I would like to thank UNESCO UIL and all those who contributed to the tremendous work done on the 3rd Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE III). In the framework of the 2030 Agenda and the Framework of Action, a benchmark such as this is essential to keep track of developments in adult learning across the globe.
When reading the GRALE III report and overhearing discussions on the outcomes, two reflections came to mind – about the data on adult learning and about who is (or should be) responsible for adult learning.
Data on adult learning
Although the GRALE III is a very valuable report, there are still some challenges in collecting data on adult learning (see Tom Schuller’s insider insights on the GRALE III report). The report highlights that many countries still cannot provide a clear picture, especially on participation and quality. There is even a more fundamental issue about the fact that adult learning is approached from a government perspective (similar to other educational sectors), while the dynamics in adult learning are very different from these sectors in terms of the types and status of providers, the role of employers and the role of individual learners (who decide their own learning pathways throughout life).
Here I mention one example where this difference between adult learning and other sectors creates a problem: financing. The report concludes that “ALE [adult learning and education]still receives only a small proportion of public funding: 42% of countries spend less than 1% of their public education budgets on ALE, and only 23% spend more than 4%.” There is nothing wrong with this conclusion, but it does not take into account the fact that companies and individuals are also main contributors to the adult learning finances. In addition, as the GRALE III report is based on self-reporting mostly from ministries of education, I am wondering if financial schemes such as tax deductible training costs are included in the government expenditure on adult learning. In some countries it is, in others maybe not as it focused only on the government-managed adult learning provision.
Who is / should be responsible for adult learning?
In many countries, adult learning is governed by the ministry of education, or the ministry of labour. However, also in many countries, a large part of adult learning is organised in specific sectors or relates to specific policy fields. A good example is health: healthcare professionals can regularly be sent on continuous professional development (organised by employers in the healthcare sector who are often obliged by law); many health-related issues have to do with a lack of knowledge (for instance on food quality) and adult learning is organised by social care organisations to increase this knowledge.
As the report highlights, “35% of countries responded that poor interdepartmental collaboration prevents ALE from having greater benefits on health and well-being. Only one-third of countries said that they have an interdepartmental or cross-sectoral coordinating body promoting ALE for personal health and well-being.”
One could wonder what should be the best place to govern adult learning policies: if we emphasise the role that other ministries play in providing and facilitating ALE, will this widen the country’s concept of what is adult learning? Will it improve the policy framework and increase the participation rates?
These reflections should not be read in any way as criticism of the GRALE III report – it is a great piece of work. But I do call for (even) more discussion on the richness and diversity in adult learning and how adult learning can have an impact on people’s lives.
By focusing on health and well-being, employment and the labour market; and social, civic and community life, GRALE III provides an important contribution.
Don’t miss out some of our other expert articles on GRALE III: