An exclusive interview with Daniel Baril, director of the institute for cooperation in adult education.


Daniel Baril, Director of the Institute for Cooperation in Adult Education (ICEA), was able to participate in the mid-term review of the sixth “International Conference on Adult Education” (CONFINTEA VI), which took place from 25 to 27 October 25th to 27th 2017 in Suwon, Republic of Korea. Mr. Baril agreed to meet with us to explain the issues that were discussed at this conference and exposes the challenges facing adult education in Quebec and Canada.

Since you took office in 2015, as ICEA’s Director General, what have been the main achievements of the Institute ?

In fact, I took office the year after a 2/3 reduction in our public funding. At that time, I’d been a a policy analyst for about 15 years, and I was promoted by the executive board as a director because I knew the themes, the issues and the partners well with whom we did businessworked. Before the cuts, there were twelve of us working at the Institute and now we’re only three. My mission, when I took office in 2015, was to reorganize the Institute, to review its objectives and mission with reduced resources. We finally chose to focus on the research component so as not to spread too much. It has been almost a year since we published public policy analysis reports on adult education. Even if we remain a small team of three people, we manage to pull out of the game!

 What issues have your latest publications been interested in ?

 Currently, three themes guide our research projects.

– Financing adult education

– Populations at risk

– The monitoring of public policies

First of all, we found that the austerity policies had affected us heavily and by talking to other partners, we also found that we were not the only ones to suffer the cuts and that the effect was dramatic for all organizations. For example, last year, we consulted with some 100 organizations to see who had been cut, the extent of these cuts and what decisions organizations had made in the face of these losses. We have therefore been interested in the impacts of the cuts in funding.

We are also looking more and more to document the populations that we consider most at risk, and the most marginalized of our societies. Our societies are becoming more demanding in terms of the skills and knowledge they need to have in all spheres of life – be it at the professional, citizen or personal level – and we note that it is still near one third of adults in Quebec who are under-qualified at this time. 

Finally, we are interested in monitoring policies at the Quebec level, but also international policies in adult education.

At the end of October 2017, you participated in a CONFINTEA VI mid-term review conference. What are the main conclusions of this conference and what are your observations of the situation of adult education at the end of this conference?

There are several declarations in adult education at UNESCO, including CONFINTEA, but there is also Sustainable Development Goal # 4 on education. During the mid-term review, we tried to see how it was possible to integrate all the international documents and declarations to avoid parallel monitoring in a siled way, while at the same time improving the effectiveness of monitoring by UNESCO. 

Another important result is the final declaration calling for a seventh international conference on adult education in 2021. This is important because these conferences are often called into question and already there we know that there will be one. This is important for the sector because these are conferences that are for adult education on adult education by adult education actors, so we do not drown adult education in all kinds educational considerations that are generally focused on youth.

The spin-offs for Canada are also interesting because, in anticipation of the conference, there are exchanges between civil society actors, the Council of Ministers of Education, the federal government and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. UNESCO, so it puts Canada’s international commitments on adult education back on the table for all those actors. The role of a civil society organization such as ours is to ensure that what emerges is not just a promotional pamphlet of the Canadian state that serves as a report, but a fair reading of what is happening, progress and achievements as well as stagnant and unrealized points so that we have a concrete picture of the situation rather than any publicity of what is going well. We have also seen what we have seen from the beginning, that is, that there is underfunding of adult education and that it is necessary to finance the project’s literacy in Southern countries. It was also pointed out that often, in terms of governance, civil society is rarely challenged in many countries at the policy level in education and even though at home in Canada we have a partnership that has seemed to work well in fact because we invite civil society to express themselves and we do not necessarily listen to it either.

We have also seen what we have seen from the beginning, that is, that there is underfunding of adult education and that it is necessary to fund the projects literacy in Southern countries. It was also pointed out that often, in terms of governance, civil society is rarely challenged in many countries at the policy level in education and even though at home in Canada we have a partnership

Over the last year, there have been significant changes at the Canadian Commission of UNESCO. As a member of the Education Sector Commission, could you summarize these changes ?

In 2015-2016, the Canadian Commission of UNESCO was a little dormant as there was a lot of staff change. In autumn 2016, the Commission relaunched its work with a new Secretary General, new program officers, particularly in the field of education, and appealed to members of its sectoral committees to announce that the one of the important changes was to reduce the number of people sitting on sectoral committees. So we went from 30 to 10 organizations. With regard to the ICEA, based on the observations made over the past fifteen years or so, that there is no longer any intersectoral space in adult education in Canada where the whole spectrum of adult education could be found, was proposed to create a working group on adult education across Canada under the responsibility of the Canadian Commission of UNESCO. The Canadian Commission accepted our project. We have been renewed on the sectoral committee and created the adult education task force, which brings together researchers, civil society and the federal government. So there is a lot of potential for the future. This is a major development, embryonic, but that will look to go until 2018, when the effect of this grouping should be felt.

Could you tell us about upcoming educational events in Quebec and Canada in the coming months ?

In September 2018, a forum will be held on the future of adult education. A website will be online soon on the history of adult education in Quebec and the Canadian Francophonie, also presenting the programming of upcoming events. Since last September, we have been collecting artifacts from the history of adult education. In September 2018, it will end with a forum that will take note of past developments and look to the future. In 2018, the federal government’s cuts to literacy networks are worrisome. In fact, not cuts, but rather the abolition of federal funding that was dedicated to literacy networks across Canada. Two organizations have already closed and in the Maritimes, provincial groups have reported that they are just a few months away from doing the same. This is not an event that will happen on a specific date, but 2018 will be marked by the dramatic impact of the cuts that lead to the closure of organizations.

As Director of ICEA, what are your goals, what would you like to see in the coming years ?

I am passionate about adult education, yes it’s social, it’s political and so on, but there is also an international and national right to adult education that interests me deeply. There are laws for adult education, they exist. I wish one day there was case law, that is, a prosecution on the basis of international or constitutional law in order to really force the inclusion of adult education and the protection of existing laws that affect adult education, in short to tell governments that it is not enough to proclaim the slogan of lifelong learning. These are really legal obligations that governments must meet.

In our societies, instead of making knowledge and skills instruments of people development, flourish and mobilization of talent and potential everyone, we are doing skills and knowledge a factor of systemic discrimination. If people do not have the ability to read, they will not have jobs, they will be excluded from society and even people who have knowledge and skills, if they do not have the right knowledge and the right skills, they will not have jobs. This is currently seen in the debate on the mismatch between training and employment. What I would like to do is to confront governments with the fact that, yes, there are all kinds of systemic discrimination in our society, but there is also a new one and it is one based on knowledge and skills. Instead of infusing a culture of learning into our societies, we are creating a culture of oppression, based on what we know or do not know. And that is a theme that we see little, but that we officially put in the documents of the ICEA. I would like to make this angle of analysis known because at the moment the message that governments send is: “You cannot have this job because you do not know what you need to know and unfortunately, we cannot help you, do the best you can, sorry. “ People get stuck because they do not have the resources to learn. Adult education is, in a way, the poor child of our education systems. Yes in Quebec, there is currently rhetoric favorable to adult education, everyone talks about lifelong learning, but you have to be able to go through rhetoric and see concretely, if there are services that are offered. What is really dramatic is that we are reducing adult education to literacy, jobrelated training … and then we are surprised that there are so many social problems. We are worried about racism and xenophobia, but we refuse to adequately fund intercultural education for adults. It’s amazing that people are struggling to manage their personal finances, but we do not want to understand that there is a personal finance education issue behind. Currently, there is a very limited vision of education and we are missing the boat of learning in the 21st century. In fact, I could cite a lot of social issues that, when we scratch a little bit, are caused by the lack of knowledge and skills of people in a variety of subjects. It is more than necessary to attack the problem at the source and educate our adult population, because right now it is wrong to believe that we are really in a knowledge society. For example, in Quebec, 50% of the adult population has a post-secondary degree, but there are also 30% of people with a high school diploma or less. On one hand, we end up with half of the population who is highly educated, who is autonomous and on the other side, you have one in three people who is completely on the margins of the knowledge society and the digital age . It is disastrous to say that there is still one in three people who live on the margins of society and who watch them go by, who are watching the digital society and knowledge train and who does not even have the ability to jump on a wagon because a third of the Quebec population cannot even run at the same speed as the train.