What does it mean for education to be sustainable, and how can we achieve this goal? The LLLPlatform believes that sustainability – of learning and of education systems as a whole – shall be the polar star for Europe for the years to come; in particular, for our communities to be sustainable (socially, environmentally and economically) we believe that we should start by rendering our education system sustainable. “Sustainable learning” is defined as inclusive, learner-centred, and fostering personal development: just like our societies should be.
From 1-4 December, the LLLPlatform will be asking you all these questions! Rendez-vous in the European Parliament for a whole week of debates, discussions, roundtables with decision-makers and knowledge-sharing!
Why a lifelong learning week?
Lifelong learning covers education and training across all ages and in all areas of life. It enables citizen’s emancipation and full participation in society in its civic, political, social and economic dimensions. A humanistic and holistic approach of learning, from the cradle to the grave, is of continued relevance in today’s world and a viable foundation for the rethinking of education. The Lifelong Learning Week aims to raise awareness on the fact that lifelong learning answers many challenges of modern societies. Fostering a comprehensive approach to education is especially important when it comes to building learning societies, by making sure that our citizens are fully equipped with the competences they need in the 21st century. The paradigm shift to lifelong learning means recognising that learning is taking place in various contexts – be it formal, non-formal and informal. It implies changing the ways we provide and receive education, the ways we assess learning and the ways we work and live together.
During the LLLWeek, participants will be taken into the topic of choice, starting from the context in which lifelong learning and education operate in our current (unsustainable) context. We will subsequently dwell into the policy framework that is supposed to provide the tools useful to read our society and the changes it bears. Different approaches can be deepened, as they all build up to the same overarching objective:
- Learning that empowers – the future of learning
- Learning that matters – The future of skills
- Learning that lasts – Sustainable learning
In fact, all of these will contribute to the goal that the Lifelong Learning Platform has always been pursuing: better (and more sustainable) societies through education and lifelong learning.
Description of themes
Learning that empowers – the future of learning
Learning can happen anytime, anywhere, and the spaces where this learning occurs are incredibly and increasingly diverse. Our education systems are undergoing a paradigm shift where the formal model no longer meets the needs of learners in technological, demographic, societal and environmental change. Moreover, inclusion concerns still permeate education agendas in Europe.
The rattling pace of social and technological innovations in the 21st century means that we are compelled to continue learning throughout our lives if we truly wish to understand, adapt to and, most importantly, impact the society we live in. This compels us to rethink the spaces (and the ways) where the process of learning takes place in order to value all learning environments.
To add to it, the future is not a mere linear extension of the present or – worse – of the past. Therefore, education cannot go on with a self-reproductory stream of policies that steer and correct criticalities as they appear. Education needs to anticipate, emancipating itself from a passive and reactive role and embracing its proactive dimension to serve as engine of our societies. Which is why the learning of the future requires a cultural shift from “education” to “learning”, where the focus is on the learners rather than on the teaching process. This shift, and the adoption of a true learner-centred perspective at the heart of our education and training systems, will make them adaptable to each individuals’ future needs and talents.
At the same time, the future of education needs to be inclusive. Removing access barriers is necessary – yet not sufficient – step towards ensuring inclusion, as we are constantly reminded. It is not sufficient because disadvantaged groups such as workers in the informal economy, rural workers, persons with disabilities and minorities should be given equal access to needs-sensitive learning opportunities at all stages of their lives.
As a matter of fact, the potential value of non-formal and informal learning to build bridges with the disadvantaged has been ignored for too long, while formal education continues to be left alone with this burden. This special role in addressing inequalities has still a long way before being recognized and upheld.
Through this sub-topic, the LLLPlatform wishes to debate the way education actors should implement a true holistic approach focused on the learner. What actions are required from stakeholders for a future proof learning?
Learning that matters – The future of skills
As a matter of fact, with the ET2020 benchmarks indicators meeting their end and the actions for the New Skills Agenda underway, it is urgent for Europe to rethink its long-term strategy. In a context of constant changes to the societies that education serves, it is wise to value lifelong learning and the factors that shape its implementation. In the numerous definition of the concept, the UN claims lifelong learning is an “entitlement”, a kind of learning that society owes to people.
As the demand for skills and competences keeps on evolving, we believe that a “frontloading of skills” through formal education for an individual’s lifetime is no longer sufficient. This demand for lifelong learning has been made imperative by the emerging and accelerating pace of technological change. How are education systems and sectors adapting? What is the role of non-formal and informal learning providers? What about the place of social partners?
According to OECD findings, some countries have successfully implemented financial drivers to steer individuals towards the most needed skills. Indications from the job market make it mandatory to address the role of lifelong learning and continuous education but are just one of the many bells that are ringing. How can adult education be mindful of civic engagement and personal development tune in with market-driven learning? How can non-formal and informal learning blend in?
To add to it, the current labour market perspective on the future of skills is not socially sustainable. While the market praises individuals who adapt to occupation-specific skills, these latter are constantly wavering and the market itself barely foresees it. How can we foster skills that make people resilient and adaptable to changes in demands?
This sub-topic will also look at what’s needed to make all learning visible and to make sure that skills and competences acquired in non-formal and informal learning environments are adequately recognised. With the 2012 Council Recommendation on validation implemented in EU Member States, it’s about time we look at the results it has brought.
So what does it take for education to adapt to these challenges? A learning that matters.
Learning that lasts – Sustainable learning
Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly. A lifelong learning system that is sustainable is a system that can stand on its own legs notwithstanding the exogenous circumstances, including challenges by technological progress, the hindrances posed by financial contingencies, national spending reviews, and the colour of the governments. Moreover, sustainable lifelong learning means that the education system is able to listen to and answer to (unexpected) social issues, preventing them wherever possible.
International actors have long been calling all countries to implement “lifelong learning ecosystems” to serve this purpose and complement the formal sector. However, the implementation across the world remains patchy and uneven. Most EU MSs lack a coherent and structured funding system that empowers education actors at all levels to uphold the challenge.
What’s crucial to the definition of a ‘sustainable learning’, is to rediscover our ability to learn. The Key Competences for LLL define ‘learning to learn’ as the key to unlocking individuals’ potential. In this historic moment, all actors should recognise the importance of this competence to achieving our social and economic goals. And yet, politicians are hesitant.
What would be the most feasible pathway? Should Ministries of Education take responsibility for the creation of a fertile ground for lifelong learning, or should competences be divided across sectors? How should other actors be empowered? These are only a few questions to start building a resilient and sustainable lifelong learning an ever-lasting system, both throughout one’s life and throughout time.