The ‘gift’ of the pandemic
Robbie Guevara – Associate Professor of International Development at RMIT
President of the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE)
As the new President of ICAE, it has been a challenge for me, and the new members of the Executive Council, to get to know each other, adapt to online meetings, and introduce ourselves to our strategic partners, such as the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL). We had to re-engage with our members online. We had to live and learn online. This is a new world, a new way of learning, and a new way of networking.
While we have had to adapt to networking online, we have had to respond to the urgent realities that have impacted on the nature of our work as adult educators, who are committed to learning for change. Uncertain times, like those today, have strengthened my conviction that adult learning and education can and must respond to the urgent global issues of the pandemic and climate emergency.
One of my priorities is to facilitate a process by which our international network can harness the ‘gifts’ of the global-pandemic for the adult learning and education movement. The multiple crises resulting from the pandemic have brought to the surface the inherent inequalities that persist within the health, economic, and educational sectors of society.
The rapid switch of all levels of education to remote learning has highlighted the inequity in access to technology and has also helped parents realise the challenges that teachers face in educating their children. It brings into focus the valuable role of intergenerational learning as parents and grandparents across the world have had to step up and help teach their children at home. Across the world, many of these parents and grandparents themselves may have missed out on educational opportunities in their youth or may need to continue their learning to develop digital skills and support learning from home.
Despite these challenges, this pandemic is an opportunity for adult educators to highlight how adult learning has helped to get us through this crisis. Public awareness campaigns have helped to explain the basics of how the virus can be transmitted: the need to modify people’s behaviour, the impact of travel in spreading the virus, and how our health and our economy are interconnected – these have all been achieved (or in some cases less effectively), through adult learning in practice. As adult educators, we have the responsibility to make this visible to our policymakers if we are to harness this ‘gift’ which is the opportunity to advocate for the value of adult learning and education in times of crises.
We can start by recognising the diverse impacts the pandemic has had in our regions and identifying what our members did during this time. We can then build on the recognition of this valuable contribution, but also learn from this situation to continue to strengthen our capacities as adult educators.
ICAE’s Executive recognises and embraces this opportunity. The ICAE together with its regional and national members, like ASPBAE and Adult Learning Australia, respectively have an important role to play. Not just to respond to the pandemic or to whatever future challenges we will face but to ensure that we advocate for how adult learning and education can contribute to the solution – through policies and programs that advance the right of all to educational opportunities for lifelong learning.