An "International Expert Meeting on Educational Policies from a Lifelong Learning Perspective in Promoting EFA" was held in Tokyo, Japan, from 9 to 12 October 2007. It was organized by the Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU), the National Institute for Educational Policy Research of Japan (NIER) and the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Education. We reprint here the Policy Note with Recommendations for Decision-Makers.
Lifelong learning provides an overarching vision of EFA. It offers the necessary guiding and organising framework for educational reform. It encompasses learning throughout the life cycle in formal, non-formal and informal settings.
Experts in lifelong learning from government, academic and civil society sectors in the South Pacific, East and South-East, and South and Central Asia met in Tokyo from 9 to 12 October 2007 to share experiences of progress in achieving EFA and to consider the relevance of a lifelong learning perspective for more effectively achieving the goals of EFA set by the Dakar Framework for Action.
The meeting found a broad consensus about the vision and meaning of lifelong learning as a new educational paradigm for sustainable development, in a global economy in which countries and communities confront rapid and unpredictable social, economic, political and technological change, and where cultures, community relations and the very ecology of their lives are often challenged, threatening the cohesion of the society.
The meeting recognised that lifelong learning has great potential to reformulate, reinvigorate and refocus EFA and make it more successful in ensuring rights to education and rights to learn. The meeting felt the strong need of adding momentum to existing tendencies found in some countries in the Asia-Pacific region, which are already integrating education and learning into national and community development strategies, and are strengthening cooperation between agencies and sectors to make the creation of a learning society possible through joint efforts.
A knowledge-based society makes learning even more important, requiring a new paradigm based on using many modes of learning throughout life. As well as providing new knowledge and skills, lifelong learning empowers and helps individuals and communities to realise their full potential and participate fully in promoting social, political and economic stability and progress.
Although the concept of lifelong learning has been adopted first in the more economically advanced industrial societies, it is equally applicable to all societies. The meeting strongly recognised that equalising, diversified, decentralised and well-contextualised lifelong learning opportunities are as relevant, proper and important for people and their communities in developing countries as for the economically advanced world.
The meeting agreed that:
A comprehensive vision of lifelong learning is needed to help empower people, expand their capacities and choices in life, and enable them and their societies to cope with rapid change in their personal, social and working lives. To facilitate meaningful learning, responding to learners' needs and motivation must be central.
For learning to become universally accessible across the lifespan, a learner-centred approach will combine with great variety and diversity of provision, enabling measures and supports, many of them based in the community.
Learning should be flexible, so that learners are able to enter and leave the system at many different points. The learning system should include a wide range of players - families, employers and other providers including facilitators of local wisdom, NGOs, universities, the private sector and government agencies, as well as learners and teachers.
The meeting recommends that:
Knowledge, skills, attitudes and values have to be acquired by a great variety of learners having different needs and learning styles, from formal education, non-formal education, open and distance education and informal education within the framework of lifelong learning. Most situations at work, in communities, during sport and recreation, as well as in educational institutions, can become learning environments.
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The task of integrating the principles of lifelong learning into all stages of educational programmes is too enormous and too costly for governments alone. There is no lack of providers among NGOs, development agencies, and other community-based organisations who can enter into cooperative partnership arrangements to deliver learning programmes to a variety of learners in a variety of ways. In such an environment governments need a strategy that encourages multi-sectoral alliances among private and public providers of learning programmes.
It is time for governments to acknowledge and embrace the invaluable participation and engagement of partners with the capacity to provide and deliver learning opportunities at community levels. Therefore, it is important for these potential partners to work constructively with and support governments in the provision of public services. Only in the spirit of mutual trust and respect can the ambitious and essential joint lifelong learning venture flourish.
The meeting recommends that:
Lifelong learning not only adapts to changes in the society; it also makes changes, moving towards more indigenously grounded learning. Government commitment and effort to link learning activities with the development of present and future communities are essential.
Learners are infinitely diverse. They need multi-dimensional contents to be prepared through a variety of methodologies, based on traditional, new and innovative pedagogy and andragogy, which use diverse learning resources, including traditional and cultural arts and local wisdoms, ICT, distance and mobile learning, mass media, etc.
There is already much experience and strength in existing, successful learner-centred practices in many formal and non-formal educational settings. It is time for government and other providers of education to concentrate more on enhancing learning environments which will enable participatory, flexible, autonomous, contextualised learning to take root in the community, and to learn from one another and exchange good practice more systematically.
In good enabling circumstances individual learners identify their own learning needs for themselves, grouping themselves together to make learning more fruitful and thereby catering also to the needs and requirements of the community. Depending upon their literacy and competency level, learners should be encouraged and assisted to make their own lifelong learning a reality.
The meeting recommends that:
Lifelong learning requires cooperation and joint endeavor by many different government departments, and between partners in public, private and third or civil society sectors. Educational institutions and non-educational stakeholders at all levels need to connect and collaborate so as to enable learners to move across and between sectors as their learning needs and developing capacities require. It must be possible for learning attained in different places and ways to be recognised, assessed and accredited for formal educational progression.
For lifelong learning to become an affordable reality for all, every kind of organisation in each sector must acquire the capacity to work with others, to see all members and clients as individual learners, and to enable them to learn in different ways and at different times.
Networking and partnership involve trust and reciprocity between the partners. They are required between central and local levels, horizontally between functional areas (health, education, agriculture, social services, etc.), and between sectors including in particular the often under-represented non-governmental sector and community organisations.
Networking is most essential at local levels where there is most direct contact between diverse learning providers and potential learners. Much networking takes place informally and relies on mutual respect and good relations, but it also requires regular channels for working together in the interests of learners, for exchanging experiences of best practice, identifying and responding to new needs, reviewing progress and assessing performance.
The meeting recommends that:
The meeting noted the difficulty that hard-pressed administrations with tight budgets have in meeting all the old and new demands on their resources, and the temptation to deal with policy issues in tidy watertight compartments. This does not work in the case of a learning and knowledge society, and it will not enable countries to meet their fast-approaching EFA targets.
On the other hand, adopting a lifelong learning approach to EFA and educational policy-making in general allows governments to unlock a reservoir of traditional and community energy and bring the unattainable within reach. Lifelong learning is not a new programme added on to existing workloads or a new budget line, but a way to reformulate existing EFA policy, become more efficient and effective, and achieve more by tapping new energies.
The meeting recognised that a powerful new paradigm requires some years to take hold and be fully understood and used. It therefore invites governments as entities, as well as Ministries of Education, and also regional and international intergovernmental organisations and all other stakeholders, to make lifelong learning a standing item on their meeting agendas, so that its significance and utility can be rapidly absorbed and put to work.
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