What is Adult Learners’ Week?

Three girls

What is Adult Learners’ Week?

ALA_icon_rescaleAdult Learners’ Week in Australia is part of an international festival of adult learning. Each year, Adult Learners’ Week is celebrated with hundreds of events and activities designed to promote the benefits of learning – in the home, at work and in the community – and to highlight the many options available.

Adult Learners’ Week also provides an opportunity for informed discussion about the current provision of adult learning in Australia and to consider what improvements are needed to take Australia forward.

In Australia, Adult Learners’ Week is supported by the Department of Education and Training and is coordinated nationally by Adult Learning Australia.

An international history

When governments met in Jomtien for the World Conference on Education for All in 1990, they set goals for universal access to and completion of primary education, and reduction of the adult illiteracy rate to one half its 1990 level by 2000. Ten years later, governments met in Dakar and still 113 million children had no access to primary education and 880 million adults, the majority of them women, were illiterate. It is against this background that International Adult Learners’ Week takes place.

The move to create a wider celebration of adult learning began with the American Association for the Advancement of Education (AAAE) in the late 1980s. Then Adult Learners’ Week commenced in the United Kingdom in 1992. Australia, along with South Africa and Jamaica, picked up on the success of Adult Learners’ Week and the first Australian ALW was organised in 1995 to promote and encourage lifelong learning.

When UNESCO’s General Conference in November 1999 approved the International Adult Learners’ Week, a larger dimension came into being. The aim is to bridge the activities during the national adult learners’ weeks, to learn from the experiences of other countries, to share the celebration with people in other contexts and to amplify the cooperation between agencies active in the promotion of adult learning at international level. Since then, organisers in more than 40 countries (see below) have organised or are preparing learning festivals. These not only raise awareness of the need to create more opportunities for adults to learn, but celebrate the efforts and achievements of the thousands who find the courage to ‘take that first step back’.

International Literacy Day and Adult Learners’ Week are used as mobilisation initiatives in many countries. They become a key element of national adult learning policies, promoting wider access to adult learning by celebrating individual and collective achievements, and using their experiences to stimulate a demand for learning elsewhere. Many of the most successful events take place in venues that adults find accessible, friendly, and familiar, such as cafes, bars, community centres, on public transport, sports grounds or village halls. The experiences of some other countries illustrate the different ‘festivals of learning’ now occurring. In 2000, 40 countries on every continent organised an Adult Learners’ Week and the international community of Adult Learners’ Week nations continues to grow.