The ICAE Spotlight Report for CONFINTEA VII (2022)

On the eve of yet another CONFINTEA, it is salutary to recall the origins of the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE). ICAE was gestated during the fourth CONFINTEA held in Tokyo, Japan, in 1972 and formally baptised and registered in 1973. The International Conferences were, according to UNESCO’s formal procedures, interministerial meetings at which delegations appointed by national governments debated the futures of what was then called adult education. Whilst UNESCO elevated adult education to a government responsibility and endeavour, a brief historical review quickly reveals that adult education was, and continues to be a child of civil society reared and nurtured by a large spectrum of organisations including churches, universities, trade unions, political parties, social movements, community groups, professional associations etc. Civil society organisations, local community groups and social movements have been and continue to be at the fore, and the major providers of adult learning and community education. While the other providers (government, private sector) contribute to building individual capacities that contribute to a better future, civil society organisations, community organisations and social movements involved in ALE allow us not just to build our individual futures, but imagine, learn and contribute to achieving alternative futures. On the whole, government statistics on adult education refer to formal, more institutionalised initiatives which either under-represent or simply do not represent those educational activities developed by civil society organisations particularly, but not exclusively, in the field of liberal, popular and community education and citizenship skills. The ICAE then was conceived as a counterpoint and complement to UNESCO in that it set out to represent the voice of civil society so often unheard and undervalued and to establish the right of these initiatives to public funding and support.

Whilst efforts have been made to make the Confintea processes more democratic, transparent and
participative, the regional reports prepared for the VII CONFINTEA reveal a tendency to inform about governmental initiatives more than those organised by civil society. In many cases this is due to the lack of systems and mechanisms for collecting information and data on what are considered nonformal activities. This was further compounded by the decision to replace the standard national CONFINTEA reports by the questionnaires used for the GRALE reporting process, which contributed to create a different kind of dynamic regarding the circulation of information. Civil society was not granted access to contacts with focal points responsible for providing the information for GRALE and has not been able to access the information provided. Similarly, the CONFINTEA Consultative Committee was not granted access to the draft version of GRALE despite its requests. Hence the logic behind preparing a Spotlight Report is to shine light on those educational and learning activities which frequently remain in the penumbra but which at the same time express the joy of learning as well as the immense effort so many millions of young people, adults and older adults make to expand their knowledge of themselves and of the world in which they live.

The engagement of civil society, in all its rich diversity, has been the decisive factor in the creation of Education for All as a global movement, and a main force in supporting millions of young people and adults worldwide in achieving their right to education.

Despite this invaluable contribution, we witness retrograde tendencies in many countries – shrinking space for civil society, the rise of authoritarian regimes which weaken democratic processes, resulting in a restriction on the space for the voices of all people, especially the most marginalized. There are also fewer opportunities for broad-based dialogue on education and more limited involvement of civil society in government policy and planning processes.

Whilst acknowledging the role played by civil society in the development agenda and the critical
importance of SDG 4 – Education 2030 – for the success of that Agenda, we recognise the many
challenges which lie ahead and for which civil society will constitute an insubstitutable protagonist:

– innovative potential of civil society, especially its ability to design and implement innovative educational and learning practices, as well as its depth of experience in working with important often hard to reach sectors of society, including women, indigenous people; unemployed; those deprived of their liberty; people with disabilities, offering not only knowledge and skills, but also contributing to their own empowerment, thus shaping them as active and critically engaged citizens, give visibility to the invisible and supporting the most vulnerable;
-learning and working to address gender inequality will continue to be of crucial importance to ALE and to civil society and requires actively engaging with women, as well as individuals of different gender identities;
– the role of civil society as the ‘critical friend’ and social actor that can influence policy and help to hold government accountable and to monitor commitments;
– civil society as the partner with responsibility for a large part of the action-oriented learning, helping people in real work and life situations and crises, organising and learning as part of social movements around housing, water, sanitation, gender based violence, environment etc;
– the urgency of the current situation requires a transformative approach and not ‘business as usual’
– the role of civil society organisations dedicated to ALE is to challenge the rigid patterns, social structure, architecture of power and traditional relationships that harm individual and social

This Report begins by resuming those core values and principles which have come to guide ICAE’s work over the past 50 years – values and principles which exist independent of the challenges which the Council has faced over the years. It then points to those fields in which ICAE considers it crucial to invest in order to guarantee adult learning and education of quality and social relevance for the learners. We look briefly at what have been the achievements and the principal difficulties over the last decade since CONFINTEA VI in 2009, before presenting brief profiles of the challenges faced and the recommendations outlined by civil society in each of ICAE’s regions. These regions correspondent to the ICAE’s organisational structure which differs from the geopolitical division used by UNESCO. Hence, we have reports from Africa, the Arab region, North America, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and Asia and the Pacific. We conclude with the ICAE AND GLOBAL CIVIL SOCIETY MANIFESTO – 2022: Adult Learning and Education – because the future cannot wait, which consolidates the common challenges present in the regional reports and recommendations concerning the future development of ALE. The Manifesto was presented, discussed and approved at the International Forum of Civil Society, held in Marrakesh on 14th June 2022. In line with the participatory and democratic spirit of ICAE, we propose that specific recommendations to be included in the Marrakech Framework for Action shall be debated and decided by the participants at the International Forum.

Find the report here in English, French, Spanish and Arabic:

Prepared and edited by Timothy Ireland, with the contributions from the ICAE Executive Committee, ICAE organisational members and partners

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