In almost one-third of countries, fewer than 5% of adults aged 15 and above participate in education and learning programs, according to UNESCO’s fourth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE 4). Adults with disabilities, older adults, refugees and migrants, minority groups and other disadvantaged segments of society are particularly under-represented in adult education programs and find themselves deprived of crucial access to lifelong learning opportunities. Published by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, the report monitors the extent to which UNESCO Member States put their international commitments regarding adult learning and education into practice and reflects data submitted by 159 countries. It calls for a major change in the approach to adult learning and education (ALE) backed by adequate investment to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access and benefit from adult learning and education and that its full contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is realized. “We urge governments and the international community to join our efforts and take action to ensure that no one – no matter who they are, where they live or what challenges they face – is left behind where the universal right to education is concerned,” says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, endorsing the report’s recommendations. “By ensuring that donor countries respect their aid obligations to developing countries, we can make adult learning and education a key lever in empowering and enabling adults, as learners, workers, parents, and active citizens.” The publication stresses the need to increase national investment in ALE, reduce participation costs, raise awareness of benefits, and improve data collection and monitoring, particularly for disadvantaged groups.
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Despite low participation overall, many more than half of responding countries (57% of 152) reported an increase in the overall participation rate in adult learning and education between 2015 and 2018. Low-income countries reported the largest increase in ALE participation (73%), trailed by lower middle income and upper middle income countries (61% and 62%). Most increases in adult learning and education participation were in sub-Saharan Africa (72% of respondents), followed by the Arab region (67%), Latin America and the Caribbean (60%) and Asia and the Pacific (49%). North America and Western Europe reported fewest increases (38%) though starting from higher levels. The data shows persistent and deep inequalities in participation and that key target groups such as adults with disabilities, older adults, minority groups as well as adults living in conflict-affected countries are not being reached. While the global report shows that women’s participation in ALE has increased in 59 per cent of the reporting countries since 2015, in some parts of the world, girls and women still do not have sufficient access to education, notably to vocational training, leaving them with few skills and poor chances of finding employment and contributing to the societies they live in, which also represents an economic loss for their countries.
By Mohamed J. Bah
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