Worlds of Education

Photo credits: Province of British Columbia / Flickr
Photo credits: Province of British Columbia / Flickr

Work with a human face, by David Edwards

published 22 January 2019 updated 7 February 2019
written by:

Life-long learning means different things to different people. However, some common principles for lifelong learning are essential for a global consensus on a human-centred agenda for the future of work.


After two years of intensive work, the independent Commission on the Future of Work established by the ILO issued its report on January 22, 2019. The report is short, but comprehensive. It outlines a strategy to use changes in the world of work as opportunities to advance a “human-centred agenda”. The Commission describes their work as the beginning of a journey with dangers along the way. It concludes with this paragraph:

“But we are certain of two things. First, that because it brings together the governments, employers and workers of the world and also because of its mandate, the ILO is well suited to act as a compass and guide on this journey. Second, that whatever the merits of our own report may be, the issues we have been asked to consider matter. They matter to people everywhere on our planet and they matter to the planet itself. Although they are difficult, we ignore them at our peril, and if we are able to come up with good answers, we will help to open up extraordinary new vistas for coming generations of work.”

The report of the Commission also marks the centennial of the ILO, the only surviving piece of the League of Nations in the UN and the only tripartite international organisation. After 100 years, the origins of tripartism, as related by the first Director of the ILO, Albert Thomas remind us as to why tripartism is important in comparison with failed earlier  efforts to set international labour standards:

“Its discussions took place in the pure, but thin, atmosphere of academic abstraction, far removed from the smoke and dust of practical politics, which may get things smudged, but gets them done. If industrial reforms are to be accomplished, there must be an organisation of all the forces interested – Governments, employers and employees. Failure to include any of these elements is sufficient to make any organisation ineffective.”

It is in the context of that smoke and dust and the vital need to flesh out and give life to the reforms proposed in the report that I offer some ideas for further discussion. We will be involved in all the issues covered by the report, but at the beginning of this journey, I would like to focus on one - lifelong learning.

Lifelong Learning – more than training

Practices on lifelong learning vary at national level, however, member organisations have some common concerns. They do not want training restricted to a narrow range of measurable skills, they seek wide access and good quality.

A well-rounded approach to education is required in order for skills training to be fully effective. Such a broad and deep approach means, for example, that, in addition to having a right, as proposed by the Commission, to life-long learning, people need to learn how to learn. Otherwise, they will have to go back to formal training with the slightest of job changes.

Value Experience

Several proposals are relevant to the possibility that changes in or of jobs may become more frequent. Part of the function of the package of measures proposed by the Commission is to reduce the fear and trauma that may inhibit positive changes. Measures include the lifelong learning guarantee, and continuing social protections that are not dependent on a particular job, but follow workers throughout their working lives. And removing blockages and limits in the rights to organise and bargain, which would mean that leaving a job does not mean losing representation. These suggestions all build security and confidence.

If one holds more than one job during a career, it is important that the experience of workers is valued and that they do not have to start all over again as if it is their first job. Even if experienced workers must learn new skills, their work experience often brings value and satisfaction to their endeavours, but also benefits younger, less-experienced workers. This can help to facilitate collaboration, inclusion, and social cohesion.

Lifelong learning that is of good quality, accessible, and free

Workers in education are among those who need lifelong learning. It should be an entitlement, free, and a right for all workers. Teachers, for example, reported in our 2018 survey on the status of teachers a significant reduction of the availability of such lifelong education opportunities in their profession and the charging of fees.

Making it happen – energising democracy

Even if an enabling environment is created that makes change easier, a significant obstacle to action is inertia.

The combination of a sense of and passion for justice with education that encourages active citizenship is needed if the balance of power in the global economy is to shift. Change can only take place if people are ready, willing and able to become actors in their own destinies.

That requires the ability to think critically and clearly, filter information, listen, and discuss. The report refers to “developing the capabilities needed to participate in democratic society” as part of the mission of lifelong learning. Only participation in democratic society will achieve the ambitions of the Commission. It is the difference between making history and being a footnote in it.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.