About the Learning Through Life Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (IFLL)

This text was originally handed in as assignment 3 of course PDG083 V15 Contemporary Adult Education (Samtida vuxenutbildning) at Gothenburg University on March 1st 2015. 

In this assignment I am comparing two articles published in Volume 29 of the International Journal of Lifelong Learning in 2010: Learning through life: A response to a special issue written by Tom Schuller in Issue 6 and ‘The planet will not survive if it’s not a learning planet’: sustainable development within learning through life written by Shirley Walters in Issue 4. In my comparison I will focus on the problems discussed by the authors, how these are developed, what the conclusions are and which concepts are used. First of all, both articles refer to the Learning Through Life Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (IFLL); a report by the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE), which investigates lifelong learning in the UK and was published in 2009. Whereas Schuller is one of the authors and the director of the inquiry; Walters is professor and director of the Division for lifelong learning at the University of Western Cape, South Africa. Issue 4 of Volume 29 of the International Journal of Lifelong Learning is a special issue dedicated to commentaries on the IFLL report. In its introduction Jarvis closes by writing “[…] Schuller will write a response to the papers in this special issue” (p. 400). This emphasizes the intention to support the ‘style of interchange’ mentioned by Schuller, who calls for an active dialogue concerning the IFLL report (p. 757). Walters contributed her paper on the sustainable development theme to this special issue of the International Journal of Lifelong Learning and appeares as the third author in this volume.

Walters tackles the theme of sustainable development ‘from a ‘South’ perspective’ (p. 427) by criticizing the British lense as being rather a critique than a critical analysis, but finally commemorating her intention to constructively contributing to the discussion by looking for alternatives, “which can produce a more democratic, egalitarian learning planet, which can sustain life for centuries to come.”  Walters’ main critique regarding the sustainable development theme is that it firstly, reaches further than national borders and secondly, implies more than climate change. She points out a clear lack of defining the term sustainable development in the IFLL report. Furthermore, she argues that the report ignores the urgency of the “current global economic and environmental crises” (p. 430). Whereas she agrees on the four life stages developed by the report, she questions the transferability of demographics from countries of the North (e.g. the UK) to countries of the South. In addition, Walters points out the missing concept of ‘life deep learning’ (p. 432), within which learning embraces spiritual components as well. She additionally values the idea of the citizens’ curriculum, but identifies a need to elaborate it’s financial and applicable implications. Whereas she agrees with the importance of ‘joined-up cross-sectoral approaches’ (p. 434) being made by the report she identifies a need to discover the challenges of these approaches more thoroughly. All in all, she refers to Wallerstein in her final conclusion, where she evaluates the report (besides all its assets) as an interim-solution or intermediate result rather than pointing to a “‘[…] new successor system that we want’” (p. 435).

Analysing Schuller’s text, I will focus on these two text passages, which refer directly to Walters paper. However, for a general overview, in his paper he first makes some general comments on design and purpose of the IFLL and then focusses on some commentaries in the special issue, which he sees as most “fruitful” to enrich the dialogue on the report.

On page 760 Schuller acknowledges the underdevelopment of the theme sustainable development mentioned by Walters and the fact that this theme did not ‘get the weight, which it deserved’. In response to this critique, he points out three dimensions, which he sees as crucial for further investigations of the theme (and which the commission ‘would have liked to explore’ but was not in the position to). The first dimension is authority and how to select the powerful voices which influence policies. The second dimension is the connection between learning and action, in particular how awareness supports or depresses ‘people’s capacity for action’ (p. 760). As a third dimension, Schuller elaborates morality, asking “how do individuals and groups learn to grapple […], and to continue to live together even when there is no consensus?” (p. 760). All in all, Schuller stays close to the issues of climate change and global warming, contributing to Walters’ assumption that this is the perspective on sustainable development within the IFLL report.

Under the heading “A spiritual dimension” Schuller discusses commentaries from Walters, both referring to “the spiritual dimension of learning—‘life‐deep’ as Walters terms it” (p. 762). Schuller points out that by avoiding the term spirituality, the report aimed at avoiding a terminological debate. He accepts Walters’ challenging the transferability of the detected demographic trends from the UK to the South but reminds the reader that one “central thrusts of LTL is the need to take account of demographic trends in the UK” (p. 762). From Schuller’s point of view, demographic developments per se will shift the focus to a more central perspective on spirituality, where “intergenerational equity” comes into play (as opposed to individualization). More generally, it becomes important how older generations address spirituality and how they gain visibility is improving opportunities for other generations.

Hence, Schuller’s paper operates as a response to Walters’, focusing on two main commentaries (one of it being her main critique: the lack of defining the term sustainable development”). By doing so, Schuller himself fulfills his (and the IFLL report’s) claim for an ongoing constructive dialogue over the IFLL report. Both authors value each others work by evaluating as well as by giving recommendations for improvement. This is especially interesting when taking into account that the report has already been published when both papers are released. By saying so, Walters and Schuller contribute to an ongoing discussion on lifelong learning policies within the field of adult education independently of publication dates and deadlines. In addition, the authors abstain from criticising all possible aspects of the other’s work in detail but rather focus on specific themes that they find important and relevant. This offers the opportunity to evaluate the work through different lenses and thus allows an interpretation from different view angles.

 

References

Jarvis, P. (2010). Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning. International Journal of Lifelong learning, 29(4), 397-400.

Schuller, T. (2010). Learning through life: A response to a special issue. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 29(6), 757-766.

Walters, S. (2010). ’The planet will not survive if it’s not a learning planet’: sustainable development within learning through life. International Journal of Lifelong learning, 29(4), 427-436

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