Global education policy got a broadside from Katarina Popovic in a Helsinki talk. Watch a recording of the event below. Photo: Karoliina Knuuti

Adult education is dangerous!

Interview. Adult education, with its potential for emancipation, is dangerous. That is why it is not a global priority, asserts professor Katarina Popovic.


Neoliberal politics is widening the gap between the rich and the poor. At the same time, inequality of education grows, and welfare states are being dismantled.

Adult education Professor Katarina Popovic described a dismal global landscape for her audience last week in Helsinki, Finland.

The event, titled “European adult education in a global context”, brought together experts to discuss the current global situation and adult education’s role in it.

Hegemonic powers fear adult education

Popovic’s appraisal of adult education in an increasingly unequal world was just as dramatic. Her message: educating adults empowers them to challenge hegemonic ideologies. This makes adult education inherently political, dangerous and –precisely for these reasons – underfunded.

– Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mention lifelong learning for the first time in history but this is just rhetorics. Funding for adult education is going down in Europe and globally, Popovic asserts.

Popovic is Secretary General of ICAE (International Council for Adult Education) and in this role a voice for social movements for adult education. Her organization advocates for lifelong learning as a human right and emphasizes “social justice” as one of its core goals.

-There are over 750 million illiterates in the world but countries are urged to raise their own money to fight illiteracy. How are poor countries supposed to do this without debt relief? Popovic continues.

“Who could argue against educating children?”

In Popovic’s analysis one way to bypass the dangerous adult education is to pay only lip service to it – hence the commitment to lifelong learning in SDG’s mentioned above. Even the term lifelong learning seems to neatly avoid the term “adult education”.

Another way is to prioritise the education of children over adults.

-Who is going to argue against schooling children? But how do you educate children without educating their parents first? Educating children is safer for the politician: the politician is long gone by the time the children have grown up and started asking uncomfortable questions!

The “European adult education in a global context” event was organized 21st October in Helsinki by The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and Elm’s publisher The Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation. Other speakers were Per Paludan Hansen, President of the advocacy organization EAEA (European Association for the Education of Adults), who provided a European perspective, while Aulis Pitkälä, Director General of the Finnish National Board of Education, anchored the debate in the Finnish context.
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