21C Challenges

A number of trends are moving the key debates in education and social policy making on from a narrow preoccupation with ICT’s, towards a broader set of issues around “societal learning” and “social innovation”.

  • The re-orientation and re-instatement of “Lifelong Learning”, from its 1960’s focus on transition pathways to a more holistic view of learning as part of social development – both of the society in general and of the individual as a “social actor”;
  • The corresponding shift in emphasis from learning as a process of “reproduction” to one of “transformative learning” – linked to a movement away from a highly individualistic Human Capital approach to one that recognises the importance of Social Capital;
  • The rise to prominence of “joined up government”, linking education with other key policy agendas and imperatives like regeneration, employment, health and environment; coupled with a similar degree of “e-linkage”, for example between e-learning, e-government and e-democracy;
  • The increasing policy inter-dependence between education and social inclusion; together with the increasing evidence that, despite significant investment in research, technology and development and in infrastructure projects, neither the markets of corresponding public/social goods nor the undertaking of large scale public programmes have delivered significant returns.

In the case for example of the developments with ICT-enhanced learning, these are still being deployed not to expand horizons of knowledge and creativity and to improve access for hard-to-reach groups, but to support the re-structuring of the “education enterprise” and improve its effectiveness (Brockbank and McGill, 1998; Barnett, 2000). This perspective sits uneasily against a range of powerful dynamics that are altering the shape of social relations in the wake of the increasing penetration of the Knowledge Society into social life in the 21st century. We are still experiencing the influence of the human capital model in shaping the learning agenda(s), limiting the potential impact still to a highly individuated vision of learning, focused firmly on employability and the “reproduction” rather than the “transformative learning“, while based on a singularly linear notion of learning, as seamless transition pathways from School to Higher Education, then to Work and Professional Development.

Yet, the Knowledge Society is re-shaping how individuals position themselves in terms of identity; how they respond to prescribed political roles and notions of “citizenship” and how they engage with the processes of knowledge creation. Evidently, traditional participation and “active citizenship”, as measured by voting turnout, has steadily declined across most European member states over the past three decades. This trend can be set against a corresponding expansion in the numbers of people, who are joining community-based organisations, grass-roots social movements and more amorphous political entities – like the anti-globalisation movement. In short, more people are beginning to lose faith in both their politicians and their experts.

Such developments reflect a bigger picture, related to the failure of investment in education and other social policies to make any real difference in terms of social exclusion. As the OECD PISA surveys demonstrate, there is no clear correlation per se between educational provision, wealth creation and social inclusion. But what the PISA surveys suggest is that learning outcomes are associated with variables like motivation, self-belief and learning strategies, and are therefore likely to be linked to factors like levels of social cohesion; the quality and relevance of the learning environment; the degree of integration between learning and the “life-world” and the relationship between learning and “life chances”. What seems to be not in doubt is that “bad education”, linked to other dynamics like low income, labour market exclusion, housing status, degree of social capital and neighborhood status, will contribute to the reinforcement of “cycles of deprivation”.

The dissonance between the conventional Human Capital paradigm and the emerging thinking about how Learning operates in “Post-modern” society is beginning to be reflected in calls for alternative “societal pedagogic” models that can accommodate the plasticity and reflexivity of the Knowledge Society. Lifelong Learning should be conceived of as an adaptive system rather than a “clockwork mechanism” (according to St. Marshall, 1999).

Therefore, a number of broad study and research themes and inter-linked evidence-based policy making areas are being endorsed in priority by our Company, Mind2Innovate, for sophistication and consolidation of action.

  • Research and innovation in the new (21C) Literaciesdigital literacy together with “life skills” and “key competences
  • Flexible competency-based skills classification systems, linked to learning supply and employment policies
  • “Inherited” exclusion: understanding the cognitive and discursive processes that lead to cycles of exclusion
  • First Chance” Schools and Higher Education: developing ways of making the School & HE system less reactive and more pro-active in providing “education for all“, according to their interests and knowledge/experience background
  • Knowledge Regions: focusing more on cross-sectoral and cross-community than “formal” (geographical) regions
  • Inter-generational learning, with marginal practices and “lifeswapping“: tapping the creativity and untapped potential of the “digitally de-motivated” and the extremely marginalised
  • New forms of knowledge building and sharing; together with learning patrimonies and their effects on the production of cultural and scientific knowledge.