Reflections on Involvement with Six UNESCO International Conferences on Adult Education and Suggestions for the Future

By Charters, Alexander N. | Adult Learning, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Reflections on Involvement with Six UNESCO International Conferences on Adult Education and Suggestions for the Future


Charters, Alexander N., Adult Learning


Reflections: Based on Dr. Charters' Presentation During CONFINTEA VI Belem, Para, Brazil, December, 2009

After being in World War II as a Canadian Naval Officer, on loan to the Royal Navy serving on an invasion ship (Landing Ship Tank-LST 63) in the Mediterranean and at Normandy, I returned to a little more sedentary life of study in adult education in 1948. At the University of Chicago, I was one of Dr. Cyril O. Houle's first doctoral students in Adult Education. Returning from the First International Adult Education Conference sponsored by the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Elsinore, Denmark, June 19-25, 1949, he inspired us with the vision of actively participating in the post-World War II International Adult Education movement. It was also an introduction to the recently created United Nations Organization (UNO), founded in 1945 somewhat as a replacement for the League of Nations, and UNESCO, a specialized agency of the UNO established in November 1945.

Following the Second UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education, Adult Education in a Changing World, held in Montreal, Canada, August 21-31, 1960, a group of international delegates from the conference met with some Canadian and American adult educators at Sagamore (NY), a Syracuse University Conference Center located between Syracuse and Montreal that I administered as Dean of University College. It was a way for non-delegates to the UNESCO Conference from the civil society, especially from the academic sector, to acquire more information about the developments in adult education. From this meeting the International Council on University Adult Education (ICUAE) developed. In 1962, the Carnegie Corporation funded an Adult Education program initiated by Dr. David Kimball, University of Ghana, with the cooperation of ICUAE. The program followed the pattern of the Sagamore experience. It brought together four Canadian and six American adult educators from their universities to meet with one African adult educator from each of most African universities. Prior to the Adult Education Conference held in Accra in December 1963, each Canadian and American participant was paired with an adult educator from an African University attending the conference, thus able to share experiences at the conference. Following the conference, the Canadian and American adult educators went to the university of their counterparts, where they spent several days sharing adult education experiences and concerns. I spent several days at the Addis Abba University in Ethiopia.

I had the privilege of participating in all subsequent UNESCO Assemblies. At the Third UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education, Adult Education in the Context of Lifelong Learning, in Tokyo, Japan, July 25 to August 1, 1972, I served as a member of the official United States Delegation. All delegates to the UNESCO Conference were appointed by the governments of the member states, although members from non-governmental organizations were sometimes appointed to the delegations. While in Tokyo, under the leadership of Dr. J. R. (Roby) Kidd, some of us, in the lobbies of the hotel and elsewhere, explored the possibility of an international organization on adult education with membership from the civil society. Partly from these discussions, the International Council on Adult Education (ICAE), a non-governmental organization, was formed in 1973. The UNESCO meeting provided fertile ground for the generation of such ideas.

The Fourth UNESCO International Adult Education Conference, The Development of Adult Education: Aspects and Trends, was held in Paris, France, March 19-29, 1985. The United States had temporarily withdrawn from UNESCO, but I had an invitation to attend as a representative from the Committee of Adult Education Organizations (CAEO), later named the Coalition of Lifelong Learning Organizations (COLLO) of the United States, which continues and was involved in planning for CONFINTEA VI. …

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