Learners’ Voice

April 8th, 2009

Edinburgh was the venue of a recent conference I attended in preparation for Confintea VI, the international conference on adult education convened by UNESCO every 12 years.

What was unique about his conference was its emphasis on the adult learners themselves. Majority of the participants were not learning providers, policy makers or researchers, but representatives of adult learners’ associations.

It’s been a long time coming.

Even at the last Confintea V in 1997, there was already talk of giving space and hearing to the voice of learners. But other than some personal testimonies, learners’ voices were less heard compared to those of policy makers, researchers, and learning providers.

One decision in Confintea V which opened greater space for learners was the adoption of the UK proposal to adopt their practice of an annual Adult Learners Week, which includes giving recognition to outstanding learners and learning groups.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that at least in the UK, one further step has been taken by setting up “Learners’ Forums” as a mechanism for interface between government and adult learners.

There is little overt opposition to the idea that learners should have a voice in making policies and designing programs on adult education. It is akin to the key principle of “quality assurance” as customer satisfaction. What better way to insure satisfaction than getting the learners to participate at all stages, from planning to evaluation?

But one of the earliest lessons I learned about politics, is that it must combine the “power of principle” with the “principle of power.” Unless learners organize themselves and engage in persistent advocacy, whatever commitments are made in Confintea will remain at the level of rhetoric.

At the Edinburgh conference, I suggested that we should help develop learner-leaders who can carry the advocacy positions of adult learners.

I had in mind one of the early vision statements of the Education for Life Foundation “Toward a community of leaders and learners.”

We need a partnership of a network of learning providers (and allies among policy makers and researchers) with a network of associations of adult learners.

At Confintea VI, we hope that whatever we have managed to build in various local communities and countries can be brought together to form a global network that will insure that learners’ voices are given the hearing they deserve.

Ed dela Torre/April 8, 2009

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