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close this bookMeeting Basic Learning Needs: A Vision for the 1990s (UNICEF - UNDP - UNESCO - WB - WCEFA, 1990, 170 p.)
close this folder2. The Context and Effects of Basic Learning in the World
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA. Basic Education Data
Open this folder and view contentsB. Indicators of the Context and Effects of Basic Education
View the documentC. The State of Adult Basic Education
View the documentD. The State of Early Child Development
View the documentE. Progress and Prospects

C. The State of Adult Basic Education

Because of the diverse nature of adult education activities, the available aggregate data fail to capture adequately the content, effects, and target populations of specific programmes. As noted earlier, even the coverage and detail of the aggregate data are not as complete as in the case of formal education. Thus, the state of adult education can at best be merely approximated by the data in Annex 1, Table 6; country- and programme-specific data are the only reliable means for examining the issues of effort, direct effects, and social impacts discussed above.

Annex 1, Table 6 covers enrolment in adult education courses for seventy countries. It presents total adult education enrolment, the estimated population of those aged fifteen and over, the ratio of adults enrolled relative to the population estimate, and the proportion of female enrolments. The range of years covered - from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s - points to the need for a new international survey of this category of learning activities.

One striking characteristic of adult education is that the pattern of participation appears to be correlated more with the availability of national resources than with unmet basic learning needs. Of the forty-eight developing nations reporting data, only nine had participation rates of 5 percent or more of the adult population, even though adult needs for literacy and basic knowledge and skills are most dramatic in developing countries. In contrast, twelve of twenty-three more economically developed nations had a participation rate of 5 percent or more, and nine of these had a rate of over 10 percent (see Chart 5).

It is true that as economic development proceeds, the scope and content of basic learning needs change. The issue is not just that the level of enrolment in the developed nations is higher, but that adults in these countries typically have greater access to learning opportunities than adults in the developing nations. It is this combination of advantages that widens the knowledge gap between these two groups of countries. When the advantages of adult education are compounded by other favourable circumstances in the economically developed nations, the challenge to developing nations to maintain, let alone increase, their relative position is made dramatically difficult. Information on female participation in adult education is not available for all countries. Among the thirty-four developing nations for which data are available, women represent half or more of the participants in only fourteen, though in five of these cases they represent two-thirds or more of the participants. Because females have often been denied access to and participation in formal education, their share of the need for adult education is greater than their share in the population. Therefore even an equal gender ratio could be interpreted as less than equitable to women.

In seven of the fourteen more developed countries reporting gender ratios, over 50 percent of the participants are women. But some of these countries have rates of female participation below one-third of all enrollees. Adult education activities do not automatically serve their dual role of supplementing and extending the effects of formal education. The data here, as aggregate and dated as they are, suggest that basic learning opportunities for out-of-school youth and adults must be consciously designed to fit the needs that remain unmet by the primary education system and to meet the new learning needs created by the successful operation of primary education. Whether providing literacy, numeracy, knowledge to meet basic needs, or social and economic skills, the programmes to train youth and adults face rapidly evolving demands. The lack of adequate resources to meet those demands places an even greater burden on adult education programmes in most countries.

In summary, the state of adult education remains unclear because of data limitations and the internal complexity of the basic learning activities that occur. The available data do highlight a general pattern of increasing inequities among nations in participation and growing differences between genders in overall knowledge acquisition. More detailed data on the content and quality of programmes and on the characteristics of participants would not likely reverse this conclusion, and current observations of adult education in many developing and developed nations tend to reinforce it. Above all, there is a critical need to improve the data base on adult education to permit more detailed analysis and a more refined development of policy to meet the basic learning needs of adults.