Education for All and the Adult Learner

For the past decade, the international community has focused on elementary schooling as the key to achieving the goal of “education for all”. But what about youth and adults? We know now that many of the school leavers from the past decade of universal access have limited literacy and numeracy skills; the building blocks for access for future learning and skills development. One reason we continue to shy away from this critical problem is that large scale efforts to raise adult literacy in the past had trouble producing sustained gains for the adult learners. See this thoughtful study, for example, by Roy Carr-Hill’s on the Tanzania national literacy program of the 1970s and 80s.

Today an article in the New York Times gives us more evidence about the critical role that learning plays across the adult life. According to a large, longitudinal study, adults who engage in formal learning maintain higher levels of fluid intelligence across the lifespan. The punchline: investments in learning, even in adulthood, produce huge gains in memory and cognition.

Learning for all: an investment the keeps really keeps on giving! Isn’t it time we in the global community developed effective programs to ensure that the right to a basic education is enjoyed by youth and adults?


Karen Mundy
University of Toronto