The annual Adult Education Week kicked off yesterday with the usually rousing church service at the Mona Gospel Assembly in Kingston. But the week caught adult educators still grappling with the need to define what really is adult education in the Jamaican context.
This evening, outstanding educators led by Dr Simon Clarke, the former UNESCO representative and special adviser to the Ministry of Education, will seek further answers and explore ideas at a public forum themed "Revisiting Tertiary Education Policy in Jamaica", based on the book with the same title and edited by Rhema Holding and Olivene Burke.
The forum being staged by the Jamaican Council For Adult Education (JACAE) begins at 5:00 pm at the PCJ auditorium, 36 Trafalgar Road in Kingston. Moderator is radio personality Gerry McDaniel, who is the director of public relations and marketing for the Jamaica Foundation For Lifelong Learning (JFLL).
Clarke's panel will also comprise Rosemarie Vernon, past president of the Jamaica Teachers Association, Edward Shakes, executive director of the JFLL and Shermaine Barrett, acting president of JACAE and head of the School of Technical and Vocational Education at the University of Technology (UTech).
Barrett, in a research paper on adult education prepared for Adult Learners Week, admitted that a shared understanding of the term had proven difficult, with hundreds of definitions emerging from the hundreds of books and articles written on the subject.
"Adult education is a developing field of study. It manifests itself in a wide variety of settings and takes a multitude of forms," Barrett said... "The first recorded use of the term, however, is said to have been in a book published in 1810 in England, which used the term exclusively in reference to adult literacy."
She said that book gave rise to a historical perspective of adult education as a remedial activity undertaken by adults to fill gaps left in childhood education.
"The thought here was that schooling is set to occur at a specific time in the individual's life. Failure to acquire the educational capabilities during that timeframe left deficiencies that needed to be remedied. In this regard, the purpose of adult education was to make good the deficiencies of childhood education, and so, to many the term adult education meant adult literacy, adult basic education or other forms of compensatory and remedial education for adults," the educator said.
She noted that by early post World War 1, the focus of conceptions of adult education was exclusively liberal and non-occupational education, meaning "education that liberates the mind from ignorance and cultivates social responsibility".
But by 1926 when the first meeting of the American Association for Adult Education was held, the term adult education had taken on a much broader meaning. "Modern industrialisation has brought such diversity to our environment, both physically and mentally, and that environment continues to change at an accelerating rate such that the notion of a fixed time for education and its preparatory nature on which the compensatory and remedial focus of adult education was premised is now unfounded."
The real case for the education of adults therefore was not in gap filling but in its contribution first to the needs of individuals and second to the needs of the community. "From this perspective, one clear purpose of adult education is to enable the individual to achieve their full competencies and status and some control over a complex world," said Barrett.
She cited a UNESCO document entitled "Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education" as defining adult education as: "The entire body of organised educational processes, whatever the content, level and method, whether formal or otherwise, whether they prolong or replace initial education in schools, colleges and universities as well as in apprenticeship, whereby persons regarded as adults by the society to which they belong develop their abilities, enrich their knowledge, improve their technical or professional qualifications or turn them in a new direction and bring about changes in their attitudes or behaviour in the two-fold perspective of full personal development and participation in balanced and independent social, economic and cultural development."
Against that background, the Jamaican Council For Adult Education had decided to dedicate an aspect of the celebration of adult learners week to that aspect of adult education "which prolongs education, develop their abilities, enrich their knowledge, improve their technical or professional qualifications but eventually leading to full personal development and participation in national development".
Barrett noted that in the book, Revisiting Tertiary Education Policy in Jamaica, the authors stated that "at no time in human history did the welfare of nations depend in such a direct manner on the quality and outreach of their higher education systems and institutions".
She also quotes a White Paper on Education entitled "Education: The way forward - A Path for Jamaica's Education at the Start of the New Millennium" which stated: "Tertiary education is vital for the socio-economic development of the nation, for it is from this level that the advanced knowledge and skills acquired in the professional and technical fields, business and finance, industry and in the government are drawn."
It was also noted that countries must address the changes associated with the global economy, technological developments and internal socio-political and macroeconomic changes and that countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Australia had responded and reviewed their tertiary education system and had sought to design the kind of tertiary education system that would make them competitive in the global environment.
"It is against this background that JACAE seeks to advance the discussions and to expand the stakeholder base in our public forum," she said.