A summary of the synthesis report on adult learning and education in the Arab States
The CONFINTEA Regional Preparatory Conference in the Arab Region, in Tunis, from January 5-7, 2009.
Caroline Succar Slaiby, from Lebanon, a member of the Gender and Education Office of ICAE and a graduate from ICAE Academy of Lifelong Learning Advocacy (IALLA), attended the meeting on behalf of GEO/ICAE and sent us this summary of the synthesis report of the conference.
Major challenges facing the region
The knowledge/ human capabilities deficit
The UNDP Arab Human Development Report of 2002 concluded that the region faces three key challenges in the 21st century: The report suggested that the knowledge gap in the region has to be addressed with a three-tier approach:
Knowledge acquisition; and
In the Arab region, access to and use of technology is very limited, as 0.6 per cent of the population uses the internet; and region has the lowest level of access to ICTs of all regions of the world.
There is a glaring mismatch between the output of the educational systems and the rapidly-changing labour market needs, especially in countries that aspire to making the shift from traditional economy to knowledge economy.
Related to this is the continuing dependence of the region on countries who are leaders in the production of knowledge, instead of directing its efforts and resources to transforming the huge potential of Arab integration (unity) into a reality.
The limited participation of women in development
Remarkable progress has been made on female access to education and the empowerment of women. Nevertheless the gender gap is still wide. In 2006 only three countries had achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education. Out of the estimated 60 million illiterate in the region, two-thirds are women. In the Arab States, womenīs share of professional managerial, decision-making, and technical positions, and their share of parliamentary seats, rank next to last among world regions. Only sub-Saharan Africa has a lower score.
The freedom deficit
The UNDP report (2002) claims that human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of association are often curtailed and occasionally suppressed.
Youth and adult illiteracy
With regard to youth band adult illiteracy there has been increase in the literacy rate by 16 per cent between 1999 and 2000-2004, resulting in a decease of the number of the non-literate youth and adults from 64 million to around 58 million. This number is expected to remain as high as 55 million by 2015 (UNESCO GMR 2007).
Literacy rates among youth and adults vary from country to country as does the number of illiterates. Two-thirds of all the illiterates are in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan. The rate ranges from less than 60 per cent in Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania and Sudan to over 90 per cent in Kuwait, Qatar and Palestine and over 95 per cent in Bahrain.
The gender parity index (GPI), which is the ratio of women to men, for adult literacy is 0.72 with a value below 0.50 in some countries of the region. But in primary education the ratio increased from 87 girls enrolled to every 100 boys in 1999 to 90 per hundred in 2004 (UNESCO GMR 2007).
The national reports
The national reports have all focused on the classic narrow understanding of literacy in its basic form - learning to read, write and calculate, followed by a post-literacy stage which is directed to the consolidation of the skills that a learner might have acquired during the basic literacy stage with some life skills training. The term "adult education" is used interchangeably with the term "literacy". This sort of narrow understanding does not cover a much broader domain (literacy), adult education and non-formal education. Reference to lifelong learning is missing in the vast majority of the national reports; and where it is mentioned the reference is very casual.
Objectives of literacy and adult education
All countries in the region seem to have similar objectives, with minor variations here and there. In a number of cases the national reports consider quantitative and qualitative objectives. There is little evidence to demonstrate whether any of the objectives have been achieved as intended in the plan. It is obvious that the limited understanding of literacy and adult education which is the objectives constrains the capacity of adult education (literacy included) to meet some, if not all, of the major challenges to adult education in age of globalization, information and communication technologies, and the increasing importance of knowledge in development.
A key focus for adult education in the region is the education and training of youth and adult how are not in school and how are in dire need of training. There is also a pressing need for training for graduates of post compulsory education and for secondary school-levers how need skills and competencies required to join the knowledge economy. Even graduates of tertiary education can no longer consider a university diploma or even a doctorate as sufficient for a job without renewal of knowledge and skills. (World Bank, New Challenges Facing Education Sector in MENA).
Policies and strategies
Policies for literacy and adult education are integrated into national educated policies. Only a few countries have separate literacy and adult education acts. This situation is probably responsible for the lack of serious accountability as to whether governments are fulfilling there promises.
Strategies applied seek to achieve national objectives by two means:
Organizing programmes for non-literate youth and adults who have never been to school; and programmes for school drop-outs. In a few countries, the strategy is linked to poverty reduction and other national development plan.
All countries in the region acknowledge the importance of partnership between the public sector and the civil society organizations (CSOs). But no country has made a particular reference to any significant partnership with the private sector. Reference is made in some national reports to efforts to link literacy and adult education programmes to basic primary education, but there is no clear evidence of the existence of any dual strategies.
Governments are the main source of funding for literacy and adult education programmes. Allocations made in that respect fall far short of the minimum funding required by the programmes. It is considerably less than what is given to primary, secondary or even tertiary education. National reports include meager details on allocations and expenditure.
There is little indication in national reports on how efficiently budgets are used. There is no cost-effectiveness analysis in any of the national reports; and no indication of the cost of making one person literate. The main partners with government in the financing of literacy and adult education are CSOs. They make a contribution in cash or in kind to government programmes on the one hand, and on the other hand they have their own programmes. Some countries in the region receive technical and financial support from regional and international organizations such as ALECSO, ISESCO, AGFUND, Qatar Foundation, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank.
This is another weak link in the structure of literacy and adult education in all countries of the region. Evaluation is only carried out on a regular basis when it is required by a donor or a sponsor with regard to a specific project or programme. Otherwise it is done occasionally and in a casual manner. The reasons are:
the lack of clarity in stating programme goals and outcomes;
the lack of any standard mechanism for measuring quality;
no benchmarks to measure achievements with regard to the various components of the programme;
the lack of reliable data; and
the lack of sufficiently-trained staff to carry out evaluation.
The main conclusions can be summarized as follows:
a. All countries in the region are committed to a dual strategy to universalize primary education and to combat illiteracy among youth and adults. But more attention and resources are given to formal primary education than to literacy and adult education.
b. The understanding of "literacy" and "adult education" is narrow and traditional as it focuses on the 3Rs. Adult education is considered interchangeable with literacy, and consequently what is described as "adult education" does not go beyond post-literacy activities to consolidate the skills acquired at the basic levels of literacy plus life skill training. Priority is given to youth and adult illiteracy between 15 and 45 years of age, to women, out-of-school children, school- drop-outs and rural populations.
c. Political commitment to combat illiteracy falls short of involving the entire society or providing the necessary resources.
d. There is very little evidence to show that there is any concert action to integrate literacy and adult education with development programmes.
e. All countries speak of the generally low quality of provision in literacy and adult education programmes. There are four major reasons behind this:
i. Teachers are poorly trained;
ii. Curricula are limited in scope, and teaching methods unsuitable for adults;
iii. No clearly stated standards; and
iv. No standard set of benchmarks to facilitate accountability and objective reporting.
f. The narrow focus on literacy and adult education has led to the lack of reference to other activities which fall under the umbrella of adult learning and education (ALE). Examples include community development, agricultural extension, university extension services, religious general education and education for children and youth in Quranic schools and religious institutes. Another consequence of the narrow focus on literacy and adult education is the lack of reference to lifelong learning which is an indigenous concept of learning in Arabic and Islamic cultures.
g. The use of ICTs in literacy and adult education programmes is generally limited to a few endeavors in a few countries using radio and television. Tow countries (Kuwait and Palestine) are experimenting with modern technologies.
h. Training of personnel is a weak link in the whole structure. While many administrators and organizers are professionally trained, school teachers are generally not trained in adult learning or methodology. Some of the professional training in adult education is done by the universities.
i. Research and studies do not, according to the national reports, constitute a component of literacy and adult education plans. Some countries carry out some action research in the form of needs assessment to determine the demand of learners. Universities make the major contribution to research most of which is theoretical research.
j. Financing is another weak link in the set-up. By far the major part is carried out by the public sector with some support from civil society organizations but very little from the private sector.
k. Civil society organizations are the most important partner with the government. They do have their own programmes, some of which are supported by foreign donors. They have proved to be committed and innovative but they need support to enhance their capabilities.
l. Regional cooperation is currently at a low ebb because the Arab regional organizations do not seem to have the resources (human or financial) to carry out their missions in this respect. However, donors in the region such as the Qatar Foundation, the Islamic Development Bank, and AGFUND are supporting projects in a few countries. Support also comes from UN agencies such as UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF and the ILO.
m. The voice of the learner should be given much more attention from the stage of assessing demand through to the final stage of evaluation.
Some general recommendations
1. On concepts and understandings of literacy and adult learning and education
A major issue that the region should resolve is the confusion which exists in nearly all countries regarding their understanding of literacy, adult education, lifelong learning and non-formal education. Literacy is used by all countries in the limited traditional narrow sense of acquiring the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy. Adult education is considered by most countries to be synonymous with literacy. Non-formal education is sometimes used by some countries to refer to the setting and context of learning, and occasionally to activities that take place outside the formal system. However, lifelong learning has not been defined or operationally discussed in any of the national reports.
The lack of clarity and precision in using these terms has had a negative impact on policy and strategy design. It is, therefore, necessary to rethink the definition of literacy, its objectives, methodology and outcomes.
2. On policy
Adult education (including adult literacy) has not gained the recognition it deserves in terms of visibility, prioritization and recourses. States of the region should review the status of adult education as a necessary component of their economic development policy.
3. On strategy
Strategies for literacy and adult education should be designed as an integral part of the national strategy for education with clearly-defined objectives and outcomes with a view to improving the education and the livelihood of individuals.
4. On quality of provision
There is a need to introduce quality assurance mechanisms and a system of accreditation with regard to the activities of all providers of literacy and adult education. More specifically, literacy and adult education programmes badly need improvement of curricula and content to move away from the one-size-fits-all model to a learner-centered approach; an overhauling of the staffing situation to ensure that both administrative and teaching personal are professionally trained and adequately remunerated; and an adoption of an efficient monitoring and evaluation system.
5. On the use of ICTs in literacy
Applying ICTs in literacy and adult education programmes will help in the acceleration of the rate of progress and will contribute to the quality of the programmes. A decision to that effect has to be taken by policy-makers without delay.
6. On universities and research centers
The role of the universities in providing professional training for personnel, in conducting research and in providing extension/outreach professional training for adults and youth should form a key element in the national strategy for literacy, adult education and lifelong learning. The expansion of knowledge and the rapidly-changing demands of the labour market will make lifelong learning an indispensable requirement for the Arab societies.
Research institutions must consider, as a major area of concern, research into different aspects of literacy and adult education and the links between that and other socio-political and socio-economic aspects of development. Only through analysis and investigation can literacy and adult education policy and programmes be based on informed decisions.
7. On priorities
Women, school drop-outs and youth, rural population, the poor, minorities and the disabled should be high on the priority list. The programmes should be an instrument not simply to help them become literate, but also to improve their social and economic situations, to enable them, as Paulo Freire said, "to be able to read the world" and to be able to practice their role as active citizens.
8. On financing
While the prime responsibility for financing education is that of the government, literacy and adult education should be seen as a national issue that deserves more attention of both public and private sectors as well as that of CSOs.
The states of the region should consider literacy and adult education an urgent pre-requisite for the regionīs security and stability and should accordingly put together a regional fund for launching an initiative to liberate over 60 million illiterates in the region of whom two-third are women, in addition to providing access and training to the estimated 8 to 10 million out-of-school children and youth. Governments should be reminded that combating illiteracy is an expensive undertaking. But to do so little about it is more expensive in the longer term.
9. Regional stability
The relative lack of political stability and the constant situation of military conflicts in some countries of the region have had a serious negative impact on development of the region in general and on the development of education in those countries in particular. The international community is called upon to do more for the realization of peace and development in the region.
1. Adult learning and education should be treated as an integral part of the national plan for education and development within the framework of lifelong learning, and should enjoy high priority in terms of financing.
2. Governments should take the necessary technical and administrative measure to ensure equitable access to education and training of girls, women and all disadvantage groups in society.
3. Governments should set up more effective mechanisms to ensure effective partnership among various providers of adult learning and education in the country.
4. Universities and teacher training institutes should include the training of adult educators I their teacher training curricula.
5. Research in adult learning and education is crucial to the professional development of the field and to providing an informed base for planning and implementing programmes.
6. Each country should establish a database that will provide the necessary source of information required for planning, monitoring, evaluation and decision-making.
7. Under the umbrella of regional cooperation, Arab States should establish a special fund for supporting adult literacy and school-dropout programmes, especially in countries at the stage of reconstruction and in countries with high-levels of illiteracy.
8. Each country should develop a capacity-building programme for civil society organizations who are partners in adult learning and education programmes.
9. Countries should adopt a forward-looking policy for the use of Information and Communication technologies in adult learning and education.
10. Make available at community level a variety of publications and reading material for neo-literates.