UN meets ‘the Invisible Friend: Adult Education and the Sustainable Development Goals’ in New York


© dvv international / J. Schriegel
15 July 2019

Within the framework of the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, held at UN Headquarters in New York City from 9 to 19 July 2019, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) co-organized a side event – ‘The invisible friend: Adult education and the Sustainable Development Goals’ – with DVV International, the German Adult Education Association.

The event, which took place at the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United Nations in New York on 9 July, aimed to highlight the often-underestimated potential of adult education for sustainable development.

The speakers, representing ALE policy, practice and research, addressed the critical importance of non-formal education approaches within the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4). They also underscored the many cross-sectoral linkages that adult education shares with other SDGs, especially those under review during this year’s HLPF. Even if adult learning is not mentioned explicitly in all 17 SDGs, it is important to realise that none of these SDGs can be achieved without some form of adult learning. In addition, while there is still a tendency to focus on formal adult education, there is a growing recognition of non-formal and informal adult learning.

Adult learning and education (ALE) is conceived as the ‘invisible friend’ of sustainable development in that its role and function in achieving SDG 4 are not fully acknowledged in the Education 2030 Framework for Action (FFA). The lack of a specific target for ALE can be seen as striking proof of this deficit. Discussions during the event demonstrated that manifold examples of good practice exist to illustrate the supportive function of ALE, and that there is ample reason to recognize its potential. While the 2030 FFA states that “special measures and increased finance are needed to address the needs of adult learners”, scant provision has been made for measuring learning performance – the primary means of demonstrating relevance. Although the diversity of ALE actors is one of ALE's strengths, the resulting complexity can make analysis difficult, which in turn may serve to weaken ALE’s standing in expert and political discourse. The success of further advocacy measures depends on powerful arguments, and monitoring achievements – specifically the learning achievements of adult learners – will play a key role in the context of the SDGs.