Much like tiny worms that remain invisible when hiding in apples but show themselves when the apple is consumed, a break in education has shown us the chaos we created by overlooking the need for adult education.
At a time when children were studying at home for months and requiring guidance in an inpatient school without physical supervision, parents’ expertise was in great demand. Children struggle to get online, master virtual learning tools, learn independently, and prepare for assessments – all with little help from their peers and teachers. Most of that responsibility rests with parents, many of whom are ill-equipped to handle it.
The move to online tools has shown us how urgently we need not only academic education but also technological education for adults. We can only help our children if we know how to do it, and it is mainly the low and middle income groups who have been hardest hit during this educational crisis.
It would be unfair to hold schools responsible for failing to help parents navigate the virtual world. They were busy building the online infrastructure, equipping the teachers for further lessons and involving the children in the learning process. Many parents suffered collateral damage under the circumstances, having little or no knowledge of how to support their children.
Many learning programs with great potential have failed.
One of the greatest advantages of a level of education is the individual’s ability to adapt to the crisis. Research shows that children of mothers with university degrees achieve higher levels of proficiency in gateway subjects.
The report from the Foundation for the Development of the Child, Mother’s Education and Children’s Outcome provides accurate statistics on the children’s cognitive development status, which are directly proportional to the mother’s education. This research is only one in a multitude of studies with similar results. This means that for a society like ours, it is imperative to invest in adult education – especially for mothers.
The Unesco Global Report on Adult Education and Adult Education (2016) urged countries to invest in adult education after a study of 139 countries showed that states were at risk in most aspects of economic life, governance, finance, health and well-being had made progress as a direct result of their adult education policies. According to the same report, nearly a billion adults in the world cannot read or write. For those living in such circumstances it would be more difficult to deal with a disorder of life as they know it.
The acute effects of a lack of adult education are compounded in a world of digital interaction. For those who are waiting for life to return to “normal” it is now clear that there will be no such thing. We need to adapt to the paradigm shift and the longer we complain about our lack of technological expertise, the more painful this transformative journey can become. If we can now put systems in place to deliver adult education, especially computer literacy, it would accelerate the advances we hope for our next generation.
We have strong evidence from European countries where policies that have widened the reach and impact of the informal adult education sector have seen exponential spillover benefits. The guidelines are need-based and directly related to the impacts that need to be created. Austria, for example, focuses on open educational resources and the impact of digitization on adult education, while Belgian adult education policy focuses mainly on vocational training and social inclusion. Needless to say, lessons can be learned from these economies.
Many adult programs with great potential in Pakistan have skyrocketed and stalled due to lack of impact and sustainability. Some time ago the government initiated an Education Adult Program funded by Unicef, USAID, and the Japan International Corporation Agency, which was piloted in 300 centers in five cities. In addition to basic reading and writing skills, it offers professional training and self-development.
Perhaps we need a more structured and collaborative approach, bringing together multiple stakeholders and adult educators, who can focus on goals, use online tools, and compare learners against international standards.
Teaching adults is a completely different ball game than teaching children, as their cognitive skills, experience, and specific motivation to learn intervene in the process. Identifying learner needs is the first step in developing a relevant and coherent program. Often times we repeat the same mistakes as cats, chasing after their own tails and losing value through trial and error. Investing time, money, and effort in adult education may be a long road, but it promises to open multiple avenues in the future.
The author is Senior Manager, Professional Development at OUP, Pakistan.
Published in Dawn on November 1, 2020