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Saturday, September 20, 2008

In search of a Framework for Sustainable Development through Adult Learning and Education (ALE)

In 1969 Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere offered a framework for transformation when he observed:

“People’s lives can only be improved by their own efforts and through their own understanding… this means that adult education of all types is of vital importance for rapid development”.

Perhaps because he was a teacher, Mwalimu believed in the transformatory power of education but he did not just see education as relevant for the youthful population of newly independent Tanzania. Rather Mwalimu believed that Tanzania’s freedom hinged on the ability of the nation to create an enlightened and educated populace.

Accordingly, Adult Education assumed a priority status in the socio-economic development of the country such that the Arusha Declaration of 1967, which set out the blueprint for Tanzania’s development resolve, considered illiteracy, an aspect of lack of education, as one of the major enemies of the nation; the other two being poverty and disease. Consonant with Freirean principles, Adult Education was conceived as having a liberating function for arousing popular consciousness for change.

In 1970 the United Republic of Tanzania made a solemn declaration of enhancing adult education within the context of the universal human right to education as provided by the UNESCO Convention and Recommendation against Discrimination in Education (1960).

A massive national effort was undertaken to eradicate rampant illiteracy pertaining at independence such that by 1986 (i.e. around the time Tanzania began adopting development prescriptions set by Bretton Woods Institutions) illiteracy for the population aged 13 years and above was systematically reduced to 10%. Alas these impressive gains were short lived as the national development framework changed and by 1997, illiteracy for the population aged 13 years and above rose to 16%.

The latest 2002 census data reveals that of the 22,500,000 adults aged 15 years and above, which is equivalent to 56% of the total population, the literacy rate among age 15 and above is 70% (78% for men and 62% for women). Present estimates put the illiteracy rate above 30%. Overall, about 28.6% of Tanzanians can not read and write in any language. Illiteracy rate is higher among women (36%) compared to men (20.4%).

The increase in illiteracy rates are troubling when we consider that they occur three decades after the adoption and an aggressive application of Universal Primary Education (UPE) on the one hand and adult literacy initiatives on the other whose intent was reaffirmed in the late nineties with the passage of the World Declaration on Education For All (EFA) which recognizes that ‘everyone has the right to education’ especially education that is relevant to one’s basic learning needs.

The adoption of the Education Sector Development Programme (2000-2005) aimed at providing education for all by 2015. Act No. 12 of 1975 mandates the Institute of Adult Education (IAE) to run continuing and non-formal education programmes in Tanzania, with special emphasis to reaching rural communities. The Adult and Non-Formal Education Strategy was developed in 2003 to facilitate the implementation of an alternative education programme for out-of-school children, youth and adults.

In an effort to meet some of the EFA goals the Fourth Phase government began a campaign to build Secondary Schools for each Kata (Ward) to cater for the huge numbers of primary school leavers resulting from the rigorous application of the UPE policy. Sadly the drive appears to be partisan interest than a political commitment to realize EFA goals in a more holistic rather than reactive manner.

Another notable development in Adult Learning and Education (ALE) in the past few years is the Tanzania – Cuba Adult Education Development Programme under the Adult and Non Formal Education Strategy of 2003 – 2008 whereby Cuban literacy experts are to assist the government in literacy development.

In December 2003 the United Nations General Assembly launched the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD). The impetus driving the decade was the association between knowledge and aptitude and thus 'appropriately the UNLD’s slogan read "Literacy as Freedom". But despite these commitments Tanzania and other African countries have very little to show in terms of investments to educational and learning programmes that truly seek to liberate the mature segment of the population in a populist and a practical sense.

This inspection and introspection is appropriate at this juncture as the continent prepares for the International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA), a level two UN Conference that serves to provide a platform for policy dialogue and advocacy on adult learning and education. The Conference takes place approximately every 12 years. Uniquely, CONFINTEA VI will draw attention to the relation and contribution of adult learning and education to sustainable development.

CONFINTEA VI will take place from 19 to 22 May 2009 in Belém, Brazil, under the overall title: “Living and Learning for a Viable Future – The Power of Adult Learning”. This global forum will be preceded by five regional forums. The Regional Preparatory Conference for Africa will take place from 5 to 7 November 2008 in Nairobi, Kenya and is titled, “The Power of Youth and Adult Learning for African Development”.

UNESCO member countries will each produce a national report which will be instrumental in informing the regional synthesis reports to input the CONFINTEA VI working documents and Framework for Action. Most countries have submitted some semblance of national reports which are available on the UNESCO website. Unfortunately, there has been very little discussion about the content of these reports and whether they represent a critical appraisal of the status quo.

The Tanzania National Report on CONFINTEA VI, for example, was hastily put together by education technocrats with very little participation from civil society groups. It is entitled: "The Report on the Development and State of the Art of Adult Learning and Education (ALE), a Decade Report of adult learning and education in Tanzania from April 1997 to April 2008".

After the initial meeting to discuss the Terms of Reference (TOR) for putting together the report there has been no feedback on the status of the draft report which has ended up on the UNESCO website. It is therefore difficult to imagine how the report makes an informed assessment of the achievement of country targets for EFA; Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other international development goals are met through adult learning especially vis-à-vis poverty eradication.

ALE is beset with structural, managerial and political challenges which impede further and future progress from being realized. Notably, though rarely visibilized or acknowledged, the sharp change in development policy focus may have stunted the gains made thus far and may continue to impede meaningful gains in the foreseeable future. Indeed, the achievement of EFA for Tanzania rests solely on Universal Primary Education Campaigns.

Indeed the attention of the government especially under the basket fund has rested on primary education not post primary education. Yet, few people have spoken out against this policy blunder. They argue that a country’s human resource capacity, critical to its development, cannot be built solely by investing on the lowest tier of an educational system which also has a zero experience at the skill level.

Moreover, the management of ALE falls under the Ministries of Education and Vocational Education (MoEVT) in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. While it is purported that ALE is an integral part of the education system, the National CONFINTEA VI report acknowledges that there is very little co-ordination among the different providers of Adult Education (AE) inside governmental institutions as well as outside those institutions.

Surely this suggests a lack of systematization of AE in the ‘education system’. In addition ALE is hosted in a ministry that traditionally has dealt with primary education which exclusively focuses on children. All along the National Commission for UNESCO, which coordinates issues related to CONFINTEA and related measures, is housed in the then Ministry concerned with Higher Learning. At the ministerial level higher learning and education were merged in February 2008 following the dissolution of the Cabinet. We are not yet to see the impact of this change on ALE.

The Adult and Non-Formal Education Strategy was developed to facilitate the implementation of an alternative education programme for out-of-school children, youth and adults yet the main focus of major education initiatives purported to focus on adult learning targets youths and not individuals and groups past their youth. Also while the Strategy acknowledges the need to adopt an alternative paradigm to learning, in approach ALE is understood or is confined to literacy.

Where adults are targeted as is in the case with initiatives of continuing education provided under employment packages then the focus tends to be on workers in formal placements leaving the bulk of workers in the informal sector outside a comprehensive adult learning strategy. For instance while COBET (Complimentary Basic Education in Tanzania) is singled out as a successful AE model in Tanzania it largely targets out of school youths, not adults.

The ALE vacuum is palpable since the abandonment of the Arusha Declaration. Literacy classes, once a determining factor in Tanzania’s high literacy rates are currently inexistent in most structured learning settings. In the 70’s ALE programmes, including literacy classes were part of the National Service Programme whereby Secondary, High School and University graduates provided the human resource base to enlighten fellow citizens. To a large extent using local labour to run education initiatives minimized costs and overdependence on outside funds.

Suffice to say that the National Services Programme is yet to be revived and the current focus for graduates in not in nation building but solely in providing cheap labour to the capitalist job market. The education sector is now exclusively donor dependant and more so the provision of Adult Learning and Education.

Financing for ALE also reflects the absence of political will to revamp and revitalize ALE in Tanzania. The National CONFINTEA VI Report claims that some money for AE activities is allocated directly to Local Government Authorities (LGAs). It further states that an Education Circular (No. 3 of 2006) requires every LGA to earmark a budget to finance ALE activities (read not programmes). It further proposes to elevate the existing funding level to at least three per cent (3%) of the budget for education sector. But it is not clear if the percentage being proposed relates to the ministerial budget or the overall national budget.

It is, however, difficult to ascertain the basis on which budget estimates are made when the same report acknowledges that the budget allocated for ALE activities by government institutions is not known due to lack of co-ordination mechanism between the parent ministry and other institutions providing ALE. Nor is the total amount of bilateral/multilateral donor financing for ALE or the contribution made by non state actors to the sector known.

Moreover, for some time now AE allocation in the budget of the Ministry responsible for Education hardly features in budget speeches or in the annual reports issued by the Ministry responsible for Planning. Yet, in spite of our history with AE most legislators, even those with an AE background, have remained mum over this anomaly. Similarly civil society has not reacted against the invisible status AE has assumed among the priorities that inform the country’s development framework.

Sadly, the financing issue related to the ALE sector is mostly represented to be one for posho (allowance) for facilitators and not so much for upgrading learning centres say with Information Communication Technologies (ICTs); or enabling learners in learning contexts like Nane Nane (Farmers Fair) or the International Literacy Week; or else in enabling older learners to interact with younger learners such that there is a mutual appreciation of the strengths each segment of the population brings.

In my own experience working with the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) and specifically in the Gender and Education Office (GEO) has given me tremendous advocacy experience. I and my colleagues learn from women who are much older than us but who have an unfaltering commitment to ensuring that the right to education becomes a lived reality. Having being part of the education movement, some for over four or five decades, they help us see the political content in the discourses, something some of us who have grown up in a generation where we may take most of the Human Rights guarantees for granted and thus fail to see beyond simple rhetoric offered for the sake of political expedience to envision the types of outcomes that will make education a reality for all segments of the population.

Significantly, our feminist engagement with education challenges the traditional concept of education not only in its content and organization but also in its ideology in so far as reproducing disempowering ideologies against those who have historically been marginalized. It is, therefore, troubling to see that the government’s approach to AE is still limited: largely it views education only in an institutional sense happening in a structured formal classroom setting. The concept of learning inherent in ALE seems missing as it is reduced to initiatives synonymous with rote methods that seek to instruct superficially without building a base in the culture of pedagogy or its ultimate purpose.

Most examples used in the Tanzania National Report indicate this. For instance, COBET attempts to reintegrate youths in the formal curriculum while it is not clear what type of achievements the Mainland’s Integrated Community Based Adult Education (ICBAE) programme has achieved more so when one considers that at least three of the four pilot areas i.e. Morogoro, Lushoto, Sengerema and Moshi districts have historically had high literacy levels because of the existence of a reasonable to good education infrastructure inherited from colonial times.

Also they had a reasonable coverage of ALE via extension programmes and at least Morogoro is one place with a strong base for Folk Development Colleges (FDC) modeled after Scandinavian Folk Development Colleges. Interestingly FDCs remain part of the Ministry in charge of Community Development but deprived of operational funds they have been forced to liberalize their curriculum and operations. Consequently they are attracting a younger male population and not so much farmers or artisans seeking to improve production methods.

As someone who avidly preaches and implements the doctrine of ALE, I do not wish that CONFINTEA VI becomes another conference where our government participates physically but not in spirit. I see no point in our government signing onto commitments but at the end of the day fails to respect her commitments with the requisite political will. Rather, I feel strongly that the process towards CONFINTEA VI is an opportunity for Tanzania to evolve an ALE agenda for the present time.

Nonetheless, the ALE agenda of the future cannot be monopolized only by the state in terms of its articulation and its participants. Instead it has to be informed by all those who actively engage with ALE as an intervention that is process and well as content driven comprising a holistic approach to learning initiatives, not just educational programmes, throughout life.

For ALE to be a way of living in Tanzania and in Africa as a whole, we must appreciate the central role of learning in our lives and demand that this right is guaranteed to each citizen through life. Our governments have compromised this right in present development frameworks. Returning ALE back to the national development agenda is critical for our sustainability as we seek to negotiate with the onslaught of globalization.

Our governments and representative bodies must be put to task to realize this right. Doing so means we must exercise vigilance to safeguard the right to education across ages. Importantly it demands that we must act and show interest in what goes on at the policy front in order that we may register our concerns more proactively. Surely, this is a struggle at the heart of human freedoms. Africans cannot afford to remain on the sidelines as this global dialogue unfolds.

We can individually and collectively register our views and support to the numerous official and civil society initiatives towards CONFINTEA VI. Please contact Diarra Mahmadou at diarra_sama@yahoo.fr for the civil society perspective and Salma Maoulidi of Sahiba Sisters Foundation at sahiba.sisters@gmail.com and Sara Longwe of Femnet at sararoy@zamtel.zm for a PanAfrican and a feminist perspective on ALE.

Knowing is wisdom. Learning is affirmation. Taking action is freedom.

© Salma Maoulidi, September 2008.

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