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March 4, 2021

Life-long learning, a must

The ensemble of contemporary world is so complex and full of contradictions that individual success of any nature imperiously reclaims life-long learning. This is exactly the reason for which the current system of education everywhere pursues the main objective of transforming each and every young person into a protagonist of his/her own uninterrupted training, for the duration of their entire life. This, in itself, is the first condition for competence of all sorts and, at the end of the day, for individual freedom in a creative sense. Knowing that the utmost rationale for freedom is creation, the 21st century reclaimed, ever since its beginnings, the aim of an unprecedented development of intellectual activity, the first condition for creation of any kind. Specialists were anticipating, for example, that, by 2020, the mankind’s stock of knowledge will double in just 73 days, compared to the rate recorded at the end of the 20th century, which was five years. Another anticipation made was that, also by 2020, over 6 bn people will be using the Internet.

Under such conditions, the education and training process gains absolute priority in any modern society, being, by definition, the most profitable investment on a medium to long term. The source of profit of the social action therefore shifts from the acquisition of tangible assets to the production of knowledge (intellectual assets). It thus becomes clear that the development gaps among the various states in the world will either deepen or, on the contrary, will be possible to fill according to how much it is invested in education and training. The most optimistic of analysts appreciate that it is exactly on the basis of prioritizing investment in education that the stages of ‘underdevelopment’ will be possible to ‘frog-jump’. This is a unique time in history every nation can capitalize on first of all by how aware it is of it. Ever since the beginning of this century, the European Council issued a crucial document called Memorandum on Life-Long Learning. Since its appearance to this day, the document has been regarded as a historic turning point marking the fundamental difference between the 20th and the 21st centuries, therefore the shift from one century to the next. The ideas set forth in the named document have been implemented into a number of development projects, including the Employment Strategy.
The Memorandum ideas are as simple as they are innovative in their finality. They start from the observation that the world in general and Europe in particular have entered a new stage of development – knowledge-based economy and society. All the adjectives that had been used before for the characterization of our epoch – post-modern, information stage, with a competitive market economy and liberal democracy safeguarding fundamental human rights are now summarized as knowledge-based economy and society. This era of knowledge calls for the engagement of the individual in the process of permanent learning, of ‘developing life-long learning for all’. Life-long learning is no longer just one aspect of education, it must become a fundamental guiding principle in the existence of every nation. All the inhabitants of Europe, with no exception, must be given equal opportunities to adjust to the requirements of the social and economic changes and actively participate in shaping the future of Europe. Based on this principle, the Council of Europe included in the European Strategy for Employment the strategic objective of life-long learning for all. The arguments are very precise: Europe has moved in the direction of a knowledge-based economy and society. More than ever before, the access to latest information and knowledge, conjointly with the motivation and skills required for a smart use of such resources become key-factors in strengthening Europe’s competitiveness. I remember the extensive analysis conducted on this document produced by the Council of Europe 15 years ago at the Ministry of Education and Research, with the participation of a number of government and non-government stakeholders, including the mass-media. The analysis dwelled upon several economic and social scenarios, however with little relevance to general and detailed realities of Romanian education. A crucial idea was explained, that the principle of life0long learning is not some abstract project, but something that would take an applied analysis of the stages of individual education starting with the pre-school education and going as far as possible up the scale of post-degree education. As usually, the press also adopted a critically-interrogative attitude. The question ‘of the day’ was: with the access to nurseries and daycare reducing and school dropout and illiteracy growing every year, isn’t there a risk that this life-long learning may be voided of meaning and become an utopia in Romania?
The answers to such fundamental questions were never given. And that is not just because our political decision-makers are caught up in all sorts of actions without any connection with the life-long learning principle, But because, even when they are forced by the voters to admit to the critical state of current education, they simply have no access to a general salvaging solution. Their ‘projects’, in the best case scenario, refer to unilateral issues and they lose the general view. Possible solutions are almost never correlated and consistent. Romania therefore never benefited from a viable and consistently implemented national strategy designed to improve knowledge. Even some of the best intended actions that have been taken soon turned out to be inoperable, as they miss out on the whole picture of Romanian education. Just one recent example: school dropout – not standing at al alarming 20 percent – is to be deterred by a draft law introducing a fine of approximately RON 1,000 or community service enforceable against parents who do not send their children to school. This new law, however, fails to deal with the reasons of school dropout and illiteracy in Romania, which most often is the inevitable reflex of the dire poverty that affects most Romanian families. Even admitting that parents will do community service, can that really deal with school dropout as such? No, it can’t, because it is the consequence of the sheer poverty the population agonizes in. What would definitely be much more effective than penalties which are seldom enforced locally is an effort by the state to help children by giving them completely free manuals, study tools, by setting up school cafeterias providing free lunch to children who should be kept on in schools for a useful ‘after-school’ programme. This is what they do in other countries in the EU and this explains the superior results there. In Romania, on the other hand, children in the first two primary grades had to start school this year without textbooks because of some public tendering procedure where the legal course of appeal and review has not been completed. Why? Because of the numerous publishers fighting over the school books contracts. Why couldn’t we do what they recently decided to do in Poland, where all school books are published by a single state-owned publishing house specializing in cheap textbooks with a superior quality of the content.
In order to be successfully implemented ins school, the life-long learning principles need to be first appropriated and applied by the authorities.

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