Lifelong Learning

To function properly in our knowledge-based economy, individuals need to be well-educated, but they also need to continue to develop their knowledge and skills. The Education Council aims to encourage learning at all the stages of people’s lives.

The Education Council sees four basic functions of lifelong learning:

  • repair: those who missed out on education at a young age should be able to catch up at a later stage;
  • career changes: those who only discover later on that they would be happier doing something else or discover new talents should be able to follow a programme of study to make that change;
  • keeping skills up-to-date and getting ahead in society: adults should be able to keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date in order to maintain their position in the labour market and to improve their position;
  • socio-cultural and personal development: people learn not just to improve their working careers, but also to continue their personal development in a general sense (Secondary and Higher Education for Adults, 2009).

To ensure the achievement of these basic functions, the Education Council has formulated a number of recommendations.

  1. strengthen the education available;
  2. allow stakeholders to invest in post-initial education;
  3. make higher education appealing for people in work;
  4. capitalise on knowledge and skills acquired outside school; and
  5. formulate a vision on the outlook for adult education.

1. Strengthen the education available

Adult education in the Netherlands consists of a private component (non-funded institutions) and a public component (government-funded institutions). More interaction between both systems would be desirable. For the provision of adult education, it is important that the reference function of the public component of the education system is strengthened: it should be clear to everyone what knowledge and skills are required for which diploma. In other words: what is the value of a diploma? Because there is currently no independent reference guide and there is also no framework for the private sector, the supply is not particularly transparent. The Education Council believes that close links between private programmes and state examinations are required. Providers should also take into account the limited time and financial resources that adult learners have (Secondary and Higher Education for Adults, 2009; Een diploma van waarde (Diploma of value), 2010).

2. Allow stakeholders to invest in post-initial education

Citizens, businesses and the government could invest more in education for people in work and job seekers. The Education Council believes that schools and businesses should join forces to provide joint funding for programmes of study. The Education Council also asks why the number of partially publicly funded training places for those aged 30 and older in senior secondary vocational education are limited. This makes it more difficult for people without an adult education diploma to gain access to higher education later in life – an additional barrier to lifelong learning (Make lifelong learning work, 2003; About the quality of vocational education, 2011).

3. Strengthen accessibility and the value of diplomas

Examinations in secondary education and higher education could be better organised and made more widely accessible. Everyone who wants to should be given the chance to sit exams and obtain an award, regardless of whether they have followed the corresponding course of study. Opening up exams in secondary and higher professional education as well as in university education would result in a situation comparable to the state examinations in secondary education. Standardised examinations should be introduced for the relevant vocational components in higher education (such as in teacher training and healthcare practitioner training programmes) to ensure that the value of the diplomas is transparent and safeguarded (Examinering: draagvlak en toegankelijkheid (Assessment: acceptance and accessibility), 2006; Een diploma van waarde (‘Diploma of value’), 2010).

4. Capitalise on knowledge and skills acquired outside school

The Education Council believes that knowledge and skills acquired outside of formal education could be put to better use. As a volunteer, for instance, a person could learn skills that are relevant to a job. Credits for prior learning should be awarded, for example, where an assessment can show that a level of competence has been achieved comparable to that achieved through mainstream education. The Education Council also believes that credits for prior learning should be restricted to around 20% to 25% of the total credits available for a study programme (Make lifelong learning work, 2003; Een diploma van waarde (Diploma of value), 2010).

5. The outlook for adult education

Lifelong learning forms part of the Lisbon objectives (formulated in 2000) and in this sense represents a key target of education policy. The Dutch government, however, has not formulated any long-term vision on adult education. By way of illustration, the action plan entitled Focus op vakmanschap 2011-2015 (Focus on professionalism 2011-2015) only includes the intention to maintain the current earmarking of adult education funding during the current cabinet period. Because the financing of adult education in recent years has always been an uncertain factor for regional training centres (ROCs), the existing infrastructure in this area is threatened with collapse (About the quality of vocational education, 2011).