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International Initiatives for Education ▸ Iniciativas internacionales para la educación

Rosa María Torres

Compilación de textos sobre iniciativas y actividades vinculadas a organismos internacionales publicados en este blog

Compilation of texts on initiatives and activities linked to international agencies published in this blog

 Education for All (EFA) ▸ Educación para Todos (EPT) 

La década olvidada de la Educación para Todos (1990-2000)

Una década de Educación para Todos: La tarea pendiente (IIPE-UNESCO Buenos Aires, 2000)
One Decade of Education for All: The Challenge Ahead (IIPE-UNESCO Buenos Aires, 2000)

Basic Learning Needs: Different Frameworks

 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Objetivos de Desarrollo del Milenio (ODM) 

What did the MDGs achieve?
¿Qué lograron los ODM?

▸ Educación para Todos y Objetivos del Milenio no son la misma cosa - entrevista con la Campaña Latinoamericana por el Derecho a la Educación (CLADE)

 VI International Conference on Adult Education VI Conferencia Internacional sobre Educación de Adultos (CONFINTEA VI) 

 United Nations Literacy Decade Decenio de Naciones Unidas para la Alfabetización (2003-2012) 

 PISA - Programa para la Evaluación Internacional de Alumnos (OCDE) 

Artículos sobre PISA
Articles on PISA

 Laboratorio Latinoamericano de Evaluación de la Calidad de la Educación - LLECE (UNESCO) 

América Latina y las pruebas del LLECE

 Information Society ▸ Sociedad de la Información 

Education in the Information Society
Educación en la Sociedad de la Información

 Education as a Human Right La educación como derecho humano 

▸ The 4 As as criteria to identify "good practices" in education
▸ Las 4A como criterios para identificar "buenas prácticas" en educación

 Lifelong Learning (LLL) ▸ Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida (ALV) 

Youth & Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean

Rosa María Torres
(published in
LLinE - Lifelong Learning in Europe, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, 2011)
1. Introduction

This paper draws from various studies I have conducted on adult education and on lifelong learning in Latin America and other regions. Two such studies (written in English) serve here as main references: 

- Youth and AdultEducation and Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean: Trends, Issues andChallenges. Regional report prepared for the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI, Belém, Brazil, Dec. 2009), commissioned by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL).[1]
- LifelongLearning in the South: Critical Issues and Opportunities for Adult Education, Sida Studies 11, Stockholm, 2004. Global study commissioned by Sida.

Latin America and the Caribbean is a highly heterogeneous region, comprising two subregions (Latin America, the Caribbean) and 41 countries and territories with very different political, cultural, economic, social and educational realities. Some 600 languages are spoken; Spanish and Portuguese are the two most widespread official languages. Any regional generalization would be abusive, and space does not allow us to elaborate here more on each country. Also, the situation is very dynamic; trends may change considerably in a short period of time. In the current international context, and vis a vis the world and European crisis, Latin America appears strong and united, with economic and social indicators improving over the past few years.[2] On the other hand, Mexico and Chile, the two Latin American countries that are members of OECD, are facing major turmoils, their education systems being exposed and under heavy social scrutiny and criticism.

In most Latin American countries, the term used is Youth & Adult Education (henceforth YAE). The term “youth” was incorporated in the 1980s, acknowledging the increased presence of young people in adult education programmes as well as the need to address the specificity of youth in such programmes.

The information and analysis presented below refers basically to the 12-year period between CONFINTEA V (1997) and CONFINTEA VI (2009).

2. Reactivation of youth and adult education in the region in the past few years

Between the late 1980s and the late 1990s YAE practically disappeared in most countries, following World Bank recommendations to governments in “developing countries” in the sense of giving priority to primary education and to children as opposed to adults. (WB also rectified later its argument about the failure of adult literacy, which was ill-documented). The Education for All (henceforth EFA) world initiative coordinated by UNESCO (1900-2000-2015) has followed the same trend: out of the six EFA goals, Goal 2 referred to primary education has received the most attention while Goals 3 and 4 referred to youth and adult education have received the least attention, as acknowledged every year by EFA Global Monitoring Reports (henceforth EFA GMR). In fact, the 2009 EFA GMR, coinciding with the year of CONFINTEA VI, continued to ignore YAE, not considered of strategic importance to the achievement of EFA by 2015.

For various reasons, since the late 1990s there has been a visible reactivation of YAE in the region. CONFINTEA V contributed to enhance social mobilization and networking around YAE, both before and right after the Hamburg conference. Later on, we have witnessed the emergence of new supranational and international actors engaged in YAE, notably the Cuban government and its ‘Yo Sí Puedo’ (Yes, I Can) literacy programme, and the Organization of IberoAmerican States (OEI) which organized the Ibero-American Plan for Youth and Adult Literacy and Basic Education (PIA) 2007-2015.

Such reactivation is reflected among others in the following: 

Bialfa: Paraguay
Renewed emphasis on youth/adult literacy A new wave of ‘illiteracy eradication’ has taken over the region. Many countries resumed national literacy programmes or campaigns, even some countries with very low illiteracy rates (lower than 3%) such as Argentina and Uruguay. The exception is Cuba, declared ‘territory free of illiteracy’ almost half a century ago (1961), as well as several countries in the English-speaking Caribbean where governmental focus on literacy is on the formal system. There are also sub-national and local programmes run by local governments, religious groups, NGOs, social organizations and movements, and teacher unions.

Clearer institutionalization of YAE There are advances in legislation and policy in most countries. There is increased recognition of the right to (free) education as well as to linguistic and cultural diversity and to inter-culturality as a comprehensive approach to education.  In Cuba and Mexico for a long time, and more recently in countries such as Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia or Paraguay, YAE becomes more institutionalized, pointing towards the building of a system or subsystem, rather than the usual and discontinued ad-hoc interventions.

New actors and partnerships In most countries, there are government partnerships with NGOs, universities, religious groups and the private sector. In a few countries, partnerships have included teacher unions and strong social movements (e.g. in Argentina and Brazil). There are also several international actors engaged in YAE in the region. As indicated, the most active in recent times are the Spanish government/OEI and the Cuban government/IPLAC. Others include the Convenio Andrés Bello (Andrés Bello Agreement -CAB), an international inter-governmental organization focused on supranational integration (12 countries), based in Bogota and linked to OEI; and the Organization of American States (OAS), based in Washington, which coordinates the Summits of the Americas.

More and better information and knowledge on YAE  There is considerable growth in research and documentation at national, subregional and regional level in recent years.  Of course, there are also major differences between countries in terms of quantity, quality, topics and approaches related to research. Big countries such as Brazil and Mexico and also Chile report many surveys and studies.

Advances in evaluation Evaluation has become a central piece of school systems and reforms in the region since the 1990s, but its incorporation is rather recent in YAE. In Brazil, a Functional Literacy Indicator (INAF), based on actual evaluation of reading, writing and numeracy skills of the adult population (15-64 years of age), has been developed annually since 2001 by two private institutions. In Mexico, the National Institute for Adult Education (INEA) has its own evaluation system. In Chile, evaluation of student outcomes is under a National System for the Evaluation of Learning and Certification of Studies, which includes YAE. Both Mexico and Chile have adopted results-based schemes for paying the institutions and/or teaching staff hired for YAE programmes.

Aiquile, Bolivia. Photo: Rosa María Torres
Linkages between education/training and work as a field of research, policy and action  The linkages between education, the economy and work have become a field of concern, policy and action, within the overall concern with poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. Social Economy gains increased attention as an alternative economic model that generates also alternative approaches to education and training linked to production, commercialization, barter and other income-generation activities by families, cooperatives, and organized communities.

Increased attention to ‘special groups’ Visible attention has been given in recent years to the disabled, migrants and prison inmates. The use of traditional and modern technologies has facilitated this task, especially with the disabled and with the migrant population. Prison education has been enhanced since 2006 in the framework of the EUROsociAL programme of the European Commission. Initiatives aimed at the blind, the visually challenged and hearing impaired have been developed in recent years in many countries.

New technologies reaching the field   Radio has been a powerful ally of YAE for several decades and continues to be in many countries, especially in some of the poorest ones such as Haiti, Bolivia, and Paraguay. In the past few years, audiovisual media have become widespread mainly through the Cuba-assisted Yo Sí Puedo literacy and post-literacy programme operating in several countries since 2003. Computers and the Internet are also reaching YAE, particularly for the younger population. Tele-centers or info-centers (different from cybercafes, privately owned and for-profit) are part of basic education programmes in several countries. In remote rural areas, energy plants or solar panels are being installed. In many places today it is easier to find a cybercafe or a tele-center than a library, a computer than a book.

3. Some old and new weaknesses and limitations. Challenges for the future

The ‘Agenda for the Future’ approved at CONFINTEA V, its wide vision and ambitious proposals for adult learning, is not the one that has been implemented in this region since 1997. Neither is the 2000-2010 YAE Regional Framework for Action prepared as a follow up to CONFINTEA V. Advances coexist with old and new limitations related to governmental and non-governmental action as well as to international agencies intervening in the field.

Sectoral approaches and interventions Despite advances in cross-sectoral policies and collaboration with other government actors, YAE continues to be perceived as pertaining to the ‘education sector’, unconnected with major economic, political and social issues. YAE is in fact a transversal issue, but invisible unless it falls directly under an education authority and refers somewhere explicitly to the term ‘adult’.

Dominican Rep: Haitian Batey. Photo: Rosa María Torres
Continued low status of YAE The traditional low status of YAE is related to: (a) age (vis a vis children), and (b) socio-economic status. Estimations of costs of programmes and plans rarely consider infrastructure, equipment or even remunerated work. In many cases, YAE continues to be considered a ‘special regime’ together with other areas that challenge conventional classifications, such as bilingual intercultural education, special education, and multigrade schools.

Activism and discontinuity of efforts Activism has been a characteristic of YAE, often related to one-shot and isolated activities lacking continuity, monitoring, systematization, evaluation and feedback. Countries engage from time to time and over and over again in ‘illiteracy eradication’ or ‘illiteracy reduction’ initiatives. So far, policies have been unable to deal with literacy/basic education in a sustained and integral manner, linking school and out-of-school, children’s and adults’ education as part of one single strategy towards education for all.

Big distances between policies and implementation The right to free, quality education continues to be denied to a large portion of the population. National reports prepared for CONFINTEA VI say little about actual implementation. One key conclusion I drew from the field study on literacy and written culture by out-of-school youth and adults in nine countries of the region is that “policies in this field have become autonomous, with little or no contact with actual practice on the ground.”

Bogotá, Colombia. Photo: Rosa María Torres
High political, financial and administrative vulnerability of YAE YAE continues to be highly vulnerable to national/local political and administrative changes as well as of changes in international priorities. This implies a permanent threat to the continuity of policies and programmes, and to the building of national capacities and accumulated practical experience. A key component of such vulnerability are the meager financial resources available for education in general and for YAE in particular. Few national reports and studies provide concrete information on YAE funding and costs. This is marked in the case of the private sector. In many countries YAE budget represents less than 1% of educational spending. Brazil calculates that, budgetwise, an adult learner counts as 0.7% of a primary school child (Brazil CONFINTEA VI report).

Funding comes from various sources: government, churches, the private sector, social movements, and international agencies. There is scarce information on the financial contribution of bilateral and multilateral agencies to YAE, its uses and impact. In most countries, government plays the major role, especially in basic education levels. 

Government programmes generally do not charge fees and many of them provide access to free equipment and materials. Also, various countries have been adopting compensation policies or plans tied to studying.

Rise of for-profit spirit and market mechanisms There is an important decline in volunteerism, social mobilization and political commitment traditionally linked to YAE. In many countries, NGOs are hired and paid by governments to implement programmes. On the other hand, the trend towards accreditation and certification (completion of primary/basic/secondary education) has attracted the for-profit private sector, introducing fees and other market mechanisms into the field.

Low attention to professionalization of adult educators The low status, poor training and bad working conditions of adult educators continue is an old vicious circle in YAE. Training is generally poor and short, and its deficits are even more visible in the case of indigenous educators prepared for intercultural bilingual education programmes. Availability of audiovisual and digital technologies are contributing to further reduce the importance of professionalization and of initial and in-service training,

Requisites for adult educators have been “upgraded” in some countries, including a professional teaching title or completion of secondary education rather than primary education only; such requisites tend to loosen in rural areas and in literacy programmes, which continue to operate in most cases with community volunteers. The question that remains concerns the desired profile and education/training of adult educators, and whether possessing a teacher certificate ensures good teaching.

Weak dissemination, use and impact of research and evaluation results Research, documentation and evaluation efforts lack sufficient and opportune dissemination. We found differentiated circuits, one closer to academic circles and another one closer to bureacucratic and government structures. Overall, there is little evidence that research results are informing and influencing policy-making, training or teaching practice. They have not contributed to modify long-entrenched ‘common sense’ in the field, including negative perceptions and terminologies linked to illiteracy (e.g. ‘scourge’, ‘plague’, ‘darkness’, ‘blindness’, ‘shackle’, ‘eradication’, etc.), the association between illiteracy and ignorance, between number of years of schooling and ‘functional literacy’, and between adult education, non-formal and remedial education. Also, most diagnoses and recommendations are based on literature reviews, with little connection to realities and little or no empirical research.

Age discrimination within YAE There is a consistent trend towards (a) giving priority to the younger segments of the adult population, establishing age limits (40, 35, in some cases less), and (b) segmenting educational opportunities by age: literacy offered to older generations and other programmes offered to youth. Cuba is the only country that has the elderly as a priority group in terms of educational and cultural attention by government. Uruguay – known for its high percentage of third age population - is also expanding the age of learners within YAE.

Perú - ARE. Photo: PYSN
Continued neglect of indigenous peoples The YAE Regional Framework for Action (2000-2010) identified four priority groups: indigenous, peasants, youth and women. Youth and women have in act been prioritized; indigenous and afro descendant groups have not. Racism is alive despite advances in national and international legislation, including the approval in 2007 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Brazil’s national illiteracy rate (2008) was 7,1%, and among  indigenous peoples 18% and among black people 16% (Brazil CONFINTEA VI report). In Mexico, the national illiteracy rate was 8.4%. and the illiteracy rate among indigenous groups was 36.1% (Mexico CONFINTEA VI report). Also, Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE) continues to focus in rural areas. However, indigenous populations are also settled in urban areas, especially in large Latin American cities, following strong rural-urban migration patterns.

Continued neglect of rural areas Formal and non-formal education continue to concentrate in urban and the periphery of urban areas, thus maintaining and even deepening the urban-rural educational gap. Probabilities that youth and adults in rural areas get no or incipient education are twice as big as in urban areas, and in some countries three times bigger (SITEAL). Peru has the highest urban-rural school gap. Peru’s CONFINTEA VI report acknowledged that practically all educational institutions doing adult education are located in cities. In Brazil, illiterates in urban areas are 9.7 million against 4.7 million in rural areas; however, in percentile terms rural areas have almost three times more illiterates – 26.3% against 8.7% in urban areas.

Low coverage of programmes YAE programmes are very limited for actual needs. Despite being a prioritized age group, by 2007 less than 10% of 20-29 year olds who had not completed secondary education attended some educational programme. In large countries such as Brazil and Mexico, all efforts seem small and advances slow. According to Brazil’s CONFINTEA VI report, only 10% of the demand was served in 2008. Chile calculated that it would take 20 years to reach the 4 million people who have not completed basic education (Chile CONFINTEA VI report).

Quality and learning remain distant issues Quantitative indicators (enrolment and retention, number of groups organized, materials or equipments distributed, etc.) predominate as indicators of achievement and success. A minimum number of participants is often established as a requisite to start a programme or a center, thus leading often to cheating (e.g. manipulating the statistics, completing the list with family members, friends or persons who are not part of the target population, etc.).  In literacy programmes, goals continue to be set in terms of ‘eradicating’ or ‘reducing’ illiteracy rates, rather than in terms of learning and effective use of reading and writing. Only in very few cases have adult literacy programmes and campaigns been thoroughly evaluated. One such examples is Ecuador’s National Literacy Campaign ‘Monsignor Leonidas Proaño’ (1988-1990).

Continued weaknesses of technical and vocational education/training programmes There is skepticism in relation to the effectiveness of these programmes; several international organizations have commissioned studies and impact evaluations of the programmes they support. The “solution” of keeping or ‘re-inserting’ adolescents and youth in schools (often against their will) - the same unchanged schools that expelled them in the first place – is also debatable. An IIEP study of 52 programmes in 14 Latin American countries concluded that education/training programmes intended to prepare young people for work (a) take a simplistic view of youth inclusion in the labor market, (b) reach only a small portion of the potential population, (c) adopt a narrow approach focused on specific training, and (d) do not take sufficiently into account the importance of formal education, the competitiveness of the labor market and the scarcity of decent jobs.

“Best practices” selected without clear criteria Many practices selected as ‘good’ or ‘best’ practices in education and in YAE in particular are outdated, are based on documents, experts’ opinions or self-evaluation by their own actors, and lack evidence of their implementation, results and actual perceptions by participating learners. Few of them would pass the test of the four As - availability, accessibility, adaptability and acceptability. On the other hand, many relevant experiences remain unsystematized and unknown because of chronic lack of time and of resources in the field, their commitment to action and their many urgencies. Also, it is important to remember that ‘innovative’ does not necessarily mean ‘effective’, or generalizable. Innovations are specific, generally local and small-scale, and cannot be easily replicated or expanded on a massive scale.

Major coordination problems among national and international actors
Decentralization processes and diversification of educational provision have increased coordination and articulation problems amongst the diverse national actors: government across sectors and at the various levels, governmental and non-governmental bodies, profit and non-profit private sector, NGOs, universities, churches, etc. The same is true for the various international actors working in YAE, and in the literacy field in particular. Each of them has its own plans, objectives, goals, timeframes, diagnoses, approaches, methodologies, reporting and financing mechanisms. See table below for the case of literacy.

Table 1
Regional and international adult literacy goals (1980-2015)
Major Project for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean
EFA I-Jomtien
Education for All

EFA II–Dakar
Education for All

United Nations Literacy Decade

Ibero-American Plan for Youth and Adult Literacy and Basic Education
illiteracy by 2000
illiteracy by half by 2000
illiteracy by half by 2015
illiteracy by half by 2012
Eradicate  illiteracy by 2015
Elaborated by R.M. Torres

4. Lifelong Learning (LLL) in Latin America and the Caribbean

The paradigm shift proposed worldwide – from education to learning, and from adult education to adult learning – has not been appropriated in this region. Although CONFINTEA V had strong regional resonance, the term learning was never introduced in its follow up. Youth and Adult Education (YAE) was the term used in the Regional Framework for Action following CONFINTEA V.

The Lifelong Learning (LLL) concept - emerged in the North closely related to economic growth, competitiveness and employability - is understood and utilized in most diverse ways worldwide. Generally: (a) LLL continues to be used interchangeably with Lifelong Education, without differentiating education and learning [3]; and (b) LLL is associated to adults rather than to the entire lifespan - ‘from the cradle to the grave’.

All this is reflected in Latin America and the Caribbean. LLL is mentioned in many legal and policy/programme documents, with the same biases and inconsistencies that are found internationally. LLL appears often as a separate line of action or goal rather than as embracing category. In Jamaica’s Ministry of Education’s structure, for example, LLL has been added as a sixth section, next to the other five sections on early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary and special education.

From the documents and websites reviewed, the LLL terminology appears to be more widespread - and more embedded in recent policies and plans - in the English-speaking Caribbean countries than in Latin American ones. In the Caribbean, LLL seems to follow the frameworks adopted in Europe. In Jamaica, for example, the LLL policy devised in 2005 was decided by the Human Employment and Resource Training-HEART Trust /National Training Agency-NTA, the institutions that coordinate workforce development in Jamaica.

Even new initiatives such as the Metas Educativas 2021 (2021 Education Goals) coordinated by OEI do not refer to Lifelong Learning but to Lifelong Education, and is considered a separate goal rather than a goal including all others.

Table 2
OEI: Metas Educativas 2021 (2021 Education Goals) 2012-2021

1. Participation of society in educational action.
2. Achieve educational equality and overcome discrimination.
3. Increase supply for early childhood education.
4. Universalize primary education and lower secondary education, and expand access to upper secondary education.
5. Improve the quality of education and of the school curriculum.
6. Facilitate the connection between education and employment through technical-professional education.
7. Offer every person lifelong education opportunities.
8. Strengthen the teaching profession.
9. Expand the Ibero-American Knowledge space and strengthen scientific research.
10. Invest more and better.
11. Evaluate the functioning of education systems and the 2021 Education Goals project.

Source: Translation from Spanish: Rosa María Torres

5. A few conclusions

Given the big gap between rhetoric/policies/laws and practice, the inclusion of YAE in recent policies, reforms and legislative frameworks on paper should not lead to assumptions about effective implementation.
Quantitative gains – small as they are - are usually shadowed by quality and equity problems.
Priority given to youth has ended up marginalizing adults and the elderly, just as priority given to women ended up marginalizing men in several countries and programmes.
The acknowledgement of the importance of literacy has traditionally placed it at the heart of YA efforts, and is currently being overemphasized in many countries with too many programmes running in parallel and poor targeting of efforts.
▸ Literacy achievements are rarely sustained and complemented with policies and strategies aimed at making reading and writing accessible to the population, paying attention to their specific needs, languages and cultures.
Many vocational and technical training programmes continue to ignore the complex issues involved in the transition between education and work (not only employment), and of the world of work these days.
The important impulse towards completion of primary/secondary education and accreditation of studies needs to be accompanied by the necessary efforts to ensure effective, meaningful and useful learning.
Many hands involved often do not generate genuine ‘partnerships’ but rather enhanced lack of coordination, competitiveness, duplication of efforts and misuse of resources.
Experience indicates that decentralization and outsourcing not necessarily bring with them the advantages promised.
Expansion of ICTs for YAE purposes is counterbalanced with improvisation, poor use of such technologies, poor criteria to decide on the best one or the best combination to use in each specific case, and – most importantly - neglect of the essential interpersonal pedagogical relationship.
Cost-efficiency applied to YAE is often understood as ‘cheaper and quicker’, thus leading to an amplified vicious circle of low quality and poor results.

6. Challenges for the future

A common language The terminological labyrinth is an old concern in the field of education and especially of YAE worldwide. Glossaries have been proposed and produced over the past few decades, but the terminological/conceptual confusion persists and becomes more acute as new terms emerge. Once again during the CONFINTEA VI process, and specifically in the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, it was agreed that a common language is essential if we want to communicate better and also give more scientific consistency to the field.

Lack of evidence and lack of financial resources: two myths to be revisited Two myths must be revisited with regard to YAE and education in general: that in order to receive more attention what is needed is (a) more evidence and (b) more financial resources. In fact, there is plenty of research evidence, for several decades now, on the multiple benefits of investing in YAE, for learners themselves, for their families and communities, and for citizenship-building and national democracy. Abundant research shows that YAE has positive effects on the self-esteem and life opportunities of men and women as well as on their children’s wellbeing (child mortality, child birth, rearing practices, access to school, learning outcomes, etc.). It is clear that lack of attention to YAE is not related to insufficient data, evidence or conceptual clarity, as argued in the 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report.[4] There is more than enough knowledge available on YAE – theoretical and empirical, regional and international - to indicate what needs to be done and to do it well. The main shortcoming concerns action, not information and knowledge.

On the other hand, the financial deficit is only a manifestation of a political deficit, namely the lack of political will to make education a priority and to invest in the poor on the basis of quality and equity. Addressing the political deficit is the real priority. Also, as evaluations in the field of school education reiterate, there is no direct and necessary connection between more financial resources and better education. What is needed is not only more – usually highlighted - but better use of available resources, precisely because they are scarce. Parameters of what is ‘good spending’ and ‘good international co-operation’ in YAE must be established.

Internationally, in 2005 the Global Campaign for Education proposed “at least 3% of the education budget” allocated to adult literacy in order to attain the EFA goal of reducing illiteracy by half by 2015. Regionally, the Final Document of the Mexico CONFINTEA VI Regional Conference (Sep. 2008) requested 3% for YAE in general, and not only for literacy. Many countries have set financial benchmarks for the education sector in their constitutions, laws and/or policies. Most of them aim at reaching, over several years, 6% of the GNP allocated to education. It is thus clear that the fight for higher financial resources devoted to YAE must be associated with the fight for more and sustained financial resources and attention dedicated to education as a whole.

Time for action and for investing in people Lots of money is spent in research that has little relevance and impact on actual decision-making, on costly events and publications that reach only a few, on reiterated diagnoses that repeat the same problems and the same information. It is time to revise the allocation of scarce financial resources at all levels, from governments and international agencies to organizations of civil societies. It is time for action, for making sure that policies and laws are effectively implemented, that what is already known is translated into practice. It is time for investing in the people, in the capacities and qualities of those engaged in YAE at all levels, not only facilitators on the ground, but also those in planning, organizing and managing positions.

Holistic approach Whatever the advances or inertias, they cannot be attributed solely to education in general and to YAE in particular, but also and primarily to the political, social and economic contexts in which education operates. YAE deals with the most disadvantageous situations and with the most vulnerable segments of society, those most affected by poverty, exclusion, and subordination in many aspects: political, economic, social, cultural, linguistic. How much more or better could be done under the concrete circumstances in each case, remains an open question with at least one clear answer: unless there are important economic and social changes in the overall conditions of the population served by YAE, YAE will not be able to fulfill its mission. It is time to rethink the equation: education by itself cannot fight poverty and exclusion, unless specific and intended economic and social policies – not just compensatory programmes – are in place to deal with them in a radical manner. YAE is not an independent variable.

Recuperate the transformative role of education and of YAE specifically The role of education is not to ensure enrolment, retention, completion and accreditation. The ultimate mission is to enhance personal and social change, to ensure relevant learning, awareness raising, critical and creative thinking, informed and committed action, citinzenship building. YAE’s historical critical and transformative nature has been lost and must be recuperated, challenging conformity and mere social adaptation promoted by current times and ideologies dominating the world. Learners must be educated as citizens, not only as people in need of certain basic skills, but in need of knowing their rights and duties so as to be better able to fight for them.

From literacy to lifelong learning  “From literacy to lifelong learning” was the title chosen for the CONFINTEA VI regional preparatory conference held in Mexico (Sep. 2008). In other words, the challenge to move from usual narrow understandings of adult education as equivalent to adult literacy, from adult education to adult learning and to lifelong learning, anywhere and anytime: in the family, in the community, at work, through the media, through art, social participation and through the active exercise of citizenship. The right to education today is no longer the right to basic literacy, to access school or to complete a number of years of schooling, but the right to learn and to learn throughout life, from early childhood to late adulthood.

[1] This regional report analyzed a large volume of documents, including: national reports submitted to UIL by Ministries of Education/Adult Education Departments based on the questionnaire circulated by UIL; documentation produced in the framework of the Ibero-American Plan for Youth and Adult Literacy and Basic Education (2006-2015) promoted by the Spanish cooperation for Ibero-American countries (it excludes French- and English-speaking countries in the region); national studies on the state of the art of Youth and Adult Education produced in 2007 in the framework of a CREFAL-CEAAL regional study on the subject (available in Spanish, and in Portuguese for the case of Brazil); cross-national field study on “Literacy and access to the written culture by youth and adults excluded from the school system in Latin America and the Caribbean”, conducted in 2006-2008 together with CREFAL in nine Latin American and Caribbean countries; and international and regional documentation produced for CONFINTEA V (Hamburg 1997) and its regional follow-up.
[3] Lifelong Learning in Spanish is Aprendizaje a lo largo de toda la vida. Most translators continue to use education and learning in an undifferentiated manner. The Delors Report entitled “Learning, the Treasure within” was translated into Spanish as “La educación encierra un tesoro”. The1st World Forum on LifelongLearning (Paris, October 2008) was translated as Foro Mundial para la Educación y la Formación a lo largo de la vida and into French as Forum Mondial pour l'Education et la Formation Tout au Long de la Vie.  
[4] Also, “the fact that no clear quantitative targets were established at Dakar, apart from the main literacy target, may have contributed to a lack of urgency. In addition, the language of the commitment is ambiguous. Some read goal 3 as calling for universal access to learning and life-skills programmes, but others, including the drafters of the Dakar Framework, understand no such intent.” (EFA GMR 2009, 2008: 91).

Related texts:
» Rosa María Torres, Adult Literacy in Latin America and the Caribbean: Plans and Goals 1980-2015

» Rosa María Torres, From Literacy to Lifelong Learning ▸ De la alfabetización al aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida
» Rosa María Torres, Literacy and Lifelong Learning: The Linkages 
» Rosa María Torres, Lifelong Learning: moving beyond Education for All
» Letter to UNESCO on the Literacy Decade (2003-2012)


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