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Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Europe and Beyond

Comparative Perspectives from the 2015 Würzburg Winter School


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer

This volume presents comparisons of adult education and lifelong learning with a focus on educational policies, professionalization in adult education, participation in adult learning and education, quality in adult education, and educational guidance and counselling. The essays are based on comparisons discussed at the international Winter School «Comparative Studies in Adult and Lifelong Learning», held in Würzburg, Germany, February 2015. Sub-topics of lifelong learning were chosen for an in-depth comparison and analysis of the situation in various European countries and beyond.
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Knowledge economy and demographic change: Comparative case study of Europe and South Asia

← 66 | 67 →

Chetan Singai, Gaia Gioli, Eva Riemer, Kapil Dev Regmi, Sofia Mastrokoukou & Shalini Singh

Knowledge economy and demographic change: Comparative case study of Europe and South Asia


Lifelong learning has the dual function of responding to societal challenges and economic growth. Two decades after the theorization of lifelong learning, Europe shows an economic and political integration worse than the expectations, partly due to the economic crisis. As a consequence, it is far from the strategic goal set by the Lisbon Strategy to become ‘the world’s most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy’ (European Council, 2000). The theme of lifelong learning has grown in importance across the globe. Nonetheless, its discourse and implementation have changed across countries according to the peculiarities of global regions (population, policies, role of the state).

This has led to an uneven distribution of and participation in learning opportunities across the world, with deep effects on social cohesion (European Commission, 2013). What are the differences and similarities in the various regions of the world? Are they connected to different approaches to lifelong learning? Is it possible to identify a common global strategy?

The paper draws some conclusions about the approach to lifelong learning of policy makers from some countries of South Asia (Nepal and India) and Europe (Germany and Greece). The situation as described offers some grounds for optimism but also for concerns. Lifelong learning is a priority issue in many countries, especially after the development of the knowledge economy, but the efforts have produced different results: too narrow and small in some regions to address the Lisbon Strategy challenges, often resulting from historical, socio-economic, and demographic differences that characterise those regions.

Continued attention to the peculiarities and major problems of these countries is needed to assess the characteristics that a positive approach to lifelong learning should have. A globally homogeneous strategy to lifelong learning could interfere with the natural progress of the national conceptual frames, but common strategic principles are desirable.


Today, the main driving force of the economy is knowledge. The global knowledge economy is transforming labour demand throughout the world. Preparing workers ← 67 | 68 → to compete in the knowledge economy requires an equally demanding framework of education and training that encompasses learning throughout the life cycle, from early childhood to retirement. The concept of knowledge is changing from the mere acquisition of theoretical knowledge (old knowledge) towards the application of such knowledge (new knowledge) to larger developmental processes. Human capital is gaining importance, and workers are becoming increasingly responsible for every aspect of their work and professional life (Deloitte, 2015).

The idea and practice of the knowledge economy has a myriad of orientations and meanings, and it influences many aspects of life, from the economy to personal development. On one side, knowledge is one of the factors of production and growth: sharing, producing, and using knowledge influences policy discourses when it comes to the economic competitiveness of countries. On the other side, knowledge influences individual development, learning, biographies, abilities/possibilities of participation in social life, as well as social status and reputation (cf. Mandl & Krause, 2001, p. 3). As Torres noted, lifelong learning has been adopted in the global North as a strategy for ‘promoting active citizenship and the necessary knowledge, skills, values, attitudes toward employment and work, but for the global South it is basic education/literacy that matters most’ (Torres, 2002, p. 4). The notion of a knowledge economy, which appears as an inherent characteristic of the dominant perspective of lifelong learning, was constructed in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as well as in European Union (EU) contexts based on the assumption that the production of human resources equipped with most up-to-date knowledge and skills is a key point to achieve national competitiveness (cf. Rubenson, 2011).

Here, we define the knowledge economy as: ‘production and services based on knowledge-intensive activities that contribute to an accelerated pace of technical and scientific advance’ (Powell & Snellman, 2004, p. 199). The knowledge economy is a global phenomenon; however, the countries’ responses to such a phenomenon have certain similarities and differences. This paper aims to identify the main categories and policy approaches across selected countries from South Asia and Europe as single case studies and analyse the divergences and convergences towards lifelong learning and the knowledge economy.

Comparative Perspectives: Representations from South Asia and Europe

The analysis proposed here is comparative. The global phenomenon of the knowledge economy provides a pervasive element for cross-country comparative analysis. Demography, information and communication technology (ICT), ← 68 | 69 → socio-economic conditions, political stability, policy discourses, international and transnational actors are important enablers and disablers of the global knowledge economy. Among these, demography and policy discourses are the most significant categories when analysing the role and relevance of the knowledge economy in the global context. The demographic situation of a country or region determines its overall merits and demerits when adapting to the global knowledge-economy competition. It is in response to such challenges and opportunities, respectively, that policy discourses constitute a most significant category to analyse the dimension of the knowledge economy. Hence, demography and key policy discourses are compared across Germany, Greece, India, and Nepal. The concept, context, and category of the knowledge economy in Europe and in South Asian countries, as well as the (changing) demographics across these countries, are the key points of discussion for the comparative analysis.

Transitions in demography

The global North is characterised by industrialised and hence economically robust countries (North America and Europe: high income, OECD member countries). The global South (South Asia: low and middle income, non-OECD member countries) is more dependent and hence less industrialised and economically weaker. At the turn of the twenty-first century, it is important to note that the aging—and shrinking—population in the global North is a critical issue in the context of knowledge workers and the knowledge economy. The declining young population in Europe (Eurostat, 2015, p. 18) and the growing young population in South Asia (WEF, 2014) have resulted in a new sense of dependency across the globe. For instance, in Europe in the last few decades, there is increasing dependency on the non-native population as labour force (European Commission, 2010). In the South Asian region, there is increasing dependency on the labour market to create and provide employment to the growing young unemployed population (WEF, 2014).

Below, we discuss the demographic transition in two countries in Europe (Greece and Germany, higher income, OECD member countries) and South Asia (Nepal and India, low and middle income, non-OECD member countries), representing the two worlds of developed and developing and discussing the influence of demographics on the policy and practice of the knowledge economy.

Demographic depression in Europe

As witnessed in the last couple of decades, Europe is exposed to a series of challenges: aging societies and increasing migration on the one hand, and economic slow-down in many countries on the other. The demand for and dependency on a ← 69 | 70 → knowledge-intensive economy has brought such challenges to a critical point attracting national, regional, and international attention to address these challenges. One of the potential means to address the above-mentioned challenges is to focus on providing new strategies for effective education and training mechanisms (EU, 2009).

Indeed, in today’s knowledge-driven economy, education and training are considered major factors affecting a society’s level of economic attainment and growth. Lack of knowledge and skills, in particular, is among the prime factors likely to delay a country’s progress towards the information society. Experience, however, has shown that an educated labour force does not automatically translate into dynamic economic development and technological innovation. Especially in the Greek context, the human resource potential is not only the outcome of the education system but the result of a complex process that involves non-formal and informal learning, networks, workplace, family background, geographical area, and so on (European Commission, 2013). Lifelong learning is considered a policy priority at the European and international level due to its capacity to enable people to face the challenges posed today by an ageing population, a skills and competences mismatch, and global competition—challenges further enhanced by the ongoing financial crisis.

The demographic profile of Greece is similar to that of other developed countries. Fertility rates per 1,000 inhabitants have been continuously falling in Greece: 18.9 per cent in 1960, 16.5 per cent in 1970, 15.4 per cent in 1980, 10.7 per cent in 1988, and 9.5 per cent in 1998 (Statistical Year Book of Greece, 2015). According to the United Nations' population projection and the World Fact book, Greece has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe (1990–1995) and the lowest total fertility rate of all other countries in the Balkans (United Nations, 2015). In 2015, the population of Greece dropped by 500,000 to about 10.2 million. The drop in fertility rates, combined with the aging population, poses a serious problem for the country: the increase of the ratio of retired people to those who are economically active.

Moreover, the situation is worsening day by day: since the beginning of the crisis, the percentage of the population aged 24–65 participating in lifelong learning in Greece (3 per cent) appears to be well below the European average (9.1 per cent) and the Europe 2020 target (15 per cent). Accordingly, the percentage of low achievers in basic skills in Greece is 27.7 per cent, while the European average lies at 20 per cent, and the target for 2020 is less than 15 per cent (Konstandaras, 2015).

The German situation is very similar to the Greek one: Germany has been characterised by low birth rates (fertility rate at 1.38 children per woman) and a ← 70 | 71 → rising life expectancy (about 80 years) over the last thirty years. Thus, Germany has one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the world (cf. BMBF, 2008, p. 14). This aspect is crucial when talking about the future number of skilled workers. The older generation far outnumbers the young, upcoming labour force, which is relatively small to keep the actual gross on the same level. Indeed the population of 15–64-year-olds, who constitute the knowledge workers, is declining (cf. Weltbank, 2015): in 2003, Germany had 67.3 per cent of the population in the age group of 15–64; that share declined to 65.8 per cent in 2010 and to 65.7 per cent in 2013. Greece faces a similar demographic scenario.

The immigration phenomenon diversifies in Greece and Germany. The immigration rate in Germany has steadily increased in the last years due to the strong German economy. But it can be expected that it will increase also due to the international refugee situation. Indeed, in 2013 about 1.2 million people moved to Germany while about 800,000 left the country. Thus, despite the low birth rate, the population is growing. Depending on statistical data and the definition of the term migrant the percentage of migrants in Germany varies from 8 to 18 per cent (cf. Statistisches Bundesamt, 2014; Weltbank, 2015). In this context, lifelong learning is expected to develop its potential to support migrants as well as the native-born to participate in the knowledge economy. In general, the level of qualification of the German population has risen over the past few decades. According to the level of education, the differences between those with and without a migration background are still significant. About 10 per cent have no qualification level at all (persons without a migration background: 1.5 per cent) and about 51 per cent have no professional qualification (person without a migration background: 27 per cent) (cf. BMBF, 2008, p. 1421).

Demographic bulge in South Asia

The South of the world is characterised by a young and fast-growing population and economy, on the one hand, and very serious issues linked to casteism, diffused poverty, illiteracy and innumeracy of the population, on the other hand.

Nepal is one of the impoverished nations of the global South, squeezed between two emerging economies: India and China. Nepal is identified as one of the 49 least developed countries by the United Nations in terms of its economic vulnerability, poverty, and illiteracy (cf. United Nations, 2008). Nepal’s economy largely ← 71 | 72 → depends on financial assistance from bilateral and multilateral agencies. With a per capita income of about US$ 350 and more than half of its 27.8 million people living on less than US$ 2 per day, Nepal faces several challenges. Nepal has seen in the last decade a gradual increase in the population age group of 15–64 (cf. World Bank, 2015). In 2000, that group accounted for 55.8 per cent, followed by 58.6 per cent and 60.2 per cent in 2011 and 2013, respectively (ibid.). Between 2000 and 2013, the population in the age group of 15–64 increased by 4.4 per cent (ibid.), which could be a potential source fulfilling the demand for knowledge workers at both the national and international level.

India has been one of the fast-growing economies in the last decade; indeed, it is the fourth-largest economy, inhabited by about 1.252 billion people. According to Kaushik Basu, the average age of Indians will be 29 years by 2020, which would push the dependency ratio to just about 0.4 per cent. According to the current skill and employability trends that pop up on the basis of data available in 2013, 0.8 billion out of the 1.3 billion people inhabiting India were of employable age, that is, part of the economically productive population. In alignment with such a surge in the skilled population, the country has been witnessing an increase in the population of 15-to-64-year-olds in the last decade in particular. In 2000, the population of 15-to-64-year-olds was 61.4 per cent; in 2010, it was 64.7 per cent, and in 2013, it was 65.6 per cent. The economically active population in the country increased by 4.2 per cent over the last 13 years (cf. Basu, 2007).

The demographic transitions discussed above in the context of Nepal and India are of critical importance for the global knowledge economy. It is the size and age of the population that is prepared to respond to the growing demands of the economy that matters most for a country’s economic competitiveness—the core agenda of the global knowledge economy. In order to effectively ensure the active participation of the population aged between 15 and 64 years, appropriate policy interventions are needed. The section below discusses the key transitions in the policy interventions across Germany, Greece, Nepal, and India by analysing the main discourse(s) therein.

Transitions in policy discourses

Public policies for education, training, and innovation have always been aimed primarily at creating and diffusing knowledge in order to guarantee economic progress. Nonetheless, lifelong learning and adult and continuing education policies underwent major transitions in the last couple of decades: a shift from a humanistic to an economistic policy discourse occurred (cf. Bron & Schemmann, 2003, p. 7). Similarly, the OECD suggested that ‘the role of knowledge (as compared with ← 72 | 73 → natural resources, physical capital, and low-skill labour) has taken on greater importance. Although the pace may differ, all OECD economies are moving towards a knowledge-based economy.’ (OECD, 1997, p. 7) Therefore, policies and strategies among the developing countries have witnessed similar transitions (cf. World Bank, 2003, pp. 109–110).

Germany and Greece: Lifelong learning and education/training

When UNESCO and the OECD created the concept of lifelong learning in the 1960s and 1970s, the organisations were deeply influenced by the political European context. Indeed, Faure et al., in their 1972 report, stated that ‘the idea of lifelong education is the keystone of the learning society’ (Faure et al., 1972, p. 181) and ‘the normal culmination of the educational process is adult education’ (ibid., p. 205).

The EU referred to the concept of lifelong learning for the first time in the white papers on ‘Growth, Competitiveness, Employment’ (Commission of the European Communities, 1993). The breakthrough was achieved with the European year of lifelong learning in 1996 and the Memorandum of lifelong learning in 2000, which brought on a very important modification in the educational field. Considering this, European stakeholders, scholars, and experts in the field of education should have noticed the event right from its beginning, but they did only after a while (cf. Holford & Mleczko, 2013).

The idea of lifelong learning has been implemented in different ways by the various member states, and its significance has varied at times by economic sector across Europe and European regions. Thus we find that in 2007, the European Commission started acting to make lifelong learning a reality through two ‘core indicators’: the participation of adults in lifelong learning and adult skills (cf. Commission of the European Communities, 2007). Lifelong learning, for this purpose, became a vital component of the European Commission’s adult learning policies (European Commission, 2011). With the beginning of the twenty-first century, lifelong learning programmes become an important EU-wide regulating and policy tool.

Due to the growing importance of lifelong learning and adult education in recent decades, it is difficult to discuss and compare issues of lifelong learning policy without reference to Europe and European Union policies.

For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, the qualification level of the population in former West Germany became a big issue, especially in connection with the Sputnik crisis. This significant event fuelled the understanding that vocational training alone is not enough to proceed and handle social and technological challenges. ← 73 | 74 → In this period, knowledge, ideas, and information became the central factors to face these challenges and to secure economic growth and prosperity (cf. Giddens, 2001, cited in Bron & Schemmann, 2003, p. 8). Summarising this debate, an expert commission on education developed a structural national education plan (Strukturplan des Deutschen Bildungsrates, 1970) defining continuing education as a ‘necessary and lifelong complement to initial education … as the continuation or recommencement of organised learning following completion of a training phase of whatsoever length’ (BMBF, 2008, p. 146).

So it may surprise that ‘the academic discipline of adult education has not yet profoundly engaged in the discourse on a knowledge society’ (Nolda, 2001, p. 103, translated by A.B./M.S.). The reservation towards the term knowledge society comes from its inflationary use in other sciences like technology, informatics, or management, which use another understanding of ‘knowledge’ (Nolda, 2001, pp. 99–100). In current political and public discussions, education is given a new dimension, which is changing knowledge and education—given that it is enabling knowledge—to a crucial resource for adding value, a site-related factor, a factor for production, and so forth (cf. Nolda, 2001, pp. 99–100). Moreover, education and Bildung itself are becoming part of a global market, exchanges, and competition. Consequently, the goal of employability, set by educational policy, is part of the service sector, making Bildung a good to be produced, distributed, and promoted (cf. Haslinger & Scherrer, 2006). Terms that once were used to describe and predict the social and economic development of countries are now legitimate for (educational or research) policy (cf. Nolda, 2001, p. 100), Bildung plays a crucial role in solving structural economic problems (e.g. Willke, 1998). For these reasons, no fundamental discussion of the concept of the knowledge economy or society exists in German adult education, as Nolda (cf. Nolda, 2001, pp. 104–05) points out. She observes three patterns of using the term ‘knowledge society’ in adult education:

  • use of synonyms like ‘information society’ or ‘modernity’
  • critical usage of the term, underlining the necessity to replace ‘knowledge’ by ‘education’ or ‘learning’ and to add informally gained knowledge
  • adoption of the term and agreement with the argument claiming an increase in knowledge and accessibility through ICT (cf. Nolda, 2001, pp. 104–05).

In Greece, law no. 3879/2010 on lifelong learning, enacted by the Greek parliament in September 2010, sets the basis for the planning and implementation of a national holistic strategy on lifelong learning and for the creation of the National Network of Lifelong Learning (NNLL), which encompasses all lifelong learning governing bodies and lifelong learning service providers operating under the auspices of different ministries. The prerequisites for fruitful interaction within ← 74 | 75 → that network include the mapping and registration of members, their consistent briefing on national lifelong learning policies and the priorities linked to quality assurance, validation and accreditation, interoperability and mobility, enhancement of attractiveness, participation and accessibility.

In this framework, education and training are essential to achieve the objectives of the strategy Europe 2020. To this end, effective investments in high-quality, modern education and training are very urgent since they will lay the foundation for long-term prosperity in Europe and facilitate short-term responses to address the impact of the crisis. In accordance with EU policies, lifelong learning policies in Greece emphatically stressed the issue of employability, especially with regards to socially vulnerable groups (mostly the unemployed), but with limited efficiency both in terms of participant characteristics (those who participated were the most educated ones) and in terms of the link between the system of continuing vocational training and employment. Furthermore, lifelong learning policies in Greece emphatically stressed the aim of inclusion with reference solely to employment. This led to the weakening of general adult education (e.g. the educational programme of the General Secretariat for lifelong learning), which by definition promotes active citizenship and personal development. Jarvis has argued that in globalisation times, continuing vocational training dominated worldwide because it was more responsive to the needs of the market, in parallel to the withdrawal of the welfare state (cf. Jarvis, 2007, pp. 29–36). The emphasis in lifelong learning in the form of continuing vocational training also meant that adult and continuing education was to become a commodity with not much reflective thinking. The need for radical adult education is thus becoming urgent, especially after the Greek economic crisis.

To be more specific, since 2010 Greece has been insolvent and has virtually defaulted under a massive public debt, with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank providing lifeline loans to Greece. As a consequence, the ‘traditional’ business model of the country failed, and the government felt the urgency to find new paths to guarantee a future to Greece as a dynamic, high-tech, export-oriented economy. With this aim in mind, the key values associated with the social purpose of adult education—social justice, greater social and economic equality, the promotion of a critical democracy, a vision of a better and fairer world where education has a key role to play through the development of reflective thinking (cf. Johnston, 2006, pp. 416ff.)—should be taken more into consideration.

It is time for Europe to actively implement the four aims of lifelong learning—employability, active citizenship, social inclusion, and personal development ← 75 | 76 →—following Jarvis’s argumentation (cf. Jarvis, 2004, pp. 9ff.). In particular, inclusion in the employment system with the help of lifelong learning can contribute to the development of human potential and creativity. However, it remains uncertain whether this aim can be satisfied in the case of Greece, for reasons that do not necessarily pertain to the system of continuing vocational training per se but rather to the pace of job creation in the economy. Undoubtedly, it is a fundamental precondition for lifelong education to substantially serve the socially excluded so that they are included in the socio-economic system through their employment. Nevertheless, it remains a challenge for lifelong education to contribute to the full development of human beings through their education in various fields of study, and to the formation of a democratic society with educated citizens, active members of local societies and with possibilities of intervention in the processes of government.

Nepal and India: Lifelong learning and basic literacy

From the perspective of developing and less developed societies, the discourse on lifelong learning in the context of the global knowledge economy is different compared to that in developed or high-income countries, as discussed above. Most of the countries in South Asia do not have a well-defined policy on lifelong learning. Confronted with the massive problems of illiteracy and poverty, most of them tend to confine themselves to literacy programmes (cf. Shah, 2010).

In Nepal, the provision of higher education and vocational training—often associated with the discourse of the knowledge economy—has never been Nepal’s priority, because major donors such as the World Bank are reluctant to invest in vocational and higher education until ‘primary education is well covered’ (Torres, 2002, p. 5). Hence, basic literacy and primary education matter more for Nepal than the new rhetoric of lifelong learning and the knowledge-based economy.

However, after the 1990s, the term lifelong learning and the associated discourse were embedded in some policy documents such as the ‘10-Year Literacy/Non-Formal Education (NFE) Policy Programme Framework’ implemented in 2006 under the leadership of the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu (cf. UNESCO, 2006). The vision of the framework was ‘to create a fully literate learning society whose citizens possess the skills and competences that enable them to contribute continuously towards harmonious national development by raising the quality of life of every citizen’ (UNESCO, 2006, p. 17). Literacy is conceived in a wider sense, and programmes related to ‘lifelong and continuous education, skill development and income generation’ (Government of Nepal, 2007, p. 1) are envisaged, but NFE policy is not explicitly about what constitutes lifelong learning and its relevance ← 76 | 77 → in the context of Nepal. Some major educational projects launched in Nepal after the 1990s—such as the Basic and Primary Education Project (1992–2003), the Secondary Education Support Project (1992–2000), the Community School Support Project (2003–2008), and the Education for All Programme (2004–2009)—all of them featuring an active involvement of international organisations such as the World Bank, focused mainly on primary and secondary education. The current educational programme, ‘School Sector Reform Programme’ (SSRP 2009–2016), mentions lifelong learning a number of times. In Chapter 4 of the core document (Government of Nepal, 2009) the term lifelong learning appears in association with literacy: ‘Literacy enables them to engage in lifelong learning and helps develop capabilities to sustain their livelihoods and participate fully in society’ (Government of Nepal, 2009, p. lviii). The programme aims at linking lifelong learning with income generation as well as occupational and vocational skills. It also aims at ‘developing partnerships for collaboration with UN agencies and I/NGOs to implement lifelong learning programmes in selected districts’ (Government of Nepal, 2014, p. 21).

Though the term lifelong learning appears in some of the major policy documents (Government of Nepal, 2009, 2014), it does not reflect the ways in which lifelong learning has been conceived as a new educational policy at the international level by the European Union (European Commission, 2000), the OECD (OECD, 1996), and UNESCO (Delors et al., 1996; Faure et al., 1972). Thus, as far as the case of Nepal is concerned, there is no explicit provision for lifelong learning, and there are no policy documents to reflect a nuanced understanding of lifelong learning that has been debated in international policy documents and some scholarly publications (Griffin, 2009; Rubenson, 2011). Rather, lifelong learning appears as a catchphrase that Nepalese policy makers are willing to embrace, but there is no clear understanding on what lifelong learning really is and whose interests it really serves.

According to Bhatta, there is a tendency for international agendas and targets to ‘become the de facto policies’ for Nepal (cf. Bhatta, 2011, p. 11). The MDGs and EFA goals are soon coming to an end, and the international community is embarking into a post-2015 era with a new set of goals and targets. One of the goals related to education is to ‘ensure equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030’ (UNESCO, 2014, p. 3). But critical analysis of key documents suggests that an economic orientation of lifelong learning—one that sees the goal of education as producing flexible human capital in order to create competitive knowledge-based economies—is evident in the discourse informing post-2015 educational agendas (Regmi, 2015). A review of the current literature ← 77 | 78 → shows that the economic orientation of lifelong learning has been criticised by many (e.g. Griffin, 2009; Rubenson, 2011; Torres, 2002), because it moves away from the humanistic approach to lifelong learning spearheaded basically by the UNESCO (Delors et al., 1996; Faure et al., 1972). A foreseeable danger looming large in Nepal in the post-2015 context is a potential misinterpretation of lifelong learning and subsequent policy development—on the basis of the economistic orientation of lifelong learning—so as to produce human resources that do not fulfil the contextual needs of Nepal and its people but serve the interest of a global market controlled by multinational corporations (cf. Pingeot, 2014).

The knowledge-based economy has been a reality in the northern countries of the world for a long time, but the emerging economies, popularly known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), are also very keen to establish knowledge-based economies fuelled by their huge talent pools, entrepreneurial capabilities, and improved infrastructure. Thus, a knowledge-based economy is not a distant dream for India, like it is for some other emerging economies.

The present system of education in India, which follows the National Policy on Education, (Government of India, 1986) considers lifelong education the ‘cherished goal of the educational process which presupposes universal literacy, provision of opportunities for youth, housewives, agricultural and industrial workers and professionals to continue the education of their choice at a pace suited to them’ (Government of India, 1986). The policy observed that the critical development issue was the continuous upgrading of skills so as to produce manpower resources of the kind and quantity required by society. It suggested that the future thrust would be in the direction of open and distance learning. The policy was translated into practice by means of large-scale literacy campaigns/projects and adult continuing education programmes, implemented by governmental and non-governmental organisations (cf. Government of India, 1992).

The organisation of two UNESCO-sponsored international conferences on lifelong learning held in Mumbai (1998) and Hyderabad (2002), and the promulgation of ‘The Mumbai and Hyderabad Statements on Lifelong Learning’, which highlighted lifelong learning as a ‘guiding principle’ and an ‘overarching vision’ did succeed in educating Indian policy planners and generated considerable interest among educationists (cf. Narang & Mauch, 1998). The Hyderabad statement on lifelong learning in fact clarified the role of lifelong learning in the creation of a learning society and learning community. It emphasised empowering people, expanding their capabilities and choices in life, and enabling individuals and societies to cope with the new challenges of the twenty-first century (cf. Singh, 2002). ← 78 | 79 →

Currently, lifelong learning is often used as an umbrella term to cover basic literacy, post- literacy, continuing education and extension programmes of different organisations, refresher/continuing courses of professional bodies, and private institutions and business houses. It is not conceived as an overarching framework of learning.

In the last decade, the government of India has initiated a series of policy interventions in response to the global knowledge-economy phenomenon. The National Skill Development Mission has recognised the importance of skills and knowledge as the driving forces of economic growth and social development for any country, emphasising the need for promoting lifelong learning and maintaining quality and relevance according to the changing requirements of the emerging knowledge economy (cf. National Skill Development Initiative, 2009). The National Literacy Mission continued to focus on literacy, mainly because of massive number of non-literates in the country. Imparting skill training and providing avenues for upskilling did not receive much attention in the National Literacy Mission. Since the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012–2017), the Sub Committee on Adult Education has pointed out the need for developing a comprehensive policy to guide the systematic promotion of adult and lifelong learning and the creation of structures and mechanisms for the recognition, validation, accreditation, and certification of prior learning (Government of India, 2011). It is expected that lifelong learning will soon become a reality and an important strand of India’s education policy.


In this paper, we have documented the different approaches to lifelong learning and adult education that Europe and South Asia are experiencing as a result of the ongoing demographic, economic, and financial situation. Whereas birth rates have increased in almost all countries in South Asia, they have declined steadily in Europe. Particularly, there is evidence from the World Bank database (2015) that the active population (those aged 25–64) has been hit hardest and is still suffering from the loss of work and global competition. Countries that have suffered youth declines and financial slumps experienced a lifelong learning crisis due to the lack of links between active and passive labour market policies towards continuing education and employment.

The concern is that such spells of insufficient adult education and employment will have long-lasting effects, which would be harmful for the individuals and the countries themselves, potentially making individuals less sensitive to education in the long term. This reality is even worse when paying attention to the different lifelong learning policies. ← 79 | 80 →

Due to cultural and economic specificities, each country in the world is experiencing different conditions under which policies and devices for lifelong learning have been implemented. As a consequence, this has resulted in different impacts and paradoxes across member states, although a European space of lifelong learning and education does exist, assuming the creation of the basis of democracy, social justice, freedom, and employment at every level of European society.

As evidence demonstrates, the global South is characterised in the same way by a strong sensibility for lifelong learning, with a specific emphasis on literacy—‘the ability to understand, evaluate, use, and engage with written texts to participate in society, achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential’ (OECD, 2012)—and numeracy—‘the ability to access, use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life’ (OECD, 2012)—rather than employability, adaptability, and skills for life. The latter are the main issues of European regions in recent years, as the EPALE network (European Platform for Adult Learning and Education) highlights.

This shows that creating a global strategic approach and a framework to lifelong learning towards the knowledge economy is a tough task that could be pursued by discussing, programming, and implementing a common approach to lifelong learning while contextualising the meaning and practice of each country and region. Nevertheless, a lack of coherence in the educational progress could undermine the goal. Only a focus on a global front towards literacy, numeracy, and cohesion will avoid the risk of a polarisation between North and South—the developed and the developing poles, between high-skilled and low-skilled workers, and such imbalance between global regions. In order to do this, governments should focus on the risk of relying on international perspectives in the field of lifelong learning when setting common, comprehensive, coherent strategic goals and evaluating a proper distribution of resources among individual counties. Lifelong learning should not be an autonomous act of institutions but a consequence of a public intervention that adopts rules that reduce economic and social barriers and allow everybody to access training and lifelong learning opportunities in the respect of learning needs and different cultures.


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1 In this BMBF report, the population with a migration background is understood to include those persons who came to Germany from 1950 onwards and their descendants (BMBF, 2008, p. 141).