Let’s Talk About Adult Education

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When we think of adult education, we often do not think of primary education. But in some parts of the world, up to half of the population has never received sufficient education as a child. Mexican lawyer Julio Sabines makes a case for offering these people more oppportunities to catch up as adults, significantly raising their chances to succeed in life. 

We all know that education is one of the strongest equalizers in society. Education is the most important factor to measure a society’s development, and it is through education that we can achieve justice, peace, and democracy. When the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals were agreed by the United Nations, the discussions also emphasized that inclusive, fair, and quality education was a must and that it should be guaranteed throughout a person’s life.

This is why I would like to talk to you about adult education. It is more common to think about compulsory education and children, or higher education and adults, which is why we sometimes forget about people’s right to receive basic education no matter their age. Developed countries have lost their interest in lifelong basic education as a result of successful primary education systems.

Throughout the world, compulsory education lasts for an average of ten years. The OECD designed the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to measure adult competencies and skills in literacy or math. The goal of the survey is to establish a framework that would help countries and organizations to improve their adult education policies.

European countries have a very high success rate in guaranteeing their citizens’ right to primary education, with the percentage of people without primary education ranging from less than 10% in Eastern Europe to less than 4% in Western European countries. In the United States of America, according to 2017 Census Bureau figures, 10% of the population do not have a high school diploma (that number was 75% in the 1940s), while the numbers in Latin American countries range from about 30% to 40%.

Working poor and immigration phenomena are slowly contributing to elevating those numbers in most developed countries. That’s the main reason for the importance of raising awareness on this matter. Lifelong education and the acquisition of skills should remain main concerns of societies seeking equality.

"Whenever we meet an adult who did not finish primary education, we have in front of us someone who’s been denied a basic human right."

Julio Sabines

The dynamics of adult education requires the creation of new tools that improve the teaching of young people and adults. Innovation in terms of strategies and the commitment of those who undertake them are key to getting to where we aspire.

The purpose is to expand the means of attention capacity through adapting and implementing new information technologies in the fight against educational lag and to keep up with the education demands in the twenty-first century. Guaranteeing the right to education is not the job of a single person or institution; it is the joint responsibility of different actors in communities and governments.

Whenever we meet an adult who did not finish primary education, we have in front of us someone who’s been denied a basic human right. Different studies have shown that if a father or a mother have finished primary education, their whole family has a better chance of being better educated and earning better salaries.

Anna Earl/Unsplash

Every person must have the right to education throughout his/her life, whether it is within or outside the formal education system, with the goal of acquiring, updating, completing, or expanding his/her capabilities, knowledge, skills, aptitudes, and competencies for personal and professional development.

So, lifelong learning, especially for those who did not have access to basic literacy and math skills, is an issue of the utmost importance. I believe that education’s main objective is to serve social goals. In the twenty-first century, when technology is booming and artificial intelligence is becoming part of our everyday lives, we cannot allow for population percentages as high as 30% (in Latin America) or almost 50% (in Africa) to be left behind.

As stated before, we must first raise awareness and then understand that overcoming this challenge must happen hand in hand with governments and civil society. Ask yourselves what you can do! Where can we find adults lacking primary education? How can we motivate them to study? And what immediate changes can we make to tackle this challenge collaboratively and with empathy?

Sometimes it’s about nonprofit work, for example, serving as a volunteer teaching other adults; sometimes it’s about allowing people within our organizations time off so they can set aside time to study; or it may be about just donating funds or equipment to organizations that promote adult education.

Today the biggest numbers of adults without primary education are those between the age of 15 and 60, most of them women (55–60%).
Julio Sabines

Let’s remember that an adult learns in very different ways than a child, and that they are also learning very different things, because adult education has to do with social skills and work competencies. Income inequalities are leaving more and more people behind; children and teenagers, especially but not exclusively in developing countries, are skipping school to work, and adults who lack formal education are not receiving proper attention. Many people mistakenly think that adult education is for the elderly, but today the biggest numbers of adults without primary education are those between the age of 15 and 60, most of them women (55–60%).

So that’s why I chose to tell you about the importance of bringing this issue to the fore. The world is heading towards amazing places; cooperation and development are achieving great breakthroughs; and technology is taking us at incredible speeds towards more inclusive societies – so let’s not leave anyone behind. Let’s raise awareness and move forward towards a society that recognizes the benefit for social justice and economic growth in the very important matter of adult education.

There is much to be done, and it might just be waiting for you around the corner.

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