ICT in Education Toolkit
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ICTs for Education: Analytical Review
1 Introduction
2 Myths and Realities
3 Challenges
4 The Role and Nature of ICTs
5 The Potential of ICTs
  Expanding Educational Opportunities
  Increasing Efficiency
  Enhancing Quality of Learning
  Enhancing Quality of Teaching
  Faciliating Skill Formulation
  Sustaining Lifelong Learning
  Improving Policy Planning and Management
  Advancing Community Linkages
6 From Potential to Effectiveness
7 Conclusion

ICTs for Education: A Reference Handbook
1 Decision Makers Essentials
2 Analytical Review
3 Resources
4 PowerPoint Presentation
  5.6 Sustaining Lifelong Learning
 

5.6.1 The Objective

For many years, lifelong learning has been a permanent fixture in international education pronouncements and national policies and strategies. How can anyone disagree with the need for people to continue their learning to enjoy personal fulfillment, economic advancement, and social development? As early as 1972, one of the four basic assumptions that underpinned UNESCO's classic report, Learning to Be, was that:

Only an over-all, lifelong education can produce the kind of complete man the need for whom is increasing with the continually more stringent constraints tearing the individual asunder. We should no longer assiduously acquire knowledge once and for all, but learn how to build up a continually evolving body of knowledge all through life—"learn to be."

In 1990, participants in the Jomtien World Conference on Education for All gave a special focus to lifelong learning:

Every person—child, youth and adult—shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs. These needs comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning.

Despite the radical pronouncements, investments, strategies, and measures to make lifelong learning a reality, efforts have been static and marginal compared to those made in expanding and improving schooling. Except for some targeted programs here and there, lifelong adult learning has been assigned as the personal responsibility of the individual—both organizationally and financially.

Section 3.5  pointed out that the modern demands on countries, societies and individual further necessitate lifelong learning for all, anywhere and anytime. Some of the reasons for such a need are:

  • The fast–changing, technology-based economy requires from workers the flexibility to adjust to new demands and the ability to learn new skills.
  • The increasing sophistication of modern societies demands constant updating of the knowledge and skills of their citizens.
  • The escalating knowledge makes the "educated" obsolete unless they continuously update their knowledge.
  • As society evolves, we are unlikely to continue the present life-cycle pattern of prolonged education at the beginning of life and an extended retirement period at the end.
  • Lifelong learning provides opportunities for those who are unemployed to reenter the workforce.
  • Given the importance of learning foundations, and of continued learning in knowledge-intensive societies characterized by rapid change, those who miss out—either initially or later on—are effectively excluded.

These needs give rise to a wide range of activities that come under the rubric of lifelong learning—some formal, some workplace related, some informal, and some ad hoc and spontaneous. This is a nightmare for the "rational" planners. It is for this very reason that lifelong education cannot be considered another subsector of the educational system, subject to the same dynamics and modalities. The weak record of formal adult education attests to that.

The all-embracing nature of lifelong learning has many implications:

  • Initial education is no longer a preparation for life and career but a preparation, in terms of concepts, cognitive tools, attitudes, and values, for a lifelong learning process.
  • The learner and his or her needs are central, which puts the focus on the demand side of educational opportunities.
  • Learning cannot be constrained by time and place; it must take place in all settings and at any time.
  • Lifelong education cannot be restricted to predetermined delivery systems, no matter how effective they are. Evolving needs and conditions should lead to new and innovative delivery systems.

Clearly, adult learning involves a wide range of stakeholders and beneficiaries. Does that mean that there is no role for public policy and input? Not so fast! The strong economic and social rationale for lifelong learning justifies public involvement and support. Also, leaving such learning to market forces alone creates obvious distortions that work against the poor, the rural communities, the undereducated, and the poorly equipped. Public policies, strategies, and provisions must, therefore, redress these distortions and seek to ensure that lifelong educational opportunities are available for all, and that conditions are in place to encourage and enable everyone to participate.

Certainly, formal traditional systems cannot cope with this demand, even if they are well financed, run, and maintained. It is not possible to bring learning opportunities to all of the places where adult learners are. Likewise, it is not feasible to accommodate all learners in adult education centers and offer them programs that meet their many needs. The diversity of requirements and settings calls for a diversity of means.

5.6.2 The Potential

ICTs may provide their most valuable contribution in this domain. They are flexible, unconstrained by time and place, can be used on demand, and provide just-in-time education. They have the potential to offer synchronous as well as asynchronous learning opportunities. But, above all, if well prepared, they can pack a wealth of expertise and experience in efficient packages that can be modified and updated constantly in response to feedback, new demands, and varied contexts. Possibilities fall in a wide range of technologies, including videos, correspondence, Internet, and e-learning superstructure.

This may be the first time in the history of the human race when lifelong learning is not only desirable and urgent, but feasible as well. However, successful exploitation of technology for lifelong learning for all depends on a number of factors:

  • Adults need to have a minimum level of basic education, including literacy. Technology should not blind us to the fact that there are still millions of adults who cannot read or write, and, because of that, they cannot use educational programs offered through information technologies, or even through classical correspondence.
  • Schools should equip individuals with the necessary cognitive and technical skills to pursue and manage their own continuous learning—how to search, assimilate, define problems, apply knowledge to problem solving, etc.

Technology literacy—the ability to use technology hardware and software—should be part of basic education and a prerequisite for adults to make good use of ICTs throughout their lives. lives.

5.6.3 Specific Solutions

5.6.3.1 Expansion of Educational Opportunities and Skill Formation

Many of the specific solutions cited for expanding education opportunities (Section 5.1) and for skill formation (Section 5.5.3.3) are equally relevant for providing and sustaining lifelong learning. Two additional solutions are increasingly adopted:

5.6.3.2 Open Universities

In many countries, open universities provide opportunities for lifelong learning not only through degree programs but also through non-degree offerings to enhance knowledge and skills for occupational, family and personal purposes. (For specific examples see Resource 2.5.1).

5.6.3.3 Universities for the "Third Age"

The greatest social challenges of the 21st century will be the aging of human society.  By the year 2025, the number of persons age 60 and over (the “third age”) will increase from today’s 590 million to 1.2 billion. In Japan, by 2020, more than 25% of the population will be 60 or older.  A few decades later, nearly every country in the world, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa (because of the AIDS epidemic), will have a similar proportion of the population age 60 and over.

Lifelong learning for the “third age” will be an essential part of the new set of public policies and programs for at least three reasons:

  • Learning for individual health will help to reduce the human and financial burden of chronic health problems.
  • Lifelong learning will help the elderly to increasingly remain in the work force, as a means of reducing poverty, increasing economic growth, and giving a stronger sense of self value to the elderly themselves.  

Learning for self-enrichment and empowerment of the elderly will clearly lead to better individual and social mental health.[6]

Some countries have created special universities for the third age. The University of the Third Age in China has been one of the most successful programs in promoting lifelong learning. (See Resource 2.5.2)


6 Laurence Wolff. September/October 2000. "Lifelong Learning For the Third Age." TechKnowLogia. Available at: www.TechKnowLogia.org

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