The European Training Foundation and UNESCO organized a five-day global conference to discuss the future of lifelong learning

Whether it relates to automation, digitization, the greening of societies or new demographic trends, countries throughout the world were already transforming at an increasing pace prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a sense, the pandemic merely laid bare and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities as for the ability of individuals to take advantage of and adapt to such profound changes.

The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development recognizes that investing in people is a priority to build inclusive, greener and prosperous societies. Education and training systems are therefore expected to support learners and workers in acquiring the knowledge and developing the skills and the mindsets underlying the transition towards such societies.

Fully understanding that accelerating lifelong learning systems change is key in achieving SDG 4 (inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), the European Training Foundation (ETF) and UNESCO, in collaboration with the ILO, EBRD and UNICEF, organized a global conference from 21 to 25 June 2021: Building lifelong learning systems: skills for green and inclusive societies in the digital era.

The conference served as a forum to take stock of national and international experiences in transforming education and training systems into lifelong learning systems and agree on the priorities that should inform cooperation globally.

In the opening session, representatives from the convening organisations set the scene for the rest of the week. Inclusivity was at the heart of the conference and participants stressed that multilateral collaboration was a pre-requisite to making lifelong learning a reality for all.

Today, in this landmark event, we should say enough is enough. It’s time that every human being on the planet has access to high-quality learning opportunities

A high-level event took place over the last two days of the conference (24-25 June) and was attended by European and international political leaders, including Mr. Patrizio Bianchi and Mr. Branko Ružić, Ministers of Education of Italy and the Republic of Serbia respectively. Representatives from multilateral and international organisations, think-tanks and the private sector also participated.

As part of the high-level, UNESCO organized a session specifically devoted to TVET on 25 June. TVET underpins much of lifelong learning systems and can support individuals, and societies at large, in coping with many of current and future issues. UNESCO has been supporting the efforts of Member States to enhance the relevance of their TVET systems through its Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) 2016-2021, structured around three pillars: fostering youth employment and entrepreneurship, promoting equity and gender equality, and facilitating the transition to green economies and sustainable societies.
Currently conducting the evaluation of the strategy for TVET, UNESCO seized the opportunity to present early findings thereof to the participants of the conference. The floor was then given to different TVET stakeholders, whose views on the changing global TVET agenda and UNESCO’s future areas of work in TVET could enrich the evaluation of the current strategy while informing the next one.

Ms. Anna Prokopenya, a WorldSkills Champion from Russia, is a young pastry chef and a food engineer. She highlighted how developing technical skills through TVET helped her turn into an accomplished young woman able to combine her creative skills with her scientific knowledge professionally. Willing to continue developing new skills throughout her life, Ms. Prokopenya called for TVET and education systems change. According to her, the past year demonstrated the urge for education to become more modular and inclusive.

As a Senior Programme Officer for the African Union, Ms. Unami Mpofu recalled the importance of TVET in the African context. As outlined in the Agenda 63, industrialization is at the centre of Africa’s economic and inclusive growth agenda. However, nearly 70% of the population is young and an important part will not be able to access higher education or quality jobs. Well-functioning TVET systems can offer youth quality education opportunities that leads to productive and decent jobs, in turn supporting Africa’s economic development.

From an employer perspective, Mr. Manish Sabharwal, who participated on behalf of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, set forth some of the current challenges preventing TVET systems from being “self-healing”. Employers must understand that TVET is not solely part of their corporate social responsibility. In fact, TVET boosts employees’ productivity and well-designed apprenticeship programmes yield important returns on investments for companies. Therefore, it is key to economically incentivize training and skills development at the system level.

Representing the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, Mr. Duong Xuan Hieu highlighted the important role TVET could play in tackling some of the most urgent issues the country is facing. Much of the Vietnamese workforce evolves in low-tech industries, where many jobs are at high risk of automation. TVET can help workers and companies adapt to the challenges of the future, and national policies must encourage them to engage in TVET, especially through apprenticeship schemes. By providing TVET and through social dialogue, trade unions can also play a key role here.

The panellists believed that UNESCO plays an important role in TVET at the global level. UNESCO’s convening power and its expertise in TVET, be it through policy reviews or capacity building of stakeholders, are important assets that can accelerate systems change and ensure that all stakeholders work collaboratively to address many of today’s and tomorrow’s global issues.

Later that day, Mr. Borhene Chakroun rounded the conference off by suggesting that the international community should come together and structure its collaboration around five dimensions, namely: the right to lifelong learning, capacity building to create enabling environments, knowledge-sharing and peer-learning, mobilizing domestic and global financial resources and the use of data.

The conference and the above-mentioned exchanges are initiating a wider consultation process for UNESCO. In order to properly reflect national and international priorities in the new strategy for TVET, UNESCO will be consulting member states and other stakeholders over the next few months. The new strategy should be adopted by the Executive Board in spring 2022.



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