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UEA launches new UNESCO Chair programme to address international inequalities in adult education

A major new research programme will be launched today at the University of East Anglia to help improve understanding about how adult learning can address inequalities in the poorest communities of the world.

The university has been invited by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to join its prestigious University Network and establish the first UNESCO Chair in Adult Literacy and Learning for Social Transformation.

Led by Chairholder Anna Robinson-Pant, professor of education at UEA, the international collaboration with researchers in Nepal, Ethiopia and Egypt will focus in particular on women and young adults, investigating how or why adult literacy and learning programmes might better  respond to processes of social transformation, including women’s empowerment.

The Chair programme aims to strengthen the interaction between formal, non-formal and informal learning in research, policy and programmes and will build directly on the expertise of the UEA Literacy and Development Group, which brings together researchers in education and international development from across the university.

Today’s launch will be opened by UEA Vice-Chancellor Prof David Richardson, with speakers including James Bridge, chief executive of the UK National Commission for UNESCO. The event will feature presentations by the UEA UNESCO Chair team, Prof Alan Smith (UNESCO Chairholder in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy, University of Ulster), Prof Mary Hamilton (University of Lancaster), Prof Gemma Moss (Institute of Education, University College London), Mari Hartl (International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD) and Mari Yasunaga (UNESCO Paris).

Among the topics to be discussed at the launch will be indigenous women and adult literary, as well as a joint IFAD-UNESCO project on learning knowledge and skills for agriculture to improve rural livelihoods. Prof Robinson-Pant led the project, which prompted the initial proposal for a Chair in this area.

This UNESCO Chair programme is a partnership with university departments specialising in adult literacy and community learning in Ethiopia (Bahir Dar University), Nepal (Kathmandu University and Tribhuvan University Research Center for Educational Innovation and Development, CERID) and Egypt (Ain Shams University).

Prof Robinson-Pant recently visited Nepal to meet with colleagues at Kathmandu University, CERID, the Ministry of Education and key development agencies to discuss possible collaborative research projects around adult literacy and education and community learning.

Prof Robinson-Pant said: “We are delighted to launch this programme today. Adult education can become a force for change in the poorest communities of the world and this is a real opportunity to work closely with colleagues in Ethiopia, Egypt and Nepal who share that view.

“Our programme of collaborative research and training should also contribute to the 2030 sustainable development agenda, highlighting the central role of adult learning and literacy in areas like health and agricultural development.”

The chair of the UK National Commission for UNESCO, Dr Beth Taylor, said: “I am delighted to welcome the Chair in Adult Literacy and Learning for Social Transformation to the UK’s UNESCO Chairs Network. The Chair will join a well-established network of 16 UK UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks in diverse subjects ranging from Sustainable Mountain Development to Archaeological Ethics. Being accepted to the Network is in recognition of the University of East Anglia’s academic excellence and the contribution of its research to UNESCO’s core mission of promoting peace in the minds of men and women.

“I hope that the designation will help provide a national and global platform for the Chair’s research, and will add value for the university. Recent research by the UK National Commission found that UK Chairs generated an estimated £14.4 million in 2014/15 through their association with UNESCO.” 

The UEA team consists of Prof Robinson-Pant, Prof Nitya Rao, Dr Sheila Aikman, Dr Catherine Jere, Prof Alan Rogers and Dr Spyros Themelis. The expertise of the group includes literacy and women’s empowerment, migration and education, the influence of education on social and economic mobility, and cultural and linguistic change in low income countries.

The aim of the Chair is to strengthen qualitative research capacity in the field of adult literacy, learning and social transformation through collaborative research and curriculum development activities.

It also sets out to develop new initiatives with key policy organisations in this field - particularly the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning in Hamburg - the aim being to promote greater interaction between research and policy in areas such as vocational skill development, health and agriculture.

A series of research workshops is proposed as part of the new Chair, as well as an international conference in 2018. The team also hope to work with organisations involved in adult education in Norwich - such as New Routes, an established NGO working with recently settled migrants - to inform some of the international activities.

Image: flickr/SIM South Asia

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