Why Learning to Learn?
Underpinning the Learning to Learn project is a belief that the excluded of the 21st Century will be those who do not know how to learn. In the past it was considered perfectly normal to leave school at 16 and consider one's 'learning' to be over. The majority of men expected to go into blue-collar jobs that had changed little since their fathers' day, while the majority of women expected to stay at home and raise a family. Only two or three per cent of school leavers went to university.
Today, this picture seems a distant memory. In the workplace, 'jobs for life' have disappeared, women outnumber men and new technologies are transforming the way we work.
These changes are inextricably linked to wider changes in the global economy. Faced by increased competition from emerging economies where labour is cheap, the UK's economy has shifted from large scale manufacturing to high tech industries, such as aerospace and pharmaceuticals, and value added services. Meanwhile, technological advances in computers and the Internet have impacted hugely on traditional ways of working. Whereas in the past huge numbers of jobs did not require even basic literacy skills, today the vast majority involve intermediate or advanced skills.
Equally, the way we work has changed. Flexible working, home-working, part-timers, job-shares, independent contractors: the options for employment have never been more varied, with the attendant danger that those without skills will fall through the cracks, lacking employee rights or opportunities for training and development.
The flip-side of flexible working is networked workplaces, where technology allows for communication with people all over the world as easily as with our neighbour, putting a premium on communication skills. Relationships are the new bottom line.
The evidence is clear: people with few skills are at ever greater risk of social and economic exclusion. We must learn not just to keep up, but to stay on top of life in the 21st Century. But this is about far more than just individual success: the relentless individualism and consumerism of our media age requires thoughtful learning for both personal fulfilment and collective citizenship.
The ultimate and most fundamental question remains. Will our education system actually motivate and equip young people for life in the 21st Century?
It is remarkable how little this question is asked of the activity in today's schools. While debates occasionally rage about the precise content of the National Curriculum and some parents question the stress being put on children by the most heavily tested education system in the world, serious analysis of the dispositions and skills possessed by successful lifelong learners and the ways in which these might best be developed by schools has only just begun to reach the agenda.