UIL 2020 Annual Report

Goal 4

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.


‘We need to make lifelong learning the governing principle of education policy’

Daniel Baril, Chair of the UIL Governing Board

‘Lifelong learning facilitates and shapes change, and is key to building resilience’

David Atchoarena, UIL Director

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning is a global centre of excellence for lifelong learning. It is the only organization in the UNESCO family with a specific mandate to promote lifelong learning.

2020 in numbers


countries supported in strengthening lifelong learning policies


Lifelong learning for over


million people in 229 cities supported through the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities


education stakeholders provided with COVID-19 response inspiration through 30 webinars

More than 


multipliers trained in family and intergenerational literacy and learning

Capacity of over


stakeholders built in monitoring adult learning and education


policy briefs, publications, issue notes published to advance lifelong learning around the world

Our mission

  • Vision

    All children, youth and adults benefit from quality lifelong learning opportunities. Lifelong learning is the organizing principle for education systems worldwide. It enables a holistic, integrated, inter- and cross-sectoral approach to sustainable development.

  • Services

    • Evidence-based lifelong learning policy support
    • Capacity development
    • Monitoring the implementation of normative instruments
    • Advocacy and networking
    • Research and foresight
  • Partners

    We work with UNESCO Member States, advocacy groups, researchers, non-governmental organizations and regional and global bodies to promote lifelong learning; support better policy, planning and practice in the field; and build capacities for more effective implementation.

Our activities

Our activities

Advocacy and networking

Highlights 2020:
Advocacy and networking

UNESCO Global Network of Learn­ing Cities

Learning cities are key to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. They provide good policies and practices fostering sustainable development at various levels, notably through lifelong learning.

Did you know?

More than half of humanity lives in cities.

What we did in 2020:

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning coordinates the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC). In 2020 we:

  • brought cities together in 30 webinars to work hand in hand on developing learning opportunities for all during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • worked with GNLC members on seven key topics and co-hosted 10 meetings and conferences in this regard;
  • welcomed 54 new members to the Global Network of Learning Cities;
  • provided evidence-based recommendations on making lifelong learning and sustainable development a reality at city level by means of a new video tutorial and a COVID-19 issue note.
30 webinars: Learning cities’ response to COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 education for nearly 1.6 billion children and youth in more than 190 countries was interrupted and adult learning programmes were suspended. Cities were at the forefront in meeting the challenges brought by these crises.

Between March and December 2020, 22 UIL webinars welcomed thousands of experts and participants from the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities and beyond who shared their expertise and learned from one another about the COVID-19 response in areas such as health education, educational planning, inclusion, human rights and others. Six of these webinars were organized in cooperation with the PASCAL International Observatory. Four more webinars were organised in cooperation with the UNESCO learning cities of Mexico and another four with the UNESCO learning city of Medellín, Colombia.

UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: equity and inclusion

UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: family learning and community engagement

UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: Latin America and the Caribbean


UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: higher education institutions supporting local communities


UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: migrants and refugees


UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: mental health, health, and well-being


UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: distance education

UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: prison education

UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: governance, partnership, and education


UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: strategies for recovery

UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: culture and education

UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: human and civil rights

UNESCO learning cities’ response to COVID-19: Arab region

Learning cities’ COVID-19 recovery: The challenge of inclusion in learning cities

Learning cities’ COVID-19 recovery: Measurement, planning, evaluation

Learning cities’ COVID-19 recovery: TVET, business learning, entrepreneurship


Learning cities’ COVID-19 recovery:  The challenge of education for sustainable development

Learning cities’ COVID-19 recovery: Community-based participatory research & learning cities

Learning cities’ COVID-19 recovery: The challenge of health and well-being

Interview series: Learning cities’ mayors on COVID-19

Interview series

The UNESCO GNLC interview series featured mayors from 
member cities from around the world, who highlighted 
contextual challenges and solutions to ensuring that 
learning did not stop during COVID-19 and beyond.

Shanghai, People's Republic of China

Mr Ni, Deputy Director of the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission and Ms Sun Wenqian, English teacher at the Shanghai Huimin Middle school

Turin, Italy

Ms Isabella Calvagna, Education Department, Turin City Council and International Projects Office and Ms Rossella Bernascone, Vice Headmaster and English Teacher at the Volta school in Turin

Osan, Republic of Korea

Mayor of Osan, Mr Sang-wook Kwak, and Mr Hyeon-seok Nam, Head of the Osan Office of Education

Gwangmyeong, Republic of Korea

Mr Seung-Won Park, Mayor of the UNESCO learning city of Gwangmyeong

Huejotzingo, Mexico

Ms Angélica Alvarado Juárez, Mayor of the UNESCO learning city of Huejotzingo

Cascais, Portugal

Deputy Mayor Miguel Pinto Luz of the UNESCO learning city of Cascais

Kashan, Islamic Republic of Iran

Ms Fereshteh Nouri, International Department of the Municipality of Kashan

Wuhan, People's Republic of China

Mr Dan Chen, lecturer at the Wuhan Vocational College of Software and Engineering

Goyang, Republic of Korea

Mayor of Goyang city, Mr Lee Jae-jun

Fermo, Italy

Mr Paolo Calcinaro, Mayor of Fermo, Mr Fabio Ragonese, Manager social services at the Municipality of Fermo, and Professor Carlo Nofri, Fermo UNESCO Learning City coordinator and Director of the University College in Domenico in Fermo

Wuhan, People's Republic of China

Ms Zhou Jia, Wuhan Academy of Educational Sciences

Shiraz, Islamic Republic of Iran

Mr Mojtaba Ghasem, Office of International Relations

Shanghai, People's Republic of China

Professor Jiacheng Li, Director of the Shanghai Institute for Lifelong Learning
and Mr Wang Kai, High School No.1 affiliated with the East China Normal University

54 new UNESCO learning cities

In September 2020, 54 new cities from 27 countries joined the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. These new members are outstanding examples of how lifelong learning can become a reality at local level. They have proven that effective lifelong learning policies and practices can support the development of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Balikesir, Turkey

Busan Nam-gu, Republic of Korea

Chachapoyas, Peru

Chachoengsao Municipality, Thailand


Charleroi, Belgium

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Gongju, Republic of Korea

Isfahan, Islamic Republic of Iran

Kazan, Russian Federation

León, Nicaragua

Ourem, Portugal

Phuket, Thailand

Quibdó, Colombia

Songpa-Gu, Republic of Korea

Sysert, Russian Federation

Trieste, Italy

Vantaa, Finland

Video tutorial: Gender equality in learning cities

In 2020, in cooperation with UNESCO’s Section on Education for Inclusion and Gender Equality, we produced a video tutorial on gender equality in learning cities. The tutorial explains how gender equality must be prioritized in learning cities to empower women through learning, eliminate gender-based discrimination and foster equitable, inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities.

10 cluster meetings

In 2020, UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities members focused their work on seven key issues as manifested in the UNESCO GNLC Strategy 2019–2020:

  • education for sustainable development;
  • equity and inclusion;
  • educational planning, monitoring and evaluation;
  • education for global citizenship;
  • entrepreneurship;
  • health and well-being;
  • and literacy.


Members of the clusters met virtually in a total of ten meetings and conferences to share strategies, experiences and challenges concerning the respective topics.

‘UNESCO learning cities play a central role in promoting lifelong learning at local levels. They are key drivers to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.’

Michaél Martin, Prime Minister of Ireland

Summary, presentations and recordings of the online conference in November 2020

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Webinar on educational planning in learning cities – November 2020

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Webinar on inclusion in learning cities – June 2020

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Webinar on educational planning in learning cities – March 2020

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Statements from the webinar in December 2020

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Webinar on education for sustainable development – October 2020

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Looking ahead

UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) member Yeonsu-gu, Republic of Korea, will host the fifth International Conference on Learning Cities (ICLC 5), which will take place in autumn 2021. The event will welcome education experts and representatives of the 229 members of the UNESCO GNLC to deliberate on the conference theme ‘Global health education and emergency response’.

‘To realize the motto, “Lifelong learning for all is our city’s future”, many municipalities in the Republic of Korea have become active partners in the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. Going forward, we will remain focused on finding ways to prosper together with the international community while learning from the extensive experiences of the global network.’

Mr Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea

Highlights 2020:
Advocacy and networking

Global Alliance for Literacy

UIL coordinates the Global Alliance for Literacy within the Framework of Lifelong Learning (GAL) to foster and facilitate the partnership of 29 countries that are strongly committed to improving youth and adult literacy.

What we did in 2020:

  • Organized the GAL general meeting to assess challenges brought by COVID-19;
  • Welcomed 14 associate members to the Global Alliance for Literacy;
  • Organized 5 webinars together with partners to promote literacy;
  • Initiated a literacy educator’s training programme together with the UNESCO Global Education Coalition.
General meeting of the Global Alliance for Literacy

Assessing challenges brought about by COVID-19

In October 2020 the Global Alliance for Literacy met virtually to assess the unprecedented challenges brought by COVID-19 on youth and adult literacy in its 29 member countries. It reviewed national education response plans and strategies in the context of the pandemic and explored how new partnerships, including with the UNESCO-led Global Education Coalition, and with the new Associate Members of the Alliance, can advance youth and adult literacy in GAL countries.

A ministerial panel gave representatives of Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, and The Gambia an opportunity to present their countries’ strategies for ensuring access to literacy provision during the pandemic.



‘773 million youth and adults lack basic skills in reading, writing, and numeracy. Two thirds of them are women. The UNESCO Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy aims to tackle these literacy challenges. The Global Alliance for Literacy is the main platform for implementation.’

Ms Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education

H.E. Ms Claudiana Ayo Cole, Minister of Basic and Secondary Education, The Gambia

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H.E. Ms Kandia Camara, Education Minister, Côte d'Ivoire

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H.E. Ms Rangina Hamidi, Education Minister, Afghanistan

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Mr Stanislas Ouaro, Education Minister, Burkina Faso

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Mr Hervé Saintilus, State Secretary, Haïti

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14 new Associate Members

In 2020, GAL welcomed 14 Associate Members:


UIL organized or co-organized five webinars on different aspects of literacy throughout 2020.

A message from the UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development

© Princess Laurentien

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‘Let us use this crisis to tackle the challenges that were already staring us in the face, a long time before COVID-19 was in our midst. This pandemic should be the final wake-up call to put into practice what we actually already knew was necessary: to enable everyone to read and write so that they can play their full part in social and economic life and in the process of rebuilding and renewal that must follow in the aftermath of the pandemic.’

Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development

Looking ahead: Literacy educators’ initiative

The COVID-19 pandemic massively disrupted existing literacy programmes that are intended to support the world’s low-literate adults and youth. Moreover, the crisis exposed some of the weaknesses of the literacy sub-sector, such as the dominant provision modality through in-person, on-site educational programmes and the low level of preparedness for remote and distance educational provision. As many governments completely suspended their literacy programmes to curb the spread of the infection, a few literacy classes were still offered through alternative modes of provision, such as radio, television, mobile phones, print materials, and organized in open learning spaces in some countries. When alterative modalities were employed, most of the literacy educators encountered considerable challenges.

In response to these challenges, the UNESCO Global Education Coalition and GAL launched an initiative to promote quality literacy provision by increasing effective use of technologies in literacy instruction and learning, during and beyond major crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Through this continuing initiative, the two parties will:

  • build the capacities of youth and adult literacy educators in selected GAL countries by developing and offering a set of training modules and designing digital skills monitoring and assessment tools;
  • enhance the capacities of relevant national institutions, such as ministries of education, ministries of higher education, teacher-training institutions and colleges, and NGOs that train and support youth and adult literacy educators, and contribute to network building among relevant literacy stakeholders and partners.



By the end of 2022, 100,000 literacy educators from at least 10 GAL countries will be trained in the effective use of technologies in literacy teaching and learning.


Our activities

Research and foresight

UIL produces and disseminates knowledge in the core areas of its mandate through research and development projects, the development and publication of new insights and recommendations in the form of books, policy papers and forward-looking studies, and the expansion of its knowledge base.

Highlights in 2020

In 2020, we published

Embracing a culture of lifelong learning

In 2020, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning published a report, Embracing a Culture of Lifelong Learning, setting out a future-focused vision of education and demanding a major shift towards a culture of lifelong learning by 2050.

The report is designed as UIL’s contribution to the UNESCO International Commission on the Futures of Education. It argues that creating a global culture of lifelong learning will be key to addressing the challenges faced by humanity, from the climate crisis to technological and demographic change, not to mention those posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the inequalities it has exacerbated.

‘As we anticipate further disruptions caused by the effects of climate change, demographic shifts and the substantial transformation in the labour market due to the fourth industrial revolution, lifelong learning will have to be moved further up the policy agenda, beyond the fields of education and labour market policies.’

David Atchoarena
Director, UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

Drawing on the input of 12 distinguished experts from different disciplines and countries, Embracing a Culture of Lifelong Learning reflects on the potential contribution of lifelong learning both in transforming the field of education and in creating a more sustainable, healthy and inclusive future, and presents a compelling vision for lifelong learning and the values and principles that must underpin it. It calls on the international community to see education as something with public as well as private value, and to recognize lifelong learning as a new human right.

The report outlines the main features of the ‘enabling environment’ needed to make lifelong learning the governing principle of education policy and to offer people opportunities to learn throughout life, whatever their background or context. It analyses the main issues that currently inhibit lifelong learning and describes what is needed to transform them into opportunities. Looking to the future, the report sets out 10 key messages, each critical for creating a culture of lifelong learning:

  • Recognize the holistic character of lifelong learning;
  • Promote transdisciplinary research and intersectoral collaboration for lifelong learning;
  • Place vulnerable groups at the core of the lifelong learning agenda;
  • Establish lifelong learning as a common good;
  • Ensure greater and equitable access to learning technology;
  • Transform schools and universities into lifelong learning institutions;
  • Recognize and promote the collective dimension of learning;
  • Encourage and support local lifelong learning initiatives, including learning cities;
  • Reengineer and revitalize workplace learning;
  • Recognize lifelong learning as a human right.

The report also offers specific action points for realizing this vision and suggests selected policy measures.

Download the full report.

COVID-19 issue notes

UIL COVID-19 issue notes: Powering lifelong learning, combatting the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic affected learners of all ages from around the globe. The UIL issue notes, which were part of the series of issue notes produced by the UNESCO Education Sector, provided evidence of good practice and practical tips and links to help mitigate the short- and longer-term impact of learning institution closures on learners worldwide. The aim of the UIL issue notes is to support education policy-makers and planners in ensuring lifelong learning continues during crises now and in the future.

Open and distance learning

The pandemic was a wake-up call to the education community that people from all socio-economic backgrounds, wherever they live in the world, must develop new knowledge and skills in order to cope with the uncertainties that crises impose. This issue note takes stock of opportunities and challenges in using open and distance learning, both online and offline, for youth and adult learners outside the formal education system.

Family and intergenerational learning

In the face of school closures during the pandemic, the family home became, for many, a learning space by proxy, with parents and caregivers acting as the primary guides to support their children’s learning. This issue note calls for special arrangements and support for youth and adults, as part of the distance and online education strategies of governments and international aid agencies.

Higher education institutions’ engagement with the community

As well as primary education, the pandemic affected higher education institutions’ delivery of lifelong learning opportunities for adults. More flexible learning formats, such as short-cycle courses, open lectures and public talks, were the solution in many of these cases. This issue note not only shares various lessons from past practices and the current crisis, but also provides practical tips for designing policy interventions.

How cities are utilizing the power of non-formal and informal learning to respond to the COVID-19 crisis

In pursuit of effective education responses to the pandemic, many cities across the globe mobilized cross-sectoral resources, promoting, supporting and developing non-formal and informal learning initiatives to ensure continuity of education and equip and empower citizens with multi-faceted tools to face the crisis. This issue note shares some examples of best practice and provides practical tips for designing policy interventions.

Adult learning and education and COVID-19

The pandemic forced the education community to rethink how learning opportunities, including adult learning and education (ALE), are provided. The role played by ALE and its means of delivery, such as through ICTs for distance learning and community learning centres (CLCs), in supporting individuals and communities to rise to challenges such as those posed by the pandemic are the focus of this issue note.

International Review of Education – Journal of Lifelong Learning
  • Our primary audience includes members of education research and policy communities.
  • Our readers and authors are based in more than 50 countries in all five world regions.
  • Readership has increased steadily over the past decades.

Edited by UIL, the International Review of Education – Journal of Lifelong Learning is the world’s longest-running journal of comparative education. It publishes peer-reviewed research articles on lifelong learning policy and practice with a special focus on adult education, non-formal education and literacy, and formal education, viewed through the lens of lifelong learning.

Six issues of the journal were published in 2020; this included two double issues: ‘Education in the age of COVID-19: Understanding the consequences’ and ‘Literacy and numeracy: Global and comparative perspectives’.

Leading articles

Academic conferencing in the age of COVID-19 and climate crisis: The case of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES)

Authors: Janna Goebel, Caroline Manion, Zsuzsa Millei, Robyn Read & Iveta Silova

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On the fly: Adapting quickly to emergency remote instruction in a family literacy programme

Authors: Anna Kaiper-Marquez, Emily Wolfe, Carol Clymer, Jungeun Lee, Elisabeth Grinder McLean, Esther Prins & Tabitha Stickel

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Adult learning and education as a tool to contain pandemics: The COVID-19 experience

Authors: Henrique Lopes & Veronica McKay

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Literacy and numeracy: Global and comparative perspectives

Authors: Anke Grotlüschen, Richard Desjardins & Huacong Liu

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Universities’ contribution to lifelong learning

While the university sector constitutes a huge potential for promoting lifelong learning, its actual contribution remains unclear. Many universities continue to prioritize academic excellence and research with less attention being paid to teaching and providing lifelong learning opportunities to the community, hence achieving the vision expressed in Sustainable Development Goal 4 will require a substantial transformation of higher education institutions (HEIs), in particular universities.

To provide guidance to policy-makers and higher education institutions, UIL and Shanghai Open University (SOU) are conducting a comprehensive research project on the contribution of universities and other HEIs to lifelong learning. In 2020, as part of this project, we:

  • hosted a high-level meeting on the role of universities in promoting lifelong learning;
  • completed a global survey of around 400 HEIs in cooperation with the International Association of Universities (IAU);
  • conducted a literature review on universities’ contribution to lifelong learning.

High-level meeting on the role of universities in promoting lifelong learning

In February 2020, UIL hosted a high-level meeting wherein the role of universities in promoting lifelong learning was discussed. Experts from universities and university associations, along with UNESCO representatives, considered the enabling conditions and barriers to universities’ engagement in lifelong learning.

David Atchoarena, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

Thérèse Zhang Pulkowski, European University Association

Ms Hilligje van't Land, Secretary-General, International Association of Universities (IAU)

Mr Etienne Ehouan Ehile, Secretary-General, Association of African Universities

Margarita Guarello de Toro, President, Continuing Education Network for Latin America and Europe

Participants agreed that, while comprehensive policies and frameworks are necessary to facilitate lifelong learning, it is important to develop institutional networks and partnerships in order to share and promote innovative practices forged at universities. Flexible pathways – as well as flexible learning approaches such as technology-enhanced learning – are key to widening access to universities and promoting more inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The experts also examined recent initiatives by universities around the world to widen access and fulfil their so-called ‘third mission’, which is to engage with societal needs and market demands by linking their activities to the socio-economic context.

Outcomes of the research project and recommendations will be presented at the 2021 UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2021) hosted in Barcelona, Spain.

Literacy in the Sahel region – A comprehensive study

The current Sahelian educational context calls for an innovative approach to learning, integrating basic skills acquisition and vocational training, and combining traditional forms of adult education with digital pedagogy. This approach could contribute to reducing illiteracy, fostering the economic integration of young people and the empowerment of women, promoting citizenship and consolidating the peace process in the region. Achieving these goals presupposes a careful needs analysis in order to design and implement effective, multi-sectoral and sustainable interventions within a lifelong learning perspective.

It is for this reason that in 2020, UIL in partnership with the French Development Agency (AFD) conducted a comprehensive study of illiteracy and literacy strategies in the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) and some neighbouring states (Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea and Togo).

What we did in 2020:

We developed:

  • a literature review;
  • a collection of quantitative and qualitative data on the literacy policies implemented in the region;
  • a mapping of the stakeholders and a classification of the target groups, particularly in sensitive areas such as the Lake Chad region, Sikasso in Mali, Korhogo in Côte d'Ivoire and Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso.

The study focuses in particular on young people, especially young women, who continue to constitute a particularly disadvantaged population group in the Sahelian zone. The efforts undertaken by these countries to improve youth and adult literacy correspond to SDG target 4.6 (‘By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy’) and also fall within the framework of the African Union Agenda 2063: ‘Leave no one behind’. The study includes new research on the profile of the audiences concerned, including displaced populations and refugees, and their needs. In addition, the analysis specifically addresses cross-border areas, including conflict zones.

  • 56.95%

    literacy rate of young people aged 15–24 in the Sahel region

  • 76.58%

    literacy rate of young people aged 15–24 in sub-Saharan Africa

  • 91.67%

    literacy rate of young people aged 15–24 worldwide

Our activities

Capacity development

UIL develops policy and action research, workshops and courses, case studies and other resources in order to build capacities in the field of lifelong learning, notably in adult learning and education, youth and adult literacy, and non-formal education. Our work in this area involves the development of resources, including publications, courses and visual media, the provision of workshops and other training opportunities, and bespoke support for Member States in developing policy, planning and practice in a particular area.

Highlights in 2020

Highlights 2020:
Capacity development

Family and inter-generational literacy and learning

The COVID-19 crisis forced countries around the world to implement distance, technology-enabled and other forms of home-based learning. Learning within families and across generations is key in this context. Students who were unable to return to the classroom because of the pandemic often turned instead to parents, siblings and other family members for support.

What we did in 2020:

  • Built capacities in family and intergenerational literacy and learning (FILL) for over 80 education professionals – from civil society organizations, non-governmental providers and government institutions for literacy and early childhood education – by way of an online course implemented together with the Commonwealth of Learning (COL).
Family and intergenerational literacy and learning

The four-week online course introduced participants to the FILL approach, built their capacities in regards to the planning of facilitators’ training and family learning sessions, and dove into monitoring, evaluation and research issues. Participants also learned how to design a FILL programme and activities, and build partnerships.

‘This course has provided me with a deeper insight into the value of family and intergenerational learning. I am more aware that through family learning, the very core beliefs and values that were once held dear can be changed with new knowledge. I have learnt how this concept has brought about tremendous changes to the lives of people all around the world.’    

Regional Literacy Coordinator, Ministry of Education, Guyana

Learning as a family activity contributes to developing a literate environment across generations. When adults assist children with their schoolwork and socio-emotional development, they develop their own learning and skills, including the digital skills that are increasingly needed to compete in the job market. The course UIL developed with COL showed participants how to make FILL a reality and, in doing so, contributed to making lifelong learning for all a reality.

‘When I first started I wasn't even aware of the FILL terminology, now I am armed with the readings, examples and resources required to attempt a project proposal suited to my context.’

Senior Lecturer, University of Trinidad and Tobago

FILL webinar 1

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FILL webinar 2

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FILL webinar 3

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FILL webinar 4

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Highlights 2020:
Capacity development

Strengthening alternative and non-formal education for youth and adults


The skills and competencies required by today’s knowledge societies and economies are rapidly evolving to match the pace of economic, technological and social change. The need to provide learning opportunities to individuals throughout life is growing. Responding to this trend demands flexible learning pathways, strong links between formal, non-formal and informal learning, including frameworks for the recognition, validation, and accreditation of learning outcomes, and new funding mechanisms.

Strengthening alternative and non-formal education for youth and adults

Many countries worldwide do not provide sufficient learning opportunities for young people and adults who are out of the formal education system. Alternative and non-formal education for youth and adults (ANFE) is often missing in Education Sector Plans (ESPs) and, as a result, suffers from a lack of policy attention and funding.

In 2020, UIL, together with the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), responded to this challenge by:

  • contributing to developing the capacities of 40 participants from eight countries by way of a four-month online course from November 2020 to March 2021;
  • guiding participants through the main steps of an ESP preparation process;
  • providing the tools to analyse the current state of ANFE in the education sector to identify gaps in service provision, demand, and opportunities for development;
  • demonstrating how to develop strategies based on the education sector analysis;
  • and demonstrating how to design implementation programmes with costed activities and develop a monitoring and evaluation plan for the ESP.

The course equipped participants with the technical knowledge and skills to ensure that the learning needs of marginalized youth and adult learning are reflected in sector-wide education plans and strategies within a lifelong learning perspective. In the long term, a stronger focus on ANFE in education sector plans will guide the development of holistic lifelong learning systems, ensuring that all young people and adults can learn and continue learning throughout life in a changing world.

Highlights 2020:
Capacity development

Monitoring adult learning and education

Adult learning and education (ALE) is central to sustainable development. But progress worldwide is uneven, as the fourth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE 4) shows. To measure advancements in the area and develop effective policies and programmes, comprehensive data is necessary. Only with a thorough understanding of ALE can governments take steps in the right direction.



What we did in 2020:

  • Built capacities in monitoring ALE for over 500 stakeholders;
  • Trained participants in the process of data collection for more comprehensive national, regional and global assessment of ALE through seven webinars.
Enhancing national capacities for monitoring adult learning and education

UIL, in cooperation with DVV International and the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), held seven regional webinars on enhancing national capacities for monitoring adult learning and education in July 2020Through these webinars, UIL engaged key stakeholders in the process of data collection for a more comprehensive national, regional and global assessment of ALE. Results will be fed into preparations for the forthcoming GRALE 5.

The webinars brought together ALE stakeholders and official focal points designated by their respective country’s National Commissions for UNESCO to coordinate the national responses to the GRALE 5 survey. Three key areas were discussed: (1) ensuring data accuracy and comparability; (2) strengthening national consultation; and (3) clarifying ALE concepts mentioned in the Belém Framework for Action (BFA) and the 2015 Recommendation on Adult Learning and Education (RALE).

Each regional webinar was followed by closed sessions addressed to national focal points in order to introduce the mechanism of the GRALE 5 survey and allow further technical and procedural inquiries into the survey. GRALE 5 will be launched at the seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) in Morocco in 2022.

Highlights 2020:
Capacity development

Measuring learning outcomes in literacy and basic skills – RAMAA 


The aim of the Action Research: Measuring Literacy Programme Participants’ Learning Outcomes (RAMAA) initiative is to build the capacities of education stakeholders in 12 French-speaking African countries to evaluate and monitor the quality of youth and adult literacy programmes. Moreover, it aims to develop national capacities for evaluating learning outcomes and provide policy-makers and development partners with reliable, contextualized data about the quality of youth and adult literacy programmes.



Measuring learning outcomes in literacy and basic skills – RAMAA

In 2020, UIL published Référentiel de compétences harmonisé, a report on the RAMAA competency framework. Developed by specialists in the region with UIL’s technical assistance, the reference framework provides a common tool for the 12 RAMAA countries to outline different proficiency levels in literacy, numeracy and life skills.

The reference framework is already actively used in:

  • Chad, within the Le Projet de renforcement de l’éducation et de l’alphabétisation au Tchad (PREAT) project;
  • Burkina Faso, through the NGO Solidarité Laïque;
  • and Senegal, in a project to professionalize non-formal teachers.

Our activities


Monitoring and evaluation are critical for building a strong evidence base for lifelong learning and for assessing progress against global goals and targets, as well as for regional and national policy interventions. They guide UNESCO Member States in discerning the most efficient and effective uses of resources, and indicate the degree to which existing programmes can be considered successful. UIL provides monitoring on SDG 4, in particular on literacy and ALE.

Highlights in 2020

Highlights 2020:

The fifth UNESCO Global Report on Adult Learning and Education 

Adult learning and education (ALE) is central to sustainable development. Research shows that ALE participants contribute to economic growth, and that adult education has a positive impact on health, as well as on the reduction of poverty and crime. Moreover, tolerance, open-mindedness, as well as civic engagement, can be sustained and transformed by adult learning. Yet, progress in ALE around the globe is uneven. UIL monitors UNESCO Member States’ commitment to implementing ALE by way of the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE).

What we did in 2020:

  • Kicked off preparations for the fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE 5);
  • Collected 159 national reports on ALE in preparation of GRALE 5;
  • Commissioned 10 background papers that will feed into GRALE 5;
  • Discussed data collection and citizenship education, which is the focus of GRALE 5’s thematic chapter, at the first meeting of the GRALE 5 Editorial Board.
Preparation of the fifth UNESCO Global Report on Adult Learning and Education

In 2020, UIL kicked off preparations for GRALE 5. The Institute collected the necessary data, started analyzing national reports and worked with researchers from around the globe on the topic of citizenship education.

GRALE 5 will comprise survey data, policy analysis and case studies to provide policy-makers, researchers and practitioners with an up-to-date picture of the status of ALE in UNESCO Member States. The thematic focus, the practice of ‘citizenship education’, will explore its full potential for the SDGs, assessing the progress being made across countries and regions, and examining key related concepts such as ‘active citizenship’ and ‘global citizenship’. Recommendations for strengthening developments in ALE and for promoting active and global citizenship will be made.

GRALE 5 will be launched at the seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VII) in Morocco in 2022.

Highlights 2020:

Monitoring literacy: Collecting data, building evidence

Adult numeracy and literacy skills are key to transforming lives, promoting social inclusion and contributing to sustainable societies. Achieving an optimal return on investment with regard to the development of adult skills and competencies requires the collation of comprehensive data to assess what people know, what they do with what they know, and the extent to which they are equipped to sustain themselves in the twenty-first century.

    What we did in 2020:

    • Produced a comparative study on a national curriculum for adult basic education in GAL countries;
    • Published two policy briefs on the assessments of adult skills and learning outcomes;
    • Built capacities for improving the availability of comparable data on adult skills globally;
    • Published a competency framework for measuring literacy programme participants’ learning outcomes.
    UNESCO Global Alliance to Monitor Learning

    SDG target 4.6: By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

    As co-chair of the SDG Target 4.6 task force that is a component of the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), UIL, together with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), played a central role in supporting countries in reporting on SDG indicator 4.6.1.This work, which was done in collaboration with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), fed into the first draft of a comparative study on a national curriculum for adult basic education in GAL countries and will be used to help identify minimum proficiency levels in literacy and numeracy to be used as a global benchmark.

    UIL also initiated several activities for improving the availability of comparable data on adult skills globally in 2020; this included preparations for an international technical workshop for developing a short self-assessment questionnaire of literacy and numeracy skills for national household surveys, and setting up an online database of direct assessments of adult competencies.

    Our activities

    Policy support

    UIL supports UNESCO Member States in every world region in lifelong learning policy development and education sector planning from a lifelong learning perspective. We work closely with ministries and local and regional stakeholders to develop tailored and targeted policy solutions that widen learning opportunities and improve quality.

    Highlights in 2020

    Increasing literacy in Afghanistan

    Increasing literacy in Afghanistan

    UIL has a long history in providing support to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education in order to increase youth and adult literacy skills. In 2020, we contributed to the revision of Afghanistan’s National Literacy Strategy; provided technical support during the development of the country’s new framework for youth and adult literacy and basic education; and assisted with the revisions to training modules for literacy educators. 

    Mr Mohammad Yasin Samim, Senior Technical Advisor at the Ministry of Education, Afghanistan, spoke to UIL about the country’s plans to foster literacy, and stressed how integral the support of UIL is to this endeavour. 

    What is the state of youth and adult literacy and basic education in Afghanistan? 

    As you know, Afghanistan is one of the few countries in South Asia with high rates of illiteracy among its youth and adults. According to statistics, there are over 10 million illiterate youth and adults, which is a big number. However, since 2016, Afghanistan has made significant progress in its literacy rates: in 2016/17, the literacy rate was only 34.8%, but recently, the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) announced that this has increased to 43%, which indicates an 8% increase in the overall literacy rate in Afghanistan. Even though a literacy gender gap still exists – the literacy rate for men stands at 55%; for women 29.8%. The literacy rate for youth aged 15–24 has also substantially increased: it now stands at 65%. Despite these achievements, however, the challenges are still massive and there are many people who need opportunities for continuing education in Afghanistan. 

    What are the major challenges in achieving literacy in Afghanistan? 

    Based on the analyses that we have done for strategic planning within the Ministry of Education, the major challenges include lack of funding, low organizational capacity (both at central and provincial and district levels), insecurity, and socio-economic factors such as poverty, socio-cultural barriers that hinder older people and adults, particularly women, from accessing education. 

    You are currently working with UIL and the UNESCO Kabul Office on strengthening literacy in Afghanistan. What does this entail?


    UNESCO has been a strategic partner for the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan since 2001; it has been providing support in policy coordination, fund management, and technical capacities in areas such as curriculum and teacher education. Under BESAF (Best Education System for Afghanistan), which is a three-year project funded by Sweden, UIL and UNESCO will work with the Deputy Ministry of Education in Afghanistan to support the development of a national youth and adult basic education strategy, the carrying out of a national assessment survey, curriculum development for youth and adult basic education, and professionalizing teacher training.

    How does Afghanistan benefit from UIL’s support? 

    UIL is a professional and pioneering organization in youth and adult education. Its collecting and disseminating of best practice and experiences from around the globe and also the Central Asia region is a vital resource for the Ministry of Education of Afghanistan as we proceed with strategy development, the national assessment, and the teacher training and curriculum packages. We will need the expertise of UIL and its contribution in terms of providing advice, giving feedback and sharing the resources that we need for these areas. 

    In which areas does Afghanistan need further support? 

    There are capacity gaps at the Ministry of Education, particularly in the Deputy Ministry for Literacy Education, but the partnership that we have with organizations such as UNESCO, UIL and other affiliated organizations is a big asset for us, because it provides an opportunity for learning from global and regional experiences, and we will also be updated about the recent developments that are happening in the sector, so we’ll try to consider these to proceed ahead. 

    What is your vision for literacy in Afghanistan in 2030?

    Our vision is that, by 2030, all youths and a substantial proportion of men and women, adult men and women, have access to equitable literacy and adult basic education opportunities that will enable them to actively participate in the society and the labour market and overall the development goals of the country. 

    ‘UIL is a professional and pioneering organization in youth and adult education. Its experience with countries around the globe will be a big asset for the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan.’ 

    Mr Mohammad Yasin Samim, Senior Technical Advisor, Ministry of Education, Afghanistan

    Effective Literacy and Numeracy Practices Database – LitBase

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    Although UIL was closed to visitors for much of 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, Director David Atchoarena welcomed the public to tour the historical premises with him online.

    Facts and Figures

    Governing Board
    Organizational Chart
    Financial Report

    We would like to thank the following donors for making the work of UIL possible: our host country, Germany, the City of Hamburg, the Swedish Government, the Norwegian Government, Shanghai Open University (SOU), People’s Republic of China, Agence Française de Développement (AFD), and other donors.