At first glance, the Arab region, which extends from the Middle East through the Gulf States to Mauritania in North Africa, seems to have the ideal conditions for regional collaboration and unified representation: around 420 million people speak the same language and point to a common culture and identity. Especially in education, one would expect a lively exchange and concerted actions. After all, over half of the Arab population is under 25 years old; most of the education systems are outdated and education reforms are being spoken about by everyone.
No common regional voice
However, there is hardly any regional cooperation and no common voice for educators in the Arab world. The International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), the umbrella organization of civil society organizations that are committed to Lifelong Learning, has been complaining for years that there are barely any Arab actors active in the association so there are almost no contact persons in the region.
This may on the one hand be due to the political fragmentation of the Arab world in which there are only weak regional institutions; the focus – especially on education policy – lies at the state level and Adult Education and Lifelong Learning are still not an integral part of the education system. Nevertheless, decision-makers are gradually coming to realize that Adult Education as an element of Lifelong Learning is a key to political, economic, and social development, which was so convincingly called for by so many in the Arab Spring.
IALLA training academy for the first time in the Arab world
To emphasize the role of education in social change, and above all to integrate young education stakeholders from civil society in international debates and committees, the International Council for Adult Education ICAE has used a special instrument: a training course, which, under the title IALLA, might be familiar to some, and since 2004 has been held annually in various regions of the world. IALLA stands for the ICAE Academy for Lifelong Learning Advocacy – and, by happy chance, means “Let’s go!” or “Go!” in Arabic. With the assistance of the Middle East bureau of DVV International in Jordan, IALLA was brought to the Arab world in 2013 for the first time, and Arab participants were invited.
So, about 30 young educators sat down in September 2013 for two weeks and concerned themselves with education and Lifelong Learning as a human right, with international institutions, strategies, and campaigns, as well as with lobbying instruments. The group grew closer together through in-depth discussions, role-playing, a joint public event with UNESCO, ICAE, and the Arab Campaign for Education for All to mark World Literacy Day, through trips and celebrating together and developed a strong identity as a part of the global “IALLA family”. In the final days, there was a real spirit of optimism among the Arab participants. Committed, the group made plans for joint actions in the future.
Strengthening networks and building new collaborations
One outcome of the discussions was the realization that there are some Arab educational networks, for instance, the Arab Network for Literacy and Adult Education (ANLAE), the Arab Campaign for Education for All (ACEA), the Arab Network for Human Rights Education (ANHRE), as well as the Arab Network for Popular Education (ANPE). Plans were made to work more closely with these networks and bring them together to explore opportunities for cooperation. In addition, suggestions were made for a more substantial involvement of Arab actors in international events and processes. Viewed as possible points of concentrated focus for this were Global Action Week –a yearly global week of activities on a variety of educational issues – as well as a regional follow-up conference of the International Conference on Adult Education CONFINTEA, or the debate about the redefinition of global development objectives.
So IALLA 2013 & 2014 were the launchpad for greater cooperation from and with education providers in the Arab world.
In a follow-up meeting, it became clear that some networks already cooperate here and there and want to expand their cooperation. However, one thing that wants to be made certain, is the acceptance of a concept of education similar to that of Paulo Freire in order to counter the authoritarian and instrumentalist concepts of many governments. They are already working on a joint declaration and an event for Global Action Week. And they want to hone their tools for networking and lobbying – including through a specific version of IALLA in the Arab world. DVV International and ICAE support this process for the gathering of strength. Let’s go!