Last update: May 13, 2022
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Fact Sheet: Adult Learning and Education
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Based on data from the fourth UNESCO Global Report on Adult Learning and Education. Published by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, the report monitors the extent to which UNESCO Member States put their international commitments regarding adult learning and education into practice and reflects data submitted by 159 countries.


  • In almost one-third of countries, fewer than 5 per cent of adults aged 15 and above participate in education and learning programmes.
  • Despite low participation overall, many more than half of responding countries (57% of 152) reported an increase in the overall participation rate in adult learning and education between 2015 and 2018.
  • Low-income countries reported the largest increase in ALE participation (73%), trailed by lower middle income and upper middle income countries (61% and 62%). 
  • Most increases in adult learning and education participation were in sub-Saharan Africa (72% of respondents), followed by the Arab region (67%), Latin America and the Caribbean (60%) and Asia and the Pacific (49%). 
  • North America and Western Europe reported fewest increases (38%) though starting from higher levels.
  • The data shows persistent and deep inequalities in participation and that key target groups such as adults with disabilities, older adults, minority groups as well as adults living in conflict-affected countries are not being reached.

Women's Participation

While the global report shows that women’s participation in ALE has increased in 59 per cent of the reporting countries since 2015, in some parts of the world, girls and women still do not have sufficient access to education, notably to vocational training, leaving them with few skills and poor chances of finding employment and contributing to the societies they live in, which also represents an economic loss for their countries.


  • Three-quarters of countries reported progress in the quality of education since 2015. 
  • Qualitative progress is observed in curricula, assessment, teaching methods and employment conditions of adult educators. Progress in citizenship education, which is essential in promoting and protecting freedom, equality, democracy, human rights, tolerance and solidarity, remained negligible. No more than 3 per cent of countries reported qualitative progress in this area.


  • GRALE 4 shows that over the last 10 years, spending on adult learning and education has not reached sufficient levels, not only in low-income countries but also in lower middle income and high-income countries. 
  • Nearly 20 per cent of Member States reported spending less than 0.5 per cent of their education budgets on ALE and a further 14 per cent reported spending less than 1 per cent. 
  • Under-investment hits socially disadvantaged adults the hardest. Lack of funding also hampers the implementation of new policies and efficient governance practices.
  • It is recommended that 5 per cent of the domestic education budget is invested in adult learning and education.

Required actions

The publication stresses the need to increase national investment in ALE, reduce participation costs, raise awareness of benefits, and improve data collection and monitoring, particularly for disadvantaged groups.

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UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

Katja Roemer, Communication specialist