Lifelong learning and the Welfare social system.

While thinking about the differences between the way lifelong learning was perceived by the American students we collaborated with, inspired me to study the different Welfare systems that shaped our different points of view on the matter.

After the Skype meeting with the Suny Oswego students I was surprised by the different ways we approached the lifelong learning topic. One of my first posts on the topic spoke about the lifelong learning as a social control system based on the academic article by Franc Coffield, where various reasons for which lifelong learning can be criticized were listed.  According to Coffield the lifelong learning concept introduced by the EU can be considered a social control system because it is:

dangerous -because it reinforces the employers in the belief that the main obstacle to their success is the poor education of the workforce, which causes overconcentration on one factor-improving standards in education, which as a consequence distorts both industrial and educational policy in ways that are unlikely to improve competitiveness and delays the advent of more comprehensive strategies,

seriously incomplete– as he mentions Levin & Kelley who point out that, for education to be effective, it is crucially dependent on complementary inputs such as new investment, new methods of production and organizing work, new technologies, industrial relations based on trust, sufficient customers that are able to buy high quality goods and services, and new managerial approaches. At its most obvious, highly educated and trained personnel need jobs commensurate with their abilities if they are to boost productivity.

it ignores polarisation– Manuel Castells has produced extensive evidence that shows how new forms of capitalism are creating a ”sharp divide between valuable and non-valuable people and locales”

it has created a new moral economy – where some people are treated as more desirable than others, the Governments aim to rebuild the welfare state around work and paid employment is seen as the best means of averting poverty and social exclusion. But if people are to be treated first and foremost in relation to their potential contribution to the economy , then a market value is attached to each individual according to that contribution.

upskilling creates credential inflation –the value of educational credentials begins to fall as a higher percentage of each generation achieves graduate status, when there is no corresponding expansion of elite jobs. Not only this, but also new graduates expect the same benefits from their university qualifications as those qualifications brought to their predecessors from the much smaller elite system.

The American colleagues, however, were rather surprised that an empowering process such as education can be considered a system of control. To them is had a completely different connotation. Their idea of the American ”self-made man” overshadowed the possible complaints a EU citizen would make.

The differences between those two view points are based on the different Welfare systems we come from. A very interesting and meaningful background that influences the way we regard things and our expectations from the world we live in.

Here are the reactions of our American colleagues to the association of lifelong learning with a social control system made by F.Coffield:

”From my American perspective, and maybe my naive perspective as well, it is mind boggling to consider lifelong learning as a form of social or political control. When I think of lifelong education, I also think of continuing education, and in the US, these provoke positive feelings and even feelings of pride. As we discussed in our Skype meeting, there is clearly a gap between the US and Europe with regards to the concept of lifelong learning. However, it is interesting to dig deeper to understand the different definitions of lifelong learning and different motivations for continuing one’s education, throughout various phases of life. What factors in each of our respective cultures’ history have influenced the public perception of lifelong learning? There are certainly countless influences to consider, and ultimately, no matter how we attempt to define and structure lifelong learning, it really is its own entity. It exists whether we attempt to define it or not, because human evolution is its proof. Humankind’s existence has been driven by its inherent need to learn. Knowledge and understanding of the universe is as significant in the scope of our existence as food, water, and shelter. WE are the definition of lifelong learning.”

”I am curious about this article- ‘social control is the regulation of individual and group behavior in an attempt to gain conformity and compliance to the rules of a given society, state, or social group.’ Learning leads to growth, asking questions, identifying what is not working within systems and improving those areas. Lifelong learning inhibits social control- working against conformity and compliance in social control.”


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