Academic journal article Adult Learning

Our Global Reach: UNESCO and ICAE as Catalysts

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Our Global Reach: UNESCO and ICAE as Catalysts

Article excerpt

Globalization has become a household word, permeating workplaces and communities, while internationalizing the curriculum has become common practice, not just in higher education, but also reaching into the primary grades and outward into program planning efforts in the non-formal sector. Few fields, however, can claim two international bodies dedicated to the global nature of a field of study and practice, illuminating common issues and coalescing professionals in a common identity, namely: (a) the governmentally based UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), and (b) the civil society-oriented ICAE (International Council for Adult Education), an association of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from around the globe.

Professional identities may be varied. One may identify as an adult educator, continuing education professional, human resource development specialist, or by many other designations and titles in the adult lifelong learning movement. One may work with research, policy, or professional practice. Central, however, is the concept of development, not just of individuals, but of the contexts in which they find themselves--thus, organizational development, community development, national development and nation building, as well as societal and global development. UNESCO and ICAE play a complementary role in this vital endeavor.


Approximately every 12 years, UNESCO (1) hosts an International Governmental Assembly on Adult Education, although the past two Assemblies (1997 and 2009) have focused on the term adult learning. UNESCO has evidenced long-standing historical support of adult education as a field of study and practice. The first Assembly took place in Elsinore, Denmark during 1949, the second in Montreal, Canada during 1960, the third in Tokyo, Japan during 1972, the fourth in Paris, France during 1985, the fifth in Hamburg, Germany during 1997, and the sixth most recent during 2009 in Belem do Para, Brazil (and for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere). Originally scheduled for May, the Assembly was rescheduled for 1-4 December 2009 due to the then-impending HIN1 (Swine Flu) pandemic. The theme of the 2009 Assembly, CONFINTEA VI after a French acronym for International Conference on Adult Education (Conference Internationale de Educations des Adultes), was entitled "Living and Learning for a Viable Future: The power of adult learning." The objectives of the Assembly were to "(a) push forward the recognition of adult learning and education as an important element of and factor conducive to lifelong learning, of which literacy is the foundation, (b) highlight the crucial role of adult learning and education for the realization of current international education and development agendas (EFA, MDGs, UNLD, LIFE, and DESD) (2), and (c) renew political momentum and commitment and to develop the tools for implementation in order to move from rhetoric to action" (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, 2010, p. 5). The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) was officially entrusted with coordinating and guiding preparatory and post-assembly follow-up matters.

Although the United States was integrally involved with the inception of UNESCO, the U.S. government withdrew from UNESCO in late 1984 just prior to the fourth Assembly held in Paris during 1985, and did not return to membership until 2002 (in actuality the announcement was made in 2002, but it took until 2003 to establish a U.S. UNESCO Office and Commission). Consequently, the United States was unable to send an official delegation to the fourth (Paris) and fifth (Hamburg) UNESCO Assemblies, although adult educators did manage a presence as observer teams, but with no voting privileges. CONFINTEA VI, accordingly, represents the first time the United States planned and organized its official involvement, including the appointment of a delegation, since the third Assembly in 1972--a 37-year hiatus from Assemblies and 18-year absence from UNESCO membership

CONFINTEA VI is more a process than just one event suspended in time in that it includes preparatory events prior to the Assembly and monitoring mechanisms post-Assembly. …

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