‘Education is freedom’

  • When:
    21 July 2017
  • Who: David Atchoarena, UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

Q: In your opinion, how should lifelong learning be understood?

A: Lifelong learning is a vision of a journey for self-development. It is the recognition of the learner as the driving force for guiding this journey at the pace and in the direction he/she defines. So it is an expression of freedom and a form of empowerment. It is also a dynamic way of conceiving education.

Q: Are there certain tenets of lifelong learning that you can pinpoint as being important in UNESCO’s work with Member States?

A: To make lifelong learning possible, the following domains are particularly critical:

  • Recognition, Validation and Accreditation (RVA) of non-formal and informal learning, an area in which UIL has been doing a lot of work, is essential to support learning pathways throughout life. It provides incentives to adult learners to engage themselves in learning.
  • Furthermore, recognition and articulation of qualifications across sub-sectors of the education and training system are key to promoting the mobility of learners and providing the institutional fluidity required for allowing for multiple and self-directed learning pathways. Building qualification frameworks contributes to achieving such a goal.
  • Another strategic domain concerns funding. While there is wide consensus that the resources needed to support lifelong learning must come from a variety of sources, the distribution of the funding burden among stakeholders and the nature of the funding principles and mechanisms remain a matter of policy debate. Clearly, governments have an important role to play beyond providing the funding; their role is indispensable in shaping a supportive environment that triggers the incentives for other actors to invest in lifelong learning, in particular adult learners and companies. This is an effective way of making lifelong learning sustainable.
  • In an increasingly complex institutional landscape, other stakeholders are playing a growing role, notably local governments, in the general global trend of decentralisation. This is also an area in which UIL is engaging intensively through its innovative Learning Cities initiative.
  • More investment in lifelong learning also implies the need to make its benefits clearly visible and, as much as possible, measurable. Besides RVA and qualification frameworks, assessment of learning outcomes represents a core area to better inform and inspire policies and individual choices. This policy domain is receiving increasing attention in UIL’s programmes. In addition to the RAMAA (Action Research: Measuring Literacy Programme Participants’ Learning Outcomes) initiative, which focuses on measuring literacy programme participants’ learning outcomes in French-speaking Africa, the Institute, with other partners, is exploring ways to address the broader challenge of assessing youth and adult literacy and numeracy skills, including innovative ones like digital skills, within Sustainable Development Goal 4, education target 4.6: “By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy”.

Q: What motivates you every day (either personally or professionally or both)?

A: UNESCO provides a very stimulating environment, considering the fundamental essence of its core values and the magnitude of the challenges in front of us, particularly in the context of the new Sustainable Development Agenda. At UIL, I found a very motivated, task-oriented and highly specialised team, fully devoted to promoting literacy and adult education and making lifelong learning a reality. That in itself constitutes a highly motivating environment.

Q: Would you like to give a few words of encouragement to stakeholders all over the world involved in one way or the other in the field of lifelong learning?

A: For several decades, lifelong learning has been an aspiration for individuals and a policy goal for governments. Much progress has been made in creating the instruments, the structures and the policies to translate this vision into reality. Yet, the gap between the intention and its realisation is still immense for millions of people in the world. Today, with the policy framework provided by the Sustainable Development Agenda, a historical moment has come to make lifelong learning the organising principle of education systems and policies and promote genuine people-centred societies. This is our moment to forge ahead with action-oriented vigour.