3 December 2009

Assuring the Quality of Adult Education

On 3 December 2009 the fourth Round Table of CONFINTEA VI addressed the topic “Assuring the Quality of Adult Education and Assessing Learning Outcomes”.

Chaired by Lord Anthony Young from the United Kingdom the Round Table brought together six panelists Mr Octávio Tavares, State Minister of Education, Cape Verde; Mr Ramon Carlos Bacani; Undersecretary; Department of Education, Philippines; Mr El Habib Nadir, Directeur de la Lutte contre l´Analphabétisme, Ministry of Education, Morocco; Ms Isabel Infante, Coordinator of Adult Education, Ministry of Education, Chile; Mr Jan Reitz Jørgensen, Senior Adviser, Ministry of Education, Department of Adult Vocational Training, Denmark; Ms Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, USA. As special invitees Ms Roxy Marosa, Talkshow host and inspirational speaker from South Africa; and Mr Alexander Charter, Professor emeritus in adult education, Syracuse University (USA), joined the conversation. Alexander Charters stands out having participated in all CONFINTEA conferences starting in 1949 with Elsinore (Denmark), the second in Montreal (Canada), the third in Tokyo (Japan), the fourth in Paris (France), the fifth in Hamburg (Germany) and the current Conference in Belém (Brazil).

Providers and practitioners often develop their own specific definitions and ways of assuring quality. But as more countries move to integrate adult education programmes into a broad lifelong learning framework, there is an increase interest in, and demand for, greater specification of the quality of the adult learning experience and learning outcomes. Adults are certainly more likely to participate in learning programmes if they believe that they will gain some personal, economic or social rewards from their learning in return for their investment of money, time, energy and commitment.

What then constitutes an appropriate approach to understanding, recognising and demonstrating quality in adult learning and education? From the deliberations and interventions during the CONFINTEA VI meeting quality emerges as a complex concept, and becoming ever more so as the provision of adult education continues to diversify.

In the Round Table discussion, teachers were recognized as one of the most important elements in quality of adult education. In the best of circumstances, the adult educator is a certified teacher with a higher education degree. Professional development frameworks are well established. These features are seen as indispensable to avoid turn-over rates and ensure motivation. However many countries still rely on non-professional adult educators. Others work with volunteers that are trained as adult educators. Overall there is a clear preoccupation with finding ways to improve the professional training of adult teacher-educators.

During the Conference many interventions underscored the links between improving and assuring quality in ALE and broader development agendas. Enhancing relevance – through increased functionality in everyday life, by being sensitive to adult learning skills and by helping adults to better employ their newly acquired prowess in life – could be seen as a path to improve access among the lowest castes, tribal areas, religious minorities, and women who suffer compound disadvantages.

Providing educational opportunities to adult members of a household, in particular to mothers, helps to improve learning outcomes among children and young people, and more globally, contributes to the empowerment of communities and to the democratization of societies. Some countries provided examples of intergenerational learning, from parents to children, which link non-formal and early childhood education. Family literacy programmes can be a powerful tool for individual growth and development.


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Khunying Kasama Varavarn (Photo: UNESCO/Björn Otte)

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Davidson Hepburn and Khunying Kasama Varavarn (Photo: UNESCO/Björn Otte)

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Davidson Hepburn and Khunying Kasama Varavarn (Photo: UNESCO/Björn Otte)

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Ole Briseid, Daggubati Purandeswari, Koumba Boly-Barry (Photo: UNESCO/Björn Otte)

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Ole Briseid, Daggubati Purandeswari, Koumba Boly-Barry (Photo: UNESCO/Björn Otte)