Lifelong learning ‘a necessity’

Capacity-building key to addressing issues of a rapidly changing world, say experts

AS the lifetime of skills shortens and career lifespan lengthens, and as the world grapples with new uncertainties and challenges, global lifelong learning systems are put to a stress test.

Failure to measure up, said SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) chief executive Tan Kok Yam, will be costly in social and economic terms.

This has been illustrated in studies such as a recent Salesforce-commissioned RAND Europe report, which estimated that the digital skills gap for 14 G20 countries, if unaddressed, could result in a potential loss of US$11.5tril (RM51.4tril) in cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

In addition, a LinkedIn study conducted this year highlighted that the emerging green skills gap will critically hamper the global net zero.

Speaking at the inaugural Global Lifelong Learning Summit held in Singapore on Nov 1 and 2, Tan asserted that as societies grow older, the lack of basic skills to care for one another will exert a social cost that is hard to monetise and no less crippling.

“These are all current challenges that our societies and economies face together,” he said in his welcome address at the summit, which drew the participation of more than 300 practitioners from the Unesco Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Lifelong Learning Hub, as well as representatives from the public and private sectors.

In addressing the contextual and structural factors that are affecting societies and economies all over the world, countries – said UIL director David Atchoarena – are putting in place not only policies, but also measures and strategies to make lifelong learning a reality.

The acceleration revolving around this topic, he added, can be attributed to six factors, namely, the urgency resulting from climate change, transformation in the world of work, demographic changes, development in digital technologies, growing prioritisation of health and well-being, and the need to strengthen citizenship.

“In this part of the world like in many countries in Europe, ageing is changing the way the labour market is structured and organised, and this has major implications for social policies, as well as lifelong learning.

“Older adults need to be taken into account. This has implications for intergenerational learning – how different age groups learn from each other at home and at work,” he said in a panel discussion at the event organised by SSG and Singapore’s Institute for Adult Learning.

A new development the UIL is also seeing, Atchoarena shared, is an emerging realisation that the way economies and societies are governed should no longer be driven by factors for GDP growth, but by the well-being of citizens.

“Lifelong learning is a very important element that contributes to this conceptual shift globally,” he said, adding that ensuring social agency through education and training is also vital due to increasing migration, merging of cultural societies, and diversity in society.

Affirming that lifelong learning is a necessity, Singapore University of Social Sciences president Cheong Hee Kiat said both individuals and societies should collectively build the capabilities to confront the deep-seated issues of a rapidly changing world.

How we respond to all these difficulties depends on how we learn intelligently about lifelong learning, he stressed.

“Every individual is precious, and has a mind and capabilities to develop if we only put in the effort to help.

“If the leaders in governments, public agencies, companies, higher education institutions and the community do not subscribe fully to lifelong learning, we cannot go far in establishing a permanent acceptance and activation of continual learning,” he said. — By ROWENA CHUA

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