|Adult Learning and the Changing World of Work - Report of Theme V - Fifth International Conference on Adult Education (UNEVOC, 1998, 136 p.)|
The Fifth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA V) held in Hamburg Germany, from 14 to 18 July 1997, marked a turning point in the conception of adult learning. The Conference organised by UNESCO and in particular the UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg, mobilised the co-operation and support of Member States and of a wide range of partners, including UN organisations, governmental and non-governmental organisations and the private sector.
The Hamburg Conference attended by over 1500 participants from over 130 countries was preceded by months of preparation drawing upon the educational realities and aspirations in the different regions of the world. Based on the regional meetings, a consensus emerged which found expression in the two key Conference documents The Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning and The Agenda for the Future, which contain a series of more specific and detailed proposals with respect to each of the 10 themes of the Conference. In line with the follow-up to CONFINTEA V the UNESCO Institute for Education Hamburg has set up a co-ordination unit which collects information, disseminates, monitors and promotes the issues and policies framed within the documents.
This report presents the contributions to theme five Adult learning and the Changing World of Work dealing in the three sessions with the most significant changes taking place in the world of work, their implications for programmes of adult learning and for policy directions in adult learning. The thematic network on work was represented by a wide range of UN organisations (ILO, World Bank, UNDP), universities and research associations as well as governmental organisations.
The world of work is experiencing major changes in patterns of production as well as dramatic innovations in technologies in the context of a more competitive global economy. At the thematic workshops, participants drew attention to the major shortages of qualified workers for new industries, the displacement of labour, dislocation of peoples, reduced unionisation, unemployment, obsolescence of skills and production techniques, gender inequalities and precarious employment. An increasing proportion of the working population exists outside the range of mainstream labour market policies, and formal education is able to meet the demands of only a very small proportion of this population. All these changes confront us day after day and reinforce the tremendous importance of lifelong learning as well as explain the growing demand for adult and continuing learning.
Acknowledging the changing nature of work and the effects of policies to increase productivity, which result in considerable loss of jobs, the participants affirmed the importance of the right to work, as well as the role of adult learning which needs to be seen as an investment.
An awareness of the whole spectrum of work was enhanced by the presenters, who claimed that adult learning could no longer be conceptualised as a narrow educational effort focusing on technical skills required for performing a given job or paid employment. Nor could it be approached as a one-time event preparing the workforce to enter the labour market. Adult learning encompasses community work, private work and work in the informal sector of the economy. Adult learning is a continuous and recurrent learning process that takes place through the entire working life. Aspects of adult learning that emerged strongly included attitudes, values, behavioural patterns, in addition to technical skills, as well as core skills such as critical analysis and teamwork.
It was emphasised that although adult learning is becoming more and more an individual effort, this will have to be counterbalanced by provision, opportunities, information and guidance. Adult learning should be imparted in the context of clear regulatory frameworks set by governments, as well as in the context of strategic alliances between stakeholders. Governments were considered to have responsibility for setting parameters of the adult learning market in a demand-driven system, counteracting any market distortions and addressing equity issues.
Problems in adult learning in relation to the world of work were presented in diverse ways, within developed and developing countries. However, there were striking trends that emerged during the various workshop sessions, within certain regions, countries and economies. The most significant changes with respect to Africa were summed under the challenges Africa faces through globalization, rapid technological change, democratisation and socio-cultural transformation. Problems in adult learning in the context of developing societies stressed the centrality of adult learning in the struggle for self-sufficiency in the light of new dependencies being created through multinational companies, labour market and educational constraints to achieving these reforms were discussed. The major challenge for adult learning in transition societies is the issue of structural unemployment.
But what constitutes adult learning for those who neither have access to regular jobs at present, nor the promise of permanent jobs in future, and who need to secure their survival in the informal sector or popular economy? At workshop sessions it became clear that vocational competencies in the informal economy are acquired primarily through informal learning processes and closely related to economic survival in diverse social contexts - the family, household, community, organisations and social networks. Since having a regular job is only one component of sustainable livelihood, it was held necessary to design adult learning more thoughtfully in relation to sustainable livelihood patterns, giving greater relevance to diversity of experience, information on human rights, vulnerability of individuals to change, and technology spread to poorer communities. Drawing on the experiences of the popular economy in Mexico and Latin American it was pointed out that adult learning will need to concentrate on social organisation skills that promote solidarity and co-operation in the practice of economic activities.
The relationship between adult learning and vocational and continuing training was an important issue debated at the workshops. There were examples from Korea and Australia that outlined the reforms being introduced that took into account the role that adult and community learning plays in vocational education, and the role of the government in providing access to socially disadvantaged peoples and in maintaining skills of those out of employment.
The workshop stimulated discussion on the role of adult learning as a tool for empowerment, for promoting gender democracy, and for integrating populations unemployed and working in precarious occupations.
We hope that with the publication of this report, which has been compiled and edited by Ms Madhu Singh, Senior Programme Specialist, UIE is able to promote a broader dissemination of the issues raised during CONFINTEA. Special thanks are also due to Ms Cendrine Sebastiani of the Publications Unit for her untiring assistance.
Director, UIE Hamburg