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Final reactions from the civil society caucus

December 6, 2009


In the build up to this major UN Conference on Adult Education held in Brazil from 1st-4th December, civil society organisations developed a strong united position reflecting the views of over 500 people from 80 countries. Together we laid out a consensus position on how the conference could move from rhetoric to coherent action. We won space and recognition for civil society within the conference. Indeed, our positions for strengthening action on the right to education for all adults and young people were fully endorsed by the heads of 22 national government delegations from all regions, won significant support from another 14 governments and were debated throughout the conference

As a result of civil society action and support from many governments there were some significant gains. There was an acknowledgement of the urgent need for action on adult literacy and there was a welcome recognition that we need to move beyond past simplistic understandings of literacy, to recognise a continuum of learning. There was a commitment to produce fully costed and well-targeted plans backed up by legislation – and with active participation from civil society, educators and learners themselves. There was strong language recognising different forms of discrimination that undermine access to education. The commitment to monitor progress on adult education was significantly reinforced with clear timelines. There was a commitment to developing educational responses to the increasing challenges of migration. Perhaps most importantly there was a commitment to ensure that the major global financing mechanism for education for all (called the Education Fast Track Initiative) should explicitly support adult literacy.

However, the world faces a series of major crises (food, fuel, finance, climate, conflict and war) and for adult education to empower people, especially women, to respond to these we need to go much further. For example, taking place on the eve of the UN Copenhagen Climate Conference, this UN conference (held in the Amazon region of Brazil) made it clear that human resource development is fundamental to addressing the natural resource crises that face planet earth. This reinforces the urgency of addressing the chronic under-funding of adult education.

Building on the progress made by CONFINTEA VI there are some important issues that need to be pursued further in order to provide a strong framework for achieving real progress on adult education:

  1. There is an urgent need for governments to commit to a 6% target as an equitable share of the domestic education budget to be earmarked for the education of adults and young people.
  2. Northern governments need also to commit 6% of their education aid budgets for the education of adults and young people.
  3. There needs to be a stronger recognition of the role of adult education in ensuring gender justice and a clear recognition of gender as an integral and cross-cutting issue.
  4. Action is also needed to address the macro-economic policies which presently block countries from investing adequately in education, particularly in the context of the financial crisis, which has discredited past prescriptions from the IMF.
  5. In the coming years there needs to be greater recognition of the enormous scale of the violation of the fundamental right to education of adults and young people. We need to move from recognising that basic adult education is a justiciable human right, to a point where governments pass legislation to make all adult education legally enforceable.

Civil society has a crucial role to play in rigorous monitoring and in being a partner of government in developing adult learning policy and practice. Whilst recognising the enormous efforts made by UNESCO in CONFINTEA VI, it is clear that future conferences must ensure that processes for handling amendments and finalising documents need to be significantly improved and made more transparent.

We commit ourselves to continuing the struggle to secure coherent action on the right to education for adults and young people.  We now return to our work in each community and country with renewed passion to make this fundamental right a reality.


“We can’t meet the MDGs without adult education”

December 4, 2009

Paul Bélanger, ICAE

Hangar Conference Center. 10:00 am
By Ana Abelenda

Paul Bélanger, President of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) spoke on the last day of CONFINTEA VI being held here in Belém. While several countries supported some of the items proposed in the declaration of civil society: “From rhetoric to coherent action”, the amendments to the Belém Framework for Action are still being negotiated to the last minute.

Bélanger began his speech by saying that civil society is concerned about the slow progress, but that they want a way forward. The situations of conflict in the world – and he recalled the recent blood-baths in New Guinea and Somalia – demonstrate that adult education for peace is an essential tool.

Why the urgency for action? Bélanger lists 5 key reasons:

  1. We can’t meet the MDGs without adult education. The prevention of HIV / AIDS cannot be accomplished without adult education.
  2. In a world living multiple crises, the training of the workforce is an essential tool for resolving this crisis.
  3. Young and Adult Education is a human right because it allows the fulfillment of all other rights.
  4. We are not in the position to wait 35 more years until CONFINTEA 9 to see changes. They are needed now.
  5. It is also a question of productivity. Civil society does not shy away to talk about productivity, but productivity is not only material but intellectual and social. We cannot be productive without the active participation of all women and men.

He also addressed the issue of financing, and said he does not see how you can talk about this subject without talking about figures. Some countries did not want to discuss figures but these are necessary to have clear goals that are binding commitments.

It is also necessary to mobilize all stakeholders: governments, the private sector, learners associations and of course, civil society organizations.

He recalled that in the coming days humanity will decide how to take care of the planet we live in during the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. “The planet will not survive if it’s not a learning planet” he said and called to review the armament budgets in favor of investment in education.

“We need to move forward. This is like riding a bicycle: if we stop riding, we lose balance” he concluded.

Women’s proposed amendments to the Belém Framework for Action

December 3, 2009

The women’s civil society caucus that met during and after the International Civil Society Forum (FISC) has submitted a series of recommendations and proposals to national delegations working on the draft Belém Framework for Action.

Download the documents (doc):
Summary of recommendations to the Belém Framework for Action
Complete text of the Belém Framework for Action with amendments

Crucial moment at CONFINTEA VI

December 3, 2009

National delegates have until 3pm today to submit ammendments to the Belém outcome document. Civil Society representatives agreed in a meeting this morning to lobby national delegates at the writing commission to the last minute.

“The answer is not standardized programs”

December 3, 2009

Workshop: Education, Gender and Poverty
Hangar Conference Center, room Pará, 3:30pm
By Ana Abelenda

Which programs have actually worked out in the field of women’s education? This was the main question of a workshop entitled “Education, Gender and Poverty” organized by the Popular Education among Women Network (REPEM), an activity part of the parallel activities at CONFINTEA VI.

Sergio Haddad, of Açao Educativa, explained how exigibility of human rights works and how it can be used to guarantee the full implementation of the right to education. He named the four characteristics of the right to education as they were listed by the first UNESCO Rapporteur on the Right to Education: Availability, Accessibility, Acceptability, and Adaptability.

He stressed that the role of civil society must be to push for the recognition of adult education as a human right meaning that governments have the responsibility for its full implementation. Exigibility means every human being has the right to reclaim the full implementation of the right to education – including adult education – via social pressure, administrative or justice mechanisms.

Malini Ghose, from India, gave some pointers on how to make successful programs based on her experience in Adult Women Education in India. “Access is not just about provision” she said, explaining how the fact that there were public schools available in India did not guarantee the attendance of learners. She also stressed the fact that literacy has far more impacts than the acquirement of knowledge, for instance, women learners perceived gender violence more clearly in their daily lives.

As for the recommendations on successful practices she listed:

  • to move away from the “deficit” approach where students are perceived to have a lack of knowledge
  • to close the gap between the “us” and “them” exploiting curiosity and humor
  • to build participation at all levels is essential
  • The answer is not standardized programs, learners need to set the agenda
  • To have a long-term vision and investment program because “the needs for literacy keep evolving”
  • Invest in capacity-building of educators
  • Monitoring and evaluation should take into account testimony of learners

As a closure to the panel, María Cristina Chavéz from Colombia shared her experience as an educator in the project “Cabeza de Familia Avanzar”. Her organization received training from the REPEM and they have learnt to connect issues of macroeconomics with personal impacts. The women engaged in decision making and assumed leadership in their communities.

Pictures from the Norwegian participants on FISC

December 3, 2009



The Norwegian Association for Adult Learning (NAAL) The NAAL is the national NGO umbrella for adult learning in Norway. Our members are 19 governmentally approved adult learning associations with a member network of 438 nationwide adult learning NGOs.

NAAL has a central administration in Oslo, and has autonomous regional offices covering all 19 counties of Norway.

Our members’ activities in 2007: Approximately 37 000 courses with 490 000 participants.

Civil society caucus proposals to strengthen the Belém Declaration

December 2, 2009

Read here the recommendations developed by organisations gathered in Belem in the civil society caucus of CONFINTEA VI


1. There needs to be a recognition of the enormous scale of the violation of the fundamental human and social right to education of adults and young people. As such CONFINTEA V1should declare a state of crisis, requiring urgent action. Basic adult education is already a justiciable human right and we urge all governments to pass legislation to make all adult education a legally enforceable right.

2. The education of adults and young people is key to helping people, especially women, (who are worst affected) to cope with all types of crises (food, fuel, finance, conflict or climate), enabling them to shape a sustainable future and to work towards gender equality and justice. Popular education is key to the renewal of adult learning as a means to social and political transformation.

3. A legal structure for the governance of the education of adults and young people should be present in all countries, specifying the involvement in decision-making of civil society, learner representatives and educators alongside government. The education of adults and young people should be inclusive and diverse, spanning all areas of human activity and fostering well-being rather than just economic development. As such it should be based on inter-sectoral and inter-ministerial action but with strong leadership from (and ultimate responsibility lying with) Ministries of Education.

4. There should be no more collection of simplistic data or statistics based on the artificial division between illiteracy and literacy. All surveys, research and data collection or reporting should focus on a continuum of literacy levels appropriate to people’s life, work, cultural and linguistic contexts. All data should be disaggregated by gender and other bases of potential discrimination (e.g. race, ethnicity, class, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, generation, disability, geographical location, citizenship status, imprisonment etc). 

5. The education of adults and young people should be recognised as the glue behind achieving all the MDGs and should therefore be prioritised in national plans and in the review of progress towards the MDGs. All governments should develop fully-costed policies, well-targeted plans and legislation for addressing adult literacy and lifelong learning by 2012. These plans should be based on credible evidence (e.g. new national surveys) on literacy levels and present participation rates in adult learning – and they should be seen as an integral part of any education sector or poverty reduction plan. These plans should recognize the role of education in transforming values and attitudes and in challenging all kinds of discriminatory practices, for example those based on gender. The plans must also address the new challenges of digital literacy, the urgent need for improving the capacity for research and evaluation as well as the need for quality training and better remuneration of adult educators.

6. Governments should calculate the full cost of achieving quality education for adults and young people, and should agree to binding minimum targets for spending on adult education including at least 6% of national education budgets being spent on youth and adult education (in countries with significant literacy challenges – where a minimum of half of this should be spent on literacy). An equally binding target should be agreed of at least 6% of aid to education being spent on the education of adults and young people (premised on at least 0.7% of GNI being spent on aid and 15% of overall aid being earmarked for education). The international community and financing agencies should recognise Goals 3 and 4 from Dakar as equally important as other goals in all their education aid and should develop accurate projections on financing gaps for achieving these. At least $10 billion in new aid is needed by 2015 to make an impact on adult literacy.

7. The Fast Track Initiative needs to be radically transformed into a Global Initiative on Education For All which explicitly requires sector plans to include credible action on, and investment in, youth and adult, especially women’s, literacy. This transformed initiative should be fully independent from the World Bank and much more ambitious than the present FTI in the scale of resources that it mobilises.

8. The G20, which recently re-empowered the IMF, needs to challenge the restrictive macro-economic conditions imposed (and policies promoted) by the IMF that have undermined investment in education for all. There should be a clear requirement on the IMF to show sustained flexibility in inflation and deficit targets through to 2015 that will allow for significant increases in long term investment in education as a key part of the solution to the financial crisis.

9. All governments have a responsibility to maximise the learning opportunities available for all people on their territory and so should ensure that sustainable investment is maximised from individuals, employers and the State to ensure no-one is left behind. All employers should invest at least 1% of the payroll in work-related education and training. All resources should be well targeted to ensure they reach those who are most disadvantaged or excluded, especially women who often suffer from multiple marginalisation. It is important to recognise that no country has fully overcome the challenge of including all people and of transforming the profile of participation in adult learning. In all contexts adult learners themselves should have a voice in the development of policies and practices that affect them.

10. There need to be comprehensive and multi-agency monitoring mechanisms for ensuring that these commitments are delivered. At a national level this should include public institutions, universities and civil society. At an international level this should include for example OECD DAC requiring reporting on aid to adult education, UIS and GMR tracking government spending, WHO monitoring 5% recommendation on health promotion, FAO tracking agricultural extension and so on. There need to be clear benchmarks established by 2012 in all areas so as to facilitate assessment of progress. There should be a global monitoring report with rigorous data on adult learning every three years, which will inform analysis of progress towards CONFINTEA commitments and feed into other UN processes (e.g. on climate change, financing for development, women’s rights, MDGs, population, migration,  etc).

Civil society has a crucial role to play in rigorous monitoring and in being a critical partner of government in developing adult learning policy and practice.