19 September, 2010

Learning makes you happy, says study

Learning makes you healthy, satisfied and happy and improves social solidarity, according to the first results of the European Lifelong Learning Indicators (ELLI) study.
ELLI is the first European comparative lifelong learning index and as such provides a useful tool for gaining an overview of the situation of lifelong learning across the EU.
The ELLI project was launched by Bertelsmann Stiftung in January 2008 in an effort to make the concept of lifelong learning more understandable and transparent. It is meant as a resource for political decision makers and educational institutions, private industry, academics and journalists, as well as all of Europe’s citizens who want to know more about learning in their own country and the rest of Europe – what it entails, and the impact it has.
ELLI measures learning throughout the different stages of life from ‘cradle to grave’ and across the different learning environments of school, community, work and home life, so even taking into account relevant activities, such as sport, culture, voluntary involvement as well as participation in courses within adult education centres.
The overall results show that the Nordic countries Denmark, Sweden and Finland and, in addition, the Netherlands rank highest. Particularly Denmark and Sweden have been the most successful countries in Europe at implementing the idea of lifelong learning. The top performers are followed by a group of countries that consist of mainly Central European and Anglo-Saxon countries. The next group of countries, which are below the EU average, are from Southern and Eastern Europe and range from the Czech Republic to Poland, with Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania at the bottom end of the table.
It was especially the preface to the publication that I found inspiring, under the heading: "Learning, lifting the treasure within". Here's a relevant paragraph I'd like to quote: "Lifelong and life-wide learning is about the whole person. It is about allowing every individual to participate in society and making our society more cohesive. Learning enables people to develop to their full potential and to play an active role in their environments. It allows them to try new things and to harness untapped talents. Along with enhancing employment opportunities and professional standing, learning lays the groundwork for fulfillment in life.
Moreover, learning cannot and should not start or end in the classroom or in other educational institutions. We learn on the job, as members of associations or political organizations, in our families, during our leisure time and in our communities as well. In order to make lifelong learning a reality, it is important to embrace and connect all learning stages, types and places and to link this process with the wider spectrum of benefits that flow from it."
In my view, far too often and too long learning has only been associated with teaching and instruction within schools or prescribed learning frameworks. Fortunately, we now see increasing recognition of learning achieved outside the formal curriculum, e.g. also via so-called Recognition of Acquired Competencies procedures. A most welcome development in the right direction, providing easier access to other learning tracks! However, generally speaking there is still insufficient appreciation for informal, experiential or non formal learning overall. Let's hope the ELLI study and its preface will be read widely across Europe.

07 September, 2010

OECD report 2010, education at a glance

Today the annual OECD report appeared, providing us with the current state of affairs in education in all the OECD countries. Pages and pages of numbers and statistics to study and analyse who participates in education, what is spent on it, how education systems operate and what results are achieved. Interesting, but time consuming, so I just had a look at some of the summaries available and picked a selection of conclusions from the report.
For starters, the article on the OECD site attracts anyone's attention with the heading: "Governments should expand tertiary studies to boost jobs and tax revenues" Sounds to me as a most welcome piece of advice. With demand for tertiary courses rising, public resources invested in university education also pay off handsomely by bringing in additional tax revenues. It goes on to say that besides higher tax revenues, social contributions from people with university degrees also make tertiary education a good long-term investment.
Also, adults with higher educational attainment are more likely to participate in formal and/or non-formal education than adults with lower attainment. On average for the OECD, individuals with tertiary education have an advantage in the involvement in educational activities – they are almost three times more likely to be involved in educational activities than those with low levels of education.
Another interesting development is this: "As more and more people look beyond their home countries’ borders for university education, both academic and commercial benefits accrue from attracting foreign students. In 2008, the latest year for which complete figures are available, over 3.3 million tertiary students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship, a 10.7% increase on the previous year. So student mobility is still on the rise !

Sadly, the report also indicates that women in most countries and at most education levels still earn much less than men, potentially discouraging women from making full use of the skills they have learned and hampering economic growth. On average in OECD countries, a woman aged between 35 and 44 with upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education can expect to earn 76% of male earnings. This ratio falls to 74% for those who have not completed an upper secondary education and to 71% for those who have completed a tertiary education. Obviously, we still have a long way to go to achieving equity regarding salaries. I wonder to what extent education can contribute to solving that issue.