Critically examine the social and political ideological contexts underpinning lifelong learning in the UK.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a topic such as lifelong learning, there are some distinct contexts that serve as ideological underpinnings.  One of the social contexts that operate as an ideological base for lifelong learning is that "it is never too late for learning." This social context frames the discourse around lifelong learning is that education is something that can appropriate by anyone at any particular stage in their lives.  Part of the motivation for this context is demographic:  

Europe is facing unprecedented demographic changes that will have a major impact on society and on the economy - and consequently on education and training provision and needs. The European population is ageing: over the next 30 years the number of younger Europeans (up to 24 years) will fall by 15%..These developments entail serious challenges for the European social model. The reduced flow of young entrants into the labour market and along with the fact that only one in every three persons aged 55–64 years is in paid employment, point to an obvious need to employ the full potential of adult learning with a view to increase the participation in the workforce of young people and extend that of older people. 

The changing face of Europe's demographics reflect England's changing population.  England is experiencing an aging population.  Being able to ensure that learning is lifelong ensures that this group of people will not fall victim to stagnation.  It is for this reason that lifelong learning in England is socially framed as an endeavor that seeks to "fostering creativity, innovative thinking and enterprise, and increasing and widening participation in learning including basic skills and raising standards in teaching and learning."  In order to construct the narrative that an older population is viable and able to engage in participatory decision making, the social context of lifelong learning applicable to all is embraced in the UK.  It is for this reason that public service announcements in England support the idea that getting older does not have to equate itself to a sedentary lifestyle bound by the construct of age.  Lifelong learning is shown as an antidote to this condition in how it enables individuals to "pull themselves out of a rut."  This need to emphasize activity and vitality through learning and self- definition becomes one of the social contexts underpinning lifelong learning contexts in the UK.

This social condition heavily influences the politically ideological contexts that underscore lifelong learning in the UK.  Lifelong learning is seen as a potential avenue worthy of pursuing in examining the construction of the modern European workforce.  As the "rise of the rest" becomes a dominant element in globalization, many Europeans have analyzed the condition of their workforce, seeing that lifelong learning can serve an important function in such a setting:

Europe’s key economic challenge, as set out in the Lisbon strategy, is to raise its growth and employment performance while preserving social cohesion. Rapid progress in other regions of the world shows the importance of innovative, advanced and quality education and training as a key factor of economic competitiveness. General levels of competence must increase, both to meet the needs of the labour market and to allow citizens to function well in today’s society... In addition, a significant share of the European population still lacks the ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities. Ensuring the acquisition of key competences by all citizens remains a challenge for all Member States. Research shows that an equitable distribution of skills across populations has a stronger impact on overall economic performance.

Lifelong learning in the UK features this political reality as a part of its underpinning.  Adult learning can enhance greater competitiveness both in Europe and within the globalized world. Nations like England believe that adult education can deliver "a world class lifelong learning workforce that enables a more prosperous economy and an inclusive society."  As global competition increases, the need to generate a more reflective and economically viable workforce is achievable through lifelong learning.  Political parties that can deliver on this promise and possibility stand to experience both short and long term benefits because of the potential to "promote social inclusion and to increase prosperity."

At the same time, the political dimension to adult learning is evident in the political reality of modern immigration:  "Adult learning can help ensure that immigration, which has the potential to be a partial counterbalance to an aging population and to meet skills and labour shortages in certain sectors, can take place in a way that is beneficial to both migrants and the host country." Lifelong learning is a means by which the challenges of immigration in the UK can be navigated.  This contains immediate political implications, and as leaders seek to better understand the often thorny issue of immigration, lifelong learning is posited as a potential avenue that can be pursued.  This reveals another aspect to the politically ideological underpinnings that guides the discourse  surrounding lifelong learning in the UK.

Social and political ideologies play an essential role in framing the debate on lifelong learning.  As information technology through online and correspondence courses become a greater reality, and as traditional notions of schooling are substituted for a more modern vision, the debate about lifelong learning continues.  It is one guided by specific social and political ideologies where considerable stakes are evident.  The notion of education as being part of one's life even after "formal education and training" are complete is a vital element of modern policy discourse in the UK.