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Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality
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by EC, Directorate-General for Education and Culture
11 the future of Education & Learning
When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people." Chinese proverb: Guanzi (c. 645BC)
The Feira European Council in June 2000 asked the Member States, the Council and the Commission, within their areas of competence, to “identify coherent strategies and practical measures with a view to fostering lifelong learning for all”. This mandate confirms lifelong learning as a key element of the strategy, devised at Lisbon, to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based society in the world.
People are at the heart of this Communication. Over 12,000 citizens contributed to the consultation which was initiated by the Commission’s Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, issued in November of last year. The feedback highlighted only too clearly the enormity of the challenges ahead. Economic and social changes associated with the transition to a knowledge-based society present the European Union and its citizens with both benefits – in terms of increased opportunities for communication, travel and employment, and risks – not least relating to higher levels of inequality and social exclusion. The scale of such changes calls for a radical new approach to education and training. Moreover, the current uncertain economic climate places renewed emphasis and importance on lifelong learning. Traditional policies and institutions are increasingly ill-equipped to empower citizens for actively dealing with the consequences of globalisation, demographic change, digital technology and environmental damage. Yet people, their knowledge and competences are the key to Europe’s future.
A European area of lifelong learning
This Communication contributes to the establishment of a European area of lifelong learning, the aims of which are both to empower citizens to move freely between learning settings, jobs, regions and countries, making the most of their knowledge and competences, and to meet the goals and ambitions of the European Union and the candidate countries to be more prosperous, inclusive, tolerant and democratic.
This development will be facilitated by bringing together within a lifelong learning framework education and training, and important elements of existing European level processes, strategies and plans concerned with youth, employment, social inclusion, and research policy. This does not imply a new process, nor can it involve the harmonisation of laws and regulations. Rather, it calls for more coherent and economical use of existing instruments and resources, including through the use of the open method of coordination. In order to achieve the Lisbon aim of a knowledge-based society, close links will be established between the European area of lifelong learning and the European research area, particularly with a view to raising the interest of young people in science and technology careers.
What is lifelong learning?
Responses to the consultation on the Memorandum called for a broad definition of lifelong learning that is not limited to a purely economic outlook or just to learning for adults. In addition to the emphasis it places on learning from pre-school to post-retirement, lifelong learning should encompass the whole spectrum of formal, non-formal and informal learning. The consultation also highlighted the objectives of learning, including active citizenship, personal fulfilment and social inclusion, as well as employment-related aspects. The principles which underpin lifelong learning and guide its effective implementation emphasise the centrality of the learner, the importance of equal opportunities and the quality and relevance of learning opportunities.
Coherent and comprehensive lifelong learning strategies
Member States agreed at the Feira European Council, and in the context of the European Employment Strategy, to develop and implement coherent and comprehensive strategies for lifelong learning. The building blocks of such strategies are set out here in order to assist Member States and actors at all levels. The implication of the building blocks is a gradual integration of formal learning environments with a view to making quality learning opportunities accessible for all, on an ongoing basis. The clear message is that traditional systems must be transformed to become much more open and flexible, so that learners can have individual learning pathways, suitable to their needs and interests, and thus genuinely take advantage of equal opportunities throughout their lives. The building blocks are consistent with the lifelong learning assessment criteria used in the Joint Employment Report 2001.
A partnership approach is stipulated as the first building block. All relevant actors, in and outside the formal systems, must collaborate for strategies to work ‘on the ground’. Gaining insight into the needs of the learner, or the potential learner, along with learning needs of organisations, communities, wider society and the labour market is the next step. Adequate resourcing, in terms of financing and the effective and transparent allocation of resources, can then be addressed. The analysis then proceeds to how to match learning opportunities to learners’ needs and interests and how to facilitate access by developing the supply side to enable learning by anyone, anywhere, at any time. There is a clear need here for the formal sector to recognise and value non-formal and informal learning. Creating a culture of learning depends ultimately on increasing learning opportunities, raising participation levels and stimulating demand for learning. Finally, mechanisms for quality assurance, evaluation and monitoring are suggested, with a view to striving for excellence on an ongoing basis.
Priorities for action
Action is proposed which builds on the European dimension to lifelong learning, while also supporting strategies at all levels. The priorities are presented under the six key messages, which were the basis of, and endorsed by, the European-wide consultation.
A comprehensive new European approach to valuing learning is seen as a pre-requisite for the area of lifelong learning, building on the existing right of free movement within the EU. Proposals focus on the identification, assessment and recognition of non-formal and informal learning as well as on the transfer and mutual recognition of formal certificates and diplomas. Information, guidance and counselling is addressed mainly at European level, with proposals that aim at facilitating access to learning through the availability of quality guidance services.
Investing time and money in learning, particularly in the context of the call for Member States to raise overall levels of investment in education and training in the Lisbon conclusions and in the European Employment Strategy, is a condition of bringing about the kind of fundamental changes which lifelong learning implies. There are no easy solutions to how this is to be achieved. Increased investment and targeted funding are called for, along with mechanisms for increasing private investment. Proposals to encourage and support learning communities, cities and regions as well as enabling workplaces to become learning organisations are seen as key ways to bring learning and learners closer together. Importance is also attached to the development of local learning centres.
Complementing the work initiated at Lisbon and Stockholm on the ‘new’ basic skills, proposals are developed to ensure that the foundations of lifelong learning are accessible to all citizens, at all stages of their lives and not just within compulsory education. Finally, proposals for innovative pedagogy address the shift in emphasis from knowledge acquisition to competence development, and the new roles for teachers and learners that this implies.
Driving forward the agenda
All actors are invited to work in partnership to drive forward the agenda: the Commission and the other European Institutions, the Member States, the EEA and candidate countries, the social partners, NGOs and international organisations (e.g. the Council of Europe, OECD, UNESCO). Implementation will be through existing processes, programmes and instruments, taken forward within the framework of lifelong learning. This framework will support the exchange of good practice and experience and thus the identification of shared problems, ideas and priorities. To facilitate this, the Commission will develop a database on good practice, information and experience concerning lifelong learning at all levels.
The Follow-up to the Report on the Concrete Objectives of Education and Training Systems will be one of the main means for cooperation in this field, while the European Employment Strategy will continue to focus on the employment-related aspects of lifelong learning. The Community programmes – Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and Youth – will be strengthened in the light of this Communication. Increasing the potential of the European Social Fund (ESF) and the ESF Community Initiative EQUAL to support implementation will also be examined.
Progress will be measured and monitored through the use of a limited number of indicators – those in existence or development, as well as a small number of new indicators. Implementation will also be overseen by networks and structures: those already established, for example, as part of the consultation process, and a high level group of representatives of Ministries bearing the main responsibility for lifelong learning. This group will help to ensure the complementarity of measures developed in the field of lifelong learning, including the implementation of the work programme for the Follow-up of the Report on the Concrete Objectives of Education and Training Systems, with related processes, strategies and plans at European level. The next steps will be an endorsement of the main principles and proposals by the Council (Education and Youth Council, and the Employment and Social Policy Council), during the Spanish Presidency. There will also be a contribution by the Commission on lifelong learning to the Barcelona Spring Council of 15-16 March 2002.
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