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The role of adult education and learning policy in fostering societal sustainability

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The idea of “sustainability” as a core value has slowly permeated policy and practice at governmental and institutional levels, in public and private policy. However, at times when social and economic crises have revealed the fragility of existing institutions and policies, it is important to consider how sustainability is – and could be – integrated into educational policies. In this theoretical contribution to a special issue on “Societal sustainability”, the authors draw on available literature and knowledge. They begin their paper by summarising the conditions under which the concept of “sustainability” entered political discourse in the early 1970s and outline how it has influenced educational research. They then introduce the longstanding debate about the relative role of tradition (in terms of traditional cultural and social order) and change (in terms of efforts to provide learning opportunities for everyone) in adult education. Finally, they argue for a rethinking of the ontology of sustainability: this, they suggest, can shed new light on its relationships with adult education and learning and social justice.


Pérennité des sociétés : rôle de l’éducation des adultes et des politiques éducatives – La notion de « pérennité » devenue valeur centrale a lentement gagné les politiques et les pratiques au niveau des gouvernements et institutions, dans les politiques publiques et privées. Mais à une époque où les crises sociales et économiques révèlent la fragilité des institutions et politiques existantes, il importe de considérer comment la pérennité est – et devrait être – intégrée dans les politiques éducatives. Dans cette contribution théorique à un numéro spécial sur la « pérennité des sociétés », les auteurs ont consulté la documentation et les connaissances disponibles. Ils commencent leur article en résumant les circonstances dans lesquelles le concept de « pérennité » est entré dans le discours politique au début des années 1970 et précisent comment il influence la recherche éducative. Puis ils abordent le débat de longue date sur le rôle relatif dans l’éducation des adultes de la tradition (en termes d’ordre culturel et social traditionnel) et du changement (en termes d’efforts pour fournir à tous des opportunités d’apprentissage). Enfin, ils appellent à repenser l’ontologie de la pérennité, ce qui pourrait à leur avis jeter un nouvel éclairage sur ses liens avec l’éducation des adultes et avec la justice éducative et sociale.

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  1. The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), still offering courses today, was founded in 1903 as “The Organisation for Education of Working Class Men” by Albert Mansbridge, a clerk from Gloucestershire. For more information, see WEA 2013.


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Correspondence to Marcella Milana.

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This article draws and further elaborates on ideas expressed in Milana, M., Rasmussen, P., & Holford, J. (2014). Public policy and the “sustainability” of adult education. Encyclopaideia, 18(40), 3–13. DOI: 10.6092/issn.1825-8670/4658.

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Milana, M., Rasmussen, P. & Holford, J. The role of adult education and learning policy in fostering societal sustainability. Int Rev Educ 62, 523–540 (2016).

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