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     Volume 2 Issue 118 | May 10, 2009|


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Lifelong learning:
Concept and perspective

Tapon Kumar Das

THE concept of Life Long Learning (LLL) emerged in Bangladesh over the last 30 years, with effort from Unesco and Danida. During the initial stage a few leading NGOs took initiatives to popularise this new concept as an ultimate result of literacy, post-literacy and continuing education. At present, there are many institutions, development agencies and NFE providing NGOs that are trying to incorporate the idea of LLL in their NFE agenda. But due to lack of understanding, effective implementation is not happening.

Concept of lifelong learning
Learning is needed throughout life. But the provisions of education, both in formal and non-formal settings, is limited to a fixed time and specific contents, which cannot meet the changing needs of the people.

LLL is an engagement of people in acquiring and applying knowledge and skills in the context of self-directed problems, and should be grounded in descriptive and perspective goals. Its overall objective is to improve competencies of people to keep up with socio-economic, environmental, political and technological changes. Lifelong learning is not limited to basic education or adult literacy or post literacy. It should not be seen as the habit of reading newspapers or some important books, but rather as a tool for human development and self-reliance. It includes the disadvantaged and disabled, and ethnic and minority groups. Lifelong learning is a broad field that includes general education and knowledge, vocational and technical education.

Lifelong learning should be in two steps. First, the content should be determined considering the general learning needs of the audience and second, vocational and technical purposes of learners must be considered. Learning needs derive from and relate to the needs of individuals, groups, societies, economic conditions, gender etc.

A strong need assessment system should be introduced, focusing on personal interest and choice. It is seen that some needs are linked to individuals and some to groups. Both should be considered as learning contents. Thematic investigation method (TIM) may be used to asses the learners' needs.

The world conference on Education for All defined basic education as education aimed at meeting the basic learning needs, and identified seven areas that are common to children, youth and adults. These are; surviving, developing one's full capacities, living and working in dignity, participating fully in development, improving the quality of life, making informed decisions, and continuing to "learn.”

Lifelong learning means making a paradigm shift and orienting the educational system to the challenges of the new millennium. Opportunities are now emerging for making better use of technologies that had been previously underutilised in supporting learning processes -- such as radio, television, print materials, audio and video cassettes.

The emergence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has dramatically expanded the options for increasing access, and ensuring equity and interactivity for the enhancement of the learning experience. However, technology cannot be regarded as a panacea to solve all the problems in the field of education.

In Bangladesh, thousands of rural people can use a mobile phone, even though they are illiterate. They learned to use it because it is like a weapon with which they can fight poverty. It also brought changes in their lives and their social status.

In India, NIOS-New Delhi, Tamil Nadu Open University and many other universities assessed the learning needs of marginalised children and provided training with the help of NGOs. Tamil Nadu Open University has developed training courses on naval forces, beauty culture, nursing etc.

Disadvantaged groups have opportunity to go to abroad as skilled manpower after receiving training, which is based on ICT. Dhaka Ahsania Mission (Bangladesh) has taken initiatives to organise a housemaid training course combined with literacy program for the rural women using ICT, targeting the job market of Middle East and Europe.

Bangladesh NFE policy: Inclusion of life long education
Bangladesh has formulated a National policy on Non-formal Education (NFE), in which the concept of lifelong learning is included. It was clearly stated that "NFE is designed to meet the learning needs of educationally disadvantaged persons of different ages and backgrounds, flexible in terms of organisations, time and place, and may cover basic and continuing education programs to impart basic literacy, including life skills, work skills, general culture and facilitates lifelong learning and enhancement of earning capabilities for poverty reduction." It also stated that NFE would include:
A full menu of continuing education programs for lifelong learning opportunities, and
Training through non-formal channels in vocational entrepreneurship and employment related skills together with support for access to micro credit.

Attention was also given in the policy to establishing linkage with other inistries/departments, including technical and vocational training and education, NGOs, CBOs and private sector.

Lifelong learning and learning society.
Lifelong learning is a multi-dimensional approach and goes beyond the traditional distinction between initial and further education. It links up with another concept often put forward, that of a learning society in which everything affords an opportunity for learning and fulfilling one's potentials.

Learning society is not only a society where everyone learns everyday, but is also where all the institutions that exist in the society extend their support to help the members of the society in learning.

The integration of general, environmental, cultural, political and vocational education is very important. But emphasis must be given for promoting individual interest and needs.

A lifelong learning center should be established with the aim of providing an infrastructure and an institutional base for holistic lifelong education. The nature of a learning centre varies from one society to another, but the ultimate goal is the same -- the improvement of the quality of life. Through lifelong learning, people from all classes, especially from disadvantaged groups, would be benefited.

(The writer is Program Manager, CAMPE.)

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