Fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education

Adult education does not reach those who need it most, says new UNESCO report

The main challenge for adult learning and education across the globe is to reach those who need it most. This is the key message of UNESCO’s Fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE  5) which will be published on 15 June 2022 at the Seventh International Conference on Adult Education in Marrakech, Morocco.

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UNESCO’s report shows that while there is progress, notably in the participation of women, those who need adult education the most – disadvantaged and vulnerable groups such as Indigenous learners, rural populations, migrants, older citizens, people with disabilities or prisoners – are deprived of access to learning opportunities.

About 60% of countries reported no improvement in participation by people with disabilities, migrants or prisoners. 24% of countries reported that the participation of rural populations had declined. And participation of older adults also decreased in 24% of the 159 surveyed countries. GRALE 5 calls for a major change in Member States’ approach to adult learning and education backed by adequate investment to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from adult learning and education.

“I urge governments and the international community to join our efforts and take action to ensure that the right to education is realized for everyone – no matter their age, who they are, or where they live. Due to rapid technological and social changes as well as massive global challenges that require engaged and critical citizens, reskilling and upskilling through adult learning and education must be routine. The ultimate twenty-first century skill is the ability to learn.”  
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay

A broader range of learners

Over half of countries reported an increase in participation in adult learning and education since 2018 but challenges remain. While participation of women and youth has considerably improved, overall participation in adult learning and education continues to be insufficient.

In 23% of the 159 countries that submitted data for GRALE 5, fewer than 1% of youth and adults aged 15 and above participate in education and learning programmes. Sub-Saharan Africa led the field by a wide margin with 59% of countries reporting that at least one in five adults benefit from learning. This figure drops to only 16% of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and 25% in Europe. The high participation rate in Africa may be explained in part by a strong demand for adult literacy and second-chance education.

Quality is improving

Most countries reported progress in relation to quality of curricula, assessment and the professionalization of adult educators. Over two-thirds reported progress in pre-service and in-service training for ALE educators, as well as in employment conditions, though this progress varied considerably by region and income group. This advances the quality of adult education.

The Philippines implements new teaching standards for ALE educators

The Department of Education issued a memo in 2017 for the National Adoption and Implementation of the Philippine Professional Standards for Teachers (PPST). This action recognized the importance of professional standards in the continuing professional development and advancement of teachers, based on the principle of lifelong learning. Following release of the memorandum, the new orientations and trainings were rolled out in 2018 and 2019. A results-based performance management system for teaching personnel of the department was also updated and harmonized with the PPST.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 95)

Estonia’s report on quality controls for ALE curricula

Estonia reported that quality control measures are an important factor in developing and maintaining quality ALE curricula. The appropriateness and correspondence of the learning outcomes are assessed prior to registering them in the Estonian education information system by commissions and experts nominated by the Minister of Education and Research. Since 2015, the labour force and skills intelligence system has been used to analyse the needs of the labour market and the skills required for future economic development. Results of these analyses provide information on skill gaps, which then are incorporated into the curricula to keep it up to date. The effectiveness of the provision of these skills is overseen by the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 89)

Estonian Woman
Romania’s innovative approach to improving ALE: The Second Chance programme.

Romania’s Second Chance programme supports adolescents, young people and adults from diverse backgrounds who have not attended or completed primary or secondary education. In order to ensure quality provision of the programme, the following elements were included:

a modular curriculum; a credit system for basic education; evaluation; certification and recognition of skills previously acquired by learners to ensure an individualized training programme; training programmes for teaching staff; provision of learning materials that meet learners’ needs.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 88)

Romanian girl
Costa Rica’s philosophy on the holistic nature of civic education

Costa Rica reported on its holistic approach to promoting active and global citizenship through ALE. Where citizenship is concerned, diverse experiences demonstrate that making it part of a dedicated subject is not enough. Nor is it enough for citizenship to run through the curriculum. Citizenship education must guide the entire process of teaching and learning; therefore, it involves the whole community of educators and learners. For instance, there has to be consistency between theory and practice. Lectures cannot focus on ethics and civic values but be coupled with authoritarian teaching practices. Responsibility and rights are only learned if their conceptualization goes hand-in-hand with practice, and the practice itself is conceptualized. Hence, Costa Rica is redefining key relationships: adult-adolescent, teacher-student and school-community.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 99)

Costa Rican Man
Peru’s initiatives to assure ALE quality focus on learner needs

Peru reported approving curricular programmes for ALE as a result of work sessions with teachers and students. In particular, these programmes have been adapted to the characteristics, needs and expectations of adult learners. The changes included:

provision of materials; validation of content; development of competences which were identified by young adults and adult learners; scaffolding approaches to learning at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels; provision of training and guides for adult educators.

The main thematic areas covered by the curriculum are rights and citizenship, environment and health, territory and culture, and work and entrepreneurship.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 90)

Peruvian Woman
Malaysia’s efforts to assure high-quality ALE programming

Different ALE providers in Malaysia – from public and private universities and colleges to polytechnics and community colleges and training centres – conduct evaluations and pursue continuous quality improvement to promote learning outcomes from programming every semester, as required by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA). The MQA developed several guidelines for ALE quality, including:

The Code of Practice for Programme Accreditation (COPPA) Edition 2 (2018)

The Code of Practice for Programme Accreditation: Open and Distance Learning (COPPA:ODL) Second Edition (November 2019)

The Code of Practice for TVET Programme Accreditation (COPTPA) (October 2019)

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 88)

Malaysian Woman
Kenya launched its Competency-Based Curriculum in 2019

Kenya reported launching its new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) in 2019. This aims to ensure that every learner is competent in seven core areas at the end of each learning cycle:

communication and collaboration; critical thinking and problem-solving; imagination and creativity; citizenship; learning to learn; self-efficacy; digital literacy.

The country’s National Education Sector Strategic Plan (NESSP) (2018–2022) provides equivalences and linkages between these competences and the formal curriculum for accreditation purposes. This means that informal learners have the opportunity to re-integrate into the formal system.

Learn more (Grale 5, p. 89)

Kenyan Man
Uganda’s approach to literacy acquisition tied to development

Uganda reported progress in improving quality in ALE by relating literacy and numeracy knowledge and skills to the specific context, needs and interests of communities. This programme promotes integration as key to developing and implementing a multi-pronged, multidisciplinary approach to adult education and system enhancement. Through this mix, there are deliberate efforts by partners to mobilize various kinds of participation in ALE at all levels of implementation that involve different government departments. This approach promotes local community resource contribution in addition to financial support from different government departments.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 98)

Ugandan Man
Germany’s use of ICT for literacy and skills training, and for better teaching

Germany reported the launch of an online portal that uses ICT to promote literacy, second language learning and basic skills training. More than 6 million adults in Germany have a low level of literacy; for about half of these, German is not their mother tongue but their second language. Around 40% of migrants in Germany have difficulties reading and writing in the German language. The VHS learning portal ( provides a free online learning programme for German as a second language, literacy education and basic skills training. By 2020, the learning portal had 425,000 users (around 400,000 learners and 25,000 tutor-teachers). Importantly, this platform is free.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 93)

German Man

Citizenship education key for sustainable development

Responding to contemporary challenges, such as climate change and digitalization, demands citizens informed, trained and engaged, active, who recognise both their shared humanity and their obligations to other species and to the planet. Citizenship education is a key tool in this endeavour. In a special thematic chapter, GRALE 5 shows that close to three quarters (74%) of countries are developing or implementing policies in relation to citizenship education.

Promoting Education, Altruism and Civic Engagement

In Algeria, the Promoting of Education, Altruism and Civic Engagement (PEACE) project, involves Algerian university students and young leaders with special needs jointly addressing social problems within their communities. Project activities aim to achieve four primary objectives: enhance the capacity of Algerian universities and civil society organizations to collaboratively provide students with voluntary and career opportunities; provide project leadership, with planning and training on employable skills; increase student participation in community service projects; and maximize future programme sustainability by building on current government and donor initiatives, strengthening existing civil society networks, creating new partnerships and building local training capacity. 

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 146)

Algerian Man Wheelchair
The Association of Women and Society

The Association of Women and Society was founded in 1994 in Egypt to work in slum areas to support deprived people in exercising their basic rights. The association seeks to build effective models of partnership between public, private and non-government actors, to build coalitions and alliances at the national, regional and international level, to develop the values of active participation in the formulation and follow-up of policies, and to implement programmes and projects in the areas of education, training and lifelong learning as a key pillar in the process of advancement, development and sustainable community development.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 140)

Happy Egyptian Woman
Civic Education Information Service for Female Iraqi Leaders

The Civic Education Information Service for Female Iraqi Leaders programme was initiated in 2010 by Souktel (an Iraqi technology company) and Mercy Corps, an international development agency, as part of the agency’s Empowering Women Peace Builders project in Iraq. The aim of mobile services in the context of this programme is to connect female community members in leadership positions in rural regions of Iraq with peers or mentors in other parts of the country. 

The programme increases women’s awareness of how the government and other communities work, giving women in rural areas an equal opportunity to engage in political and social spheres. 

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 141)

Iraqi Women Enjoying Their Time
The Early Childhood, Family and Community Education Programme in Palestine

In an effort to promote access to education and general socioeconomic development, a group of Palestinian educators and social workers established the Trust of the Programme for Early Childhood, Family and Community Education (the Trust) in 1984 as a non-profit NGO with funding from the German government and several international foundations. The Trust primarily endeavours to: develop and maintain the Palestinian identity; improve quality of life for the Palestinian people; and promote social responsibility, community empowerment and development among Palestinians in Israel and the Palestinian territories through intergenerational and community/family-based educational and leadership training programmes. 

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 150)

Palestinian dude
Shodhini: Girls’ education in rural India

In India, in many rural villages, girls’ movements are restricted and forced marriage still exists. As part of a project supported by ASPBAE (the Asia South Pacific Association For Basic And Education) and UIL, a group of young, marginalized girls in villages have come to realize that they have the agency to learn, question and change their worlds. They have become Shodhini.

Shodhini is a Sanskrit word meaning female researcher and also the title of an action research project on rural girls education by the Youth-led Action Research (YAR) on girls’ education. The Shodhini not only learn about their own communities; they also reach out to girls in other villages so that they too can feel empowered to take life into their own hands. This process of reflection, analysis and action that the Shodhini go through, is the very heart of education for sustainable development and global citizenship education. 

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 142)

Indian Woman
Non-formal education with a focus on community

In 2009, Thailand implemented an adult community education policy, led by the Office of Non-formal and Informal Education, to promote community learning centres and citizenship learning in community activities such as discussion forums, religious activities, art and culture programmes sports and democracy-related programmes. 

CLCs are a significant feature of learning opportunities in many Asian countries. According to the UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok, ‘as many as 170,000 CLCs operate throughout the region, which is widely considered to have responded most rapidly and positively in recognizing the importance of institutionalizing lifelong learning at local level within easy reach of community members’(UIL and NILE, 2017).

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 149)

Thai Man
The Global Citizenship Education and Learning Programme for Adults in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania

The Global Citizenship Education and Learning Programme for Adults in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania was founded with the support of UNESCO, and as part of the National Capacity Development for Education Programme (CapED) to pilot programmes integrating GCED into literacy and non-formal education programmes. Literacy programmes are of particular relevance in Mauritania, where universal education has not yet been achieved and ALE is under-funded. The responsible Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Original Education, under the guidance of UNESCO, developed a plan for GCED and the prevention of extremism through education.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 130)

Mauritanian Man
Germany’s special provisions for vocational training

Germany’s new government included in its policy programme special provisions for vocational training. It is committed to supporting personally motivated lifelong learning, expanding the education grant (BAföG), opening up the subsistence allowance for part-time training, promoting further training at the same level of the German qualifications framework as well as for a second fully qualified training, significantly increasing the funding rates and allowances, and closing gaps in funding for BAföG.

Adult education centres and other non-profit educational institutions will be supported through investments in digital infrastructure. The recognition of competences acquired informally, non-formally or abroad will be simplified and accelerated. For people who are unemployed and entitled to basic income support, fully qualifying training courses are funded as part of further vocational training, regardless of their duration, leading to an upgrading of professional qualification.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 147)

German guys
Kenya: using ICT in adult education

Activities reported by Kenya to implement its strategic plan (2018–2020) to integrate ICT in teaching, learning and assessment of adult and continuing education (ACE) include:

Conducting a baseline survey of infrastructure across all levels of learning in ACE; conducting a needs assessment to identify gaps in integrating ICT in ACE curricula, and subsequently addressing these gaps in design and delivery; continually training ACE instructors and trainers on integrating ICT into teaching practice; developing and/or acquiring more ICT resources across all levels of ACE; using e-learning as a mode of delivery for ACE programmes; developing a monitoring and evaluation framework for assessing the impact of ICT integration on teaching-learning processes of ACE.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 138)

Kenyan guy
Australia creates a new higher education qualification from a short course

A new higher education qualification type, the Undergraduate Certificate (UC), was added to the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) to support a short-course measure in the Australian Government’s COVID-19 higher education relief package. The UC was introduced to support workers affected by the pandemic through providing opportunities to reskill, upskill and improve employability. It qualifies individuals with knowledge and skills for further study, professional upskilling, employment and participation in lifelong learning. The UC is the first undergraduate shorter-form credential to be formally recognized under the AQF. It certifies completion of six months of full-time study towards an existing AQF qualification from Level 5 (higher education diploma) to Level 7 (bachelor’s degree).

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 104)

Australian Woman
Romania’s ‘environmental knowledge’ curricula for adult learners

The aim of Romania’s teaching-learning process on environmental protection, conservation and biodiversity for a school-based ‘second chance’ programme is to deepen understanding and help learners understand the importance of science-based sustainability. The curriculum covers the following elements:

Sources and consequences of air and water pollution and measures for prevention; ‘Feeding relationships’ with flora and fauna (including aquatic varieties) and activities of people in plains and mountain environments; Protecting natural and necessary resources of soils, rocks, minerals, fuels, wood and food; Forests, gardens and orchards as living environments and in relation to local communities and resources.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 156)

Romanian Man

Increase in adult learning and education financing needed

GRALE 5 shows that much more needs to be done to achieve the level of investment required for adult learning and education to realise fully its contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals. There is wide divergence in terms of public funding devoted to adult learning and education, with 22 out of 146 countries spending 4% or more of their public expenditure for education on adult learning and education, and 28 spending less than 0.4%. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put domestic budgets under further pressure, under-investment in adult learning and education hits socially disadvantaged the hardest.

Malaysia’s budget allocations, scholarships and incentives

The Government of Malaysia increased scholarships, incentives and budget allocations for ALE and lifelong learning programmes offered to specific target groups. In particular, spending was aimed at improving ICT for provision for adults in general; vouchers to young adults to support TVET and reskilling; funding for Indigenous peoples to enhance literacy and entrepreneurial skills; and cross-departmental budgets to support adult learning in fields related to health and social protection.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 66)

Malaysian Man
Latvia’s funding to keep youth in school and support vocational education

Latvia identified investment in low-skilled youth and adults as a priority in a number of policy documents and support programmes, including the Education Development Guidelines 2014–2020 and the National Development Plan.

There is an emphasis on helping young people aged 15 to 24 to remain in education. The total indicated funding for this work is EUR 37.5 million.

A programme called ‘Implementation of initial vocational education programmes as a part of the Youth Guarantee’ aims to help young people aged 17 to 29 obtain professional qualifications.

A project called ‘Know and Do’ aims to improve the motivation of young people aged 15 to 29 who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). 

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 67)

Latvian men
Mauritius’s approach to spending for unemployed graduates

Mauritius reported that its Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) is responsible for ‘look[ing] after and promot[ing] the development of the labour force in Mauritius in line with the requirements of a fast-growing economy’ and offers various schemes and projects that prioritize training for unemployed graduates. For example, the Graduate Training for Employment Scheme (GTES) aims to enhance the employability of unemployed graduates by providing them with skills as per the requirements of an evolving job market. This scheme ensures the training and placement of unemployed graduates for a period not exceeding one year, with the possibility of employment. The HRDC invested the equivalent of approximately USD 130,000 for the training and placement of these graduates in 2017–2018. 

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 68)

Mauritius Man
Uganda’s ALE spending structure in relation to social development

Non-formal ALE receives 0.6% of the national budget allocated to the social development sector in Uganda. In absolute numbers, the government has been allocating 2 billion Ugandan shillings (approx. USD 500,000) annually to this sector to implement adult literacy activities. Funds for central government activities are disbursed to the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, while funds for field activities are transferred to local governments under a single consolidated social development sector grant or fund. Yet, according to Uganda’s reporting, information regarding the overall funding of adult literacy and education is problematic, scattered between several ministries, such as education, health, social development and agriculture. In addition, development partners can contribute to funding of government activities on literacy and basic skills, particularly for disadvantaged populations. 

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 67)

Ugandan Woman
The funding of different groups tied to adult learning and education in Jordan

The Government of Jordan allocates direct funding to different groups in its budgets for adult learning and education. For example, funding to provide appropriate services to elderly men and women focuses on those with disabilities and special needs. 

Jordan’s Ministry of Education allocates a budget for non-formal education programmes, including adult education and literacy programming, for an evening studies programme, and for a culture promotion programme for school dropouts. For the unemployed, the Ministry of Labour holds a budget for the provision of training opportunities for reintegration into the labour market. Finally, the government also supports education and training programmes for Syrian refugees. These programmes are funded primarily by external sources.

Learn more (GRALE 5, p. 66)

Jordanian Man

About the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education

Published by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education monitors the extent to which UNESCO Member States put their international commitments regarding adult learning and education into practice. The reports combine survey data, policy analysis and case studies to provide policy-makers and practitioners with sound recommendations and examples of good practice. Five reports have been published since 2009.


About the Seventh International Conference on Adult Education

From 15 to 17 June 2022, participants from across the globe will come together for the Seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) in Marrakech, Morocco. They will take stock of achievements in adult learning and education, discuss challenges, and develop a new framework for action to make adult learning and education a reality around the world. CONFINTEA VII is hosted by the Kingdom of Morocco and co-organized with UNESCO.

Conference website