Asia pursues goal of lifelong learning curve

Asia pursues goal of lifelong learning curve

Thai universities are being urged to work with the Unesco Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) to promote lifelong learning programmes in the country.

UIL director David Atchoarena said Thai educators in universities can learn international lessons and practices from his office’s lifelong learning programmes.

The Hamburg-based organisation is one of Unesco’s key education-related institutes and is the only unit in the United Nations family that holds a global mandate for lifelong learning. The agency is working with Southeast Asian member states, such as Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

University collaboration

Around the world, the UIL focuses on adult learning, continuous education, literacy and non-formal basic education. Its activities emphasise equity for disadvantaged groups in countries most afflicted by poverty and conflict.

“The next step is to contact universities in Thailand,” Mr Atchoarena said. “We have a regional office seeing how we can share lessons learned from international work and practices with Thai universities and engage with them.”

“Surely, we will have a policy discussion with them in the future,” he said.

Mr Atchoarena was speaking on the sidelines of Singapore’s inaugural Global Lifelong Learning Summit (GLLS) 2022. Global experts attended the event to discuss how lifelong learning is a key enabler of growth. GLLS 2022 was held on Nov 1–2.

More than 300 life-long learners from various organisations, such as the International Labour Organisation and Unesco, met public and private sector representatives to exchange practices and discuss ideas.

This was possible through GLLS’ collaboration with the Institute for Adult Learning (IAL) and SkillsFuture Singapore.

Mr Atchoarena said there has been an increase in policy attention given to lifelong learning in the region.

He said he has been observing policy developments in countries like Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. The UIL is ready to help exchange knowledge and experience through education and training, he said.

Mr Atchoarena said he has seen lifelong learning development improvements for people in the labour market. In several countries, demography is playing an important role, so they must provide different types of opportunities for older people, he said.

Recognised cities

Mr Atchoarena also talked about Unesco’s Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC), an international network of cities that promotes lifelong learning in communities.

He said that he has seen many local organisations promoting Unesco’s learning cities initiative. In recent years, Thailand itself has set up several learning cities to promote lifelong learning in communities, he said.

According to Unesco, Sukhothai, Phayao and Hat Yai in Songkhla province have been added to its list of “learning cities”, raising the number of such cities in Thailand to seven. The others on the GNLC list are Chiang Rai, listed in 2019, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Chachoengsao, listed in 2020.

Recently, 77 cities from 44 countries were added to the list, bringing the total number of GNLC cities to 294 in 76 countries.

“The promotion of learning cities is an interesting movement where we see local-level governance helping promote it,” Mr Atchoarena said.

Post-Covid opportunities

When asked how lifelong learning can help improve the lives of people post-Covid-19, Mr Atchoarena said in the context of education, the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital resources and technologies for education and training.

He has seen an opportunity to utilise more technology in the post-Covid-19 era to promote lifelong learning.

“If we look at the recent development in this field, technology is probably one of the most important factors in terms of providing new opportunities for learners to learn at any time, no matter where they are staying,” he said.

“This is something that we need to capitalise on, and of course, Thailand is a place to do that,” he added. “Universities [in Thailand] should provide support and more resources for their students and learners to learn online.”

“I think that technology is giving more opportunities for people to learn and be able to access relevant knowledge and training they really want to have,” he said.

Lifelong learning is key

IAL executive director Lee Wing On said his institute is taking the lead in supporting adults to develop their knowledge and skillsets. Doing so will enable them to enhance their individual capacities, progress within their line of work and keep pace with changing market conditions, he said.

Prof Lee said lifelong learning is so important today because it can help develop skills to meet job demands after graduation.

“Formal education is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “If we really look at the whole piece of ice, formal education is only a small proportion.”

“Most [learning] happens after the completion of formal education and after people enter work,” he said. “For those people who are not working, lifelong learning takes place through interacting with society and logical change.”

“So, this really explained the significance of lifelong learning which has been ignored, undermined and marginalised,” he said.

He said that almost every country, including Thailand, has education institutes that produce a workforce that lacks the skills and knowledge needed in a changing economy.

Many jobs have disappeared in the last two or three years, he said.

“You need lifelong learning to get employment,” he said.