South Korean inspiration for thinking about a lifelong learning culture in Europe

The European Lifelong Learning Platform held its annual conference on Lifelong Learning Culture in Vienna on 5/6 July 2018. The date was chosen as it was the first days of the Austrian Presidency of the European Union. The topic was chosen to link learning with the topic of the year in Europe as 2018 is the Year of Cultural Heritage in the European Union. Several speakers inspired participants to discuss the links between culture and education, and to think about the necessity and possibility of building a lifelong learning culture in general. The most inspiring was the example of South Korea that became a learning society in a relatively short time, starting as a largely illiterate country after the second world war.

The event started with some policy input from the European Commission on future European education policy and the continuation of their Erasmus+ programme, the former Bulgarian Presidency of the EU (January to June 2018) and the Austrian Erasmus+ agency. From the parents’ perspective the most important message came from Dentisa Satcheva, Deputy Minister of Education of Bulgaria. One of the topics their Presidency focused on was education systems providing for the right to mother tongue in the case of migrant children, even if they only spend a few months in a certain country. This is a topical issue all over the world, but a very much neglected area in the case of internal migrants of the European Union, especially since discourse is heavily biased by external migration topics both in policy and the media.

Professor Shinil Kim gave a very interesting keynote on the journey South Korea took from a 78% illiteracy rate at the end of the 2nd World War to only 5% by 1965, and their further steps towards developing the country into a learning society by today. When the country became separated from North Korea, national leadership had to face being a poor country with scarce natural resources, so they took the only pathway to real success and decided to become a knowledge-based society. The approach implemented would also offer a solution to today’s skills mismatch, a major problem in many countries, including the whole of Europe. Theirs was a full-scale programme, not only making sure all children are receiving education, but also adults and early school leavers were offered nonformal education by companies, schools, local communities and the army. This created a solid basis for lifelong learning being promoted as a normal, regular approach with services nowadays also being offered by universities, special centres, civil society, the media, and also online. The work is supported by a system that offers professional support via lifelong learning institutes on national, regional and local level, and also stakeholder councils on the same levels that evaluate policy and implementation. Validation and certification of learning outcomes is an inseparable part. In their view, today’s learning reality needs a complex approach, moving away from the linear approach of a “schooling society”, considering that learning should not only be lifelong, but also lifewide. Some participants clearly showed their ignorance, coming from the welfare state paradigm of Europe, when asking surprised questions about the reasons why education is largely financed privately. He called for a cultural change not only in schools, but also at the workplace, the community and society, but most of all at home, in order to become learning societies, an absolute necessary development for our future.

In a panel discussion on where education in Europe is going several interesting issues were raised. Gerhard Bisovsky, coming from adult education, called for programmes rather than projects to ensure sustainability and also talked about the professionalisation of educators (other than trained teachers) in pedagogy and methodology. Parents as the most important and most impactful educators of their children need exactly this: programmes that make it possible for everybody to develop their parenting skills.

Lars Ebert from Culture Action Europe, introducing an interesting Erasmus+ project that he considered a ‘glorious failure’. His most important message was that academia and universities speak a very different language from the language of artists. This is a phenomenon parents also often experience when talking to professional educators, and it needs to be overcome for a real lifelong learning culture.

The representative of trade unions, more precisely teacher trade unions, Ágnes Román emphasised that school is not the institution that prepares people for the labour market for life anymore. Lifelong learning culture means a common understanding that today’s society as well as the labour market needs a lifelong learning mindset. According to trade unions there is too much demand on teachers as they are ‘left alone in the classroom’, but they do not consider how complex the same job is for the majority of parents who are not even offered any training when becoming parents and carry out the job of educating their children totally on left alone.

Rineke Smilde (Hanze University Groningen) was using the example of musicians who normally have so-called portfolio careers as a result of various forms of professional activities. This type of lifelong and lifewide learning will become more and more usual in other professional areas, too. It is based on what she called biographical learning coming from transformation of experiences and knowledge in your life worlds. In the case of musicians, it is a wide variety of skills that composes the portfolio: apart from a high level of skills playing your instrument, it can be leadership, co-operation, reflexion and communications skills, but they are also innovators, identifiers, connectors, entrepreneurs. She also gave some vivid examples of music as a powerful agent for well-being.

Ulf-Daniel Ehlers (Baden-Würtenberg Cooperative State University) was reflecting on learning environments for a lifelong learning culture. According to his assessment education institutions have the scientific basis for the necessary change of institutional culture, but most schools or universities are still far from implementing this change. It is an absolute must in a world that moves from lifetime employment to lifetime employability. Today, higher education is best at educating students to have safe answers to safe questions, while demands of reality need a shift from risk-avoidance to risk-generation. Lifelong learning should not only be a vehicle of a successful future, but also serve present passion and joy. According to him lifelong learning should become the master narrative, and this is something parents can easily subscribe to.


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