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Globe-A: Interim analysis

Our interim analysis and insights up until now (as the project is still running) show the complexity of the relation between state-led institutions which are active in the field of adult education, and their member states; these relations are further tightened by multiple state affiliations and increased inter-institutional collaborations, specifically on issues perceived as being of common concern (e.g. ‘the literacy problem’, ‘the vocationalization of youth and adult education’), even if differently signified across geographical regions, cultural contexts and social groups. One of the consequences is a slow blurring of boundaries between adult education and education for development, also in more economically-advanced regions of the world (i.e. Europe).

Moreover, we observe that inter-institutional collaborations were boosted by the global economic crisis of 2008 onwards. For instance, in protest over the decision by UNESCO to accept Palestine as one of its members, the USA suspended its dues to the organization in 2011, which also affected the operation of its specialized agencies with responsibility for various forms of adult education.

Furthermore, in the aftermath of the prolonged financial crises that hit Southern Europe particularly hard, the Spanish government decided to maintain its obligatory quota to the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI) in 2013, but dropped the voluntary quota, a substantial contribution for the implementation of the Education Goals 2021 agreed by OEI’s member states. At the same time as these events proved detrimental for the work of these state-led institutions, they also created a new scenario in which increased cross-institutional collaboration becomes mutually beneficial to pursue aims which are no longer achievable due to the scarcity of economic resources.

Our data also indicates that international or regional non-governmental organizations, like the International Council for Adult Education, the European Association for the Education of Adults or DVV International, are gaining visibility through lobbying and direct involvement in transnational policy making, also thanks to recognition by and collaboration with state-led institutions. Specifically, non-governmental organizations contribute significantly to global political mobilization that occurs through and via UNESCO and its specialized agency in Hamburg, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning-UIL; a political mobilization that occurs via ideational processes such as the co-construction of a common past in adult education identifiable by diverse political actors; the transfer of values, ideas and information between individual and collective agents that facilitate envisioning a viable future for adult education; and the structuring of information and political intentions in an attempt to produce material changes at state level.

Multisite and multi-actor perspectives incorporated in this study also serve to deepen knowledge about the materiality of the changes that complex relations between states, state-led institutions and non-governmental organizations, together with increased inter-institutional collaboration, and global political mobilization, are (or are not) able to produce in terms of state policy.

Albeit systematic analysis of county-relevant data is still ongoing, our insight is that while state-led institutions and non-governmental organizations tend towards conditioning and/or exerting control over states’ decisions in adult education, the maneuvering of states varies depending on national socio-economic conditions and international affiliations. In some cases (e.g. the USA), the maneuvering of states is independent or benefits from transnationalism. Nonetheless, a tenacious difference between the North (i.e. the USA) and the South (i.e. Argentina, Brazil) persists in the perceptions of, influence on and reception of transnational policies. Northern countries like the USA are more likely to influence international agendas, as visible, for instance, when it comes to the intensification in the use of benchmarking and statistical data for measuring and assessing the progress made by a state towards common objectives in the field of adult education; all of which empowers state-led institutions with a better capacity to produce and disseminate such knowledge (e.g. the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development - OECD).

To get a better feel of the materiality of the perceptions of, influence on and reception of transnational policies in national and local contexts, up until now we have looked closely at Argentina, Brazil, and the USA. We have studied nation-wide policy in adult education and its implementation at school level.

This data shows that adult education is dependent on global trends just as much as on state characteristics, socio-economic conditions, and local politics and realities. For instance, we observe a tendency in countries that have achieved mass schooling to utilize adult education as a response to public school failures (e.g. high drop-out rates, poor learning outcomes, inadequate response to ethnic and linguistic diversity of students), in contrast to utilizing adult education to increase access to public education, in line with more traditional state rationales. This phenomenon is independent from state power and socio-economic conditions, as evident in both the North (i.e. the USA) and the South (i.e. Argentina).

Nonetheless, we also observe a perceptible North-South divide in that public interventions in adult education are still extraordinary measures in countries with persistent gaps in access to public education (i.e. Brazil), or schooling retention across sub-populations (i.e. Argentina), whereas they represent more systemic attempts to modify organizational and (to some extent) pedagogical praxis in countries concerned with the usability of education and training for job seeking and retention (i.e. the USA).

Overall the work undertaken under GLOBE-A is enhancing understandings of the nature and scope of adult education under conditions of globalization and international cooperation, which result from existing relations between state-led institutions, non-governmental organizations and states, and between global policy frameworks and local implementation, all of which address (explicit and implicit) tensions between the needs of the knowledge economy, innovation and social cohesion.