adult learning, addressing programme
development, resources, co-ordination, policy implementation and
monitoring; identifies the Government’s role within this framework and
recognises the important contribution of the private sector and civil
society in the promotion of adult learning
Highlights the need to build capacity and capability in the sector;
government agencies assisted by an advisory group in formulating
national development approaches
To consolidate and develop social achievements in literacy and non-
formal education; defines the major options, guidelines and policy
measures necessary for the development of this sub-sector
Decision to implement the literacy campaign “Move On Panama, Yo Si
Puedo” developed by the Ministry of Social Development with support
from volunteers and civil society organisations at community level
Revision of the 1999 Act; metropolitan and provincial governments
required to establish annual implementation plans within five-year
national lifelong education promotion strategies set out by the Ministry
of Education, Science and Technology
The Seychelles Qualification Authority (SQA) created as the para-
statal body responsible for formulating and administering the National
Qualifications Framework, and to assure the quality of education and
Establishment of the National Council for Technical, Vocational and other
Academic Awards (NCTVA) and establishment of regional polytechnics to
diversify human resource development for various vocations and careers
Defines and regulates the provision of adult learning and education
(organisation, monitoring and documentation, annual programme
cycles, public funding, counselling and examination centres); currently
undergoing revision
Comprehensive document, with 22 policy areas aimed at integrating
technical, vocational education and training or skill training into the
education system
Provides for establishment of public and private adult learning centres,
funding for Adult Basic Education and Training provision, the governance
of public centres and quality assurance mechanisms for the sector
Aims to promote and support non-formal and informal education in
line with the National Education Act, which designates education as a
lifelong process with the participation of all sectors of government, civil
society and private enterprise
New Zealand
of Korea
Sierra Leone
South Africa
Country Legislation/ Major Policy (Year) Content
The table points to five trends in policy
framework-setting, usually within
a lifelong learning perspective (for
example, Bangladesh and Namibia);
promotion of literacy and non-formal
education (as in Honduras and Thailand);
regulation of vocational or adult education
(for example, Lithuania and Slovenia);
creation of specialised agencies (for
instance, Seychelles and Sierra Leone);
provision for the implementation of
specific programmes (as in Comoros and
South Africa).
The extent to which countries are locked
into widespread poverty, high levels of
internal inequality and international debt
influences the direction of adult education
policy-making. For example, in sub-Saharan
Africa, the Arab States, and much of
Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the
Caribbean, adult education is equated with
adult literacy and compensatory or ‘second-
chance’ education.
The European Union’s Lisbon Agenda, with
its focus on lifelong learning, is a highly
influential driver for policy innovation in
the field of adult learning and influences
‘neighbourhood countries’ such as the
CIS (Commonwealth of Independent
States). Within the region, there still
exist disparities as to how the strategy
is implemented (see Box 2.4). Moreover,
individual countries’ adult education policies
place different emphases on the dual policy
aims of economic competitiveness and
social cohesion. In some countries (such
as the United Kingdom and the United
States of America; similarly in Asia’s
more developed countries) maintaining
economic competitiveness dominates.
Other countries (notably Europe’s Nordic
countries) underline the ‘public good’ model
and are strongly committed to education
throughout life as a humanistic endeavour
for personal and civic development as well
as for human resource development.
Interestingly, countries with more resilient
economies in South-East Asia appear to be
making a ‘policy jump’ from adult education
Source: National Reports prepared for CONFINTEA VI
Law on Adult Education, 2008
Credit Recognition Act, 2008
National Programme for Adult Education, 2000
Draft Policy on Adult Learning and Education
Title II of the Workforce Investment Act (as the
Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, AEFLA),
Literacy and Adult Education Law, 1998
Lifelong Education Policy, 1998
To initiate and maintain a positive and active approach for education
throughout life; directly linked with the previous Programme for Adult
Education in the context of lifelong learning, which is an integral part of
the National Strategy for Development of Education 2005-2015
Revision of the 1999 Act; permits direct conferment by the government
of Bachelor’s degrees to learners through the Academic Credit Bank
Developed from the 1992 national literacy plan to accelerate the pace
of literacy and to create an educational system responding to the basic
educational needs of the target population
Yet to be finalised and approved by responsible government organs
Reforms Federal employment, adult education, and vocational
rehabilitation programmes to create an integrated, one-stop system
of workforce investment and education activities for adults and youth.
Entities that carry out activities assisted under the Adult Education and
Family Literacy Act are mandatory partners in this delivery system
A basic building block for the institutional framework of the literacy and
adult education organisation; some implementation issues still to resolve
To mobilise and motivate illiterate and semi-literate adults to acquire the
basic skills of reading, writing and calculation using their first language
and to foster skills training
The Former
Republic of
United States
of America
Lifelong learning objectives are integrated in the most important national strategic documents,
such as Romania’s National Development Plan 2007-2013 (NDP) and Bulgaria’s National
Strategic Reference Framework 2007-2013. Both countries’ operational programmes for
human resources development and strategies for national employment and for continuing
vocational education are informed by lifelong learning.
“However, the countries are facing a number of challenges in the implementation of these
strategies, as for example:
• TheexistenceofahistoricaldelaywithregardtotheprovisionsoftheLisbon
Strategy, followed by the insufficient development of a lifelong learning culture;
• Thelackofasystemicandcoherentdebateinvolvingministries,publicinstitutions,
civil society and businesses in the development, implementation and monitoring of
lifelong learning policies;
• Thelackofglobalapproachesinlifelonglearningpolicies,whichshouldconsider
the entire path of an individual learning and training and a unique vision, both pre-
school education, compulsory education and initial training, and the continuing
adult education and training;
• Lackofcorrespondencebetweentheprioritiesoftheeducationpolicydocuments
and the financial resources allotted to their attainment;
• Insufcientcommitmentoftheresponsibleactorsinthedevelopmentand
implementation of human resources development policies.”
Source: dvv international, 2008: 11
Box 2.4
Challenges in the establishment of legal frameworks
for adult education in Bulgaria and Romania
as adult literacy and basic skills towards
adult education within a lifelong learning
policy frame. The Republic of Korea, a
particularly noteworthy example, developed
a comprehensive policy approach to adult
education in the 1980s as part of building a
lifelong learning society, currently anchored
in the 2007 Lifelong Education Act.
Regional and local bodies in the country
pass their own laws to support the national
External factors can bring about rapid
changes in adult education policies. For
example, in the wake of the 1997-8 Asian
financial crisis, measures were introduced
which entailed the restructuring of labour
market polices and employment training
systems. The People´s Republic of China,
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Republic of
Korea, Singapore and Thailand quickly
set up new provision frameworks closely
linked to human resources development
Regional and international organisations
exert an increasing influence on educational
policy-making. The role that the EU is
playing in encouraging Member States to
focus on common problems in education
and training has been mentioned, as has
the differentiated response that countries
have developed to similar issues. The
Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD), through studies
like the International Adult Literacy Survey,
also shapes national policy responses to
adult education. In its Biennale meetings,
the Association for the Development
of Education in Africa (ADEA) has been
able to provide a platform to discuss the
importance of literacy and non-formal
education, persuading Ministers of
Education to re-examine their policies. The
Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos
(OEI), through its plan for literacy and basic
education for youth and adults, promotes
multilateral cooperation in Ibero-America,
linking the different actors who promote
adult education programmes, taking into
account diverse contexts. Through policy
dialogue, technical assistance and South-
South cooperation, UNESCO has promoted
literacy within a framework of lifelong
learning. The World Bank is also able to
sway educational policies.
These supra-national players support their
policy initiatives with significant funding
for programmes and activities consonant
with their objectives. But these efforts are
not necessarily embraced wholeheartedly.
Some governments are wary about top-
down approaches and insist on developing
policies that are responsive to their
specific contexts. Ambivalence and tension
between national and international levels
of policy and action are to be expected.
However, the Regional Synthesis Reports
for CONFINTEA VI testify to the significance
of regional and international organisations
and their policy initiatives for stimulating or
underplaying support for adult education.
2.2 Coordinating and regulating adult
education: some governance issues
Concepts and practices of governance,
including educational governance, have
risen to the forefront of international
discussion and debate in the past decade:
the 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report
headlines governance as a key factor in
overcoming educational inequalities. It
describes governance as “institutions,
rules and norms through which policies are
developed and implemented – and through
which accountability is enforced” (UNESCO,
2008a: 128). Governance therefore covers
policy decision-making, resource allocation
and government accountability. Educational
governance is not solely the concern of
central government but encompasses every
level of the system, from the education
ministry to schools and the community. It
ensures access to well-funded educational
provision with well-qualified, motivated staff
and responsiveness to local needs.
Educational governance in principle must
be based on universal participation. There
is a personal stake in education for all
citizens, even when their interests and
needs are not being met through existing
policy, provision and practice. Furthermore,
education is vital to civil society, local
and regional communities and social
movements; minorities, nations and
states; the business world, labour markets
and economies. Educational governance
has to accommodate many stakeholders
and a diverse range of interests. The
consequences of bad governance in adult
learning and education are all too obvious
and include weak provision characterised
by inequity, low quality and the involvement
of lowly-paid, untrained and unmotivated
In the past decade, political and institutional
responses in educational governance have
generally included two linked processes
which are in tension with each other. On
the one hand there is a call for greater
organisational and financial decentralisation
and autonomy. On the other there is a
demand for greater regulation and quality
monitoring mechanisms steered by
centralised public administration and its
agencies (see here, for example Altrichter
et al, 2007; Husemann and Heikkinen,
2004; Lindblad and Popkewitz, 2001). These
developments have been accompanied by
the greater involvement of civil society-
based groups and associations the
mechanisms for which have been public
consultation processes, advisory groups
and governing councils of various kinds,
and the growth of educational project
funding programmes available to NGOs. The
patterns drawn from the Regional Synthesis
Reports indicate the resultant wide variety
that currently exists (see Box 2.5).
The National Reports present a diversity of
governance arrangements in place. These
statements broadly suggest three formal
governance patterns:
• departmentswithineducationministries
(or their equivalent);
• relativelyindependentauthorities,which
may or may not be under the direct
formal control of a ministry;
• delegationofresponsibilitytolocal
The location of adult education within
national governments
Adult education legislation and policy may
be at a very generalised level or aimed
at a narrow constituency within time
and geographical limits. In practice, adult
learning is fashioned by circumstances
on the ground. Between these two
ends of the policy-practice continuum,
a variety of intermediary governance
arrangements can exist. The majority of
countries reported that more than one
Ministry is involved in adult education
(see Table 2.2). Each is accountable for
particular aspects of adult education or for
particular target groups. The Philippines,
for example, divides responsibility
Arab Region
All countries have high-level policy-making bodies (National Councils or similar) chaired by
the relevant Minister (in Egypt by the Prime Minister), which are responsible for programme
development and implementation. Such bodies typically include government, civil society,
universities and the private sector, and have regional and local subsidiary councils or
Asia-Pacific Region
In most countries, the Ministry of Education is responsible for policy implementation,
sometimes in cooperation with Ministries for health, agriculture, gender issues, social welfare,
human rights and economic development. Ministries may devolve some administrative
responsibilities, but the locus of power still rests at the centre in terms of budgets,
programme design and planning, programme content, structure and learning outcomes.
Europe and North America Region
Some countries approach adult education as a distinct sector within lifelong learning, with
policy and measures supported by strong arrangements that sustain the formal, active
involvement of social partners and civil society.
Latin America and Caribbean Region
Here the implementation gap is wide – policies are usually disconnected from practice,
whereas diversification and decentralisation processes have led to coordination problems.
Sub-Saharan Africa Region
Countries advocate multi-sectoral stakeholder governance, but there is little concrete
evidence of its implementation. Generally, Ministries of education take charge of policies
and programmes, sometimes in cooperation with Ministries for agriculture, health, youth
and sport, women and social development. Ineffective coordination – between Ministries
but also between state agencies and civil society – has a negative impact on the status and
quality of adult learning and education. In addition, while many countries state that they have
a decentralisation policy, what this means in reality, especially in relation to decision-making, is
Source: Ahmed, 2009; Aitchison and Alidou, 2009; Keogh, 2009; Torres, 2009; Yousif, 2009
Box 2.5
Governance patterns drawn from Regional Synthesis Reports
between different departments for
general education, vocational education
and training, and higher education – each
of which mounts separate programmes.
This may be explained by the different
concepts inherent in the delivery of adult
education programmes, with adult learning
sometimes being thought of as a good in
itself (for example, a straightforward literacy
programme) and at other times being
conceived of as a support to other agendas
(for example, a programme to promote
better health) as the means rather than the
end itself.
Many governments have established a
department that is explicitly responsible
for adult education (sometimes combining
this with other responsibilities, such as
citizenship education and e-learning, as
has been the case in Austria). Typically,
such offices are located within the
Ministry of Education, but responsibilities
for adult education may be assigned to
other Ministries. In Malaysia, for example,
the Ministry of Women, Family and
Community Development is responsible
for non-formal education, which effectively
covers much adult education and learning
provision in a country with a dispersed rural
population. Inter-ministerial and inter-agency
committees are increasingly established
to coordinate measures and funding
allocations (for example, United Republic of
Tanzania). They are also likely to ensure the
exchange of information and good practice,
take on monitoring tasks (for example,
through the development of indicators
and benchmarks) and engage in forward
planning (with respect to staff development,
for example, or needs assessment and
public campaigns). Such committees also
develop communication and exchange
channels with sectoral, regional and local
stakeholders, in order to make democratic
and sustainable governance ‘come alive’ in
everyday implementation.
Governance by agencies with some
degree of autonomy
The past decade has witnessed the
proliferation of apparently decentralised
governance in the form of publicly-funded
agencies that manage and coordinate
the implementation of para-state and
inter-ministerial policies (see Box 2.6).
Such agencies may take responsibility
for funding, for quality control and for
programme planning and design. These
bodies, which couple greater autonomy
with greater accountability, should not
be seen as isolated from debates about
decentralisation (for example, see Llieva,
2007). However, even where such agencies
Table 2.2
Countries stating more than one ministry involved in adult education1
Arab states
Egypt, Kuwait,
Palestine, Oman,
Sudan, Syria,
responding to
Europe and North
Armenia, Austria,
Bulgaria, Canada,
Croatia, Cyprus,
Czech Republic,
Denmark, Estonia,
France, Finland,
Georgia, Germany,
Greece, Hungary,
Israel, Ireland,
Latvia, Lithuania,
Norway, Portugal,
Romania, Slovak
Republic, Slovenia,
Switzerland, The
Former Yugoslav
Republic of
Macedonia, Turkey
Latin America
and Caribbean
Argentina, Brazil,
Costa Rica, Cuba,
Ecuador, El Salvador,
Guatemala, Haiti,
Honduras, Jamaica,
Mexico, Nicaragua,
Paraguay, Peru,
Suriname, St. Vincent
and the Grenadines,
Angola, Botswana,
Burkina Faso,
Cameroon, Chad,
Democratic Republic
of Congo, Equatorial
Guinea, Gambia,
Ghana, Guinea,
Lesotho, Malawi,
Mali, Namibia,
Rwanda, Senegal,
Swaziland, Togo,
Uganda, United
Republic of Tanzania,
Zambia, Zimbabwe
Bhutan, Bangladesh,
Cambodia, China,
Fiji, India, Iran,
Japan, New
Zealand, Republic of
Korea, Thailand,
Uzbekistan, Vietnam
Source: National Reports prepared for CONFINTEA VI
1 Refers to responses to question 1.1.3. from the Guidelines for the Preparation of National Reports on the Situation of Adult Learning and Education:
• How is adult learning and education organized within the government? What ministry/s are in charge or involved? Is adult learning and education centralised/decentralised? How?
are designed to involve stakeholders and
grassroots groups, unless there is a real
devolution of power to other interests this
form of apparent decentralisation remains a
form of central control.
Decentralised governance
Governance is a political process and adult
education is embedded in social, political
and cultural contexts that draw some of
their vitality from the motivation to further
democracy and human rights. Devolution
of governance in adult education is thus
a political (and perhaps even economic)
imperative. Such devolution may involve a
trade-off where the benefits of increased
grassroots support require the giving-up
of a degree of public responsibility for
mainstream provision and practice, whether
in school education or in adult education.
The Bureau of Non-Formal Education (BNFE) was established as the National Agency for nop-formal education with full
authority; a district level structure is developed in each of the 64 districts.
The Adult Education Council consists of key stakeholders in adult learning and education appointed by the government;
the Agency for Adult Education performs administrative duties for the Council.
The National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA) is an independent and autonomous arm of the Central Government;
the registered body Zila Saksharta Samiti is the main implementation agency for literacy and continuing education
programmes; NGOs are also involved.
The National Committee for Literacy and Adult Education (NCLAE) was established by the Council Ministries in 1995:
its members come from the public sector, NGOs and various international organisations working in the field of literacy
and adult learning and education. It is headed by director of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The National Centre of Non-Formal and Distance Education (NFDE) under the Ministry of Education, Culture and
Science co-ordinates adult learning and education at national level.
The Non-Formal Education Centre (NFEC) is the main organisation in charge of adult learning and education, but there
are five Regional Education Directorate Offices (REDs), 75 District Education Offices (DEOs), Resource Centres (RCs)
and Community Learning Centres (CLCs) for its implementation.
Republic of Korea
The National Institute for Lifelong Education under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has been in
charge of adult learning and education since 2007; metropolitan or provincial Lifelong Learning Councils and Lifelong
Learning Centres run various programmes; second-chance schools; in-company universities; distance learning
universities; facilities from media organisations and from civic social groups also provide adult education.
St. Lucia
There are three public institutions providing adult learning and education, namely the National Enrichment and Learning
Unit (NELU), the National Skills Development Centre (NSDC) and the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College which
provides post-secondary/tertiary education.
Source: National Reports prepared for CONFINTEA VI
Box 2.6
Adult education governance by autonomous agencies