The Foundations of Adult Education in Africa

Petra A. Robinson (Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA)

Journal of European Industrial Training

ISSN: 0309-0590

Article publication date: 30 August 2011



Robinson, P.A. (2011), "The Foundations of Adult Education in Africa", Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 35 No. 7, pp. 742-744.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Book synopsis

The Foundations of Adult Education in Africa is a part of the five‐book African Perspectives on Adult Learning series. Beginning with a brief professional biography of its authors, a foreword, a preface, and acknowledgments section, the book is divided into ten chapters. The book is highly relevant to community‐based educators, programme coordinators, scholars and anyone concerned with educating or counselling adults. Because of the practical nature of the book, filled with exercises and reflection points, this book would be particularly useful as a supplementary text book for a course on comparative education.

In chapter one, UNESCO's framework for adult education is used to explore the meaning, forms, and purposes of adult education in Africa. The chapter discusses important adult learning principles, Knowles' theory of andragogy and presents a working definition of adult education. Importantly, adult education programmes in Africa are discussed to include the various stakeholders such as universities and international organisations. Chapter two takes its readers on a historical journey as it examines the origins of adult education in Africa. It features the role of adult education as a multi‐purpose socialisation tool. Of interest in this chapter, is the exploration of colonialism's negative impact on adult education and the increasing acceptance and role of indigenous education systems (IES) in modern African society, especially in seeking to realise the goals of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the African Renaissance.

Chapter three addresses the issue of philosophy and adult education. It focuses on the Eurocentric philosophies of adult education and discusses how these impact the philosophy of adult education programs in Africa. The chapter embraces various African philosophical trends and ethics in adult education, illustrating how these connect to serving the purpose of botho or ubunto. Chapter four discusses how the history and current context of the environment shapes the direction of adult education. This holistic discussion covers issues related to social life, culture, politics, and economics. Chapter five follows up with a discussion on the various formal and non‐formal opportunities for adult education from various sources. This chapter also presents an overview of the access limitations and the role of the African governments in making adult education accessible through various ministries. It also explores how NGO's play an important role in the field's development in Africa.

Chapter six discusses the value of recognising the role of gender in all adult education settings and programs. It examines gender roles in pre and postcolonial Africa and concludes with a discussion on the role of lifelong learning in Africa, especially in addressing pressing issues such as pollution, population explosion and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Chapter seven builds on the foundation set by the previous chapters and explains the meaning of adult education as a developing profession in Africa. It discusses professionalising the field as well as the associated challenges with the effort. The chapter also discussed Houle's (1980) 14 main characteristics of professions and their applicability to the professionalisation of the field in Africa.

The focus of chapter eight is on information and communication technology in Africa. A particularly useful addition to the chapter is a case study of how technology is used to promote distance education in Africa as well as a case on how ICT is being used for adult learning. The main emphasis in chapter nine is on the issue of globalisation. It balances the discussion between globalisation's positive and negative effects and it highlights the shift towards consumerism away from community service in terms of adult education delivery, the increase in distance learning opportunities, the continued democratisation in many countries and how adult education has positively contributed to civil society. The tenth and final chapter explores the important concept of lifelong learning. It discusses its origin and importance all over the world and clearly makes the case for the need for learning societies in Africa. Funding issues are examined and the chapter reiterates the need for lifelong learning to be a priority in Africa.


Like other books in the series, this easy‐to‐read paperback brings the African context of adult learning to the forefront and is a valuable resource for practitioners as well as researchers the world over. The book takes a holistic approach to presenting important concepts that should undergird the practice of adult education in Africa. It meets its overall objectives by providing knowledge about the basic concepts and principles of adult education as a developing profession in Africa and emphasises the need to understand the wider environment in which adult learning takes place. Notwithstanding the book's focus on the African environment, it offers a discourse applicable to other communities or cultures engaging in the practice of educating adults.

The organisation and focus of each chapter is the major strength of the book. The materials are easy to read and understand. Each chapter is systematically organised to include an overview, learning objectives, key terms and learning activities. Unique to this book are the “Before you Start” activities which help to contextualise the content and materials. Specially designed learning activities effectively reiterate the important lessons in each chapter. While the book's organisation speaks volumes for instructional design, the book would have been strengthened if there were greater focus on the relevance and applicability of the African experience to studying other non‐Western cultures. This would emphasise its practicality and usefulness to areas such as comparative education, and learning in diverse contexts.

Given the phenomena of globalisation, the resulting erosion of geographic boundaries and the need for world‐citizenship, it is a prudent time to reflect on adult learning as a field and how it is contextualised in regions outside of North America. To consider the foundations of adult learning in Africa is useful especially as the economic crisis of the world has placed an even more crucial responsibility on the shoulders of adult education. Indeed, adult education as a national development strategy is increasing in importance to countries in the developed world.

In the author's own words

A sound understanding of the basic concepts and principles of history and philosophy, and of the wider environment of adult learning, is an essential component of the knowledge base of adult education. Foundations of Adult Education in Africa provides an excellent resource for developing the relevant foundational knowledge (p. xvi).

About the reviewer

Petra A. Robinson is Graduate Teaching Assistant at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. She earned her doctorate in Educational Administration and Human Resource Development in 2011. She has worked as an HR professional in Jamaica and the USA for several years. She currently teaches in the HRD Undergraduate Programme at Texas A&M University. Her research interests include community‐based adult education, social justice in education, international adult education, postcolonialism and culture, workforce training and development and Latin America and Caribbean studies. Petra A. Robinson can be contacted at:

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