Ian Bennett UK [IB], Monica Lee UK [ML], Jim McGoldrick UK [JM], Claire
Valentin UK [CV], Anders Vind DK [AV]
I'm thinking of the title of the conference, which is Lifelong Learning
and the Knowledge Based Society. I agree with earlier speakers that lifelong
learning is very much policy driven; but there are questions about it,
it tends to promote an individual deficit model of learning, that individuals
are unable to contribute to the knowledge-based society because of these
deficiences, which must be addressed by education or training. But
this ignores structural reasons affecting people's participation in the
labour market : discrimination, marginalisation, the impact on companies
of trends in the global economy. We need to strive to examine and
critique the underlying assumptions operating in HRD policy and practice.
We are trying to get individuals and organisations to contribute to the
knowledge based society, to make Europe more globally competitive, but
what are the assumptions operating here? Examining alternate conceptions
may help us to find new ways of viewing the complex problems that we face.
We need to consider what questions we should be asking, rather than
simply looking for answers.
Can I come in with a micro-level example of what I understand a knowledge
based society to be. I saw a study recently which was conducted by a firm
of consultants from San Francisco, an examination of the Baltimore economy.
The combination of the John Hopkins Institute and the John Hopkins university
was what drove the local economy, the regional economy. There was a significant
multiplied effect: when you look into the spending of pensions, not just
the salaries and obvious things, but the impact on the construction industry
and all of those. That's what I understand that knowledge becomes something
determined to economic activity and success.
I have a very strong personal interest in coming from a region in Scotland
which was formally manufacturing based. It has been in decline for a considerable
period of time and is loosing population. What would save that, I think,
would be very attractive high technology based jobs around biotechnology
and biomedical sciences linked into two or three local universities. Because
then you can pay premium salaries, you are boosting the property market
and all of those things.
What's coming to us in terms of questions is how do we understand this
knowledge economy, because if it's good about knowledge then it has to
be good about learning and the acquisition and transmission of that knowledge.
So we have more complex questions to formulate as opposed to looking for
We had an example in a session this morning where a global organisation
realised, at the end of the day, there was the knowledge within the organisation
and the application of it. They set up a technological race, a solution
for sharing that knowledge. You may debate on the definition whatever,
but certainly commercial organisations recognise that knowledge is the
There's a good example where I live: the main manufacturing firm is NCR;
ten years ago this was the centre for the manufacture of machines; they
are not interested in that any more; what they want is R&D facility
I understand this very differently; from those who equate lifelong learning
with improving performance. For me it seems that lifelong learning is about
developing the educated person in the classical sense – someone who is
interested in life and continues to explore the mental world until they
die. It goes beyond the world of work to those without permanent employment
and into retirement. It has its roots in the development of society, and
so it is a long-term enterprise.
We must remember that ultimately society seeks to improve the life of its
members. This includes the quality of mental life and culture as well as
fulfilling the basic survival security and comfort needs. At present we
use the rhetoric of competition to say this is the way to improve quality
of life, but it is only a means to an end. If we forget the societal drive
and focus on performance improvement, then the mechanism for that is competition
and short term gain. The mechanism for societal development, however, is
for individuals to continue to develop throughout their lives, and so continue
to contribute to an active and enquiring society whilst also improving
the mental aspects of quality of life... There is, of course, a lot of
sub-text in this – for example, it assumes that people want the opportunity
to continue learning throughout life. I suppose what I am saying is that
life-long learning is a political activity and makes some assumptions about
what society should be like ...
Just three small observations. First, this relates to the national competition
or regional competition. We have got statistics that more than 50 per cent,
this is the majority of the employees in the private sector in Denmark,
is employed by international corporations; these are linked to what's going
on at a global level; so that much for a national strategy or maybe a European
Second, about the contradictory concepts we are discussing. We have to
be very critical every time there is action based on a general reference
in accordance with the idea of lifelong learning, the knowledge based society
or whatever, because that's no argument on such a fuzzy concept; one has
to discuss any individual approach at action level.
Finally, this tension between the individual and social dimension of citizenship
and the organisational or employability side of lifelong learning. One
of the most dangerous conclusions in that paradox or ambivalence would
be to leave the learning for the organisation to the organisation as such;
it's very crucial for the individual or for social aspects that we are
very much engaged in training and development within the companies and
in an organisation; it's not a contradiction to individual development
to have to learn in the workplace or in relation to a job; it's very crucial
for individual fulfilment and individual development to participate in
a public activity and to contribute to the wealth of society.