Literacy is the main task

  • When:
    23 September 2016
  • Who: Werner Mauch, UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

On the necessity of thinking about education in stages: Werner Mauch from the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning at the margins of a conference in St. Pölten.


STANDARD: Where the subjects of digitalisation and learning are concerned, the positions range from euphoria to dejection – which do you represent?

Mauch: One must always think in terms of chances and risks. Digitalisation offers unbelievable opportunities for access to knowledge; information can be spread very far, very quickly. The formation of communities also works wonderfully on the internet. At the same time, however, the new technologies also exclude, and a digital divide arises. Other dangers include a lack of data protection and all sorts of things relating to “Big Data”. Nevertheless: We must use the chances provided by digitalisation. The opportunities are already there – we simply need to grab them. Mobile phones are part of everyday life in many countries. These can also be used for learning programmes.

STANDARD: The UNESCO countries impose their own guidelines every twelve years, the “Framework for Action on Adult Learning and Education”. How is the implementation progressing?

Mauch: We examine it every three years by asking all member countries: How far are you? And then we draw our conclusions. The latest Global Report has just been published, known as “GRALE III”. In it the countries state that significant progress has been achieved in all fields of action.

STANDARD: Two principles are permeability and the recognition of informal qualifications. Austria attempts to achieve these with a qualification framework that categorises educational qualifications according to a scale. Its implementation has already taken years – so much for progress.

Mauch: The idea has been around since the 1970s, but its implementation has proven to be complicated: How can skills be assessed and recognised if they do not form part of the classical education canon? People know much more than can be confirmed with a formal qualification. And everyday learning is very important: that is where we get around 80 percent of what we know.

STANDARD: The latest trend for recognising informal knowledge involves so-called Digital Badges, a kind of digital certificate. Will they prevail?

Mauch: Of course the new media present all kinds of possibilities. We shall continue to monitor this.

STANDARD: What is a common challenge for all?

Mauch: More than 758 million people – including Germans and Austrians – cannot read or write properly. That is nothing less than a scandal. The problem: illiteracy is often regarded as a rare disease that is difficult to treat. But that really is not the case. It is possible to do something about it. And while it is certainly true that many refugees need to catch up, they are not the only ones. Moreover, there is not just one correct method, but instead a wide range of possibilities. The main thing to remember is: literacy is a continuum with many intermediate stages, and not an either/or state. As with the National Qualification Framework, therefore, we must also think more strongly in terms of levels of competence. Adult literacy is certainly one of the main tasks in the coming years, in Europe and worldwide.

STANDARD: How will it succeed?

Mauch: One can only motivate an adult to learn by showing him the benefit it brings. Furthermore, one needs to build upon what people can already do. Adults are already experienced, and have a lot to offer. Finally, it is important to relate to tradition. For example, we had a project in India in which women were trained to become hand pump mechanics. Traditionally, they had always been responsible for water, which is why it worked so well. Secondly, by these means they were given an important role, which raised their status – but they had to learn how to read and write, which they willingly did. Best of all, they even started to organise into a kind of trade union.

STANDARD: You have another project: “Learning Cities”.

Mauch: The network aims to continue supporting learning in cities and at municipal level, since that is where it happens. More than 100 cities from 28 countries now belong to the network. Last year, twelve of these received awards for their progress, including Amman in Jordan, Mexico City and Beijing in China, but also Bahir Dar in Ethiopia, Espoo in Finland, and Ybycuí in Paraguay.

WERNER MAUCH (59) is Project Coordinator of the Adult Learning and Education Programme at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning in Hamburg.