May 2019

The invisible friend: adult education and the Sustainable Development Goals

Aaron Benavot University at Albany – State University of New York USA

Abstract – We live longer, in an increasingly global world. Our workplaces develop, and we are affected by climate change. We need adult education to cope with these changes.

Abstract We live longer, in an increasingly global world. Our workplaces develop, and we are affected by climate change. We need adult education to cope with these changes. At the same time, the sector is languishing all over the world. This article focuses on the ways in which adult education and lifelong learning are present in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It highlights several contradictions in the new Agenda, and calls for innovative engagement and advocacy.

Relative to other areas in education, progress in adult literacy, adult basic education and other opportunities for lifelong learning has languished in recent years and in much of the world. Whether due to lower prioritisation in Ministries of Education, minimal donor support, weak data-reporting mechanisms, or the absence of sustained private investment, the momentum behind expanding access to Adult Learning and Education (ALE) has slowed.

By contrast, global trends accentuate the value of, and the need to invest in, ALE. To name a few: Adults are living longer, and they are generating more demand for learning throughout life in diverse settings and formats. New technologies, growing automation, and shifting locations of production are influencing the skills needed by, and career trajec­tories of, workers in evolving labour markets. National populations are growing more diverse, partly due to intensified migration, thus highlighting the need for new approaches to promote social integration and solidarity. Adults are expected to become more resilient to the effects of climate change, extreme weather and natural disasters. Growing numbers of refugees and displaced people increase the need for adult education in emergencies, as well as for opportunities for (re)training and skill acquisition. Given these trends, international interest in ALE should be booming.

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