What is being done? What can educators do?

Youth and adult education in times of pandemic

This pandemic places us before the historic challenge and the possibility of the emergence of something new, new social relations that could allow us to build another possible world.

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Foto: Alexander Reyes
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Article published in ALAI’s magazine No. 551: Human Right to education: horizons and meanings in the post-pandemic 05/03/2021

I.          The Scenario


Throughout the world and Latin America and the Caribbean, we are facing the consequences of what began as a health crisis, caused by Covid-19, which today is a crisis with serious consequences in the economic, educational and environmental fields and that of care for life and nature. It is making even more evident the weak public policies in health, education, employment, among the most important ones; and thus deteriorating the living conditions of millions of people, especially the poor, the marginalized urban areas, indigenous people in the rural areas, Amazonians and people of African descent.


The isolation measures bring the existing asymmetries to light and further exacerbate them, leading to an educational setback that tends to deepen inequalities, mainly due to the economic and social conditions of the vast majority of the population.


This situation leads us to reflect on the fragility of the capitalist system (which in its neoliberal variant has destroyed education, work, health, labor rights) and demonstrates its instability, its inability to solve the most urgent and pressing needs.  At the same time, it deepens the existing inequalities and precariousness in this situation (material, social and cultural inequalities).


We are facing a moment of crisis, which, in its most Gramscian sense, is equivalent to opportunity: this pandemic places us before the historic challenge and the possibility of the emergence of something new, of the emergence of new paradigms, new frameworks and – why not – new social relations that could allow us to build another possible world.


However, we must recognize the possibility of a resurgence of capitalist hegemony in its most authoritarian and violent forms.  In this sense, the challenge is to not renounce a hopeful perspective from Popular Education, but also not to be naive but rather to seek a full understanding of the problems that the pandemic has revealed.


II.         Youth and Adult Education (Y&AE)


The education of young people, adults and older adults is characterized not only by the age of those who are outside the education system, but also by their social condition.  There is a close relationship between social class and living conditions and the possibilities of completing their studies.  Thus, it is not surprising that the popular social groups, the marginalized, workers, women, young people, are the main beneficiaries of this proposal, which, nonetheless, continues to be governed in its logic by the parameters of primary and secondary education and therefore perpetuates inequality and the possibilities of permanence.


In other words, they are those that the system has already excluded.  They are the ones who the system hits once again in this present situation of isolation.  This population is in a situation of vulnerability in every sense of the word.


At the dawn of the 21st century, in the context of the fourth industrial revolution and of the emergence of artificial intelligence, it is these same students who find themselves left out of this process.  Access to technology is only instrumental and minimal, and is not available to all: access to these devices remains a matter of class privilege, and is far from being a guaranteed right for the entire population.


Although the States have implemented several social plans in order to alleviate the crisis, these proposals are far from solving the structural violence of inequality, much less the problem of hunger or unequal access to goods, services and a decent life.


The local and global scenario forces us as popular educators to confront new challenges and to face up to a new situation, which not only aggravates the conditions of economic and social inequality, but also deepens the already existing educational gap.


Doubly excluded


Young people and adults who enter Y&AE are studying now because in their childhood they were excluded from formal systems, whether due to poverty, marginalization, racism or machismo, or all of these causes combined.


When Y&AE programs should be reaching out to them to learn and improve their lives, once again they are not being prioritized and very often, they are not even being considered.  Because Y&AE funding is insufficient to reach everyone.  Because Y&AE programs are targeted and there is no way to reach more people.  In other words, it was not possible before and it is not possible now.


III. What is being done in different countries?


We conducted a survey of how Y&AE was being addressed in the context of Covid-19 in several countries of the region such as: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Peru, and the Dominican Republic, based on seven reports compiled by members of GIPE-CEAAL.


In general terms, we find that, as regards educational policy, little is being said about the situation of young people and adults in this educational emergency.  The official proposals by the State do not contemplate a particular way of working with this sector of the population.  Instead, they point to a certain democratization of access to education, through the elaboration of booklets for primary and secondary education (in order to reach the most remote territories of the local geography) and the generation of audiovisual or radio content, which is presented as a substitute for teachers: classes continue; the Ministry of Education educates through these devices.


However, if we speak of a hegemonic proposal within the framework of the State's decision, it assumes virtuality.  That is to say, that teachers are in charge of replacing the face-to-face coursework by means of digital platforms, which often become the best example of bank-like education, to the extent that they favor a type of education that is measurable, in terms of amounts of work, knowledge is presented as an accumulation of watchwords, while the process of reflection on it, in the best of cases, takes place through the teacher, who unilaterally explains what he/she considers to be the most important things.


There is talk of "pedagogical continuity", as if the usual cognitive situation that occurs in the face-to-face exchange with others could be transferred to this new scenario of virtual reality.  In other words, when classes are suspended, it is the obligation of educators to guarantee the educational act, even when they do not have the minimum requirements to do so.  This situation is also evidence of the marginal place that youth and adult education has always occupied in terms of educational policy.


IV. Responses to Y&AE


Several issues can be identified that characterize Y&AE responses to the health and social crisis of COVID 19:


- Immediate adaptation to remote education through various available communication technologies.


- Development of learning guides and materials for all students, both for those connected to the Internet and for those who must receive these materials at home.


- Suspension of evaluation procedures and preparation of formative evaluation materials for the possible return to face-to-face classes.


- Attention to the emotional and social welfare needs of students through psycho-social professionals.


- Mechanisms to offer students and their families food assistance.


- Reinforcement of the teaching community's capacity to react autonomously.


- Rethinking the capacities that are necessary in Y&AE in a time of social, health and climate transition, which makes it necessary to take a close look at the new Y&AE curricular bases (still in the process of approval).


V.        Challenges


This situation must necessarily pose anew the role that we as popular educators play in society and the debate that we must hold with respect to the whole educational system.  The responses implemented fail to consider the specifics of this modality, nor do they make it possible to declare the universality of education as a human right, regardless of the age range.


The following challenges can be recognized at the regional level:


Challenges of meaning[1]


- To stop seeing Y&AE as a remedial or subsidiary modality or subsystem and to see it (in terms of tension) as the modality that constitutes the guarantor of lifelong education.  This will help to move away from the view that there is only one time (in life) to study.  That is to say, to attribute to Y&AE a "restitutive" character of a right that was not fulfilled in normality.  And what must be questioned is this supposed normality of one time or space to study.


- To understand that Y&AE and formal education systems are spaces where it is possible to exercise the dispute of meanings and orientations and to create counter hegemonies that are linked to the processes of societal disputes towards projects of fairer, more egalitarian societies, civilizing models that lead us to confront multiple oppressions and from there the political and ethical dimension of popular education around Y&AE.


- To recognize that the diversity of Y&AE subjects expresses inequalities of various kinds and not only as a synonym of "poverty".  And, therefore, to be able to approach the educational processes of Y&AE from the intersectionality of multiple oppressions and inequalities: class, but also ethnic, sexual, age, place of residence, among others.


General challenges


- To demand that the States, as guarantors of rights, in all their entities, ensure intersectoral policy measures that interconnect the economy, health, education, decent work, food sovereignty, especially for those in marginal urban, rural and Amazonian areas, with a gender and intercultural approach.


- To demand the fulfillment of measures that guarantee the right to education and public policies that take into account the real subjects who are recipients of proposals for Y&AE, is a historic requirement of the moment.


- To demand territorial work linked to community education because it responds to the needs and demands of organizations and individuals to build an educating society, by sharing knowledge, self-care, strengthening bonds of solidarity and strengthening citizen values.


- To develop campaigns that defend a gender perspective, to ensure respect for the human dignity of women, girls and boys, confronting patriarchy.


- To develop policies for the democratization of connectivity as a form of democratization of our countries, especially for marginal urban, rural, Amazonian and Afro-descendant areas.


- To demand the financing of Y&AE at a time when it is decreasing in the education sector, because without resources it will not be possible to face the deep crisis of this modality.


For popular educators


- We must think about what education we want and where we want it to go.  That is to say, it is not a question of fighting for a capitalist education that continues to leave out the most neglected sectors of society.  It is about building a new education, that is more egalitarian, more humanitarian, that does not reproduce the coloniality of knowledge, that does not reproduce patriarchy, that allows for the construction of other social relations in pursuit of the fight for a fairer and more humane world.  We must generate a great pedagogical movement that includes all the actors linked to the educational community to think of another education in the frameworks of current inequalities and the fourth industrial revolution.


- We must start from our realities towards a common horizon, building bridges and dialogues with popular educators and critical educators who seek other ways to build another society through education, questioning the established relations, neoliberalism, fascism and current capitalism in its financial stage.


- We must, in short, create the conditions to generate a more just society, making popular education become the banner that restores for us the political nature of the educational act and thus, allows us to project in the here and now, the society to which we aspire.


(Translation ALAI)



This document is the result of collaborative work between different members of the Educational Policy Advocacy Group (GIPE, for its Spanish acronym), which is part of the Council of Popular Education of Latin America and the Caribbean (CEAAL). http://ceaal.org/v3/.  Fernando Santana, Rosa María Goldar (Argentina), Timothy Ireland (Brazil), Jorge Osorio (Chile); Angélica Paniagua, Felipe Rivas (El Salvador), Francisco Cabrera (Guatemala), Yadira Rocha (Nicaragua), Nélida Céspedes (Peru), Miriam Camilo (Dominican Republic).



[1] Desafíos de sentidos. Contribution of Rosa María Goldar in the virtual Seminar organized by GIPE, entitled: EPJA y Educación Popular en países de América Latina en tiempos de pandemia. July 9 2020.  http://ceaal.org/v3/nblogepja-conversatorio-epja-y-eppandemia/

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