H G Wells was correct when he said that 'the whole of human history is a battle between education and catastrophe' (cited in Fischer, 2000, p. 265). Those of us immersed in a lifelong learning culture can all sense that the new millennium brings with it the opportunity for a new beginning. But we can all see, as well, the scale of the task ahead just to make it happen, perhaps starting in our own communities and branching out from there with new understandings, new persuasions, new insights, new wisdom. Thanks to inter-governmental organizations-UNESCO, OECD, APEC, the Council of Europe, The European Commission and others - and some of the more enlightened liberal democracies, the lifelong learning movement is now rampaging around the whole world, from Europe to South Africa and from North America to Japan, like a benign educational plague. It is the future-and it is not before time.
In Lifelong Learning, written 12 years ago, Longworth and Davies suggested eight reasons why lifelong learning is particularly appropriate for this age. But nine years is a long time in a lifelong learning world. While some are still as relevant as on the day they were written, it is time to update the rest to take into account the changes in the meanwhile:
Fundamental global demographics-in the rich developed world, ageing, more mobile, more multicultural and multi-ethnic societies which could release high inter-racial and inter-generational social tensions and a reduced investment in welfare programmes through a fall in working, and an increase in retired, populations. By contrast, in the poorer parts of the world a massive population growth exacerbating already chronic shortages of resource and education and condemning vast numbers of people to live at subsistence level and below...
The pervasive influence of television and the media on the development of peoples' thoughts, ideas and perceptions. Television has an enormously powerful effect on people. Where it is in the hands of those who would use it as an instrument of propaganda, whether raw or subtle, as happens in both poor and rich countries, it can be used to foster hatred and intolerance. Where it is used purely as an instrument of entertainment, it can, through trivialization and ignorance of real issues, have an equally insidious effect on the ability of people to make informed choices. As an occasional, independent, instrument of education it could be used to transform nations into dynamic, well-educated and flexible lifelong learning societies (Marsick, 1998, p. 119).
Environmental imperatives - the depletion of the world's resources and the need for renewable energy, the destruction of ecosystems and the demand for sustainable development. There is a crucial need to educate continually all the world's people in environmental matters as a basis for the survival of species on earth and to be inventive and innovative about how environmental information is kept constantly in the forefront of popular consciousness. In other words, the need for a lifelong learning approach to a lifelong survival issue (Swedburg & Ostiguy 1998, p. 27).
These are issues affecting every society and they propagate a view of lifelong learning as a global phenomenon, entirely consonant with the reality of governmental perceptions.