Lifelong Learning: An integrated concept between normative surplus and social inequality

1. Euroconference 1996 | 2. Euroconference 1998 | Publications  ]

Lifelong Learning has become one of the priorities of the European Commission's strategies for the maintenance of both economic competitiveness and social integration. This is underlined by the proclamation of the European Year for Lifelong Learning 1996.

From all sides the challenge of Lifelong Learning is stated as a fact. However, different meanings become associated with this term depending on perspectives and target groups. There is missing an integrated concept that takes into consideration that new educational demands and a changed societal organization of learning have an impact on individual lives themselves and their institutionalization through the life course.

If Lifelong Learning is conceptualized as the acquirement of biographical resources, central attention has to be paid to the individuals' coping strategies in everyday life. This implies the integration of formal and informal learning, the compatibility of different life spheres and the consideration of unequal access according to gender, education, ethnicity and age.

This positive or even utopical impact of Lifelong Learning only can be realized if Lifelong Learning doesn´t refer only to permanently changing labour market demands, but also to the demands and interests of the learning subjects. This means: creating structures of learning, which allows the learners to become really the subjects of their learning biographies. And more precisely: that Lifelong Learning - in its contents as well as in its organizational structures - can be connected to actual life realities, to former competences and experiences in learning and working, and to future interests. This would be very important for the learning situation mainly of women whose life reality and time reality often cannot be linked to the structure of further training measures - with the effect, that their competences are devalued, that they have to reduce their personal demands regarding to qualification or a qualified re-entry into labour market. To stress the subjective perspective always has to mean: to reflect to specific living conditions, their (regional, gender-specific, ethnic, educational etc.) barriers and to create new structures which open access to today´s "closed shops" of learning.

The demand of getting subject of one's own learning biography is closely connected to another: that Lifelong Learning has to be used as opportunity for holistic educational concepts, including and valuing different competences made in different contexts of living and working, thus overwhelming the existing hierarchy between "relevant" and "irrelevant" contents and spaces of learning, considering that "key competences" result from the combination of various kinds of knowledge and experience. Lifelong Learning in this way could be an opportunity to see the mutual relevance and dependence of different areas of competence.

Regarding to the gender-specific valuation of work and competences, Lifelong Learning could also enfold a strong impact on gender policies; of course, this impact needs political decisions and activities in other fields - infrastructural changes as concerns child care, care for the older ones, work-time policies etc. Here, educational policy could give impulses to other debates in the field of social policy in general.

Lifelong Learning as a new educational concept also accords to a new understanding (and a new reality) of life courses that doesn't presume any longer a clear cut sequence of life phases but conceives transitions as accompanying and structuring of the whole life course. It could be possible to break the contradiction between those "transitional" life courses and constantly existing educational borders by creating new entrance- and exit-options into work and out, into learning and out, and with various combinations of doing both at the same time. If learning isn't connected any more to one decisional life phase, where the "career" has to be prepared and realized, there could result new chances for intergenerational relationships, for a new culture of mutual respect in learning processes between young and old.

An integrated concept thus intends to elaborate criteria under which Lifelong Learning may meet the complex challenge of social integration. Concepts of normality regarding living and learning have to be extended in order to develop ideas for the integration of increasing learning demands in work and life course. As shown with this little outlook, this includes the identification of necessary economical, cultural and political contexts and responsibilities. If this is not seen as a framework for Lifelong Learning, the latter tends to promote already existing cultural and social hierarchies between groups with different opportunities for learning, working and living.
Please, have a look at the results of the International Conference on Lifelong Learning in Dresden, co-organized by EGRIS, on this server. See also the programme of the follow-up of this conference in Lisbon 1998.

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