The European discourse on sustainability has gained the centre of policy arenas and has spilt over all fields, including lifelong learning. Nowadays, it is no longer enough to have an outlook on the future of education, and we rather have to imagine the future of learning with sustainability as a polar star. Such was the spark that lit the debate for the LLLP webinar “Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Societies”, that took place on May 27th.
To be sustainable, education and training needs to have a broader focus, on transversal skills and on key competences. In our current landscape, lifelong learning is a fresh, positive and transformative force, as it enables learners to think laterally. Education should be appreciated by its own benefits, and yet there is too much focus on the education-employability link. To narrow the scope of education to employment ends would mean to undermine its primary function, which is personal development – hinted Prof Jonathan Michie from the University of Oxford in his keynote speech. The moment when we will get rid of this ballast will be the moment when our systems will turn sustainable. As such, lifelong learning is essential because it enables people to face contemporary challenges: in his vision, a sustainable education system is a system that allows all of its citizens to enrol in learning at all times.
Looking at education through this perspective, it seems like the road ahead is still long. A lively panel discussion brought us to the question on everyone’s mind: what is Europe doing to make education systems sustainable, all the more in this crisis? The European Union is focusing on empowering teachers and trainers (see here the Council Conclusions on Teachers and Trainers). Ms Daria Arlavi, representative of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU, stressed how important it is to have a forward-looking union that addresses the many challenges our educators are facing. Because, in her view, a sustainable education system is a system that addresses the needs of its pillar actors: teachers and trainers.
While it is difficult to predict where new technologies will bring us, and what pedagogical methods will be developed, it is essential that our education systems teach us how to learn. Dace Melbārde, Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the CULT Committee, chose to address the importance of key competences for lifelong learning to give meaning to “sustainable societies”. In her eyes, our collective efforts should go towards diversification of learning environments, with a renewed importance of non-formal education and lifelong learning, which are truly indispensable to foster one’s adaptability. In this, a sustainable education system is a system that does not let change lead us, but that enables us to be the leaders of change.
This is particularly obvious in the current health crisis, which rapidly turned into an economic and social emergency. But, if it is true that a crisis often accelerates existing problems, it is also true that it lets solutions surface more rapidly. Such was the focus of Ms Catherine Sustek, member of the Cabinet of Vice-President Schinas, as the current scenario is bringing the European Commission to reconsider its strategies. She updated the audience about the upcoming initiatives of the Commission, including the much-needed revision of the Skills Agenda and the European Education Area: a portfolio that, if it successfully puts the learner at the centre of the process, will invariably bring us closer to the idea of a sustainable education system.
2019 was the year when the whole world was made aware of the environmental disaster that lays ahead of us. According to Rilli Lappalainen, Chair of the Steering Group of Bridge 47, environmental education is the biggest priority for curricula and must be reflected in education policies, too. The “leave no one behind” principle that made the top of EU jargon must be translated for climate justice and environmental education and thus climb the list of the European Education Area priorities. With this angle in mind, growing attention to adult education is needed: cooperation and intergenerational learning can be a crucial step to foster a “greener” education. In his view, a sustainable education system is a system that equips learners with the knowledge to face such immediate and potentially-disastrous challenges. To this extent, involving civil society organisations in the forward-looking discussions is a must.
The debate around a sustainable lifelong learning society is, by its own nature, adaptive. Participants and panellists to the webinar agreed that the first step shall be a truly multidisciplinary approach and representatives of the European institutions will put efforts to mainstream such an approach and promote it among EU Member States. Because mainstreaming sustainability in education “is the only way to save planet Earth and its people”.
The Lifelong Learning Platform is excited to take the lead in the joint efforts to link sustainability and education. In fact, this webinar was the first step that will feed a year-long discussion and inform our work for the future months. For the full content of the webinar; please see the live recording.