'Forget "willow-weaving for beginners" – adult education can be life-changing'

22nd June 2015 at 13:07
Picture of Alan Tuckett
The president of the International Council for Adult Education reflects on how learning can transform the lives of adults across the globe

Adult education can be life-changing. Debates in this country often diminish the rigour and seriousness of learners’ efforts by using phrases such as “flower arranging on the taxpayer” or “willow-weaving for beginners”. But in reality, in some parts of the world, learning a new skill can be the difference between a life of dignity and one, at best, of embattled survival. 

That is why the global targets for adult education matter to so many people, and why agreements made last month in South Korea and later this year in New York will have a major effect on lives across the planet.

Consider, for example, the experience of Shanti Devi, who fled a violent childhood in Assam, India, for what turned out to be a violent and abusive marriage in Delhi, before escaping with her three daughters. By chance she found the extraordinary voluntary organisation the Azad Foundation, and through its Women on Wheels scheme was trained as a commercial driver. Devi went on to find employment with a for-profit social enterprise – organised by women, for women – which offers safe transport for women. The training gave her economic independence, pride and agency.

Look, too, at the work led by Ramon Mapa in the Philippines, helping victims of climate change to rebuild their lives when villages disappear below water and communities are forced to relocate. And consider the experience of tutors working for Nirantar, a literacy programme for Dalit (“untouchable”) women in Uttar Pradesh, India. Like their students, they have suffered intimidation and violence as they work to secure the rights for women to access literacy and wider learning that  should by law already be theirs. 

These stories of people overcoming intimidation and violence to use education to transform their lives can be found in many parts of the world. In India, successful work is built on a combination of enlightened national legislation and creative partnerships with voluntary organisations, yet still rights have to be asserted and struggled for, village by village, in many areas.

But in many countries and regions there is no comparable legislative commitment – or willingness – to work with local partners in the voluntary sector to secure change.

Read the full story in the 19 June issue of TES. You can do so on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents. 


Related Content

Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today