The Role of Adult Education in Reducing Poverty

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The Role of Adult Education in Reducing Poverty
EAEA Policy Paper 2010

EAEA Policy Paper 2010
2010 Edited by: The European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) aisbl Editorial board: Gina Ebner and the Executive Board of EAEA Thank you to professor Julia Preece for kindly contributing her article. Layout: Johanni Larjanko, EAEA
With the support of the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union “This publication has been funded with support from the European Commission. It reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.”

The Role of Adult Education in Reducing Poverty
Table of Contents
Adult Education and poverty reduction�����������������������������������������������������������������������������  4 Introduction............................................................................................................................... 4 Conceptualising poverty.......................................................................................................... 4 Tackling poverty......................................................................................................................... 5 Adult education......................................................................................................................... 7 References.................................................................................................................................. 8 Good Practice examples ...................................................................................................... .11 Topic: Literacy and basic skills��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 11 Topic: Basic skills�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 13 Topic: Education in Prison���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 14 Topic: Education in Prison���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 15 Topic: Literacy skills for minority groups��������������������������������������������������������������������������� 16 Topic: Higher education�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 17 Recommendations.................................................................................................................. 18

EAEA Policy Paper 2010
Adult Education and poverty reduction
by Julia Preece, National University of Lesotho
Global statistics reveal that whilst poverty levels have reduced since 1981, only China has made significant inroads into this phenomenon. The latest figures indicate that there are 1.40 billion people living below $1.25 a day, 20% of the world’s population (Shah 2010). Furthermore, literacy figures for 2008 indicate there are still 776,164 adults and youth who are classed as illiterate (UNESCOUIS 2008). It is widely recognized that countries with the poorest literacy rates often have the highest poverty levels. However, poverty is also associated with political instability, corruption, gender inequalities, poor life expectancy, low nutrition levels, high infant mortality rates, low levels of civil society involvement and low school enrolment or retention rates (Shah 2010, Sen 1999, Chronic Poverty Research Centre 2009). Adult education and lifelong learning have been cited as key to achieving international development targets designed to reduce poverty levels around the world (UNESCO-IL 2009). Yet adult education is not a development target in the Millennium Development Goals which were internationally agreed in the year 2000, and subsequent poverty reduction strategy papers rarely mention adult education as a contributory means to reducing poverty (Education International 2003, Preece 2006).
Whilst the links between education and poverty have long been understood (Oxaal 1997), the political argument for linking adult education to poverty reduction has yet to be won. This may be partly because adult education, and it relation-

ship to the process of lifelong learning, is inadequately understood. Equally, the concept of poverty is constantly changing and needs further elaboration. This chapter, therefore, provides a definitional analysis of poverty, followed by an explanation of adult education, its principles and methodology - which, it is argued, have a potentially emancipatory relationship with poverty reduction.
Conceptualising poverty
Poverty is a condition in which a person or community is deprived of, or lacks the essentials for a minimum standard of well-being and life. Since poverty is understood in many senses, these essentials may be material resources such as food, safe drinking water, and shelter, or they may be social resources such as access to information, education, health care, social status, political power, or the opportunity to develop meaningful connections with other people in society (New World Encyclopedia 2008).
There is no one definition for poverty, though the above example indicates the dynamic and wide ranging nature of the term.
Sachs (2005) describes three levels of poverty as ‘relative’, ‘moderate’, and ‘absolute or extreme’. Those in extreme poverty are ‘chronically hungry, unable to access health care, lack the amenities of safe drinking water and sanitation, cannot afford education for some or all of the children, and perhaps lack rudimentary shelter’ (p. 20). The moderately poor may lack basic amenities such as safe drinking water and ventilated latrines or poor clothing, while those in relative poverty have limited access to cultural activities, recreation, quality health care and education and whose household income level is below a proportion of the average national income.


Sen (1999, 2002) broadens our understanding of poverty in terms of social dynamics and as a social justice issue. Here poverty is seen in terms of absence of freedom or capability to participate in economic life. This includes deprivation in the range of things people can do, the knowledge and skills needed to act independently for productivity or personal welfare consumption. Poor education and knowledge about how to challenge inequitable systems perpetuate exclusion and isolation.
People can move in and out of poverty depending on their circumstances, though chronic poverty can also be intergenerational. It is also closely related to development and change. For example, technological advances can create illiteracies among populations that were otherwise literate; similarly environmental disasters and national conflicts can reduce otherwise selfsufficient communities to a state of dependence and helplessness. The extent of deprivation, therefore, is context specific.
These latter observations show that poverty can also be ‘consequential’ (Preece 2007: 16), the result of deliberate human and political interventions on the natural or social environment, such as war, conflict and large scale industrial accidents. The harmful effects can produce participation, income and capability poverty.
We see from the above interpretations that the causes of poverty can be material, economic, political and social. They include vulnerability such as, disability or immigration status; shocks, such as family crises, natural disaster, military or civil conflict; limited services such as health and education; and empowerment deprivation - for instance not having a political say, a sense of dignity (Se-

The Role of Adult Education in Reducing Poverty
bates 2008: 6-7).
It is now recognised that, in spite of statistical representation in monetary terms, poverty is both dynamic and multidimensional. Indeed Andress (2003) highlights a number of discrepancies in the use of low income as the main indicator of poverty. Whilst recognising the relevance of income differences and purchasing power of different economies, a simple calculation of household income ignores how that money is being used and who has access to the money.
As a result increasingly more sophisticated indicators are being used to ‘measure’ poverty. The latest attempt in this respect is the multidimensional poverty index developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) (Alkiri and Santos 2010) used in the 2010 Human Development Report (UNDP 2010). Poverty, in this index is measured in terms of multiple deprivations, showing that there are variations in the nature and intensity of poverty and that there are different interconnections between the different deprivations. The core indicators are GDP per capita, the percentage living on less than one or two dollars a day, literacy rates, life expectancy, HIV prevalence, primary school enrolment figures, infant mortality, maternal mortality and similar targets related to the MDGs. It is noticeable, however, that, apart from literacy rates, participation in adult education – in spite of earlier Education for All (UNESCO 1990) targets – is not mentioned in the OPHI.
Tackling poverty
How one defines poverty also influences how one interprets intervention strategies. In Europe, for instance the Lisbon Council in March 2000 and its subsequent Nice European Council in


EAEA Policy Paper 2010
December 2000 linked poverty to primary indicators of social exclusion such as income distribution below 60% of the national equivalent median, unemployment, early school leavers not in education or training, life expectancy at birth, access to health services, and educational attainment levels (Nolan 2003: 75-85). Other, secondary, indicators included housing conditions, homelessness and those living in institutions such as homes for the elderly, orphanages and prisons.
A more recent way of addressing poverty, in line with the aforementioned OHPI recognition of multiple deprivations, is to focus on the interrelatedness of deprivations and see preventative resources in terms of capital. Shaffer (2002) offers a diagrammatic representation of the interlocking dynamics of poverty. He shows how negative pressures (such as life cycle pressures, wages and crop yields) and shock (such as wars, civil violence, drought, floods and famines) can be offset by positive pressure or opportunities such as new technologies, conflict resolution, employment and access to public services. But the impact of these opportunities is dependent on coping and enabling strategies for the respective stresses and opportunities. Some strategies can be learned, others have to be provided. These strategies are resourced through different forms of capital. Other authors also associate various forms of capital with poverty reduction, with different influences on the role that adult education can play in reducing the risk of poverty.
Sachs (2005), for instance, identifies six forms of capital that impact on extreme poverty. These are human (health, nutrition and skills for production), business (mechanised resources such as transport and production machinery, infrastructure (such as road networks, ports, telecommunication systems) natural (such

as arable land, well functioning eco systems), public (such as legal frameworks) and knowledge (scientific and technical knowhow).
In European contexts many of these capitals are now givens. Shaffer (2002: 53) narrowed them down to four capitals: economic (including access to credit and capital assets such as land); socio-political (including having a network of organisations and contacts); environmental (such as having a natural resource base which can be managed); and physiological (including having a healthy body). The recent UK based NIACE (2009) report Learning Through Life narrowed this list down even further to three major kinds of capital. These are human (skills and qualifications), social (the social networks that provide opportunities for sharing and contributing to common goals) and identity capital (relating to psychological needs of self esteem, confidence and sense of purpose in life). This latter aspect brings into recognition the concept of freedoms and capabilities identified by Sen (1999).
It can be seen from the above list that education has a role to play in nurturing the skills, knowledge and understanding necessary for both reducing the risk of poverty but also for providing the capacity to withstand poverty-inducing pressures in today’s fast changing and unpredictable world.
It has also been strongly argued that education for skills alone are not enough. Since poverty is also intertwined with socio-political and environmental systems learning must also include instilling a deeper understanding of the power relations and underlying causes of poverty itself (Lister 2004) as well as the capacity to prevent poverty creating situations.
The dynamics of such poverty relations,


and life in general, however, inevitably require not only initial or basic education but also ongoing learning, including into adulthood. Furthermore, since not all adults have received the same educational or social opportunities in childhood or adolescence, the range of educational provision in adulthood must be broad. However, the nature of adult education itself must also reflect an understanding of who the adult learner is. The next section looks specifically at adult education and how its goals may contribute to poverty reduction.
Adult education
In 2006 the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) produced a comprehensive documentation of adult education trends in Europe. That document highlighted the historically evolving perceptions of adult education that continue to this day (Agostino, Hinzen and Knoll 2008 for example). This is partly because adult education serves a broad range of purposes (second chance, vocational, social and emancipatory, social welfare and individual self development - EAEA 2006).
These purposes are reflected in different definitions of adult education. An instrumental description is identified in the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED 1997) as:
The entire body of organised educational processes, whatever the content, level and method, whether formal or otherwise, whether they prolong or replace initial education in schools, colleges and universities as well as in apprenticeship, whereby persons regarded as adults by the society to which they belong, improve their technical or professional qualifications, further develop their abili-

The Role of Adult Education in Reducing Poverty
ties, enrich their knowledge with the purpose: to complete a level of formal education; to acquire knowledge and skills in a new field; to refresh or update their knowledge in a particular field (cited in UNESCO 2006: 49).
There is also a more radical focus such as the one produced after the fifth international conference on Adult Education, CONFINTEA V, which placed greater emphasis on critical citizenship and action for change:
The objectives of youth and adult education, viewed as a lifelong learning process, are to develop the autonomy and the sense of responsibility of people and communities, to reinforce the capacity to deal with the transformations taking place in the economy, in culture and in society as a whole, and to promote co-existence, tolerance and the informed and creative participation of citizens in their communities; in short to enable people and communities to take control of their destiny and society in order to face the challenges ahead’ (UNESCO 1997: 2).
To further complicate matters, the term ‘adult education’ has, at different stages, been conflated with related terms such as continuing, further or recurrent education. It can take different forms – for example, under the descriptors of formal, non-formal, informal, vocational, and basic education. In many cases it is simply interpreted as literacy education.
With the advent of lifelong learning discourses, the public perception of adult education becomes even more confusing. For the purposes of this paper, adult education is a distinctive feature of lifelong learning (which relates to learning for all ages) starting in most cases – in the European context at least – at an age


EAEA Policy Paper 2010
after initial basic schooling is completed. Theories or perspectives on adult learning are premised on a number of assumptions about adult, as opposed to child, learners. Illeris (2003) has argued, for instance that adults have distinctive learning needs that reflect their experience of life, psychological and cognitive maturity. These characteristics of adults reflect those articulated by Knowles, Holton and Swanson (1998) whereby adults are seen as having the skills to think critically, require learning that is problem centred, that draws on their experiences and which recognizes the adult’s capacity for self-directedness. The adult educator, therefore, should operate as a facilitator, rather than teacher, with the aim to nurture critical thinking and transformative learning. The process is one of empowerment, whereby the learner is enabled to critique and question with a view to encouraging action for change.
These reflections have been widely critiqued, with the arguments that not all adults are at the same level of educational experience and such assumptions do not take account of power dynamics in learner-facilitator interactions (JohnsonBailey and Cervero 1997). Furthermore it has also been argued that education itself is not automatically emancipatory. Education, in reality, is often highly controlled; class based and may well perpetuate social disparities if it does not raise awareness of rights, responsibilities and potential for change (Preece 2007). Equally, education alone, as the above reflections on forms of capital indicate, must be accompanied by wider political systems and structures that create an environment for participatory development.
In spite of these concerns, research shows that if the educational provision takes into account the above perspectives for adult learning, there are some

common factors that contribute to reducing the risk of poverty, both on an individual and community level (McGivney 2000, Oyen 2002, UNESCO 2002, Preece 2009, Nampota, Biao and Raditloaneng 2009). Such systems include the provision of supportive learning environments, culturally sensitive and multidimensional curricula, the use of partnerships and multi-sector networks in developing programmes, a bottom-up approach to decision making, reaching people in their natural settings, a focus on social mobilization, advocacy and community leadership, with learner support and adequate follow-up systems.
The remainder of this document looks at case studies which examine the success or otherwise of such adult education provision in a range of European contexts, followed by some policy recommendations.
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Andress, H. J. (2003) Does low income mean poverty? Some necessary extensions of poverty indicators based on economic resources, in P. Krause, G. Baecker, W. Hanesch (eds) Combating Poverty in Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate) pp117-130
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Illeris, K. (2003) Workplace learning and learning theory, Journal of Workplace Learning, 15, 167-178
Johnson-Bailey, J. and Cervero, R. M. (1997) ‘Beyond Facilitation in Adult Education: Power Dynamics in Teaching and Learning Practices.’ in P. Armstrong, N. Miller and M. Zukas. (eds) Crossing Borders, Breaking Boundaries. Proceedings of the 27th Annual SCUTREA Conference, London: Birkbeck College pp 240244
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Lister, R. (2004) Poverty, Cambridge: Polity Press
McGivney, V. (2000) Working with excluded groups: guidelines on good practice for providers and policy makers in working with groups under-represented in adult learning, Leicester: NIACE
Nampota, D., Biao, I. and Raditloaneng, W. N. (2009) A comparative analysis of five case studies, in J. Preece (ed) Nonformal Education, Poverty Reduction and Life Enhancement, Gaborone: Lentswe La Lesedi pp 87-97
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The Role of Adult Education in Reducing Poverty
clusion in the European Union, in P. Krause, G. Baecker, and W. Hanesch (eds) Combating Poverty in Europe, Aldershot: Ashgate pp 75-92
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EAEA Policy Paper 2010
Shaffer, P. (2002) Participatory analysis of poverty dynamics: reflections on the Myanmar PPA, in K. Brock and R. M. Gee (eds), Knowing Poverty: Critical reflections on participatory research and policy, London: Earthscan Publications pp 44-68
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The Role of Adult Education in Reducing Poverty