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Adult Education: New Routes in a New Landscape (2006)


In the context of our 30th anniversary celebrations, the Unit for Adult Education of the University of Minho decided to publish a book that would give expression to different views about the tensions and contradictions that currently exist in the field of adult education. These voices, we hope, may clarify some of the main dilemmas we are dealing with in these hard times and may help researchers and practitioners to discover the new roots we need in what are new landscapes.  

Taking into account a particular situation we are living nowadays, this book aims at assembling contributions from different countries, European and non-European, where their authors are searching for new perspectives on adult education and exploring connections with other disciplines of knowledge and fields of intervention. Several researchers and essayists were asked to accept this challenge, people that at some time have participated with members of the Unit for Adult Education in different kinds of initiatives.

Therefore, this book is the outcome of this effort. It includes thirteen texts from European and non-European authors. Surprisingly (or not), the majority of the papers approach lifelong learning and lifelong education, the philosophical meaning of such ideas, policies that have emerged from it, specifically those promoted by the European Union, and practices that are the outcomes of such policies. Framed by a political, social and educational context influenced by globalization and by relevant shifts that are occurring nowadays, these reflections purport to understand convergences and divergences that adult education expresses in its practices at a moment when the field seems to be at the centre of the political arena. From these contradictions, one needs to emphasise, among others, the centrality of individual educational action oriented towards learning and the lesser importance given to collective patterns; the importance of training, namely vocational training, and the subsequent loss of relevance of dimensions such as popular education; the role of civil society, especially non-governmental organizations, in the conception and promotion of initiatives, namely formal education ones, that were the responsibility of the State for many years; the need to establish new ways of thinking and intervening, apart from those that, determined by school-like practices, always were (and still are) taken for granted, even if they lead to drop-out, school abandonment and other forms of social and educational exclusion; the urgency of establishing new social and educational categories for research and theoretical discussion in order to make the way for innovative educational paths in democratic societies; and the importance of having alternative insights into adult education and innovative forms of working with adults, searching for the inclusion of other adults, adults that were always there, even if they were not always acknowledged as a relevant ?target? for adult education initiatives.
We believe that we could have organised this book in many ways. Nevertheless, we decided to give way to global discussions on adult education, namely those papers that analyse the emergence of lifelong learning, stressing institutional and political matters. Therefore, the first paper, from Peter Jarvis, examines the way in which knowledge has been appropriated and used in the globalised economy and contemporary societies and discusses the fact that lifelong learning has emerged in the context of globalisation. The second paper from Barry J. Hake reflects upon the lifelong learning policies of the European Union, especially the content and implications of several documents and in particular the implications for social arenas, organizations and adults of such policies. According to this author, lifelong learning demands the development of a habitus of reflexivity on the part of social institutions, organizations and individuals, which should re-focus our attention upon the mutual interrelationships between ?the common good? and ?individual well-being?. Therefore, the challenge of late modern society is that we need to learn to live together without distinctions as to nation, language, race, religion, gender and generation in an enlarged Europe and a globalizing world. Moreover, according to Henning Salling Olesen, lifelong learning has come to the agenda of the European Union as a result of the technological and logical development, which we are facing nowadays and that has globalised markets and working processes. But learning can contain a wider understanding that may include political aspects ? questions about democracy, labour markets and work, among others that have not been centre stage in European Union policies as Ekkehard Nuissl argues when studying the development of lifelong learning policies that emerged after the European Year of Lifelong Learning in 1996. The author gives special attention to documents that followed the Lisbon Strategy, namely the European Qualification Framework. Of course several problems can be identified, especially those that are related to the coherence of political proposals and the contexts of adult education and training that can be found in the different European Union countries. Finally, Herman Baert, Katleen De Rick and Katrien Van Valckenborgh discuss the meaning and the conditions for creating learning climates, as well as proposing a new definition for this concept allowing for a relationship with European lifelong learning policies.
A second set of papers is devoted to reflection about collective and individual forms of adult education, namely those that are related to lifelong education, stressing the collective forms of reflexivity and the outcomes of problematisation. Licínio C. Lima analyses the place of popular education in democracy and advanced capitalist societies in which participation may assume a relevant role, as a form of resistance to competitive-market trends and as a way of democratising democracy. Jim Crowther, Ian Martin and Mae Shaw analyse the links between higher education institutions, namely adult continuing and community education departments, and popular education in particular those settings that recently have been used to reflect upon the link between theory and practice that are the concerns of particular journals, books, seminars and conferences. Pep Aparicio Guadas argues about the need for re-inventing citizenship and popular education and about how this possibility has been thought about and achieved in a variety of settings, namely in several social movements. And Budd L. Hall and Darlene E. Clover argue about the social learning movement and how it helps to answer the question about how to get the best use out of scarce resources for the purpose of change, namely strengthening and extending the power of social movements today.
A third set of papers stresses aspects of specific fields and contexts. Alberto Melo reflects upon the history of adult education in Portugal, its place in national policies and its relationship with State departments, searching for the place non-governmental organizations may assume in the existence of an innovative and non-formalised field of practices. Rui Vieira de Castro, Amélia Vitória Sancho and Paula Guimarães try to characterise the contexts and practices of adult education that can be found right now in Portugal and seek to clarify certain issues regarding the history of the organisations involved, the education and training policies either tacitly or explicitly endorsed, the organisational structures adopted and the preferred principles and forms of action. Sergio Haddad and Maria Clara di Pierro explore the adult education history in Brazil emphasising institutions that have promoted the development of this field, the aims of their policies and the most evident outcomes, as well as the relationships established between these policies and the State, be it authoritarian or democratic. And finally Brid Connolly reflects upon relevant aspects that marked Irish society in recent times by considering the place of women and the role that adult and community education has played in addressing the issues that arose with the emergence of the information and knowledge-based society.
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