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Europe ill-prepared for lifelong learning?
Europe ill-prepared for lifelong learning?Keywords: Vocational training, Europe, Policy
Making lifelong learning a reality requires a fundamental rethink of the role of vocational training and how people learn, according to a new report from Cedefop, the European Union agency responsible for information on vocational education and training.
Social, demographic and technological change across Europe is making demands on vocational training systems to provide lifelong learning, according to the report delivered by Cedefop to European Commissioner Viviane Reding. An Age of Learning questions the suitability of existing policies and systems to deliver. Tracing the European approach to training over the past 40 years, the report concludes that the challenge will only be met effectively if there is closer co-operation at European level supported by a clear and coherent policy framework.
Cedefop uses the report to analyse how European policies on vocational training have responded to social and economic change during the second half of the last century. Current focus, however, is on the management of European vocational training programmes and less on policy issues. Consequently, Europe is not fulfilling its role as a reference point for policy development at a time when vocational training systems face their greatest challenge.
Exchange of information and experience has allowed the countries of the EU to ensure policy is developed to meet new demands. With change gathering pace, the report recommends that a new vocational training policy framework be established to identify major issues faced by member states for developing lifelong learning and facilitating experimentation.
Drawing on its position as a facilitator of information and experience exchange across Europe, Cedefop points out that lifelong learning blurs traditional distinctions between initial and continuing training, general and vocational education, and formal and non-formal learning. The report looks in detail at a number of issues that need to be addressed to meet the demands of lifelong learning:
finding the right balance between the responsibilities of government, social partners and individuals for vocational training beyond compulsory schooling;
making the apprenticeship systems more appropriate to both current and future labour market needs;
increasing awareness of education and training as an investment in the future;
increasing access to vocational training for older workers;
improving the evaluation of training programmes.
Changes in society are demanding changes in skills and levels of training to ensure economic efficiency and personal career fulfilment. Both companies and individuals need to be aware of the demands being made of them and be able to participate in training relevant to those demands. National governments must support their people and businesses by devising relevant training policy and facilitating actions. The report believes that those governments, in turn, need support at a European level:
To derive full benefit from an exchange of views between member states on the rapid developments taking place in vocational training and the factors which affect it, it is important to have a clearly focused policy framework, agreed and monitored at senior political level – a framework which provides a reference point from which member states can draw, should they wish, to develop their own national policies.
The framework advocated is seen as flexible, allowing for differences between countries, but also cohesive, drawing together all potential challenges currently faced, plus possible solutions to them. Interaction of traditional parties – governments, enterprises, social partners, professional bodies and so on – will be an essential element of the process, but newer interests such as the media, private training providers and commercial advisers also have a role to play. Co-operation and consensus are vital if the challenges of the future are to be met in an efficient manner.
An Age of Learning is published by Cedefop in English, French, German and Portuguese. An executive summary of the report can be found in 11 EU languages and downloaded free from the Electronic Training Village, managed by Cedefop. Copies of the report can be ordered from the site and it is also possible to provide feedback on the report if you wish: http://www.trainingvillage.gr/etv/policyreport