Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE)

  • April 2009

In the 21st century, the rapid pace and complexity of economic, technological and cultural changes require women and men to adapt and re-adapt throughout their lives – all the more so in the context of globalisation. In this era of the knowledge society – where production structure is shifting towards greater knowledge use and away from reliance on physical capital, manufacturing and agricultural production – growth in personal, national and regional incomes is increasingly defined by the ability to create, manage, disseminate and innovate in knowledge production. The new information and communication technologies (ICTs) intensify the rate of exchange of information. They also allow users to participate actively in virtual networks that can easily be mobilised to shape public opinion. Globalisation means that individuals and families are crossing national borders in large numbers. They, as well as the receiving communities, need to learn new ways of living together amidst cultural differences.

These developments not only highlight the importance of continuous learning in general; they also demand that adults keep on acquiring more information, upgrading their skills and reexamining their values. The critical role of adult education in the development of society has long been recognised. Since the First International Conference on Adult Education in 1949, UNESCO member states have dedicated themselves to ensuring that adults are able to exercise the basic right to education. Later Conferences in Montreal (1960), Tokyo (1972), Paris (1985) and Hamburg (1997) reaffirmed this right, and proposed ways of making it a reality. In 1976, the UNESCO General Conference approved the Nairobi Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education (UNESCO, 1976) which enshrined governments’ commitment to promote adult education as an integral part of the educational system within a lifelong learning perspective.

Over the course of these 60 years the landscape of adult education has evolved. This Global Report aims to describe the current position. First it sets out to document trends in key areas of adult education at the global level, intended to serve as a reference document for policymakers, practitioners and researchers. Second, it provides an advocacy tool to promote the importance of adult education as well as to share effective practice. Finally, as one of the key inputs to CONFINTEA VI, it will provide evidence to support the outcome document of the meeting.

The understanding of the role of adult education has changed and developed through time. From being seen as promoting international understanding in 1949, adult education is now seen as a key in the economic, political and cultural transformation of individuals, communities and societies in the 21st century. While UNESCO has spelled out a definition of adult education in the Nairobi Recommendation, what is considered as adult education is still subject to a wide range of interpretations. The shift from education to learning also constitutes an important change in  conceptualising the field. But what, exactly is an “adult”? Cultural and social factors have significant impact on the division of the human life-course into age-linked stages and phases. These phases vary widely across time and space.

The first ever Global Report on Adult Learning and Education is based on 154 National Reports submitted by UNESCO Member States on the state of adult learning and education, five Regional Synthesis Reports and secondary literature.

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  • Author/Editor: UIL
  • Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE)
  • UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, 2009
  • ISBN
    978-92- 820-1169-0
  • Available in: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese