Enforcing the Right to Adult Education:
What UNESCO and Member States Need to Commit
An ASPBAE Briefing Paper for the CONFINTEA VI Preparatory Conference in Asia and the Pacific Region, Seoul, Republic of Korea, October 6-8, 2008.
‘Review of the worldwide situation of adult education and learning ….. has, in fact, revealed a disturbing regression in the field; a decline in public funding for adult education and learning, even as the minimal adult literacy goal set in Dakar is achievable. Support by various international agencies and national governments alike has concentrated on formal basic education for children to the detriment and neglect of adult education and learning.´
- Midterm Review Document of CONFINTEA V
A. Adults´ Right to Learn
Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the right to education has been endorsed and ratified at least once every decade. A specific focus on literacy and adult learning emerged some time later. In 1975, The Persepolis Declaration unequivocally recognized Literacy as a right and in 1981, CEDAW reaffirmed the rights of adults to literacy. The gradual recognition of adult education and learning, as a right continued to be strengthened in the Paris Declaration of 1985 (CONFINTEA 4) which underscored the "right to learn", upon which the Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning of 1997 built on it´s the assertion that adult education is ‘more than a human right, as key to 21st century´ (CONFINTEA 5).
The Dakar Framework for Action in 2000 which affirmed the 1990 Jomtien Goal of "Education for All" defined specific goals on adult literacy and adult education: Goal 3 and 4 address the learning needs of youths and adults and commit to 50% improvement in adult literacy by 2015.
These commitments notwithstanding, the gap between rhetoric and action, between lofty promises and actual achievements in ensuring education for all and the right of all to learn throughout life, remains vast.
B. Asia and South Pacific: The Case for Adult Education
In developing countries in the region, tens of millions of adults still struggle just to acquire literacy skills, the basic foundation of learning. The EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2008 describes the staggering extent of illiteracy, the first barrier to learning:
• Adult illiteracy is receiving minimal political attention and remains a global disgrace, keeping one in five adults; one in four women, on the margins of society.
• Worldwide, 774 million adults lack basic literacy skills, as measured by conventional methods (self-reporting). Almost half of that number resides in South and West Asia. Direct measurement of literacy skills would significantly increase the estimate of the number of adults denied the right to literacy.
• Of the 101 countries still far from achieving "universal literacy", 72 will not succeed in halving their adult illiteracy rates by 2015.
• Most countries have made little progress during the past decade in reducing the absolute number of adult illiterates (in South and West Asia, the number of illiterates declined by a meager 0.3% from 1990).
• More than three-quarters of the world´s illiterates live in only fifteen countries, including eight of the nine high population countries (E-9), five of which are in Asia. South and West Asia have the lowest adult literacy rates in the world (59%). In most of the fifteen countries, adult literacy rates have improved since 1985-1994, although continuing population growth translates into increases in absolute numbers of illiterates in several countries.
These numbers, appalling as they may be, fail to fully capture the massive loss of human potential brought on by illiteracy or the contribution to the world that could be unlocked by securing learning as a basic human right.
Even from a purely economic viewpoint, the benefits of adult education justify the investment. Rates of return on investment in literacy education were analysed in World Bank projects. In Indonesia in 1986, the individual rate of return to investment was about 25 per cent. In Bangladesh in 2001, the private rate of return was estimated at 37 per cent. Add to this, the social returns associated with enhanced political awareness, critical reflection and responsible citizenship, the case for promoting adult education becomes unassailable.
An examination of the value-addition of adult education around the development goals proves that it is the glue that holds all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) together and no sustainable development is feasible without it.
How Adult Literacy Programmes Contribute to MDGs
MDG 1- Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
When adult literacy is an integral element of skill training programmes, it enables significant minorities of learners - 20 to 30% - to upgrade their productivity.
MDG 2- Universal Primary Education
60 to 70% of participants, particularly mothers and female careers, 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% 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
Illiterate mothers experience More Infant Deaths. 20 to 30% of participants show increased likelihood of improving the health and nutritional practices of their families.
MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
30 to 40% of participants in literacy education develop a stronger awareness of the need to protect the environment and a willingness to take action for it.
Source: Adapted from DFID´s Literacy Update, August 2008
Education in general, and adult education in particular can provide people with the necessary faculties, skills, awareness and creative competencies to cope and as well as to transform their conditions. It enables people to best exercise and advance their other rights. Adult education is a tool for empowerment - a powerful means to beat poverty. This takes particular meaning when set against the overwhelming development challenges in the Asia Pacific region:
- 641 million people in the Asia Pacific live in extreme poverty - representing more than 60% of world‘s poor.
- Asia made tremendous strides in combating hunger in the 1990s, but despite remarkable improvement in child nutritional status, the region still has the highest prevalence of underweight in children in the world.
- While economic growth in Asia has been rapid in the last decade, the growth of inequality that pushes more people below poverty line, has also been commensurate.
- Close to 80% of the world´s populations in rural areas without basic health and sanitation live in the Asia Pacific; More than 60% in urban areas.
- Recent food crisis - unprecedented rise in costs of food world wide threaten to erode gains in fighting poverty. World Bank estimates that price increases will drive another 100 million people or more into deep poverty - representing seven lost years in fight against poverty.
- Illiteracy rates are highest in the countries with the greatest poverty, a link observed even down to the household level. More generally, for various social, cultural or political reasons, certain populations - such as migrants, indigenous groups and people with disabilities - are subject to reduced access to formal education and literacy programmes.
Climate change, as manifested in erratic and gradually more devastating natural disasters like tsunami, floods, droughts impact more heavily on the poor.
Ethnic strife, wars and communal and religious fundamentalism continued to characterise the nature of conflict and violence in the region, claiming lives and deeply damaging the social fabric in a large number of countries in the Asia Pacific.
Women bear a disproportionately higher burden of the region´s poverty, with globalization widening the gap, and women losing jobs, benefits and rights. War and the growing violence have also particularly impacted women and girls. Rapes multiply even as the women and girl children become the ultimate and most intimate of war conquests; as lifelong domestic violence persist with the sanction of customary laws and practices arising from religious and other social identities. Unsurprisingly, education continues to be less accessible to women and girls, promotes a value system which accords them a low status and devalues women´s work and contribution not only in the household but in development.
Young women and men represent some of world´s greatest assets and are the foundation for future development. And yet, hundreds of millions of young people are thwarted in their ability to develop their full potential - as they remain mired in poverty, denied a life of dignity and fundamental freedoms. The Word Youth Report 2005 estimated that almost 515 million young people, or nearly 45 per cent of all young people, live on less than $2 a day. South Asia has the largest number of youth living below this poverty line. Around 88.2 million young women and men are unemployed throughout the world, accounting for 47 per cent of all the 185.9 million unemployed persons globally (ILO 2006). Young women face additional difficulties as they are more likely to be confined to least protected and least paid jobs. Indigenous youth, lacking work opportunities in their long-held territories, also face specific vulnerabilities when seeking employment in other areas.
Investing in young people through literacy, youth education, learning and life-skills provide a powerful means to fight poverty, empower young people especially women and adolescent girls to take control of their own lives and make informed decisions, and develop an active and socially responsible citizenry.
C. Four Corners of a Holistic and Collaborative Framework
During the Mid-term assessment of CONFINTEA 5 in 2003, ASPBAE and civil society organizations in the Asia Pacific assailed the state of adult education policy and practice and observed:
- suffers low status and priority
- is poorly funded
- is narrowly defined
- is of poor quality
- is everyone´s responsibility hence no one´s
- suffers a dearth of information and analysis
Source: Asia Pacific Civil Society Perspectives on Progress in Implementing CONFINTEA 5: A Discussion
Paper, ASPBAE 2003
While review measures related to EFA and the UN Literacy Decade have built some momentum around policy attention specifically to adult literacy (EFA Goal 4) globally, most national reports indicate that the observations CSOs made five (5) years ago, still ring true.
What can bring about a decisive change in finally securing the right of adults to lifelong learning?
1. Policy and Institutional Mechanisms: Mirroring Accountability and Commitment
The global consensus on the Millennium Development Goals led many governments and donor organizations to reduce the broader EFA agenda to a Universal Primary Education (UPE) target. Many national governments and donor organizations have characterised primary education alone, as the most efficient vehicle for ensuring education for all, contravening the core assumption behind the six EFA Goals that the goals are indivisible and are to be pursued holistically and with a multi-pronged approach. While adult literacy - having a defined quantitative target from the among the EFA goals - drew some scant policy attention, Goal 3 on life skills and adult learning programmes has barely figured in the policy discourse.
UNESCO did seek to focus attention to the importance of adult education and literacy globally within the framework of the EFA processes, the UN Literacy Decade, Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE), the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) and CONFINTEA for instance, but current reality holds that the notion of lifelong learning as a policy and operational frame of reference, have yet to find acceptance and inform policy priority and practice, globally and nationally. The value of adult literacy and adult learning in decisively ending poverty and building a sustainable future is yet to be understood and widely accepted. This is a challenge CONFINTEA 6 should meet more vigorously.
Under these circumstances, ASPBAE urges that -
- Governments commit to put in place where absent, national adult education legislation and policy which guarantee the right of all adults to literacy and education within the framework of lifelong learning; where needed, governments should be supported in their efforts to strengthen their legislative and policy base for lifelong learning.
- Governments commit to developing adult literacy and adult education plans and targets as part of their EFA and education sector wide plans, and over-all poverty eradication plans of governments. These must be fully costed and resourced.
- CSOs be accorded a legitimate space for participation in the policy processes to promote adult education in a truly collaborative manner
- National level multi-stakeholder structures be convened involving - all relevant government ministries, donors, CSOs, learners, adult education facilitators, university departments, the private sector - to mobilise the necessary political and public support to sustain adult literacy and adult education in the framework of lifelong learning.
- UNESCO strive to attain coherence and coordination among UNLD, LIFE, CONFINTEA initiatives to achieve synergy - so that these more powerfully argue the case for adult literacy and education in the framework of EFA and the MDGs and their supporting processes (e.g. FTI, High Level Group , MDG Summits).
- As MDGs are the most widely committed to goals, UNESCO to lead the effort to argue the case for adult literacy rates (not just youth literacy) to be included as one of the core indicators to be monitored for the MDG 1 of halving world poverty.
2. Assessment, monitoring and evaluation: Potent Tools in the Policy Makers´ Kit
Developing inclusive and just policies and translating them into efficient programmes, is difficult, if not impossible, without an accurate assessment of reality on the ground. Indicative of the low priority accorded adult education in most countries, the data and statistical base for this sector is very poor. There is sparse information on both the demand and supply sides of adult learning: the numbers of adult learners participating in adult learning activities, their demographic and socio-economic profile, or their differentiated learning needs and achievements, for instance. The scale and quality of adult education provisioning of different government ministries and of non-state actors in adult education - CSOs, NGOs, unions, corporate and business entities - remains largely untracked. Monitoring quality and learning achievement outcomes for adult education and learning activities are essential to ensure high quality adult learning. Likewise, these are essential for certification and accreditation of learning activities, aiding in smooth pathways between the formal and non-formal systems of learning at different levels for learners, and to enhance their employment opportunities.
In the field of adult literacy, assessment is dominated by indirect and blunt instruments such as the ‘self-reporting´ method, which consistently overstates level of literacy. This thus distorts the degree of challenge and dilutes due priority. Glaring data gaps also exist in some countries (paucity of literacy data from 12 of the 15 Pacific countries attests to the dismal state of assessment, monitoring and evaluation of literacy) which are hindrances in efficacious policy formulation. Even when the information is available, it consistently dilutes the extent of the problem. For example, in Papua New Guinea, the official literacy rate was 52.5% in 2005, whereas a direct assessment by ASPBAE´s Education Watch Research reveals that 15.6% are literate and 39.4% are semi-literate.
Even when literacy surveys are undertaken, their frequency is so low that recent information is hard to get. The prohibitive cost of literacy surveys is cited as the reason for the irregularity of this undertaking, but coordination and synchronisation among various household surveys can help accumulate necessary information within reasonable budgets.
Under these circumstances, ASPBAE urges that -
- Governments commit to establishing credible, relevant and more timely data collection and appropriate assessment mechanisms for adult literacy and education, covering all diverse learning needs and contexts, with full stakeholder participation; the international community is urged to fully support these efforts financially and with demand-driven, context-based capacity-building support.
- CONFINTEA 6 set the pace for strong and effective monitoring in adult education by putting in place a global monitoring mechanism on adult education policy interacting and complementing existing global monitoring mechanisms such as the EFA Global Monitoring Report and actively targeting the EFA, MDG and other global and regional education policy processes for deserved attention to adult literacy and adult education. The Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE), to be released in CONFINTEA VI, should form part of an ongoing regular monitoring and tracking mechanism on the implementation of CONFINTEA 6 commitments.
- A substantial CONFINTEA 6 Mid-Term Review to be conducted, which will coincide with the EFA and MDG deadline of 2015.
3. Financing: Real Money to back Commitments on Paper
CONFINTEA 5 in 1997 reiterated the call for governments to invest 6% of their GNP on education, and an equitable share of these be allocated to adult education. In the Asia Pacific region, very few countries meet this benchmark in education budgetary allocations - and as a consequence, adult education provisioning dismally suffers. Despite an overwhelming number of illiterate adults, state investment in literacy programmes has dropped off sharply in the last two decades. In many countries, investment in adult literacy constitutes approximately 1% or even less of the education budgets.
The "Fast Track Initiative" (FTI) on education, the only multi-lateral funding mechanism for reaching the EFA goals focuses solely on the UPE targets of EFA. While FTI claims that it is not averse to supporting adult literacy if these are considered in the education sector-wide plans, the absence of reference to adult literacy in the FTI appraisal guidelines sends a signal to governments that adult literacy does not attract funding priority.
Several myths are used to justify poor investments in adult literacy : It is argued that literacy rates will climb upwards automatically as the older, poorly educated generations pass on and are replaced by successor generations who have benefited from Universal Primary Education. This approach is flawed on a number of counts: It relies on overly optimistic projections for UPE. Even in better performing primary education systems, a significant number of children - mostly the poorest and most vulnerable - drop out before acquiring functional literacy skills. And with very poor quality education, even attending school does not guarantee literacy. Moreover, waiting for UPE to eliminate illiteracy means waiting for decades before all adults become literate and the existing illiterate adults head towards extinction. This is a gross violation of the rights of hundreds of millions of adults and represents unacceptable costs to society.
Another common but unsubstantiated myth fuelling poor investments is that adult literacy programmes are a waste of scarce resources because they do not deliver sustainable skills and the return on investment is much lower compared to primary education. Research evidence points to the contrary. Adults spending a year in a basic education course outperform primary school children from Grades 3 and 4 in standardized tests .Thus, adult basic education seems to be cost effective depending on relative costs (Oxenham and Aoki, as cited in EFA GMR ‘06).
Significant financial investments are needed to meet the region´s diverse and complex basic learning needs and secure the education rights of all citizens. A review of data on government allocations to adult literacy in the CONFINTEA 6 national reports (where available) reveal huge gaps between resources currently invested for adult literacy and even just the bare minimum cost requirements estimated to reach EFA Goal 4 by 2015. These clearly will have to be generated internally through increased state investments in literacy and through external aid.
To this end, ASPBAE urges that -
- Budget /Finance targets for adult literacy and education be agreed upon. Governments should allocate 6% of GNP to education and at least 6% of the Education Budget for adult education. Where needed, at least half of which (3% of national education budget) to be allocated for adult literacy programmes.
- The indivisibility of the EFA goals must be kept in mind while allocating resources.
- ODA for adult literacy and education be increased in the framework of the EFA goals and targets. Donors should mobilize resources in accordance with indicative standards : at least 15% of ODA should be allocated to education; with at least 60% of this allocated to basic education including adult literacy and life skill programs for adult and youth. Aid should become more responsive, transparent, participatory and untied - without conditionalities. The EFA Fast Track Initiative should include adult education and literacy components, and ensure efficient and prompt delivery of financing support.
4. Quality Adult Education: Transforming Policy into Action
In the Asia Pacific, several assessments of adult literacy programmes have shown that poor quality adult literacy programmes discourage sustained participation of adults in literacy and ongoing adult education programmes. Adult educators in the region are typically low paid and poorly trained. Limited staff development opportunities and low compensation provide no incentives for sustained, quality teaching. Cost-per-learner assumptions are often extremely low, premised on the frequent dependence on ‘volunteers´ and community contributions and on the logic that non-formal systems, particularly for adults, do not require infrastructure such as the buildings and other equipment and materials that are deemed necessary for formal schooling (although even these are also being slowly eroded down to a skeletal minimum). Literacy and post-literacy education curricula are often irrelevant to the highly diverse realities and contexts of different learners, dull and the materials for such programmes are often of poor quality.
While the focus is supposedly on the learners, in reality adult literacy programmes lose their social credibility since the learners do not find the package relevant to their lives nor do those who complete the courses find their lives transformed as promised. Creative, appealing and relevant learning materials to inspire continued learning and a sustained reading habit are wanting. The literacy and education infrastructure linked to people's lifelong needs - community learning centres, libraries and reading rooms - remain largely absent.
Invisible underemployment based on a mismatch of skills has been pervasive in the region. The vulnerable employment share in South Asia remains the highest in the world (more than 70%), but quality learning programmes to mitigate against this has not received the deserved attention. Vocational training is largely pursued around the interests and demands of industry and transnational and local corporate interests rather than sustainable employment and livelihood systems for citizens.
Adult education and learning opportunities that serve to promote critical-thinking, understanding of human rights, tolerance, social awareness, greater civic consciousness and responsibility are sparse. This, despite the growing consciousness that economic systems cannot be sustained unless good governance and peace based on justice are ensured.
Beset with all these flaws, the poorly designed programmes perpetuate the myths of futility of adult education and create a vicious cycle, where myopic policies are formulated through defective assessments, which in turn lead to inadequately financed programmes unresponsive to the learners´ needs.
In this context, ASPBAE calls for:
- Governments to commit to setting in place adult literacy and adult education programmes of good quality. The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) -ActionAid Benchmarks on Quality Adult Literacy (Annex 1) endorsed by government representatives, CSOs and donors participating in the 2007 Abuja High-level Workshop on Adult Literacy provide a useful starting point for quality standards in adult literacy. These should be endorsed by CONFINTEA 6.
- Governments and the international community to shore up investments in research, teaching, scholarship and professional development in adult education. Universities and institutes of higher learning to become full and responsible partners, sharing their distinct and substantial competencies with adult education communities, non-governmental organizations, public and private bodies, UNESCO and other intergovernmental organizations in the full implementation of lifelong learning.
- Governments commit to sustaining strong inter-agency coordination mechanisms at the national level for planning, implementation and monitoring of quality adult education and learning programmes. CSOs should be well-represented in these spaces and sufficiently resourced to play their role as fully functional partners.
- Governments undertake a 'Literacy Audit' and ensure that all official transactions and communications be simplified to prevent exclusion to semi-literate populations while at the same time attending to improving their literacy levels.
Time for action is…..Right Here, Right NOW!
For adult education to truly make a difference in the lives of billions of poor and marginalised people, a string of small, disparate, one-off projects will not suffice. Not "half measures" for "half-chances" - but a fundamental shift in vision for education is required - which respects and values the right of all (child and adult) to fulfill their basic and lifelong learning needs. This opportunity of coming together in CONFINTEA 6 needs to be used to best advantage to develop strong agreement on a core agenda for commitment and for bold action that will finally decisively secure the right of all to have access to learning opportunities throughout their lives.
ActionAid International. 2005. Writing the Wrongs: International Benchmarks on Adult Literacy. London: ActionAid and GCE.
ASPBAE. 2008. An Asia Pacific Citizens´ Report Card Rating Governments´ Efforts to Achieve Education for All. Mumbai: ASPBAE.
ASPBAE. 2003. Asia Pacific Civil Society Perspectives on Progress in Implementing CONFINTEA 5: A Discussion Paper
DFID. 2008. Adult Literacy: an update: A DFID Practice Paper. London: DFID.
ILO and FAO, Youth Employment, http://www.fao-ilo.org/fao_ilo_youth/en/ accessed on September 30, 2008
International Food Policy Research Institute. 2007. The World´s most Deprived: Characteristics and causes of Extreme Poverty and Hunger. Washington. IFPRI.
UNESCAP.2007. MDGS: Progress in the Asia and the Pacific 2007. Bangkok
UNESCO. 2006. Literacy for Life.: EFA Global Monitoring Report. Paris: UNESCO.
UNESCO. 2008. Education for All by 2015: Will we make it? EFA Global Monitoring Report. Paris: UNESCO.
UNESCO Institute for Education. 2003. Recommitting to Adult Education and Learning: Synthesis Report of the CONFINTEA V Midterm review meeting. Bangkok: UNESCO.
Youth and United Nations, Hunger and Poverty http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/wpayhunger.htm
The Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) is a regional network of organizations and individuals involved in adult education, working with and through NGOs, community organizations, government agencies, universities, trade unions, indigenous peoples, women's organizations, the media and other institutions of civil society across the Asia-Pacific. Established in 1964, ASPBAE has over 200 member organizations from 30 countries. It is in Operational Relations with UNESCO and is on Roster Status with the UN ECOSOC. ASPBAE is on the Board of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) and the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE).
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APPENDIX 1: THE GCE - ActionAid BENCHMARKS
1. Literacy is about the acquisition and use of reading, writing and numeracy skills, and thereby the development of active citizenship, improved health and livelihoods, and gender equality. The goals of literacy programmes should reflect this understanding.
2. Literacy should be seen as a continuous process that requires sustained learning and application. There are no magic lines to cross from illiteracy into literacy. All policies and programmes should be defined to encourage sustained participation and celebrate progressive achievement rather than focusing on one-off provision with a single end point.
3. Governments have the lead responsibility in meeting the right to adult literacy and in providing leadership, policy frameworks, an enabling environment and resources. They should:
- ensure cooperation across all relevant ministries and linkages to all relevant development programmes,
- work in systematic collaboration with experienced civil society organisations,
- ensure linkages between all these agencies, especially at the local level, and
- ensure relevance to the issues in learners´ lives by promoting the decentralisation of budgets and of decision-making over curriculum, methods and materials.
4. It is important to invest in ongoing feedback and evaluation mechanisms, data systematization and strategic research. The focus of evaluations should be on the practical application of what has been learnt and the impact on active citizenship, improved health and livelihoods, and gender equality.
5. To retain facilitators it is important that they should be paid at least the equivalent of the minimum wage of a primary school teacher for all hours worked (including time for training, preparation and follow-up).
6. Facilitators should be local people who receive substantial initial training and regular refresher training, as well as having ongoing opportunities for exchanges with other facilitators. Governments should put in place a framework for the professional development of the adult literacy sector, including for trainers / supervisors - with full opportunities for facilitators across the country to access this (eg through distance education).
7. There should be a ratio of at least one facilitator to 30 learners and at least one trainer/ supervisor to 15 learner groups (1 to 10 in remote areas), ensuring a minimum of one support visit per month. Programmes should have timetables that flexibly respond to the daily lives of learners but which provide for regular and sustained contact (eg. twice a week for at least two years).
8. In multi-lingual contexts it is important at all stages that learners should be given an active choice about the language in which they learn. Active efforts should be made to encourage and sustain bilingual learning.
9. A wide range of participatory methods should be used in the learning process to ensure active engagement of learners and relevance to their lives. These same participatory methods and processes should be used at all levels of training of trainers and facilitators.
10. Governments should take responsibility to stimulate the market for production and distribution of a wide variety of materials suitable for new readers, for example working with publishers / newspaper producers. They should balance this with funding for local production of materials, especially by learners, facilitators and trainers.
11. A good quality literacy programme that respects all these benchmarks is likely to cost between US$50 and US$100 per learner per year for at least three years (two years initial learning + ensuring further learning opportunities are available for all)
12. Governments should dedicate at least 3% of their national education sector budgets to adult literacy programmes as conceived in these benchmarks. Where governments deliver on this international donors should fill any remaining resource gaps (e.g. through including adult literacy in the Fast Track Initiative)
CSO Statement Emerging from the Strategizing Meeting on October 5
Enforcing the Right to Quality Adult Education and Learning:
A Need for Bold Action Now
We, members of the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) and various civil society organizations from the Asia-Pacific region, negotiating the road to CONFINTEA VI, agree with the plea of UNESCO for this Conference to decisively close the gap between rhetoric and action, between lofty promises and actual achievements, and ensure education for all and the right of all people to learn throughout life.
The promise of CONFINTEA V back in 1997 was to stem the massive loss of human potential by recognizing adult education and learning as more than a human right - in fact, as key to the 21st century. The low priority accorded adult education means we are losing out on a powerful tool that could enable people to mitigate against the impacts of the numerous global and regional crises and more importantly, to meaningfully and effectively participate in defining the development course that guarantees freedom from hunger and degradation, and give people the power to transform their lives.
Despite a succession of mandates from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, through to the 2000 Dakar Framework for Action defining specific goals for 50% improvements on adult literacy and for addressing the basic learning needs of youths and adults, a staggering 774 million adults lack even basic literacy skills, the first barrier to learning. Half of that number resides in South and West Asia alone, the sub-region where we also find the lowest literacy rates in the world (59%). In fact, more than three-quarters of the world´s illiterates live in only 15 countries, five of which are in Asia.
Under these circumstances, the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) and our civil society members and partners urge:
1. Real money to back commitments.
Significant financial investments are needed to meet the diverse and complex learning needs of Asia-Pacific´s citizens. Governments must calculate the full cost of quality education and learning for all, based on their specific contexts and budget /finance targets for adult literacy and education should be agreed upon. Governments should allocate at least 6% of the Education Budget for adult education, half of which (3% of national education budget) be reserved for adult literacy programmes where this is required. ODA for adult literacy and education should be increased in the framework of the EFA goals and targets. Donors should allocate at least 15% of ODA allocation to education with a priority to basic education, allocating at least 60% of education aid for primary education, adult literacy and life skill programs for adult and youth of good quality. The EFA Fast Track Initiative (FTI) should include adult education, non-formal and literacy components, and ensure efficient and prompt delivery of financing support. Aid should become more responsive, transparent, participatory and untied - without conditionalities.
2. Assert adult education as integral to anti-poverty programmes and the achievement of the MDGs
641 million people in the Asia-Pacific live in extreme poverty - representing more than 60% of world‘s poor. Illiteracy rates are highest in the countries with the greatest poverty, a link observed even down to the household level. Adult education and learning is the glue that can hold all the MDG goals together in beating poverty and no sustainable development is feasible without it - yet the MDGs remain silent about adult education´s importance. The majority of young people living in poverty are in South Asia alone. Investing in young people through literacy, youth education, learning and life-skills provide powerful means to fight poverty. We urge governments to integrate adult education, for both old and young, in poverty reduction programmes and include the EFA goal 4 target as one of the indicators to be tracked within Goal 1of the MDGs: that of halving poverty by 2015.
3. Empower women through adult education:
Two-thirds of the world´s adult illiterates are women. This situation has not changed in the last 20 years and will remain so based on latest projections for 2015. Women are being left behind in all aspects of life as indicated by their low participation in education and learning activities and in decision-making processes. These impact most especially on family and reproductive health, the education of children, livelihood and poverty. It is imperative, therefore, to provide adult education and literacy programmes that are flexible, participatory and appropriate to women to improve their life-skills, reproductive health and livelihood; strengthen their participation and leadership in the public sphere; and ensure gender justice through equal access to adult education and life long learning processes.
4. Develop fully costed and resourced adult literacy and adult education plans and targets
To counter political inattention and inertia, governments need to develop adult literacy and adult education plans and targets by 2012 and implement them as part of their CONFINTEA VI commitments, EFA and education sector-wide plans and over-all poverty eradication plans. The plan should provide for adult education and learning of high quality that is attentive to the needs of the disadvantaged in extreme poverty, the difficult circumstances of forced migration due to conflicts and disasters, the special needs of women confined to the least protected and least paid jobs, the needs of indigenous people and the use of mother tongue where appropriate, and all excluded groups because of caste, religion or political affiliation.
5. CONFINTEA VI to set the pace for strong and effective monitoring in adult education
Developing inclusive and just policies and translating them into efficient programmes is difficult, if not impossible, without an accurate assessment of reality on the ground. A global monitoring mechanism on adult education policy should be put in place, interacting and complementing other mechanisms such as the EFA Global Monitoring Report. The Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE), should form part of an ongoing regular monitoring and tracking mechanism. Regular monitoring of CONFINTEA VI targets needs to be committed to by Governments, along with a plan for a substantial Mid-Term Review, which will coincide with the EFA and MDG timeline of 2015. Glaring data gaps and misleading assessment methods like self-reporting in adult literacy need to be set right. Quality adult education should be defined more meaningfully in favour of learners. In this regard, we ask governments to endorse the Global Campaign for Education-ActionAid Benchmarks on Quality Adult Literacy, which has already been endorsed by the 2007 Abuja High-Level Workshop on Adult Literacy and adapt these to country contexts, as a means to set concrete quality standards on adult literacy.
6. Achieving synergy among stakeholders.
To effectively translate policy into action, a strong multi-stakeholder approach is crucial. National level multi-stakeholder structures need to be convened - all relevant ministries, donors, CSOs, learners, facilitators, unions, universities, and private sector - to mobilize public support to sustain adult education and learning. Civil society needs to be accorded a legitimate space for participation in the policy processes to promote adult education in a truly collaborative manner. UNESCO needs to attain coherence and coordination among UNLD, LIFE, and CONFINTEA initiatives, as well as with EFA and MDG processes.
CONFINTEA VI needs to be used to best advantage to develop strong agreement on a core agenda for commitment and for bold action that will decisively secure the right of all to have access to learning opportunities throughout their lives.