Futures of lifelong learning

As major challenges affect people and the planet, the future is becoming more complex and unpredictable. Political, social, economic, technological and ecological landscapes are undergoing rapid changes. The ambiguity and uncertainty of these changes makes it imperative that society prepare people to become lifelong learners, to understand global issues, to build resilience to change, and to be active global citizens. Although these challenges are diverse, multifaceted and overlapping, they may be grouped into five broad areas: technology, demography, climate, health and work. Today, each of these areas plays a key role in shaping the futures of education; it is therefore important to reflect on these challenges and their significance for the future. 

In response to the urgency of addressing these challenges, UNESCO has launched the Futures of Education initiative, which looks at how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity at a time of increasing complexity, uncertainty and precarity. Following the launch of the initiative in September 2019, an International Commission was established to develop a flagship Global Report on the futures of education, to be released in 2021.

In this context, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) has consulted with high-level experts from a wide range of research fields and disciplines in order to address critical questions for the futures of education from the perspective of lifelong learning, which is considered a transformative means of responding to new challenges and shaping a sustainable future.

The outcomes of this expert consultation have been documented in a new report entitled Embracing a culture of lifelong learning, which argues that creating a global culture of lifelong learning will be key to addressing the challenges faced by humanity – challenges that comprise the climate crisis and technological and demographic change, as well as the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the inequalities it has exacerbated. The report reflects on the contribution that lifelong learning can make to transforming the field of education, and to creating a more sustainable, healthy and inclusive future. It presents a compelling vision of lifelong learning and the values and principles that must underpin it. It calls on the international community to see education as something with public as well as private value, and to recognize lifelong learning as a new human right.

The report outlines the main features of the ‘enabling environment’ needed to make lifelong learning the governing principle of education policy, and to offer people opportunities to learn throughout life, whatever their background or context. It analyses the main issues that currently inhibit lifelong learning, and describes what is needed to transform these issues into opportunities. Looking to the future, the report sets out 10 key messages, each critical for creating a culture of lifelong learning; it offers specific action points for realizing this vision, and suggests selected policy measures that can be taken.