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11
2017

Where is lifelong learning now when we really need it?

Posted 1 years 224 days ago ago by Reijo Aholainen
Reijo Aholainen

 

‘Lifelong learning’ became fashionable in Finnish education policy discourse after the European Year of Lifelong Learning. A year after, on 1st October 1997, the Government ‘Committee for Lifelong Learning’ submitted its report, ‘The Joy of Learning’, to Mr. Olli-Pekka Heinonen, then Minister of Education, with its suggestion of a national strategy for lifelong learning.

The government never made a formal decision on a national lifelong learning strategy, but many of the committee proposals entered into the Government’s agenda during the years to follow. As a consequence, the Ministry of Education started to see ‘lifelong learning’, in the way the Committee had suggested, as a composite principle, covering not only individuals, but also communities, learning environments and policies to promote learning as a broad continuous process. This was essentially different from the common view of ‘lifelong learning’ as a synonym to ‘continuing training’.

To make sense of lifelong learning, two issues have to be taken into consideration.

The first one is that learning is the main business for education: basic knowledge, learning skills, and motivation to learning. These are primarily tasks for a well-functioning education system and educational institutions, from pre-school up to higher education. As time goes by, many learning outcomes will become outdated and obsolete, but new knowledge is much easier to obtain when one has basic knowledge, learning skills and motivation from school.

The second one is that human learning is life-long – starting at birth or already in the womb and continues until death. And it is also life-wide – not limited to schools and teachers, however useful these are for systematic learning. Learning is ubiquitous, one may learn virtually everywhere: at home, at workplace, in leisure time, from the media, books, parents, trainers, friends et cetera. But learning also requires one’s own effort: motivation, persistence as well as basic knowledge and skills to build on. The universities of life do not always provide decrees or personal trainers.

Surprisingly, the needs to increasing provision for continuing training and updating adult skills have been badly neglected in public political discussion, while rapidly transforming working life and accelerating digitalization of public services require significant updating of knowledge and skills. Even the recent critical public debate on education, following Government cuts in education budgets, has been mainly focused on youth education and the competitiveness of higher education and research.

The world keeps on changing so fast that it is most likely that our qualifications will not be sufficient for the rest of our lives. Therefore, it is essential to put learning first.  Lifelong learning is essential for community, society and individuals, but most likely also in terms of economy. That is another reason why increasing the provision for adult learning would most likely be a good investment.

By Reijo Aholainen