A firsthand look at becoming a lifelong learner

Diana Horvath from the OECD Centre for Skills tells us about the way young people see lifelong learning. Banner image: Shutterstock/GaudiLab

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future.

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Lifelong learning is important for everyone, at all ages and all stages of life. It helps us to gain new skills, adapt to new challenges, collaborate with others, explore the world around us and contribute to our societies.

A graduate student (me), a high school student (Lodovico) and a middle school student (Milo) know this firsthand! We all worked together in the OECD Centre for Skills last spring and this summer, thanks to initiatives like the OECD’s internship programme or the French education system’s stage d’observation, a work experience programme for 9th graders. We were all passionate about gaining experience and learning what working in an international organisation entails. We valued the opportunity to explore our ideas, talents and interests in a real-world environment. And we worked closely together to produce a short video about the importance of lifelong learning and the key messages of the recent OECD Skills Outlook: Learning for Life.

Our experience at the OECD has given us several key insights into lifelong learning today:

  • Learning doesn’t end when you leave school. Megatrends such as population ageing, digitalisation, automation or climate change are likely to cause significant, ongoing shifts in both the opportunities for certain occupations and their returns in the labour market. As skill demands evolve, it is important to consider how countries can support learners beyond traditional classroom settings and after leaving formal education—particularly those who lack strong foundation skills and those working in jobs likely to be affected by automation.
  • Internships have an important role to play in learning and job seeking. They help provide real-time experience of the working world, encourage the discovery of individual interests and motivations, and provide new avenues for the transmission of skills, such as on-the-job training and social interactions with colleagues. They may also improve students’ future job prospects. Unfortunately, where data are available only about one-third of students in OECD countries report having completed internships at age 15, and many report needing greater career guidance.
  • COVID-19 has had an impact on developing a learning mindset. For younger students, COVID-19 school closures meant that they lost the steady presence their teachers provided, and increasingly had to rely on their own self-efficacy and motivational skills, which was a challenge for many. For older students, the pandemic affected the individual—and often informal—learning that occurs in the transitions between schooling, university and job market, bringing heightened uncertainty about the ability to place into internships, graduate programmes or employment opportunities.

As young people, we realise that our future increasingly depends on our ability to become resilient, adaptable lifelong learners in the face of continuous societal disruptions, through learning that occurs both in the classroom and informally. But gaining a learning mindset and skills such as self-efficacy and motivation require the support of our teachers, parents, employers and educational systems at large.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that not all children and young people have the same chances in life or the same access to resources and support. Countries must offer equitable opportunities for students to learn and to explore their talents, in ways that not only encourage their unique interests but also provide a stable path towards further education or work.

As current learners—and future leaders of tomorrow— we ask that countries place our needs at the centre, as societies and education systems begin to recover from the pandemic. Involve all of us, regardless of age, gender, race or background, in strengthening access to learning for life!

Find more on Forum Network: Beyond the Pandemic: Social dialogue shaping the new labour market, by Veronica Nilsson, Head, Global Deal Support Unit, Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD

Find more information on lifelong learning in the OECD Skills Outlook 2021 Learning for Life

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Future of Work  Future of Education & Skills

Diana Horvath

Student, Sciences Po, Paris; Intern, Centre for Skills, OECD

Diana Horvath is an intern in the Skills Analysis team of the OECD Centre for Skills. Diana’s main research interests include educational, skill, gender and mental health inequalities. Previously, she has interned at Promundo-US, analysing men’s and women’s attitudes towards economic gender equality in various countries around the world. Diana holds a BS in International Relations and Economics from Boston University and is currently pursuing an MSc in International Development from Sciences Po Paris.