Empowering lifelong learning in education

By Andrew Smith | 18 Jun, 2021

Andrew Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Education Services Australia, unpacks the OECD Skills Outlook 2021 report and what the outcomes mean for ESA.
Teen Sits next to bookshelf, learning on a laptop.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently published their OECD Skills Outlook 2021 report, Learning for Life. I was interested in the OECD’s view on the role of technology in addressing issues arising from long-term and immediate threats to the education progress of individuals, and what this means for the way that we approach our work at ESA.

The report’s key finding is that lifelong learning is key if individuals are to succeed in labour markets and societies that are being shaped by megatrends such as increases in life expectancy, rapid technological change, globalisation, migration and environmental changes. A key feature in this year’s report was the impact of COVID-19 on students who experienced lengthy periods of remote learning. The report finds that the skills needed to keep learning during the COVID crisis are also key to the development of a lifelong learning mindset, and that teachers, schools and education systems have an important role to play in promoting lifelong learning attitudes.

An estimated 1.6 billion students globally were forced to make the transition from traditional learning environment to a more challenging alternative: remote schooling. While some students were able to keep up with the transition to remote learning, many others, particularly young and socio-economically disadvantaged learners, experienced large learning losses. It is commonly accepted that unless these learning losses are tackled, our economy will suffer in the long term due to lower productivity and growth. Factors that contributed to this learning loss include lack of digital infrastructure in disadvantaged homes, lack of previous experience with digital tools, differences in parental support, and teacher capability and confidence.

While teachers have always played a particularly important role in the educational development of students, the pandemic has highlighted the creativity and resourcefulness demanded of teachers in a digital society. The increased need for teachers to provide social‑emotional support to students and to collaborate with parents in supporting students’ learning goals during distance learning are trends that will likely continue into the near future.

Several teacher practices have been found to help students develop higher motivation and achievement goals, and strengthen a sense of belonging at school, such as:

  • Teacher enthusiasm, especially when it is clear that teachers are passionate about the learning material
  • Directed instruction, including organising learning material, setting clear goals and checking if students have remarks or questions
  • Teacher support to increase the value students attribute to school.

The report found that in the short term, the pandemic could lead to an increase in early school leavers. In the medium and long term, lower engagement could result in the current generation of students failing to develop positive learning attitudes, at a time of profound structural changes that will require individuals to upgrade their skills throughout their life.

To enable more people to continue learning and updating their skills, education systems are encouraged to focus on three key issues:

  • Place learners at the centre of learning: diversified learning opportunities can enhance the quality of education and training. Policy design must be inclusive, affordable, accessible and adaptable.
  • Skills for a lifetime: lifelong learning rests on strong foundation skills, such as literacy and numeracy, the willingness to learn, and a habit of learning. Policies should harness the power of technology while also considering the effects technology can have on existing skills inequalities and the creation of new ones.
  • Strong coordination for high-quality, inclusive learning: policies should build strong co-ordination, knowledge management and information sharing to bring lifelong learning to the required scale. Policies should aim to improve recognition, validation and accreditation procedures to enhance the visibility and transferability of the skills taught in these programs.

All three of these policy directions can be supported by the design and implementation of effective digital solutions and infrastructure, work that is at the heart of ESA’s purpose and actions.

Image: insta_photos/

About the author

ESA CEO Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Services Australia. With qualifications in education, science and business, Andrew has extensive experience and expertise in strategic leadership in the education, training and not-for-profit sectors.