Pandemic highlights need for greater investment in lifelong learning – OECD

Pandemic highlights need for greater investment in lifelong learning – OECD

Countries must step up their efforts to enable people to continue learning throughout their lives to navigate a rapidly changing world of work shaped by globalisation and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new OECD report.

The report, titled: ‘OECD Skills Outlook 2021: Learning for Life’ says public policies should play a key role in facilitating effective and inclusive lifelong learning, but much remains to be done.

According to the study’s authors, it will be crucial to invest part of the resources devoted to the recovery to lifelong learning programs, involving all key stakeholders and with a focus on vulnerable groups, particularly young people, the NEET (neither in employment, education or training) and those whose jobs are most at risk of transformation, says the report.

OECD Head of Skills Analysis, Fancesca Borgonovi, said there are several findings from the report that can be encouraging for Australia.

“Australian students have high levels of achievement in reading, although data from PISA indicate declining performance over the past decades,” Borgonovi told The Educator.

“Australia also has one of the highest internship rates of 15 year-olds at 49% of the general population [while the OECD average remains at 34%], allowing students to explore various career paths before the transition from compulsory schooling to the workforce”.

Borgonovi said OECD data shows that Australia has been successful in enacting innovative adult learning systems and assisting older job seekers in finding employment and learning opportunities, and has various initiatives that work on increasing innovation and productivity in the workplace.

“For example, Australia’s Career Transition Assistance programme initiated in mid-2018 has been vital for older job seekers in gaining basic digital skills that can help them feel more engaged and become more resilient workers during periods of crises,” she said.

“This has contributed to adult disengagement rates which are below the OECD average”.

Programs that encourage high-performance work practices are also widespread in Australia, Borgonovi pointed out. 

“One example is the Partners at Work Grants Programme, which provides competitive grants to support workplace changes that benefit all stakeholders,” she said.

“The flexibility and autonomy of high-performance work practices brings more opportunities for informal and formal learning and allow workers to use their skills more effectively, thus providing higher wage returns in the labor market”.

However, Borgonovi said there is always more that can be done to reduce inequalities and ensuring that disadvantaged youth and adults are targeted in ways that recognise unique barriers to opportunities and make learning accessible and affordable for all.

“What this report makes clear is that depending on the metric different countries do better or worse but also that through policy dialogue and the exchange of good practices policy making can become more effective,” she said.

“The pandemic has shown the clear value of public policies in promoting people’s wellbeing”.