By Colin McGregor, Director, ACE Aotearoa
Covid-19 has impacted Adult and Community Education across the globe. In response to this a number of zoom meetings and webinars about Covid-19 and the ACE sector have been facilitated by organisations including UNESCO, DVV International, PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia) and PIMA (PASCAL International Members Association). The best framework for describing ACE in Covid-19 was provided by Robbie Guevara, Associate Professor at RMIT in Melbourne. Robbie is a former President of ASPBAE (Asia South Pacific Association of Basic and Adult Education) and the newly elected President of the ICAE (International Council of Adult Education).

Robbie sees a four-part framework.

  • Learning about the crisis: This involves the role of Adult Education to find out about the nature of the crisis from experts to help people understand the complexity of the situation.
  • Learning during the crisis: Not just responding to social media but learning from each other and capturing this learning. This has an emotional health and mental health dimension.
  • Learning how to adapt Learning during the crisis: How to teach and facilitate using new tools – in particular online learning utilising platforms such as zoom.
  • Learning to advocate: Advocating to ensure that no one is left behind. Adapting learning through the crisis is all well and good but falls down when learners don’t have access to devices or broadband. Related to this last point is the word ‘resilience’. Robbie is concerned that the concept of resilience could actually be described as re-silence. Don’t ask– we will provide for you.

Across the globe difference countries have had different experiences but there are some common themes.

In parts of Asia the experience has been very daunting. Not only is there either no or very limited economic support to those laid off but access to devices is often tightly controlled and women in particular cannot access training. In some countries those based in the city have had to return to their
villages to try and survive. The problems can be summarised as equity, quality and inclusion (Marie Kahn, President of ASPBAE). Due to a lack of state funded ACE the task has fallen to volunteers and NGOs to support communities.

Arab Nations have faced similar issues with loss of jobs, women stuck in houses and families needing help in how to deal with children 24 hours a day. An interesting point raised was the concern that worker rights might be violated in the future and there would be a real need for civics education. South Africa suffers from poverty, inequality and associated violence. In order to respond to government requirements, the NGO sector has formed a Peoples Coalition on Covid-19. This includes NGOs from sectors such as education and health. With ACE provision there is a move towards a digital approach which includes rethinking the curriculum to focus on social pedagogy.

Scotland has been very proactive, undertaking surveys with the ACE sector to identify both the response and the funding impact. Learning Link Scotland also organised a zoom meeting with providers to share coping strategies. Concerns include learner access to devices and provider ability to adapt to online learning. The funding impact was the equivalent of about NZ$60,000 and about 800 learners who have missed out on learning.

The city of Limerick in Ireland had Digital Inclusion as part of its 2017-2020 strategy on Building Irelands First Digital City. As such they were well placed for Covid-19. They say there was a 10-fold increase in the use of Microsoft Teams (similar to Zoom) and a 2-fold increase on the use of Moodle (Online learning tool). Most students had some to excellent engagement with online learning. Free online courses were available and research is being carried out to identify how effective their response was. Their 2020 Annual Festival of Lifelong Learning will be a virtual festival.

The PRIA seminar summarised the best response to COVID-19 as: Building local capacity – build up the skills in communities to cope; Building the infrastructure for digitisation; Advocate for equitable and inclusive access to education; Advocating for public provision of digital learning; Building the capacity of teachers and facilitators; and Investing in developing participatory learning methodology – face-to-face as well as remote.