Friday, 28 July, 2017

ICAE World Assembly, Montreal, June 2015 – A Learner’s Perspective

Posted on July 27, 2015 at 04:35 PM

BL5Q2516The ninth world assembly took place in Montreal, Canada in June and it provided a forum for over 600 adult educators from over 80 countries around the globe. This year’s theme was “Adult learning and Education to create the world we want”. The assembly was attended by an Irish delegation which comprising Liz Waters, AONTAS President, Berni Brady, AONTAS Director, Niamh O’Reilly, Head of Strategic Development, AONTAS and Una Buckley, Learner Ambassador. The assembly programme consisted of a mixture of plenary and workshop activities concluding the adoption of a Final Declaration outlining the priorities for the next four years. The Irish delegation presented at two workshops; Berni Brady and Una Buckley at “The Adult learners’ Movement; comparative national experiences” and Liz Waters and Niamh O’Reilly at “A National Advocacy Network; Raising the voice of Community Education in Ireland”. The first presentation led to a lively discussion on the importance of the learner voice. Una’s input as a Learner Ambassador was particularly powerful and well received. The second workshop was prepared and presented by Niamh O’ Reilly and Liz Waters and this too produced an animated discussion and received very positive feedback.

Following on from the Assembly Niamh O’Reilly talked to Una Buckley, Learner Ambassador, about her experience as a learner in Montreal and the importance of including the learner voice at international level.

Una you’ve participated at International Adult Learning conferences before, can you describe your experience in Montreal?

Before Canada, I participated in the International Adult Learners’ Conference in preparation for CONFINTEA VI. It was held in Edinburgh from 31st March – 4th April 2009 and resulted in an International Adult Learners’ Charter that was used to influence the UNESCO conference on adult learning, CONFINTEA VI. I also participated in CONFINTEA VI in Belem, Brazil in December 2010 where I met with other adult learners from across the globe and we collectively tried to influence the outcome of that conference: ‘The Belem Framework for Action’. We were quite successful and the document includes a recommendation for UNESCO members, including Ireland that adult learners should play a part in the “development, implementation and evaluation of adult learning and education policies and programmes.

I’ve also been to Sweden at the previous ICAE World Assembly and Conference, in 2011. For me it was a very valuable learning experience because you get to see how adult education is carried out in other countries, so rather than reinventing the wheel you can borrow their good ideas and use them at home. It’s also important that adult learners are represented at these international events. Overall, there is a very small space for adult learners to influence but hopefully this will grow. I’ve also travelled to Estonia as part of a Leargas Grundtvig programme about celebrating learners in their Adult Learners’ Week.

Do you think that it’s important to participate in the ICAE World Assembly, as a learner?

Yes, but from my personal experience they don’t see the importance of learner participation. They have no space for learners at all, they’re more interested in working for learners than with them. There were very few learners in Canada so perhaps for the next one they could be much more inclusive of learners.

As a Learner Ambassador at the ICAE World Assembly can you tell me how, or if, that experience benefits adult learners internationally and in Ireland?

Well first of all the issue of learner engagement needs to be addressed. I think the people who run the ICAE have to acknowledge the role of learners. This is a learning curve, at the moment they don’t see the power of having learners involved. They should be using learners to help them get their point across with government ministers or other authorities. They could use adult learners to their advantage, but at the moment they are not doing this.

What are your lasting impressions of the ICAE World Assembly?

I did learn many things. I went to some very good workshops and I also learned about the very powerful learning experiences from around the world. I also presented at the workshop on the Adult Learners’ Voice. That was a great experience and highlighted what we are doing well in Ireland. I also learned that the ICAE is not as advanced as Ireland with regards to the involvement of learners and there’s a lot more to be done with learners at international level.

Regarding International policy and adult learning, how do you think learners can influence it, or can they?

I think that it is essential that learners are involved, they have to be acknowledged and involved and there has to be a space there for them to be asked their opinion and their point of view.

What do you think would help address that, what would you recommend?

I know we had the Global Adult Learners’ Forum but that seemed to disappear. I think that we need some kind of international advocacy group in each region or in Europe so there is learners involved in all international organisations and events. I’m looking forward to the National Adult Learner Forum in Ireland on 26th February next year, it’s great to be able to have a national space for learner voices.

To watch Una Buckley raise the voice of adult learners at the plenary debate at the ICAE World Assembly click here and scroll to 1hr 35mins.

About ICAE: The International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) is a global network with a specific mandate to advocate for youth and adult learning and education (ALE) as a universal human right. It was created in 1973 and has 7 regional bodies (Africa, Arab Region, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America) representing more than 800 NGOs - regional, national and sectoral networks - in more than 75 countries. More information on the Assembly and on the ICAE can be accessed on its website

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