Given the constant changes on the political, social and economic levels, in the Arab States, adult learning and education programme (ALE) has become a driving force for Sustainable Development Goals implementation. There is evidence that adult education can lead to positive change in social, economic, and political spheres, as well as in the health sphere, which in turn leads to building more sustainable societies. In this regard, over the past 5 decades, the Arab region has made significant progress in the field of literacy owing to the salient increase in school enrolment rates, political commitment and financial support to promote access to education. Despite the progress achieved, an estimated number of 50 million adults are still illiterate in the region and the ALE programme was not exempted from the massive education disruption caused by current COVID-19 pandemic since this March. When it comes to emergencies, UNESCO Institute for Lifelong learning (UIL) highlighted in their recent international review of education – Journal of Lifelong Learning that ALE can play a pivotal role as the promotion of health literacy is one of its part and the importance of populations having at least a basic level of literacy and numeracy will enable them to receive and act on vital information during crisis.
Against this backdrop, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States – Beirut in cooperation with the Regional Centre for Adult Education (ASFEC), organized a webinar titled “Towards a strategic framework on reopening adult learning and education programmes for the Arab States “ which aimed to identify the ALE status in the region and facilitate the development of strategic framework on reopening ALE programme by assessing multi-dimensional needs from diverse stakeholders.
Government officials, educators and professionals in field of ALE and lifelong learning took part in the webinar, in addition to high-level personalities including Deputy Minister of Education and Technical and Vocational Training in Egypt Dr Reda Hegazi. The webinar was attended by ALE education officials and managers, ALE programme teachers at local communities, and academia in lifelong learning and ALE.
In this opening of the webinar, UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for Basic Education Dr Hegazi Idris spoke of the importance of ALE for sustainable development. He pointed out to the dimensions that must be taken into consideration when developing ALE, the most prominent of which are: promoting social dialogue and communication between teachers and learners, guaranteeing the health and safety of students and teachers in the places where ALE programmes are offered, ensuring welfare and providing psychological, social and emotional support to learners, professional training for teachers and facilitators, securing funding for ALE programmes through partnerships between the private and public sectors and civil society.
Then, Deputy Minister of Education and Technical and Vocational Training in Egypt Dr Reda Hegazi made a speech in which he said: “Education is no longer based on “feeding” information, because knowledge has become available for everyone. Education today means the organization of study. The teacher is not a “feeder” but an organizer of studies”. He added: “As for curricula, they are a social construct and must therefore evolve in line with the evolutions of the national contexts and the needs of learners”. Hegazi highlighted that: “The problem of illiteracy in our region derives from three problems which are reluctance to pursue education, reversion to illiteracy, and dropout from education. Hence, we must find solutions to these problems to ensure adult education and literacy.” He concluded by saying that ensuring the quality of adult education passes through building partnerships with civil society: “Government agencies must organize adult education services, not provide these services because civil society has successful experiences and good practices that enable it to provide educational programs for adults with a high level of quality and innovation”.
This was followed by a speech by the Director of the General Authority for Adult Education in Egypt D Raafat Radwan who stated that “the world post-COVID19 will be different from the world before COVID19″ noting that the post-COVID19 world will be characterized by “stability and continuity – because the complete disruption of service provision is no longer an option -, by the highest levels of human innovation and creativity to develop solutions to emergency situations, and by strong reliance on technology”. Radwan pointed out the most pressing challenges facing adult education and literacy in the Arab region, especially in the COVID-19 context. He said that the most important challenge is the lack of access to technology and to the Internet, especially in rural areas, which makes it necessary to develop “technologies for the poor”, i.e. radio and television. He asked: “How can the interaction between the teacher and the learner be guaranteed during remote learning through the radio and television? How can the curriculum be adapted to remote learning?”
Then the Director of the Regional Center for Adult Education (Egypt) Dr Ashraf Muharram spoke of the importance of building partnerships between civil society and ALE programmes stakeholders, and of the sharing good practices to ensure the quality of ALE programmes and their adaptation to the needs of the learners.
The Director of the General Authority for Adult Education in Egypt Ashour Amry talked about the Authority’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, noting that the authority has established a unit for technological development whose mission is to develop online platforms for ALE and convert curricula from paper to digital resources.
Lastly, Secretary General of the Arab Network for Literacy and Adult Education Dr Iqbal El Samaloty made a presentation in which she stressed the link between literacy and social development, and highlighted the need for developing ALE programmes based on unconventional and out-of-the-box methods that attract learners and respond to their needs. She added: “Civil society organization offer pioneering experiences and inspiring models in the field of adult education and literacy, which they developed in partnership with academics and relevant authorities and stakeholders. Therefore, civil society organizations should be involved in the adult education process to ensure its success”. El Samaloty mentioned that ALE programmes have been a victim of the COVID-19 crisis in the absence of policies and mechanisms to deliver adult education remotely. “Remote teaching and learning has deepened discrimination against the illiterate people, which means the poor, and raised the issue of economic empowerment in our Arab societies,” she said.
The webinar offered a platform to enhance the participants’ understanding of strategies and key elements necessary to resume ALE programmes, and to raise awareness on the importance of ALE relevant to health literacy for national emergency strategies and preparedness to future possible crisis.