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Adult learning and education as a response to global challenges: Fostering agents of social transformation and sustainability

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Abstract

This article explores the potential of adult learning and education, its pivotal role in addressing social transformation and promoting global-local partnerships, and its relationship to the issue of sustainability. The authors’ conceptual setting helps to reveal the closely connected yet contested and always power-related perspectives of adult learners, adult education practitioners, academic researchers and intergovernmental organisations under the auspices of a required “great transformation”. The article provides a critique of indicators, monitoring exercises and needs-assessment procedures while exploring accountability and the mandate of adult learning and education in not only raising, but also hearing, voices as part of a partnership dialogue on equal terms. The authors suggest a framework for systematising and connecting conceptual approaches to sustainability. They then propose transferring this framework to the domain of education policy tools (e.g. the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) and applying it to adult learning and education (ALE) as a contributing factor to sustainability. Two examples, one from Finland and one from Ghana, serve to illustrate the components of the suggested framework.

Résumé

Apprentissage et éducation des adultes, une réponse aux défis mondiaux : promouvoir les facteurs de transformation sociale et de pérennité – Cet article explore le potentiel de l’apprentissage et de l’éducation des adultes, leur rôle pivot pour amorcer une transformation sociale et favoriser les partenariats de type mondial-local, ainsi que leur rapport au thème de la pérennité. Le cadre conceptuel des auteurs contribue à exposer les perspectives, étroitement liées et pourtant contestées et toujours associées à des questions de pouvoir, des apprenants adultes, des praticiens de l’éducation des adultes, des chercheurs et des organismes intergouvernementaux, sur fond d’attente d’une « grande transformation ». Les auteurs procèdent à une critique des indicateurs, des mesures de suivi et des procédures d’évaluation des besoins; ils explorent parallèlement la redevabilité et le mandat de l’apprentissage et de l’éducation des adultes, en collectant mais aussi en écoutant des témoignages, démarche qui fait partie d’un dialogue partenarial mené à pied d’égalité. Les auteurs préconisent un cadre qui permette de systématiser et de relier les approches conceptuelles de la pérennité. Ils proposent ensuite de transférer ce cadre au domaine des outils de politique éducative (par exemple les Objectifs de développement durable des Nations Unies) et de l’appliquer à l’apprentissage et à l’éducation des adultes en tant que facteur contribuant à la pérennité. Deux exemples, tirés l’un de Finlande et l’autre du Ghana, servent à illustrer les composantes du cadre proposé.

I do not wish to seem overdramatic, but I can only conclude from the information that is available to me as Secretary-General, that the Members of the United Nations have perhaps ten years left in which to subordinate their ancient quarrels and launch a global partnership to curb the arms race, to improve the human environment, to defuse the population explosion, and to supply the required momentum to development efforts. If such a global partnership is not forged within the next decade, then I very much fear that the problems I have mentioned will have reached such staggering proportions that they will be beyond our capacity to control.

U Thant (1969)

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Notes

  1. U Thant served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971.

  2. The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–2014) aimed to integrate the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning.

  3. For a full overview on CONFINTEA conferences, held regularly (approximately every 12 years) since 1949, see http://uil.unesco.org/adult-education/confintea [accessed 6 February 2019]. The seventh conference in the series, CONFINTEA VII, is scheduled for 2022.

  4. A “metanarrative” is “an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences” (OLD 2019a). French philosopher and sociologist Jean-François Lyotard held that metanarratives should be questioned and resisted.

  5. Addey criticises “the dominant conceptualization of literacy in international assessments of adult literacy” (Addey 2018, p. 315). She argues that “a single story of literacy has been chosen, defined, organized, measured, legitimated and interpreted in international large-scale assessments” (ibid.). By contrast, Addey follows the understanding of an epistemological pluralism of literacy “as one of many literacy stories” (ibid.).

  6. The 12th edition of the World Social Forum (WSF) took place in Montreal from 9 to 14 August 2016. “The event brought together some 35,000 participants from 125 countries in a spirit of international solidarity to build a better world based on social and environmental justice, a social economy, participatory democracy and the recognition of the equal dignity of all” (WSF Collective 2016, p. 6).

  7. Gro Harlem Brundtland, who had been the Norwegian Minister of the Environment from 1974 to 1979 (and later served as Prime Minister and as Director of the World Health Organisation), chaired the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), often referred to as the “Brundtland Commission”. Tasked by the United Nations General Assembly in 1983 to formulate “a global agenda for change”, the Commission produced a final report, Our common future (WCED 1987), which subsequently became one of the most influential documents on sustainable development.

  8. The “commons” refers to “land or resources belonging to or affecting the whole of a community” (OLD 2019b).

  9. A Citizens' Jury “is a method of deliberation … where a small group of people (between 12 and 24), representative of the demographics of a given area, come together to deliberate on an issue (generally one clearly framed question), over the period of 2 to 7 days” (Involve n.d.). In a nutshell, “the idea of a Development Walk is to give citizens an opportunity to develop their local environment. Facilitated by the leaders of the walk, participants in the Development Walk progress along a pre-defined route, discussing their surroundings and developing proposals for development (ibid., p. 28, emphasis added),

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Schreiber-Barsch, S., Mauch, W. Adult learning and education as a response to global challenges: Fostering agents of social transformation and sustainability. Int Rev Educ 65, 515–536 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-019-09781-6

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