Empowering the media to promote adult education


By Dyson Mthawanji:

IGNORED?—Adult learning

Education is a fundamental human right that is key to the achievement of sustainable development at personal, community and national levels.

Thus, it is not surprising that governments, donors and civil society stakeholders concentrate a lot of their efforts and funding on improving the provision of basic, secondary and tertiary education.


Adult learning and education (ALE), however, is one education subsector that is often overlooked and is consistently under-resourced.

Despite the inclusion of adult education as ‘lifelong learning’ in the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), the role and importance of ALE in supporting development at all levels and how it adds value to the other subsectors of education is still poorly understood.

ALE includes all formal, non-formal and informal learning and continuing education (general, vocational, theoretical and practical) undertaken by adults.


Participants in ALE are young people and adults who did not previously have the opportunity to enroll in or complete education, as well as those who may have concluded some initial education and training but have decided to return to some form of learning for professional or personal reasons.

One of the major challenges that the ALE subsector faces is the narrow definition and understanding of the sector both by ALE stakeholders and the general population.

Most people in Malawi understand ALE as Sukulu ya Kwacha, referring to the schools that emerged in the 1980s as part of the National Adult Literacy Programme to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills.

There is little recognition and understanding that ALE extends far beyond basic literacy and numeracy to include a wide range of practical and life skills that span across multiple sectors.

This narrow understanding of ALE is also found among media practioners, who have a critical role to play in conveying information and influencing the thinking of Malawians.

Media coverage on ALE is limited and generally does not reflect the real scope of the subsector beyond literacy and numeracy.

As a way of bridging this knowledge gap, DVV International recently held a training workshop for the media on ALE.

DVV International Regional Director for Southern Africa David Harrington said the aim of the media training, which took place at Mtolankhani House in Lilongwe, was to enhance the understanding of media practioners on ALE and build their capacity to report on this field.

Harrington said: “The training has equipped members of the media with a broader understanding of ALE, which will enable them to report on the subsector from a well-informed perspective. Furthermore, it was an opportunity to inform the media on the latest developments in the ALE sector, including the new Adult Literacy and Education Policy, which the government approved in February this year.”

The training is one of the milestones of DVV International and Media Institute for Southern Africa – Malawi. The two organisations have been working together in empowering the media to report on ALE.

Speaking during the training, Misa-Malawi Programme Officer, Moses Chitsulo urged the media to use their professional skills in maximising visibility of ALE in terms of success stories and challenges.

As a leading professional organisation in the field of adult education and development cooperation, DVV International has committed itself to supporting lifelong learning for more than 45 years in various countries.

DVV International provides worldwide support for the establishment and development of sustainable structures for youth and adult education.

The organisation, which officially launched its operations in December 2017, held the training with funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Giving an overview of what ALE encompasses and means, Harrington shed light on the misconception that exists in most circles that ALE refers to adult literacy or Sukulu ya Kwacha.

He said that ALE consists of acquisition of both hard and soft skills. He further indicated that there are a lot of issues that the media can tap from.

“There are a lot of areas which you [the media] report on such as business, agriculture, education, environment and health. You can connect all these to Adult learning and education,” Harrington said.

The under-news reporting of ALE does not only manifest in Malawi but in many countries where DVV International is working such as Mozambique and South Africa. This is because ALE has not been given much relevance as governments have opted to invest huge sums of money in the traditional education system.

ALE has been considered less important, hence less funding and also low reporting by the media. In Malawi the benchmark is three percent of the national budget but less than one percent is allocated to this education subsector.

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