10.11.2015 EAEAPOLICY

"If we want peace and a good quality of life for everyone, we should focus on education"

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved in September 2015, set the policy targets that should be reached everywhere by 2030. EAEA Membership and Events Officer Raffaela Kihrer (RK) asked Katarina Popović (KP), the Secretary General of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), about the role of adult education in the new goals.

UN Sustainable Development Summit was organised in New York City in September 2015.

RK: You were present as a civil society representative at the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Summit. What are your impressions of the conference?

KP: I believe that the UN conference in New York was for me both an important experience and a historic moment. […] It took a few years to come to this result, and civil society took an active part in the shaping of the agenda. […] It was obvious how civil society organisations (CSOs) present at the conference were treated. They were just tolerated, and only a few representatives were allowed in the rooms, with no chance to speak, no discussions and no space for civil society to take part actively. Civil society took part in the consultation processes, but the real decisions were made somewhere else.

RK: What about the role of education in general and adult education specifically in the agenda?

KP: At the beginning of the negotiations of the SDG’s, education was not in the agenda, but it is now, as Goal 4, a stand-alone goal. This is something that we as civil society can be proud of. Education and lifelong learning are furthermore included in several other goals, for example Goal 3 on health.

Adult education is not mentioned specifically, even though we now have data available that clearly indicates the importance of adult education for all development processes. In this point, the agenda does not reflect the reality of developing and developed countries. We are happy, though, that the agenda speaks about knowledge and skills for "all learners" in target 4.7, and we interpret that as lifelong learning.

"We do not have to look beyond Europe to find problems, we have them here as well – they are just better hidden," says Katarina Popović.

RK: The SDGs are conceptualized as a global agenda. Do you think that the goals will be understood as such and implemented also in European policies, or do you think that they will play a more important role in development cooperation?

KP: The SDGs have the motto to "leave no one behind", and I think that this is a strong signal that these goals are not only meant for developing, but also for the developed countries. However, of course there is a certain amount of – probably healthy – fear among CSOs that the goals will be understood by politicians as an instrument for developing countries.

Civil society is very aware of the fact that the SDGs are needed in Europe as well. [...] Poverty has many faces, and it does not always mean living in a slum in India or in a remote village somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.

There are also new challenges for Europe as the so-called refugee crisis. As long as there are wars and inequalities in the world, people will continue to come to Europe. [...] We should not just bury our heads in the sand or build walls but recognize the fact that migration is part of our societies. Education, especially adult education, is crucial to integrate new-comers to our societies if we do not want to create parallel society.

RK: The previous set of development targets, the Millennium Development Goals, were not reached because of a lack of political will. Do we have to expect the same fate for the SDGs?

KP: Nowadays, Europe is facing a deep crisis and the challenges for our societies, economies and our environment are even bigger than 15 years ago, but the political efforts do not seem to be more serious. The political will to implement new policies is very much connected to the question of the means of implementation.

The UN conference Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July 2015 was a "moment of truth" for civil society. Without adequate financing of development, the most elaborated and ambitious goals for development remain hollow words. Unfortunately, the important input for financing the SDGs that we were hoping for did not happen. And even though the whole agenda does not have sufficient financial support, the situation is much worse for adult education, as it is not mentioned at all in comparison to early childhood care, primary education, etc.

Illiteracy is a global problem. "Recent studies as the PIAAC study have shown that many people in Europe are factually illiterate and lack basic education, and here we speak about the "normal" population and not refugees or people with learning difficulties," underlines Katarina Popović.

RK: How do you perceive the role of adult education in development and where do you think more efforts are necessary?

KP: I think that we all, everywhere in the world, want peace and a good quality of life. We should not focus our efforts on humanitarian aid, but on education, if we want to achieve these results in the long-term. Developing countries need to recognize that adult education is not a luxury for the time when you are already rich and developed. This awareness needs to grow about all forms of adult education – that means general adult education, peace education and conflict resolution, workers’ education, vocational education and training and many more.

We have great examples from Europe and other parts of the world on how adult education can help to transform societies, but we do not share these lessons enough with the rest of the world. This critical awareness about the importance of education and the role of adult education for a better society helped Europe to develop in the first place.

RK: What do you suggest as a solution to this dilemma of global inequality?

KP: My solution is a solution that must come from the grassroots level. We need to raise awareness that European citizens are global citizens, and that they can encourage their governments to get active. What we need is an understanding of the global interconnections of all our actions, and a strong global solidarity to make change happen.

Read the full version of the interview.

Interview: Raffaela Kihrer
Photos: UN Photo / Loey Felipe, Aura Vuorenrinne, UN Photo / C. Srinivasan


More on this topic:

EAEA policy page on development
ICAE responds to the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
"It is a European responsibility to raise the issue of financing adult education"
Adult education needs to be addressed in post-2015 agenda