Critical approaches to lifelong learning

Long Life Learning (LLL) sounds like a perfect world where people learn happily ever after. If you prepare yourself  for a career in LLL, you better read something about its dark side too, because there are a lot of pro and against argument. And there are 2 important articles that you can use as a starting point:

  • “In and against in lifelong learning: flexibility and corrosion of character” by Jim Crowther
  • “Critical approaches to lifelong education” by Rosemary Preston

“In and against in lifelong learning: flexibility and corrosion of character”

The article argues against the dominant discourse of lifelong learning and brings arguments that behind nice words and values, there is a hidden agenda. In author’s view, LLL is a political measure that tries to prepare the people for an insecure economical market because the State has no longer the power to do it for them. The main arguments I identify in this text are:

1. “Making flexible workers” or how to pass the responsibility to individual
“As Thompson points out, LLL represents a late capitalism solution to “invest in people” – in their human, cultural and societal capital – as the key to future employment, economic growth, mobility and cohesion. It is the universal toolkit adaptable to all circumstances and problems.” “Investing in people” is just a way of saying; this is way the quotation marks are there… In other words, because the State doesn’t have any solution to handle the present economical situation and the one to come, it passes the responsibility to individual under the disguising of “flexibility”. A flexible worker will pay for his/her learning without questioning, will offer genuine commitment to each job, no matter how short or how depressing its quality. So, instead of doing something to improve the context, to help the working market and the employees, the State pass the responsibility to the individual: the individual should adapt to the context and it’s his responsibility to became flexible.

2.    Through LLL policy, agora becomes a market place
Agora was the public sphere where people met to talk public problems, issues that concerned the community. This is the foundation for a democratic society. But, if the State passes the responsibility to individual, discussions and agora becomes pointless. Its place is taken by a free market where the State will not involve in a centralized manner. “This new formation involves a fundamental reconstitution of the legitimacy of the state because it can no longer guarantee the security of its citizens or the general good of the community. In order to regain its legitimacy, the new form of political administration has to shift people’s expectations of it. So, they pass the responsibility to individual to achieve for themselves the security through market transactions.” So, the State replaces the political actors in the public arena with consumer in the market place.

3.    LLL will increase the social inequity
The market is free, but do all the people have equal chances to succeed in a free market? “Market does not simply empower the learner as a “consumer”. The views assume markets are free, neutral and passive; the reality is they are structured by powerful interests, serve to reinforce them and are active in this process of construction.” So, people can choose for themselves, but do they all have the capacity to calculate their self interest? Do they all have the access to choose what suits them best on a free market?

“Critical approaches to lifelong education” adds more arguments against LLL policies. The author sees LLL as a mechanism of control mediated by the market and some of the arguments she brings are:
1.    LLL as a business
Buying courses, buying books and other materials for the courses, engage the professors and pay them for teaching you is an important part of the LLL process. Actually, it is such an important part that LLL could be seen as a business, just another product on a free market. “Buying courses from birth to grave is good for business. The more points at which business can intervene in planning, resourcing, delivery, assessment and accreditation rating around any packaged learning opportunities, the better for the business. For those on the business of providing LLL this offers rare opportunities for profit with a mass market guaranteed for the foreseeable future.”

2.   LLL and the social inequity
It is an argument that was mentioned in the Crowther’s text too. However, Preston has a different perspective on it. LLL is the start of the competition for education and certification: some people will have access to further learning, but some people won’t. “It means that high status roles are preferred to those of low status. “The ensuing competition for education and certification means that demands exceeds supply and the provision of lifelong is restricted to people who meet sundry qualifying criteria: membership of particular status groups; certification of expertise and experience; the ability to pay for the privilege. Within this regulatory mechanism, access to education is restricted…” So, LLL doesn’t take into account the education for social well-being, for meeting basic human needs or education as a human right. The author’s is against the neo-liberal policy sustaining that: in all states which have introduced neoliberal economic programmes, the effects of this are tangible in the increased wealth of decreasing minority, the declining conditions of employment for all but a minority of those in work, and a reduction of living standards from an increasingly large majority.”

3.    LLL is an ambiguous concept
“One of the strengths of LLL to date is its ambiguity, the way in which it does not lend itself easily to definition.” It’s ambiguity allows it to be applied in different contexts, considered an universal good think, without encourage people to ask who has access to LLL, in what form, under what conditions and who gains what from it.

And these are not all the arguments you can find in these two text, but only some of them. Can you contest them? What is the definitions of LLL that these authors started from? What is the alternative? And, most of all: what is the best solution – do go for a welfare state as R. Preston suggests it, or should we trust in M. Peters point of view, base on neoliberalism strength?

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