2nd Euroconference 'Lifelong Learning in Europe':
Differences versus Divisions.

Towards Strategies for Social Integration and Individual Learning Biographies.

13th - 17th of may 1998, Lisbon, Portugal

The conference results have been published as:
Walther, Andreas/Stauber, Barbara (eds.): Lifelong Learning in Europe. Volume II: Differences and Divisions. Strategies of Social Integration and Individual Learning Biographies. Neuling: Tübingen 1999. (see Abstracts of all contributions)

Book coverThis conference was a follow-up to a European Conference held in Dresden in November 1996 in the context of the European Year for Lifelong Learning. The main issue of the first conference was to identify general implications and theoretical presumptions connected to the concept of ,lifelong learning'. Actually rather contradictory policies and strategies are legitimized by 'lifelong learning'. Therefore a number of key issues were identified: an increased relevance of biography, subjectivity, flexibility and new responsibility between individuals, market, state and intermediate or non-profit organisations. As a result of the discussions it was felt that two important issues had been overlooked previously: firstly, a lack of differentiation between individual access to education and training and the way in which lifelong learning is embeded in individual biography; secondly the extent to which lifelong learning policies are stratified according to the above and the way these are linked to educational attainment, labour market position, gender, age and ethnic group.

In the second conference, we started from the basis of these findings and tried to develop criteria for political and educational policies which on the one hand take into account the different starting positions of lifelong learning (gender, age/generation, labour market positions, cultural orientation/origin) and which on the other hand dismantle the reproduction of social inequality which is implicit in the rather positive notion of lifelong learning. Therefore, at the conference, concrete European experiences have been presented in a critical perspective. These experiences were European, national, regional or local policies (as 'learning society', 'learning region', 'learning city' etc.) or the more informal contexts of learning as a part of everyday life. In the presentations as well as in the discussions these concepts/policies were related to the general dimensions developed during the first conference and examined against the differences between individual biographies and the social divisions of access to lifelong learning. Policies were also highlighted in which lifelong learning is not simply reduced to an adaptation of human resources to economic demands reproducing social inequality, but considers learners as actors of social integration.

Organizers: Andreas Walther (EGRIS), José Machado Pais (Instituto de Ciencias Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa), Gebhard Stein (IRIS e.V.)


Wednesday, May 13th
Afternoon / evening Arrival and dinner
Thursday, May 14th
Morning Greetings and Introduction
Opening Lectures: The concept of Learning Society
Afternoon Excursion: Exploring lifelong learning reality in Lisbon
Friday, May 15th
Morning Forum I:
Lifelong Learning in the context of different labour market positions and educational levels Introduction, Statements, Reports, Comment
Afternoon Forum II:
Lifelong Learning in the context of gender-specific biographies and gender hierarchy Introduction, Statements, Reports, Comment
Saturday, May 16th
Morning Forum III:
Lifelong Learning in the context of changing generation relationships and everyday culture Introduction, Statements, Reports, Comment

Final Session
End of the Conference/Lunch

Two texts have been recommended to the participants as a common reference:

Text of Reference I: extracts from the European Commission's White Paper: 'Teaching and Learning. Towards the Learning Society', 1995. Internet-version.

"The basis of this White Paper is the concerns of every European citizen, young or adult, who faces the problem of adjusting to new conditions of finding a job and changes in the nature of work. No social category, no profession, no trade is spared this problem.

The internationalisation of trade, the global context of technology and, above all, the arrival of the information society, have boosted the possibilities of access to information and knowledge for people, but at the same time have as a consequence changed work organization and the skills learned. This trend has increased uncertainty for all and for some has led to intolerable situations of exclusion.

It is clear that the new opportunities offered to people require an effort from each one to adapt, particularly in assembling one's own qualifications on the basis of 'building blocks' of knowledge acquired at different times and in various situations. The society of the future will therefore be a learning society. In the light of this it is evident that education systems - which means primarily the teachers - and all of those involved in training have a central role to play. The social partners, in exercising their responsibilities, including through collective bargaining, have a particularly important role, as these developments will condition the working environment of the future.

Education and training will increasingly become the main vehicles for self-awareness, belonging, advancement and self-fulfilment. Education and training whether acquired in the formal education system, on the job or in a more informal way, is the key for everyone to controlling their future and their personal development.

Education and training remain one of the determining factors in equality of opportunity. Education systems have already played an essential role in the emancipation and the social and professional advancement of women. Education can and must contribute further to the crucial equality between men and women.

Immaterial investment and getting the best out of our human resources will improve competitiveness, boost jobs and safeguard social achievements. The individual's place in relation to their fellow citizens will increasingly be determined by their capacity to learn and master fundamental knowledge.

The position of everyone in relation to their fellow citizens in the context of knowledge and skills therefore will be decisive. This relative position which could be called the "learning relationship" will become an increasingly dominant feature in the structure of our societies.

The ability to renew and innovate will depend on the links between the development of knowledge in research and its transmission through education and training. In all this, communication will be essential both for generating and disseminating ideas.

The future of the EU and its development will depend largely on its ability to manage the progress towards this new society. The objective is to make it into a just and progressive society based on its cultural wealth and diversity. There is a need to whet society's appetite for education and training throughout life. There needs to be permanent and broad access to a number of different forms of knowledge. In addition, the level of skill achieved by each and everyone will have to be converted into an instrument for measuring individual performance in a way which will safeguard equal rights for workers as far as possible.

There is no single pattern for all to follow throughout their working lives. Everyone must be able to seize their opportunities for improvement in society and for personal fulfilment, irrespective of their social origin and educational background. This particularly applies to the most disadvantaged groups who lack the family and social environment to enable them to make the most of the general education provided by school. These groups should be given the chance not just to catch up, but to gain access to new knowledge which could help to bring out their abilities.

To examine education and training in the context of employment does not mean reducing them simply to a means of obtaining qualifications. The essential aim of education and training has always been personal development and the successful integration of Europeans into society through the sharing of common values, the passing on of cultural heritage and the teaching of self-reliance.

However, this essential function of social integration is today under threat unless it is accompanied by the prospect of employment. The devastating personal and social effects of unemployment are uppermost in the minds of every family, every young person in initial training and everyone on the labour market. The best way for education to continue to exercise this essential function is to seek to provide a convincing response to alleviate these concerns. The very foundations of any European society purporting to teach its children the principles of citizenship would be undermined if this teaching were to fail to provide for job prospects.

(from the Introduction, pp. 1-4 of the Internet-version)

Three major, profound and wide-ranging factors of upheaval have emerged, however, which have transformed the context of economic activity and the way our societies function in a radical and lasting manner, namely: the onset of the information society; the impact of the scientific and technological world; and the internationalisation of the economy. These events are contributing towards the development of the learning society. They bring risks, but also opportunities which must be seized.

The construction of this society will depend on the ability to respond in two important ways to the implications of these events. The first response focuses on the need for a broad knowledge base and the second is designed to build up abilities for employment and economic life."

(from part I, 'Challenges ...', p.5 of the Internet-version)

Text of Reference II: Lifelong Learning between vision and division.
(Extracted from the editorial to Walther/Stauber 1998)

The discussion about lifelong learning nowadays is characterized by an unsatisfactory vagueness: the notion is scintillating and is used to define educational visions which are feared or longed for depending on the individual employment situation, on respective employment and education policies and on the perspective of different actors in the educational field. The other side of this vagueness, however, is a normative surplus transported by the discussion on lifelong learning. There is an emancipatory perspective of lifelong learning tending to break with the reduced concept of learning within institutionalized educational systems.

In order to develop this potential education and training have to start from the learners' perspective. This means on the one hand to consider the diversification/pluralisation of individual learning biographies. On the other side learners have to be considered as subjective actors of lifelong learning regarding both the planning and the shaping of learning processes. The following dimensions therefore are central for the acceptance and effectiveness of lifelong learning strategies:

  • subjectivity, that is self-initiated and self-organised learning starting from the individual learning biography;
  • holism/entirety in the sense of a combination of formal and informal learning in different areas of life instead of mere reactive learning according to labour market demands;
  • gender relationships balanced out beyond the male model of the 'normal (labour) biography'; this has a double effect: recognizing ,reproductive' learning mostly of women on the one side, learning to re-concile different tasks which is crucial for modern learning biographies on the other side;
  • the securing and qualifying of transitions and the recognition of their biographical autonomy; transitions become increasingly constitutive for life courses not only between youth and adulthood but also within adulthood itself and between adulthood and old age.

The concept of lifelong learning still seems to be open, opportunities of influence and the shaping of this educational vision still seem to exist. This is the optimistic version of dealing with this challenge going to local, regional, national and European (employment, social, education and training) policies but also to any politically motivated social and educational science. At the same time, there is a pessimistic version seeing in the openness and normativity of this concept just a token gesture of social integration reproducing social inequality.

Lifelong learning has been and still is discussed in the rhetorical context of the democratization of the education system and/or the prevention of social exclusion. A wide-spread presumption is that normally people with low educational achievements are mostly affected by social exclusion. As a consequence education is considered as an effective protection. Against this, based on empirical observations, the objection can be raised that lifelong learning itself is a concept that reproduces social inequality and social exclusion. Firstly, there are different opportunities of access to lifelong learning, secondly, there are different measures for different target groups and thirdly, lifelong learning stands for the individualisation of social inequality.

With regard to the access to lifelong learning, it must be stated that the socio-structural barriers of age, gender and ethnic origin are reflected as they depend on individual educational attainments and/or labour market positions.

Besides, an overview over the measures offered under the label 'lifelong learning' reveals a stratification of their utility value according to different target groups and access structures. Three different (ideal) types of measures can be identified:

  • Offensive concepts for 'cultural trendsetters' and those with high educational attainment or in high labour market positions: In such measures learners often are involved as subjects as they acquire competences in an expansive manner which give them the possibility to influence their environment or to become actors of structural change. However, only a minority profits from such opportunities.
  • Defensive measures for those with an average education and middle labour market positions who are increasingly exposed to mechanisms of competition (the 'falling' middle class): Their positions are changing fast, they become flexibilised or are rationalised. This 'just more or less integrated' majority is expected more and more to adapt in order to maintain their status.
  • Marginalising measures for those who find themselves already in processes of social decline or - in the case of young men and women with little cultural and social capital - who fail in coping with the status passage from school to work: Unproductive 'holding patterns' - in the sense that they do not provide concrete employment and biographical perspectives - have functions of 'cooling out' and direct the 'losers' of competition towards lower professional and biographical aspirations. Such schemes often have a 'container' structure as they keep the addressees at a distance from both the labour market and from other mechanisms of social integration.

It is not difficult to construct arguments which make these existing structures of segmentation - even more with reference to subjective lifelong learning strategies - look like results of individual success or failure: if in the official discourse, subjective further training behaviour is considered an increasingly important factor of success and failure in individual employment integration, the real structural side of unequal labour market opportunities disappears into the background - also where the field of socio-political responsibility is concerned: Labour market risks are individualised - the individuals as "planning agencies" of their biographies (Beck).

The demand individuals are confronted with is to demonstrate their willingness and capacities for learning according to institutional and business criteria. Thus, lifelong learning stands for the ambivalence of flexibilisation and de-regulation. On the one hand, qualifications are de-standardised, access to employment or education and training could be opened. On the other hand, competition passes market pressures directly to the individuals in their respective biographical situation.

The conditions for integrative lifelong learning strategies have to be socially arranged. Considering the bad situation of public finances, the welfare state has become increasingly unpopular in the political discourses. This however does not legitimise the lack of conceptual imagination in the areas in between state and market. The reality of further education and training shows an unbalanced relation in this regard: On the one side, too much market orientation underlines the pressure to adaptation, leaving no scopes for the individuals for a subjective identification of the 'right' educational demands and for their integration into the context of their lives. On the other side, a lack of market orientation may have the effect that the practical value of education and training for the addressees is either not tested, or participation is expected despite the knowledge that employment perspectives are low. This points to a de-coupling of work and further education and training, as the former should no longer be seen as the ultima ratio of the latter. From these normative implications of the concept of 'lifelong learning', important criteria for a new discussion on the relationship between learning society and welfare state may be derived.

The right to learn is connected to conditions which can be named concretely, which have to be politically decided and legally codified: it has to be materially granted - key-words might be 'basic income' or 'education and training income' - as well as concerning time i.e. by regulations of time off work, opportunities of re-training, compatibility with child care or care of elder persons, and concerning space in the sense that decentralized facilities are accessible in the direct context of everyday life.

To the extent to which access to lifelong learning is determined by the individual labour market position, the concept of lifelong learning is also to be understood as a challenge for the shaping of labour markets. There is the opportunity to develop new models of acquistion, securing and recognition of competences and skills instead of the existing hierarchy of 'first' and 'second' labour markets being maintained by individualizing 'scheme policies'.

Another level for a welfare state which not only secures but facilitates a 'learning society' is implied by the notion of participation, which mostly is reduced to the access to measures of education and training. Recurring to the aspects of subjectivity and holism/entirety, the idea of participation has to be extended to the identification of education and training needs, contents and forms in the context of the individual biography. Learners often know very well what is worth learning, which education and training contents open further employment perspectives and simultaneously make sense in the world of everyday life. In the end, they are the ones personally responsible for the effects of education and training, whether they decide for themselves on the contents or whether they arise from non-transparent planning and market processes.

The previous passages have presumably shown that lifelong learning requires many more political conditions than just increasing funds for further training or flexibilising respective regulations. Thus, it goes beyond the national cultural and institutional borders of educational systems. Regarding institutional convergence as well as cultural perspectives of understanding, the European level might be a realistic framework for the creation of instruments to meet these challenges.

Validate HMTL | Validate CSS