International Conference on Adult Education closes with a call to move from rhetoric to action

Belem, 4 December

Round Table 5: "The Way Forward" (Photo: UNESCO/Björn Otte)

The Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI) closed on 4 December with a call for governments to “take forward, with a sense of urgency and at an accelerated pace, the agenda of adult learning and education” and to redouble the efforts to meet adult literacy goals. These policies were laid down in the Belem Framework for Action adopted after extensive negotiations at CONFINTEA VI.

“Now is the time for action, because the cost of not acting is too high,” states the final document, adopted at the end of the International Conference on Adult Education that gathered over 1,500 participants from over 156 Member States in Belem, Brazil during four days.

Ministers, university rectors, key representatives from regional and multilateral organizations, civil society and the private sector, as well as adult learners from all over the world debated a wide range of issues including policies and governance for adult education, literacy as a key competence for lifelong learning, assuring the quality and assessing learning outcomes, participation and inclusion, and financing mechanisms.

“This is a wake-up call to governments and the international community that without a greatly reinforced effort, the Education for All goals will never be achieved. […] The test for us is to ensure strategic collaboration, innovation and policy reform that will enable this accumulated knowledge and experience to be deployed effectively where it is needed,” said Davidson Hepburn, Chairperson of the General Conference of UNESCO.

The Belem Framework for Action stresses that “adult learning and education have a critical role in responding to contemporary cultural, economic, political and social challenges,” and underlines the need to place adult learning and education in a broader context of sustainable development. It acknowledges that effective policy, governance, financing, participation, inclusion, equity and quality are all necessary conditions for adults and young people to be able to exercise their right to education.

Reflecting the Conference’s special focus on literacy as a key to lifelong learning and an “inherent part of the right to education,” Belem Framework for Action calls for “redoubling of efforts to reduce illiteracy by 50 percent from 2000 levels by 2015,” together with increased investment and expertise, provision of relevant curricula and quality assurance mechanisms, and a reduction in the literacy gender gap.

The document notes that adult learning and education remain chronically underfunded and undervalued and says that greater political recognition following CONFINTEA V has not paved the way for effective political action in terms of policy prioritization, integration and allocation of adequate resources, either nationally or internationally. It also draws attention to a lack of professional training opportunities for adult teachers, as well as insufficient monitoring, evaluation and feedback mechanisms

Belem Framework for Action emphasizes the need for strengthened international cooperation in areas ranging from the recognition of qualifications, sharing of know-how and innovative practices, quality assurance, governance, equitable access, support for indigenous languages and education of migrants. It commits countries to scale up investment for youth and adult education to at least 6% GNP, while promoting new and establishing alternative financing mechanisms.

In his closing statement, Brazil’s Minister of Education, Fernando Haddad said that the goal after CONFINTEA VI was to go beyond the 2015 target by establishing multilateral and international funds to combat illiteracy, “so that in 2015 we can have a year of celebration for the entire international community.” He added: “We have huge hopes that after Belem, we will be ready to bring together all the efforts to guarantee reading and writing to all the citizens in the world.”

Summing up the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education, Davidson Hepburn said: “Let us hope that this momentum [gained at CONFINTEA VI] will now be the force that moves us all forward in placing adult education, not least literacy, at the centre of international efforts.” He went on to say: “The [Belem Framework for Action] is marked by solidarity in the belief that we, despite our differences and priorities, share a common belief that the 21st century will leave no adult behind.”