skills for all

A glance ahead at conference session 5: Skills for all

To some, lifelong learning is second nature. To others, it is completely out of reach. It can be hard to bring people back into learning environments once they have left them, either as school drop-outs or because they have worked in a profession where their skills were not upgraded or updated regularly, but it can be done if the learning environment is designed in a way that accommodates their needs.

Developing learning systems that are inclusive by design will be the topic of discussion in the thematic session ‘Skills for all’ of the ETF 2021 international conference ‘Building lifelong learning systems: skills for green and inclusive societies in the digital era online’.

“In the past decades, many approaches have been tried, some with more success than others,” says Cristina Mereuta, who is an ETF senior human capital development expert specialised in labour market policies, skills development and active social inclusion. She will lead the session.

“There are still fractures among our societies. Education can offer a crucial answer to these, but we are not quite there yet. Very few people worldwide participate in lifelong learning opportunities. Under the pandemic, millions of students have no proper access to education because the digital divide is still enormous.”

One of the problems appears to be that words are far from always turned into action. Policy advice is good, but it must also be turned into actual policy. And policy in turn must lead to action. For that to happen, it must be attainable.

Several problems have not yet been completely solved in the ETF partner countries. If we want to reach all potential learners, we must still involve more stakeholders in policy design and delivery and we must find better ways of motivating and guiding them. Learning pathways can still be made far more flexible. Many countries, for example, still lack skills certification procedures that recognise learning outside traditional learning environments.

“Above all, we need to move away from slogans and towards solutions that are realistic and affordable,” says Cristina Mereuta passionately.

“During the session, we want to show how inclusive education and lifetime learning opportunities can be developed in real-world scenarios.”

Those real-world scenarios include a success story from Montenegro, which excels in keeping down the risks of early school leaving. The country consolidated its monitoring procedures to prevent dropping out.  The system was their answer to the realisation that we must move away from remedial action and towards pro-active initiatives.

Another example will come from North Macedonia, which has started reforms looking beyond numbers and towards excellence.

One of the focal points in North Macedonia is regional excellence in VET which increases the attractiveness and inclusiveness of professional education. Regional and even local initiatives must reach out to learners, in particular from vulnerable groups and provide good quality learning opportunities. Schools need to be integrated into such regional and local partnerships.

The third case will be Portugal, which in the last two decades has made enormous strides with an efficient combination of state own resources and a very effective use of EU structural funds, such as ESF. The session will illustrate two of their strengths and shade light to their innovative solutions.

The first is time: the Portuguese were patient, though facing some discontinuity in public policies, and worked on this unabatedly for more than 20 years.  The second is what we call the integration and comprehensiveness of policy measures, where everything undertaken is rooted in the same philosophy, anchored in a national system of qualifications, and supports other initiatives, all the way from the development of national frameworks to their huge drive to recognise prior learning, both academic and vocational.

Finally, experience from Turkey will complement the Portuguese case, showcasing access to permeable, flexible and relevant qualifications and the role in this of a national qualifications framework, standardised procedures for qualifications development and recognition of skills regardless of the context of learning.

“I want to bring hope to people through knowledge, by offering concrete and practical examples. Hope is important. It empowers people,” says Cristina Mereuta.

This is an online event, so there is potential to reach a much broader audience than was the case at past conferences.

“Thanks to the cooperation with Unicef we can reach out to young people and hear what they expect from education and training. And what they expect from us: teachers, experts, researchers and policy makers,” Cristina says.

“We know we will host representatives of young people groups but we also hope to reach out to other countries than we have done traditionally, both within the EU and outside the EU. Skills for all is a universal topic and corona’s push towards online encounters has levelled the playing field a bit. We must capitalise on that.”

Join the session LIVE here: 


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