EWR 21 (2022), Nr. 4 (Oktober)

Leona M. English / Peter Mayo
Lifelong Learning, Global Social Justice, and Sustainability
Cham: Palgrave-McMillan/ Springer 2021
(137 S.; ISBN 978-3-030-65777-2; 58,84 EUR)
Lifelong Learning, Global Social Justice, and Sustainability This book presents several brilliant, counter-hegemonic ideas on numerous topics focussing on the evolution of education policies in a neoliberal world which is facing social and environmental challenges as never before.

Introducing some information on the authors elucidates why it seemed essential to write this book. Leona M. English is a Canadian leading scholar and professor at the Department of Adult Education at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her co-author, Peter Mayo, is professor of Arts, Open Communities, and Adult Education at the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta. (iv) Both authors’ research history is evidence of an unconditional dedication to lifelong education in a Freirean sense thus enabling vulnerable communities to participate in democratic processes. These might be the reasons why this publication came as no surprise to scholars who advocate the UNESCO’s approach on Lifelong Education (LLE).

According to the authors, education policies all over the world are adopting the capitalist demands of the 1979 Thatcherism and are primarily interested in rearing individuals for the purpose of producing and/or consuming. They postulate that the world requires communities comprising critical citizens who want to participate in change for a better world for all. Lifelong Learning (LLL) as the OECD perceives it is mainly focussed on people whose skills should contribute to employability but without a plan for actual employment. The main responsibility for poverty was shifted from the state to the individual saying that it is their fault that they are poor as their investment in education was insufficient. The authors’ critical analysis based on theories and concepts from the global North to the global South, helps to expose this biased attribution. They cement their conclusions by citing a wide range of literature.

Over eight chapters we are invited on an exciting journey covering adult education and learning (ALE) theorists’ and practitioners’, gender and intersectoral approaches. In addition, Freire’s influence on the LLE conception as it was named prior to being reframed by neoliberal theorists and ultimately renamed into LLL, the migrants’ question, the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs), and the aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic concerning education policies are discussed.

Not new to ALE practitioners and educators but, impressively recapitulated in the first chapter, is the comparison of UNESCO’s holistic LLE concept (Faure Report 1972, reaffirmed in the Delors Report 1996) to the subsequently emerged OECD concept of LLL in the EU Memorandum 2000. It underwent a stealthy but inexorable adaptation to the neoliberal capitalist doxa of the 21st century. Ettore Gelpi’s struggle to save LLE from being captured by capitalist ideas and being exploited by external forces such as the World Bank or private investors is portrayed leaving the reader with the question: “How did humans become resources?” (38)

The subsequent chapter briefly discusses global and national LLL interactions and is substantiated by various publications mentioning small countries like Malta, Luxembourg, and Cyprus. It explains, what BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China PRC, and South Africa) contributed to social justice and economic growth, as well as the role the SDGs played in it. Malta’s lifelong learning strategy is described and discussed in more detail. Malta managed to insidiously include a few ideas e. g. schools doubling as community learning centres and the founding of organizations connected with social movements of the old UNESCO-LLE-concept into its report, and to still keep the EU’s subsidies which was an interesting point made in this book.

In chapter five gender educational needs and intersectional issues regarding women are discussed thus making them a priority. Drawing on standpoint epistemology and considering analysis of intersecting oppression, the authors call for a struggle for social justice referring to Nancy Fraser's theory. The main topic is, of course, the absence of adequate women’s literacy from which all the subsequent problematic issues emanate. Misogyny keeps women off the workplace and, hence, away from active participation in democratic processes. Women and race make up a full chapter and it is strikingly well explained why being female and of colour makes life so much more difficult as an immigrant.

What would a book about ALE, social justice, and sustainability be without one chapter dedicated to Paulo Freire’s essential contribution to a holistic conception of human learning? The sixth chapter provides insights into Freire’s work and what feminist authors thought about him. Nevertheless, in spite of some feminists’ slight disdain of his work, his grassroot projects, which could virtually happen “under the shade of the mango tree” (15), helped to ease the absence of sufficient literacy in many underdeveloped countries post decolonisation. Freire’s key postulation that education has to make people “become more fully human” (18) was later modified into people striving to “become less complete” (18) and a never-ending process of completion and learning where nations become “learning societies” (78).

Focussing on the global challenge of migration and the much discussed SDGs, the next chapter takes on the international reactions to massive undocumented immigration after wars and the effects of climate change. The reasons for mass migration are explained and there are several very well thought-through approaches on how to redress the deficit perception of a skills revenue for migrants and receiving countries. In this chapter the SDGs and recognition, validation, and accreditation of prior acquired skills, are discussed.

Of course, the global pandemic, precipitated by a minute virus called SARS-CoV-19, which kept the world on hold for more than two years and exacerbated injustice and inequality, requires mention in a chapter on social justice and sustainability pertaining to it. The last chapter explains how education worked and still works in times of lockdown, and is facilitated online and, at times, by hybrid teaching. It also mentions where the post pandemic education policies are heading and whether the capitalist hegemony will finally succeed in taking over the education field as a whole.

The strength of this book lies in its ability to convey the idea of how global adult education policies should not get captured by neoliberal policies worldwide to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. However, the book is by far no ultra-leftist polemic postulating socialist ideas condemning economic growth. It simply depicts the dangers of seeing people merely as “human capital” (19) and thus, shifts the responsibility of education to the individual, instead of strengthening the awareness of how we are all an integral part of the environment in which we live; that it is a communal effort to save our planet from collapsing. Quite apt is the comparison of the much anticipated, yet not delivered “revised” version of the EU-Memorandum on LLL which was compared to Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. It left me amused.

It would be remiss not to mention some minor weaknesses in the publication. Some topics are re-iterated in several chapters which I did not deem necessary. The arbitrary array and numbering of sub-chapters, sometimes with and sometimes without introduction and/or abstract made it a challenge for readers who require clarity and orderly structure to read without losing the thread of the content. Some typing errors altering the meaning of phrases might make it challenging to read for students with English as a second or foreign language. The absence of an acronyms table left me referring to Google for some not too familiar terms. There is, however, a name and subject index annexed.

The book is aimed at a wide range of addressees, especially educators in the field of ALE and researchers. I would recommend it to students in this field, although not necessarily in their first academic year. People who are interested in how education can herald social justice, sustainability, and create communities that actively participate in keeping our planet a worthwhile place, will get numerous insights into the struggles of practitioners and researchers who are out to achieve precisely that – a just, safe and healthy world in which all creatures can live harmoniously.
Brigitte Goodman (Klagenfurt)
Zur Zitierweise der Rezension:
Brigitte Goodman: Rezension von: English, Leona M. / Mayo, Peter: Lifelong Learning, Global Social Justice, and Sustainability. Cham: Palgrave-McMillan/ Springer 2021. In: EWR 21 (2022), Nr. 4 (Veröffentlicht am 11.11.2022), URL: http://www.klinkhardt.de/ewr/978303065777.html