HARNESSING THE POWER OF ADULT LEARNING AND EDUCATION FOR A VIABLE FUTURE
1. We, the 156 Member States of UNESCO, representatives of civil society organizations, social partners, United Nations agencies, intergovernmental organizations and the private sector, gathered in Belém, Brazil, in December 2009 as participants in the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI) to assess the progress made in adult learning and education since CONFINTEA V. Adult education is recognized as an essential element of the right to education, and we need to set new directions for urgent action to enable all young people and adults to exercise this right.
2. We reaffirm the fundamental role of adult learning and education as articulated by the five international conferences on adult education (CONFINTEA I-V) since 1949, and unanimously commit ourselves to urgently and accelerated implementation of the adult learning and education agenda.
3. We endorse the definition of adult education as originally articulated in the Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education (Nairobi, 1976) and further developed in the Hamburg Declaration of 1997, according to which adult education means “the entire body of continuing learning processes, formal or otherwise, whereby people regarded as adults by the society of which they form part develop their abilities, enrich their knowledge and improve their technical or professional qualifications or impart their technical and vocational skills.
4. We affirm that literacy is the most important foundation for ensuring comprehensive, inclusive and integrated learning for all young people and adults across and throughout life. The magnitude of the global literacy challenge requires us to redouble our efforts to ensure that the adult literacy-related goals and priorities of Education for All (EFA), the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) and the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (UFE) are achieved and met in every possible way.
5. Youth and adult education enables people, especially women, to cope with multiple social, economic and political crises and with climate change. We therefore recognize the key role of adult learning and education for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Education for All (EFA) goals and the UN agenda for sustainable human, social, economic, cultural and environmental development, including gender equality (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action).
6. We therefore adopt this Belém Framework for Action to guide us in harnessing the power of adult learning and education for a prosperous future for all.
On the way to lifelong learning
7. Lifelong learning plays a critical role in addressing global educational issues, challenges, and problems. Cradle-to-grave lifelong learning is the philosophy, conceptual framework and organizing principle of all forms of education, based on inclusive, emancipatory, humanistic and democratic values; it is inclusive and integral to the vision of a knowledge-based society. We affirm the four pillars of learning articulated by the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, namely learning to know, learning to do, learning to live, learning to live together.
8. We recognize that adult learning and education is an important component of lifelong learning, which encompasses a continuum of learning from formal to non-formal to informal learning.
Adult learning and education addresses the learning needs of youth, adults, and older adults.
Adult learning and education cover a wide range of topics – general issues, vocational issues, family life and family education, citizenship issues, and many others, prioritized according to the specific needs of individual countries.
10. The essential role of lifelong learning in dealing with gnoble and educational issues, challenges and problems gives us conviction and excitement. We are also convinced that adult learning and education equip people with the requisite knowledge, capacities, skills, attributes and values to exercise and develop their rights and take control of their destiny. Adult learning and education are also an absolute necessity for achieving equity and inclusion, for reducing poverty and for building equitable, tolerant and sustainable literate societies.
11 While we celebrate our achievements and progress since CONFINTEA V, we are nonetheless aware of the challenges that remain. Recognizing that the realization of the right to education for adults and youth is conditioned by considerations of policy, governance, funding, participation, inclusion, equity and quality, as outlined in the attached Situation Assessment, we are determined to follow the recommendations below. Because literacy faces special challenges, we prioritize the recommendations related to adult literacy.
12. Literacy is an essential foundation that enables youth and adults to take advantage of learning opportunities throughout the continuum. The right to literacy is an integral component of the right to education and a necessary prerequisite for personal, social, economic and political empowerment. Literacy is an essential means of building human capacity to meet the changing challenges, problems, and complexities of life, culture, economy, and society.
The magnitude of the persistent literacy challenge and the associated waste of human resources and human capacity urgently calls for a doubling of efforts to ensure that the adult literacy rate is 50% higher by 2015 than it was in 2000. (EFA goal and target set by other international commitments), with the ultimate goal of preventing and breaking the cycle of low literacy and creating a fully literate world.
To this end, we commit ourselves to:
(a) Ensure that literacy is recognized as a continuum in all surveys and data collection activities;
(b) Develop a roadmap with clear goals and timelines to address this challenge based on critical assessments of progress made, obstacles encountered and weaknesses identified;
(c) Mobilize and increase internal and external resources and expertise to implement larger-scale literacy programmes with greater range and coverage and better quality to reinforce comprehensive medium-term processes in order to enable people to acquire sustainable literacy skills
(d) Develop literacy programmes that are relevant, responsive to learners’ needs and lead to the acquisition of functional and sustainable knowledge, skills and attributes for learners, empowering them as participants in further lifelong learning, whose achievements are recognized through appropriate assessment methods and tools;
(e) Target literacy activities towards women and populations with high levels of disadvantage, including indigenous peoples and prisoners, and focus on rural populations in general;
(f) Develop international indicators and targets for literacy;
(g) Ensure a systematic review of progress and reporting on this issue, including on investments and required resources allocated to literacy in each country and at the global level, by including a specific section in the EFA Global Monitoring Report;
(h) Plan and ensure ongoing education, training and skills development beyond basic literacy skills, building on an environment conducive to literacy.
13. Policies and legislative measures in support of adult education must be comprehensive and inclusive, integrated into a lifelong and life-wide learning perspective that is based on sector-wide and cross-sectoral approaches that embrace and link all components of learning and education.
To this end, we commit ourselves to:
(a) Ensure that policies, targeted plans, and legislative action to address adult literacy, youth and adult education, and lifelong learning are developed and implemented with comprehensive financial calculations;
(b) Develop accurate and specific action plans for adult learning and education and with LIFE activities where they occur;
(c) Ensure that adult learning and education are included in the One UN initiative;
(d) Establish appropriate coordination mechanisms, which could include monitoring committees, involving all stakeholders active in adult learning and education;
(e) Ensure that structures and mechanisms for the recognition, certification, and accreditation of all forms of learning are developed or improved by establishing a framework for equivalency of learning.
14. Good governance promotes adult learning and education policies in an effective, transparent, accountable, and equitable manner. Representation and participation by all stakeholders are necessary to ensure that the needs of all learners, especially the most disadvantaged, are properly addressed.
To this end, we commit ourselves to:
(a) Ensure the creation and operation of mechanisms for the involvement of public authorities at all administrative levels, civil society organizations, social partners, the private sector, community-based organizations, and adult learners’ and educators’ organizations in the development, implementation and evaluation of adult learning and education policies and programs;
(b) Taking capacity-building measures to support the meaningful and informed involvement of civil society organizations, community-based organizations and adult learners’ organizations, as appropriate, in the development, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes
(d) Enhance transnational collaboration through projects and networks to share knowledge, skills, and innovative practices.
15. Adult learning and education are a valuable means of delivering social benefits by creating more democratic, peaceful, inclusive, productive, healthy and sustainable societies. Significant financial investments are essential to ensure the quality of adult learning and education.
To this end, we commit ourselves to:
(a) Accelerate progress on the CONFINTEA V recommendation to allocate at least 6% of GNP to education and to take steps to increase allocations to adult learning and education;
(b) Increase the educational resources and budgets available in all government departments to achieve the objectives of an integrated adult learning and education strategy
(c) to consider creating new and using existing transnational programmes to fund literacy and adult education activities, in line with the lines of action envisaged in the European Union Lifelong Learning Programme
(d) Provide incentives to attract new sources of funding such as the private sector, NGOs, communities and individuals, without compromising equity and inclusion;
(e) Prioritize investment in lifelong learning for women, rural populations and people with disabilities.
In support of these strategies, we call upon international development partners:
(f) Respect their commitments to closing the financial gaps that impede the achievement of all EFA goals, in particular Goals 3 and 4 (youth and adult learning, adult literacy);
(g) Increase funding and technical support for adult literacy, adult learning and education and explore the feasibility of alternative funding mechanisms such as debt swaps or debt relief;
(h) Ensure that education sector plans submitted to the EFA Fast Track Initiative (FTI) include evidence-based interventions and investments in adult literacy.
Participation, Inclusion, and Equity
16. Inclusive education is fundamental to human, social and economic development. Enabling all people to develop their potential contributes significantly to encouraging them to participate in life in harmony and dignity. There is no room for exclusion based on age, gender, ethnicity, migration status, language, religion, disability, rural residence, sexual identity or orientation, poverty, displacement or imprisonment. Combating the cumulative effects of multiple disadvantage is particularly important. Measures must be taken to increase motivation and access for all.
To this end, we commit ourselves to:
(a) promote and facilitate more equitable access to and participation in adult learning and education through the development of a culture of learning and the removal of barriers to participation;
(b) promote and support more equitable access to and participation in adult learning and education through well-prepared counseling and information work, as well as activities and programs such as Adult Learners’ Weeks and learning festivals;
(c) providing anticipation and taking appropriate action for identifiable groups at risk of multiple disadvantage, particularly in early adulthood;
(d) establish multipurpose community learning institutions and centers and increase women’s access to and participation in the full range of adult learning and education programmes, taking into account their specific needs for gender-sensitive life skills courses;
(e) support the development of writing and literacy skills in various Indigenous languages through the development of appropriate programs, methods, and materials that recognize and value Indigenous cultures, knowledge, and methodologies, along with the adequate development of second language instruction in a widely spoken language;
(f) Provide financial support for a systematic focus on disadvantaged groups (e.g. indigenous peoples, migrants, people with special needs and rural inhabitants) in all education policies and approaches, which may include the introduction of free or subsidized programs and incentives for learning such as scholarships, fee waivers and paid educational leave
(g) Provide adult education in prisons at all appropriate levels;
(h) Adopt a holistic, integrated approach, including a mechanism for identifying stakeholders and responsibilities of the State in partnership with civil society organizations, labor market actors, students and educators;
(i) Develop effective educational measures for migrants and refugees as a core development activity.
17. Quality in learning and education is a holistic multidimensional concept and practice that requires constant attention and continuous development. Promoting a culture of quality in adult learning necessitates the relevance of its content and forms of provision, assessment of learners’ needs, acquisition of multiple competencies and knowledge, professionalism of educators, enrichment of the learning environment and empowerment of individuals and communities.
To this end, we commit ourselves to:
(a) Develop quality criteria for curricula, instructional materials, and teaching methodologies in adult education programs based on outcomes and impact;
(b) Recognize diversity and pluralism;
(c) Improve the training, capacity building, employment conditions, and professionalism of adult educators, for example through partnerships with institutions of higher education, teachers’ associations, and civil society organizations;
(d) Develop criteria to ensure access to adult learning outcomes at different levels
(e) Introduce clear quality indicators;
(f) Providing greater support for systematic interdisciplinary research in adult learning and education, complemented by knowledge management systems for data collection, analysis and dissemination, and examples of effective practice.
Monitoring the implementation of the Belém Framework for Action
18. Drawing strength from our collective will to reinvigorate adult learning and education in our countries and internationally, we commit ourselves to the following accountability and monitoring measures. We recognize the need for valid and reliable quantitative and qualitative data to inform our policy development in adult learning and education. Working with our partners to establish and use regular recording and tracking mechanisms at national and international levels is essential to the implementation of the Belém Framework for Action.
To this end, we commit ourselves to:
(a) Contribute to the process of developing a set of comparable data indicators in literacy as a holistic activity as well as in adult education;
(b) Collect and analyze data and information on participation and recognition and other factors on a regular basis in order to assess developments and share good practices;
(c) Establish a regular monitoring mechanism to assess the implementation of the commitments made under CONFINTEA VI
(d) Recommend the preparation of a triennial progress report to be submitted to UNESCO
(e) Initiate the establishment of regional monitoring mechanisms with clear benchmarks and indicators;
(f) Prepare a national progress report for the CONFINTEA VI Mid-Term Review coinciding with the EFA and MDGs timeline (2015).
(g) Support South-South cooperation to achieve the MDGs and EFA goals in adult literacy, adult education and lifelong learning;
(h) Support collaboration on monitoring adult education across disciplines and sectors, such as agriculture, health and employment.
For further action and monitoring at the international level, we call upon UNESCO and its structures
(i) Provide support to Member States by designing and developing a system of good practices, for which Member States themselves will provide information;
(j) Develop guidelines for all learning outcomes, including non-formal and informal learning outcomes, for recognition and validation;
(k) To coordinate, through the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning in partnership with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, a monitoring process at the global level to track and periodically report on progress in adult learning and education;
(l) Preparing, on this basis, a periodic Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE);
(m) Review and update, by 2012, the Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education (ADEA). Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education (Nairobi, 1976).
Assessing the situation
Addressing global and educational challenges
1. Adult learning and education have a critical role in responding to contemporary cultural, economic, political and social challenges. Our globalized world offers many opportunities, including the chance to learn from rich and diverse cultures that transcend geographical borders. However, a predominant feature of our era has been the growth of inequality. Many in the world live in poverty, with 43.5% of the world’s population forced to live on less than two dollars a day. Most of the world’s poor are rural. Demographic imbalances, with a growing youth population in the South and an elderly population in the North, are exacerbated by large-scale migration from poor to rich areas (within countries and internationally), as well as the influx of large numbers of displaced people. We face problems of unequal access to food, water and energy, and environmental degradation threatens our very existence in the long term. Material deprivation is often accompanied by a lack of opportunities, which hampers the effective functioning of society. It is totally unacceptable that large numbers of today’s children face the prospect of joining the ranks of unemployed youth, and that more and more young people, socially, economically and politically “alienated,” believe that they have nothing to gain from society.
2. We are confronted with structural changes in production and labor markets, with growing insecurities and anxieties in everyday life, with difficulties in achieving mutual understanding, and now with the deepening global financial and economic crisis. At the same time, globalization and the knowledge economy are forcing us to renew our skills and competencies and adapt them to new work environments, forms of social organization and channels of communication. These issues, as well as our urgent collective and individual learning needs, call into question our principles of assumption in this field and some aspects of the foundations of our established educational systems and concepts.
3. Adult literacy remains a major challenge in many countries: The world’s 774 million adults, two-thirds of whom are women, lack basic literacy skills, and effective literacy and life-skills programs are inadequate. In Europe, almost one-third of the working population has only the equivalent of lower secondary education, while two-thirds of new jobs require qualifications at upper secondary level or above. In many countries of the South, the majority of the population does not even receive a complete primary school education. In 2006 some 75 million children (the majority of whom were girls) either dropped out of school prematurely or did not attend at all. Nearly half of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, and over 80% live in rural areas. The lack of socially relevant curricula, insufficient numbers of teachers and in some cases insufficient training, the lack of innovative materials and methods, and all kinds of obstacles all undermine the capacity of education systems today to provide quality learning that can redress the imbalances that exist in our societies.
4. To address these challenges, the international community has made concerted efforts. Through government-led collaboration with UN agencies, civil society organizations, private providers and donors, progress has been made toward the six Education for All (EFA) goals set in 2000. Increased resources have been allocated to universal primary education through the Fast Track Initiative. The United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) (2003-2012) provides support to the EFA literacy goal through worldwide advocacy and awareness-raising. The Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) provides a global framework within the UNLD to support countries with the greatest literacy challenges. Two of the Millennium Development Goals focus specifically on education: achieving universal primary education and gender parity. However, in all these efforts, there is no specific role for adult learning and education beyond basic literacy and life skills.
On the other hand, it is positive that the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) sets broad goals in which adult learning and education can play a highly visible role.
5. Adult learning and education are a critical measure that is necessary in response to the challenges we face. Adult learning and education are a key component of a holistic and comprehensive system of lifelong learning and education that encompasses formal, non-formal and informal learning and which directly or indirectly targets both young and adult learners. Adult learning and education are ultimately about providing learning environments and processes that are attractive and responsive to the needs of adults as active citizens. They relate to the development of an independent, autonomous individual, to the creation and restructuring of his life in complex and rapidly changing cultural, social and economic conditions – at work, in the family, in the community and society. The need to change the nature of one’s occupation several times in life, the adaptation to new conditions as a displaced person or migrant, the importance of having entrepreneurial skills and the capacity to continuously improve one’s quality of life – these and other socioeconomic circumstances require continuous learning throughout adulthood. Adult learning and education not only provide skills, but are also a major factor in building self-confidence, self-esteem, a clear sense of identity, and mutual support.
6. Today it is believed that increasing the average duration of adult education by just one year in the long term leads to an increase in economic growth of 3.7% and an increase in per capita income of 6%. Yet adult learning and education go far beyond issues of social cost or financial expenditure. They represent an investment in hope for the future.
Progress in adult learning and education since CONFINTEA V
7. National reports submitted by 154 Member States in preparation for CONFINTEA VI, and discussions on effective modalities during the regional preparatory conferences, have shown some progress and innovation in adult learning and education from the perspective of lifelong learning. In addition to the example of the lifelong learning strategy pursued by the European Union since 2000 as well as the corresponding national policies of the member states, several member states in the South have introduced comprehensive adult learning policies and legislation, and some have also enshrined the principle of adult learning and education in their constitutions. Based on adults, and there are even examples of landmark relevant policy reforms.
8. Some Member States have revived and accelerated literacy plans, programs, and campaigns. Between 2000 and 2006, the global adult literacy rate increased from 76% to 84%. Progress has been especially marked in developing countries. Some governments have actively sought to work with civil society to provide non-formal learning opportunities through approaches such as faire-faire, with a wide range of content, objectives and target groups. The provision of non-formal education has diversified, covering topics such as human rights, citizenship, democracy, women’s empowerment, HIV prevention, health, environmental protection and sustainable development. Promotional events such as Adult Learners’ Week and learning festivals as well as broad movements such as learning cities and learning regions have contributed significantly to the development of adult learning and education.
9. There are some strong indications (as well as increasing recognition by Member States) of the benefits of gender-sensitive provision for adult learning and education, particularly for women. Information and communication technologies and various forms of open and distance learning are increasingly being used, and are gradually responding to the specific needs of learners who, until very recently, have been excluded. In multilingual and multicultural contexts, national policies are increasingly providing instruction in national languages, but a comprehensive policy approach to such issues is rare.
10. Systems of information, documentation, monitoring and evaluation of adult learning and education programs are introduced. Effective tools and systems of recognition, certification and accreditation of learning, including bodies and procedures for quality assurance are gradually beginning to be used. Synergistic ef) formal, non-formal and informal learning and effectiveness in relation to both individual learners and systems o( as allows a more optimal use of available resources, knowledge and expertise.
(11) Adult learning flourishes when States take bold initiatives in cooperation with key institutions of civil society, the private sector and workers’ associations. Public-private partnerships are bearing fruit; and South-South and triangular cooperation are also yielding good results, contributing to new forms of adult learning for sustainable development, peace and democracy. Regional and supranational bodies and agencies play a crucial role in this transformation, influencing and complementing states.
Challenges for adult learning and education
12. Despite this progress, national reports and the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE) prepared for CONFINTEA VI suggest that alongside existing challenges, some of which have meanwhile become national, regional and global, new social and educational challenges have emerged. Chief among these challenges is that our hopes of restructuring and strengthening adult learning and education in the wave of CONFINTEA V have not been realized.
13. The role and place of adult learning and education in lifelong learning remains underutilized. In addition, policy areas outside the field of education have failed to recognize and address the distinctive contributions that adult learning and education can make to broader economic, social and human development. The field of adult learning and education remains fragmented. Advocacy is scattered across different fronts, and political credibility is diluted precisely because the inherent fragmentation of adult learning and education makes it difficult to clearly identify it with any particular area of social policy. The frequent absence of adult education from the agendas of government agencies is accompanied by a lack of inter-institutional cooperation, weak organizational structures and limited linkages between education (formal and non-formal) and other sectors. In terms of recognition and accreditation of learning, both in-country mechanisms and international efforts place undue emphasis on formally accredited skills and competencies and rarely on non-formal, informal and experiential learning. The gap between policy and implementation is widened when these policies are developed in isolation, without participation or input from external parties (partners in the field and higher education institutions) and other organizations that bring together youth education professionals and
14. The current planning system is insufficiently forward-looking and adequate, which prevents learning and education from making a meaningful contribution to our future. In addition, today’s increasing trend toward decentralization of decision-making is not always accompanied by adequate financial allocations at all levels or by appropriate delegation of budgetary authority. Adult learning and education have not figured prominently in the aid strategies of international donors and has not been subject to ongoing efforts by donors to coordinate and harmonize aid. Debt relief has not yet yielded tangible benefits for adult learning and education.
15. Although we are witnessing an increasing variety of adult learning and education programmes, their focus is now primarily on technical and vocational education and training. More integrated approaches to adult learning and education that address development in all its dimensions (economic, sustainability, community and personal) are lacking. Gender mainstreaming initiatives do not always translate into more relevant programs to increase women’s participation. In addition, adult learning and education programs rarely address the needs of indigenous, rural and migrant populations. Program content and practices do not reflect the diversity of learners in terms of age, gender, cultural background, economic status, unique needs, including disabilities, and language.
Few countries have consistent multilingual policies that promote mother tongues, although this is often crucial to creating literate environments, especially for indigenous and/or minority languages.
16. Many international education agendas and recommendations refer to adult learning and education at best only in the most general sense, and rarely even that, often treating it as synonymous with basic literacy skills. Nevertheless, literacy undoubtedly has enormous implications, and the persistence of widespread literacy problems clearly demonstrates the inadequacy of the measures and initiatives taken in recent years. High levels of illiteracy continue to raise questions about whether enough is being done politically and financially by governments and international agencies.
17 The lack of professionalism and training opportunities for educators affects the quality of adult learning and education provision, as it impoverishes the learning environment in terms of equipment, materials and curricula. Planning rarely includes systematic needs assessments and research to determine appropriate content, pedagogy, program delivery, and supportive infrastructure. Consistent monitoring, evaluation, and feedback mechanisms for quality assurance in adult learning and education are often lacking, and where they exist, their levels of complexity depend on the tension caused by the need to balance quality and quantity of programs.
18. This Situation Assessment provides supporting rationale for the recommendations and strategies outlined above in the Belém Framework for Action.