Adopted by the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education, Hamburg, Germany, July 14-18, 1997.
1. We, the participants in the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education, gathered in the free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg, reaffirm that only a development focused on human needs and a participatory society based on full respect for human rights will allow for sustainable and equitable development. Without the conscious and effective participation of men and women in all spheres of life, humanity will not survive and meet the challenges of the future.
2. Adult education, therefore, is not only a right; it is one of the keys opening the door to the twenty-first century. Such education is the result of active citizenship and a condition for full participation in society. It is a powerful concept contributing to environmentally sustainable development, promoting democracy, justice, gender equality, scientific, social and economic development, and building a world in which violent conflict is replaced by dialogue and a culture of peace based on justice. Adult learning can help to shape identity and make life meaningful. Lifelong learning involves rethinking the content of education to take into account factors such as age, gender equality, physical and mental disabilities, language, culture and economic inequality.
3 Adult education encompasses the full range of progressive processes of learning, formal or otherwise, through which people in their adult society develop their abilities, enrich their knowledge and improve their technical and professional qualifications or apply them in new ways to meet their own needs and those of their society. Adult learning encompasses both formal and continuing education, non-formal learning and the full range of informal and incidental learning that exists in a multicultural learning society in which theory-based and practice-based approaches are recognized.
4 Although the content of adult learning and the education of children and adolescents varies according to the economic, social and cultural conditions and needs of the members of the society in which they are provided, they are both necessary elements of a new concept of education in which lifelong learning truly takes place. The perspective of lifelong learning necessitates this complementarity and continuity. The potential contributions of adult and continuing education to creating informed and tolerant citizens, economic and social development, promoting literacy, alleviating poverty, and preserving the environment are so great that they cannot be missed.
5. The objectives of education for young people and adults, regarded as a lifelong process, are to develop the autonomy and sense of responsibility of individuals and communities, to strengthen the capacity to adapt to changes in the economy, culture and society as a whole, and to promote coexistence, tolerance and the informed and creative participation of citizens in their communities — in short, to ensure that individuals and communities can take control of their own destiny and thereby face their challenges. It is essential that approaches to adult learning take account of heritage, culture, values and prior experiences and that the different modes of implementation of these approaches encourage and stimulate the active participation and expression of each citizen.
6. The Conference recognized the diversity of political, economic and social systems and government structures in Member States. Given this diversity and in order to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, this Conference recognizes that the specific conditions in Member States will determine the measures that governments can take to enhance the relevance of our goals.
7. Representatives of governments and organizations participating in the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education have decided to explore together the potential and future of adult learning within a broad and dynamic approach to lifelong learning.
8. In the current decade, adult learning has undergone significant changes and its scope and scale have expanded considerably. In the knowledge-based societies that are emerging all over the world, adult and continuing education have become an imperative in both community and professional life. The new demands of society and the world of work make it necessary for everyone to continue to update their knowledge and skills throughout their lives. The main reason for this change is the new role of the state and the expansion of adult learning partnerships in civil society. The state continues to play an important role in ensuring the right to education for all, especially the most vulnerable groups in society, such as minorities and indigenous peoples, and in setting the direction of educational policy. In the emerging new partnership between the public, private and community sectors, the role of the state is changing. It not only provides adult education services, but also advises, funds, monitors and evaluates. Governments and social partners must take the necessary steps to help people express their educational needs and aspirations and access educational opportunities throughout their lives. Within governments, adult education is not just the domain of ministries of education; all ministries are involved in promoting adult learning, and inter-ministerial cooperation is essential. In addition, employers, trade unions, non-governmental and community-based organizations, and indigenous and women’s groups are all involved, with a responsibility to collaborate and create opportunities for lifelong learning, while ensuring recognition and accreditation.
9. Basic education for all means that people, regardless of age, have the opportunity, individually and collectively, to realize their potential. It is not only a right, but also an obligation and responsibility to others and to society as a whole. It is essential that the recognition of the right to lifelong learning be underpinned by measures that create the conditions necessary for the realization of this right. The challenges of the twenty-first century cannot be met by governments, organizations or institutions alone; it also requires the energy, imagination and talent of individuals to participate fully, freely and actively in all aspects of society. Youth and adult learning is a major means of substantially increasing creativity and productivity in the broadest sense of those words, which in turn is essential to meeting the complex and interrelated challenges posed by the accelerating changes that are making the world an increasingly complex and dangerous place.
10. The new concept of education for young people and adults is a challenge in terms of existing practices, in that it requires the effective networking of formal and non-formal systems, as well as innovation and a more creative and flexible approach. Such challenges need to be addressed through new approaches to adult education within a lifelong learning framework. Literacy, through the use of media and information at the local level and through impartial leadership, is the responsibility of governments, social partners and educators. The ultimate goal is to create a learning society committed to social justice and general well-being.
11. Adult literacy. Literacy, broadly understood as the possession of basic knowledge and skills that everyone needs in a fast-changing world, is a basic human right. In any society literacy is a necessary skill in itself and one of the foundations for the development of other life skills. Millions of people, most of them women, lack the opportunity to learn or have insufficient skills to exercise that right. The challenge is to help them exercise that right. This often involves creating the preconditions for learning through awareness-raising and empowerment. Literacy is also a factor that promotes participation in social, cultural, political and economic activities, as well as lifelong learning. We therefore commit ourselves to providing opportunities for all to acquire and maintain literacy skills, and to creating in all member states an environment that is conducive to written literacy in order to support oral culture. The most urgent task is to create learning opportunities for all, including the unreached and the excluded. The Conference welcomes the initiative to launch a Literacy Decade beginning in 1998 in honor of Paulo Freire.
12. The need to recognize the right to education and the right to lifelong learning is more urgent than ever; it is the right to read and write, to express doubts and reflect, to have access to resources, and to develop and practise individual and collective skills and knowledge.
13. Integration and empowerment of women. Women are entitled to equal opportunities; society, in turn, needs them to contribute fully in all areas of work and life. Youth and adult learning policies must be designed in accordance with local cultures and prioritize educational opportunities for all women, while respecting their diversity, eliminating prejudices and stereotypes that limit their access and benefits to youth and adult education. Any attempt to limit women’s right to literacy, education and training must be considered unacceptable. Practical steps should be taken to put an end to such attempts.
14. Culture of peace, civic education and democracy. One of the main challenges of our time is to eliminate the culture of violence and to develop a culture of peace based on justice and tolerance, in which violence disappears at the family, community, intra-State and inter-State levels, to be replaced by dialogue and negotiation.
15. Diversity and equality. Adult learning must reflect the richness of cultural diversity and take into account traditional and indigenous knowledge and learning systems; the right to learn in the mother tongue must be respected and implemented. Adult education has the important task of preserving and documenting the rich oral heritage of minorities, indigenous peoples and nomads. In turn, intercultural education should promote knowledge between different cultures in support of peace, human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy, justice, freedom, coexistence and diversity.
16. Health. Health is a basic human right. Investing in education is investing in health. Lifelong learning can contribute significantly to health promotion and disease control. Adult education offers great opportunities for organizing appropriate, equitable and sustainable access to health-related knowledge.
17. Sustainable Environment. Education for a sustainable environment should be a lifelong learning process that recognizes the existence of environmental problems in socio-economic, political and cultural contexts. A sustainable future will not come if the connections between environmental issues and current development paradigms are not addressed. Adult environmental education can play an important role in raising awareness and mobilizing societies and decision makers to work toward a sustainable environment.
18. Indigenous Education and Culture. Indigenous and nomadic peoples have the right of access to all levels and forms of education provided by the State. However, they must not be denied their right to enjoy their own culture or their own languages. Education for indigenous and nomadic peoples must be appropriate to their linguistic and cultural needs and facilitate access to further education.
19. Transforming the economy. Globalization, changes in the structure of production, rising unemployment and the difficulty of securing a sustainable livelihood all require more active employment policies and greater investment in the necessary skills that will enable men and women to access the labor market and engage in income-generating activities.
20. Access to information. The development of new information and communication technologies is associated with a new risk of social and professional exclusion for groups of people and even for enterprises that are unable to adapt to these conditions. Therefore, one of the challenges of adult education in the future should be to reduce this risk of exclusion, so that the information society does not lose sight of the human factor.
21. Population aging. The proportion of the world’s elderly population in relation to the total world population is now higher than ever before and is steadily increasing. These older people have a major contribution to make to society. It is therefore important that they have the opportunity to learn on equal terms and accordingly. Their skills and abilities should be recognized, valued, and utilized.
22. In accordance with the Salamanca Declaration, the inclusion and access to education of people with disabilities should be promoted. Persons with disabilities have the right to benefit from educational opportunities that fairly reflect and respond to their educational needs and aspirations, in which appropriate learning technologies are consistent with their special educational needs.
23. We must act urgently to increase and guarantee national and international investment in youth and adult education and commit the necessary resources to this end in the private and community sectors. The Agenda for the Future adopted at this Conference provides a blueprint for action to achieve this goal.
24.. We call upon UNESCO, as the United Nations lead agency in education, to take the lead in promoting adult education as an integral part of the education system and to mobilize the support of all partners, particularly those in the United Nations system, to give priority to implementing the Agenda for the Future and promoting the services needed to strengthen international coordination and cooperation.
25. We call on UNESCO to support Member States in adopting policies and laws that take into account the needs of persons with disabilities and facilitate their adaptation in educational programmes, and reflect cultural, linguistic, economic diversity and gender relations.
26. We solemnly declare that all parties will follow closely the implementation of this Declaration and the Agenda for the Future, clearly defining their respective responsibilities, and interacting and cooperating with each other. We are determined to ensure that lifelong learning becomes a more meaningful reality at the beginning of the twenty-first century. To this end, we pledge to promote a culture of learning through the One Hour a Day for Learning movement and the United Nations Adult Learning Week.
27. We, gathered in Hamburg, convinced of the need for adult learning, solemnly declare that all men and women will have the opportunity for lifelong learning. To this end, we will form broader alliances to mobilize and share resources so that adult learning is a joy, a means, a right, and a shared responsibility.