International Expert Meeting on Educational Policies

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.

Reformulating Education for All (EFA) Policy in a Framework of Lifelong Learning

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:

  • Lifelong learning offers a powerful perspective to widen and transform education systems and make learning as a life-wide and lifelong activity a democratic, accessible and affordable right
  • Literacy, adult basic, continuing and non-formal education are important parts of lifelong learning, but that the concept applies to all forms of learning and schooling, from family, early years and pre-school learning throughout the formal compulsory school years and on through tertiary education, work and adult life
  • Governments, development stakeholders, regional and international organisations have an essential role and responsibility to play in facilitating lifelong learning and creating the necessary conditions for its attainment, including providing for an adequate level of funding to enable all forms of lifelong learning
  • Cooperation and integration of effort within and across sectors, levels and all Ministries, not only Education, is essential, as is local level initiative and coordination of effort, to achieving EFA and other development objectives
  • Community dimension is as important as the individual, and an essential to achieve EFA goals through lifelong learning for all

 

From Vision to Policy to Practice

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:

  • Policy-makers recognise and promote lifelong learning as the overarching framework for EFA
  • Governments initiate action to develop a vision for lifelong learning based on extensive consultation with all stakeholders, as the basis for developing a multi-sectoral policy framework
  • Governments translate lifelong learning concepts into clearly articulated national EFA policies, strategies and programmes in ways appropriate to each country
  • Governments and other competent providers including NGOs give priority within a lifelong learning framework to literacy and basic education at a required level set by each country, including life skills and competency for both children and adults, as a human right which, in turn, provides the very foundations for lifelong learning
  • Governments take the lead in promoting a culture of high quality learning for all, resulting in learning outcomes that impact on people's lives for creating a more sustainable society

 

Diversifying Providers and the Delivery of Learning Opportunities

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.

Developing Programmes for adult Learners in Africa is one of five books in the African Perspectives series, which addresses adult learning in Africa from African perspectives. This book:

  • provides a critique of the dominant research paradigms that misrepresent or ignore Africa's cultural social and philosophical underpinnings;
  • explores the context of adult learning in Africa - its basis as an oral society; its colonial heritage and current legacy of colonialism; the impact of continuing postcolonial intrusions into policy development; and the need for research paradigms that expose these contexts;
  • asserts the need to embed research in earth- and spiritualcentered philosophies that take into account Africans' physical and personal realities, their politics of knowledge and inigenous value systems; and
  • proposes making cultures and values an integral part of research designs instead of merely identifying them as research objects.

Titles in the African Perspectives series:

  • Developing Programmes for Adult Learners in Africa by Mathew Gboku and Rebecca Nthongo Lekoko
  • Foundations of Adult Education in Africa by Frederick Nafukho, Maurice Amutabi and Ruth Otunga
  • The Psychology of Adult Learning in Africa by Thomas Fasokun, Anne Katahoire and Akpovire Oduaran
  • Research Methods for Adult Educators in Africa by Bagele Chilisa and Julia Preece
  • The Social Context of Adult Learning in Africa by Sabo Indabawa

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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:

  • Governments take the lead in creating the conditions required - including support structures, institutional capacity development, recognition of prior learning, equivalency and accreditation mechanisms - for the provision of learning opportunities for all on equal terms and in appropriate ways that include decentralised delivery mechanisms with special focus on the unreached and excluded, among them gender inequality, people with disability, ethnic and other minority groups and other vulnerable people
  • Governments initiate consultations with partners who are willing to provide and deliver learning opportunities at community levels, together defining rules and guidelines for their roles and relationships; on this basis a policy for diversifying the provision and delivery of learning opportunities should be adopted and disseminated as widely as possible to all stakeholders
  • Partner-providers of learning programmes commit themselves to conforming to quality thresholds and accreditation standards, and established equivalation, at the same time being entitled to recognition, reasonable remuneration, rewards and just compensation for contracts from and engagements with governments
  • Learners be given every opportunity to choose between different programmes and between different providers
  • Teaching and research resources of higher education and research institutions be fully engaged
  • Serious efforts to be initiated for senior citizens as they provide both an experienced group of resource persons and a challenge for programmes for lifelong learning

 

Contents and Methodology

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:

  • Governments together with partner NGOs and other actors nurture an enabling environment, providing resources where necessary, which paves the way for communities to develop flexible and gender-sensitive curricula and content for sustainable and autonomous programmes of lifelong learning
  • Governments take a lead in identifying and establishing focal points of convergence at community level for providers of formal, non-formal, open and informal learning to interact under the umbrella of lifelong learning
  • The inherent capacity and instinct of communities for articulating their needs and suggesting sustainable ways of addressing them be fully recognised and acted on in policy planning and implementation
  • All stakeholders promote indigenous forms of learning that may be supplemented by folk media and new ICT to promote local curriculum and content of functional literacy and life skills education

 

Networking

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:

  • Governments and other influential decision-makers publicly advocate the benefits and necessities of working together across all sectors for creating linkages between different systems of education
  • Central administrations in all sectors should pay more attention to empowering local communities to translate and carry out decentralised plans in locally appropriate ways
  • State/province and local networks be established for greater collaboration between governments, civil society, private sectors and all providers for the overall empowerment of the individual learner
  • In each locality, different agencies and organisations that can directly or indirectly provide learning opportunities meet regularly with one another and with community representatives in community forum, committee, council or other locally appropriate ways, to enable networking among providers and with community leaders as a normal practice
  • Development stakeholders, regional and international organisations should prepare effective platforms for sharing best practices

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.