«Lifelong Learning» does not refer only to adults

 Rosa María Torres

Sharon Nowlan

«Lifelong Learning» (LLL) has been proposed by UNESCO since the 1970s as a new paradigm for education and learning in the 21st century. LLL means learning "throughout life", "from birth to death", "from cradle to grave", in and out of the school system, through formal, non-formal and informal learning. LLL includes all ages: children, adolescentes, youth, and adults. However, LLL continues to be associated mainly with adults and adult education, and is generally illustrated (photos, drawings, caricatures) with adults. 

Three examples of the use of LLL as equivalent to adults: 

1. Most «Lifelong Learning policies and strategies» collected by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) refer to youth and adults. 

2. Most national qualifications frameworks developed at international level associate LLL with adults. 

3. The article 
What We Learned From Reading 1,000 Articles On Lifelong Learning, written by Steve Rayson, student at the London School of Economics, was circulated in social networks in May 2018. I checked the list of 1.000 articles, coming from many countries in the world, and found that most of them referred to adults. 


Why the strong association between LLL and adults? Among others:

1. Lack of information, definitions and public debate on LLL at all levels: local, national, regional, and global. LLL is used and understood in most diverse ways throughout the world. 

2. Inconsistent use of the terms lifelong education and lifelong learning in key international reports such as the Faure Report (1973) and the Delors Report (1986).

3. UIL's mandate is adult education and non-formal education. It was created in 1952 as UNESCO Institute of Education (UIE) and was renamed as UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning (UIL) in 2006. 

4. UNESCO has traditionally focused LLL on adults. The 
Global education monitoring report 2016. Education for people and planet: Creating sustainable futures for all, the first one linked to the 2030 Agenda, referred to LLL as adult education (p. 431). 

5. Sustainable Development Objective 4 (SDG4), focused on education, is confusing: "
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all". "Lifelong learning opportunities for all" appears as an addition to "inclusive and equitable education" rather than as an embracing concept. SDG4 refers to LLL as youth and adult education.  

6. Translation problems: LLL is regularly translated into Spanish as continuing education or permanent education, terms associated with adult education.  

The fact is that LLL has no attracted the interest of the professional community linked to children's education. They also associate LLL with adults. Children's education and learning specialists often highlight the weak conceptual status and development of LLL. 

To learn more
 - UNESCO, Global education monitoring reports
- UIL/UNESCO, Políticas y estrategias de aprendizaje a lo largo de toda la vida

CEDEFOP/ETF/UNESCO/UIL, Inventario Mundial de Marcos Regionales y Nacionales de Cualificaciones 2017, Volumen I.
- SDG 4 Data Digest. Data to Nurture Learning, UIS, 2018
- Torres, Rosa María, The Lifelong Learning approach: Implications for education policies in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNESCO, París, 2020
- Torres, Rosa María, De educación a aprendizaje: De Lifelong Education a Lifelong Learning, Blog 


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