History of ICAE

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The International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), founded in 1972, is the most influential and comprehensive international organization in the field of youth and adult education. ICAE represents more than 800 organizations working on the promotion of the right to learn, literacy, youth and adult education and lifelong learning. It has seven member organizations at regional level and national members in 75 countries.

The idea of having an international non-governmental body for the adult education movement, was born in a discussion in a room in the Tokyo Prince Hotel in Japan where the Third International Conference on Adult Education was taking place in July od 1972. Back then, Roby Kidd, humanist and adult educator, was taking the message to as many countries as possible that the UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education was important and that new international organization for adult educators was in the planning stages.

The creation of an international organization on adult education received support from UNESCO and the members of the staff at headquarters in Paris who followed adult education matters. Because of new commitments to lifelong learning, special support for adult education was needed. Initial support also came from Canada, the United States, Britain, and the countries of the Commonwealth. India, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Venezuela, and a number of other developing countries, were members from the beginning. The combination of contacts in the national adult education associations with those in university adult education provided the strongest base for the early development of the Council.

During the first few years, ICAE corresponded with and worked primarily through national associations. At the time, the Council was mostly an information network, with some modest projects, but a consistent work through these years allowed it to call for the First World Assembly on Adult Education and Development in 1976 is Dar es Salaam, and put the council on the map, so to speak.

Important figures in adult education participated to this event, including Lucile Mair of Jamaica, Paulo Freire of Brazil, and Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s president. Nyerere was chosen the first honorary president of the Council, on of the most respected world leaders, he believed in, and understood adult education. Together with Roby Kidd, as the first Secretary-General, the ICAE gain visibility and institutional recognition.

The earliest days in the 1970s brought together persons from different traditions, those who thought it important to professionalize the field of adult education, and those who saw it as a component of the newer paradigms of international development. Ultimately, people from different parts of the world working together shaped the underlying ideology of the Council: strengthen the structures of adult education and the role of adult education in the face of critical global issues.

In the early 70s, when the Council was formed three major regional adult education bodies already existed: the European Bureau for Adult Education, the African Adult Education Association, and the Asian and South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education. ICAE made a commitment to strengthen and work with the regional bodies with already existed, and to support the creation and development of such organizations for other regions. Today, the structures of the Council now came to include regional organizations into the Executive committee, which provides for a sharing of power.

Social movements also have played a key role for adult education and ICAE. By the early 1980s the women’s movement, the peace movement, trade union movements, movement of indigenous people, and other movements were gaining momentum, and the Council, among many other activities, worked to strengthen the links between the adult education movement and other movements. Social movements were identified as primary means of transformation, where adult educators, could demonstrate the potential of their field in the service of the movements.

ICAE found its leadership in reflecting local and regional trends in youth and adult education and in making connections with broader issues and pick up new ideas. Issues like literacy, gender equality, environmental sustainability, peace and human rights have been central to the Council.

Through more than 40 years, ICAE has managed to sustain a network of activist, educators, organizations and even other networks, despite of the pressures of economic, political, and cultural globalization. Strong leadership and active members will move the Council through the next phases in its history.


– ADULT LEARNING: A Design for Action. A Comprehensive International Survey
Edited by Budd L. Hall and J.Roby Kidd
International Council for Adult Education
Toronto, Canada
Copyright © 1978 Pergamon Press Ltd.