This opinion was requested by the Croatian Presidency, which has highlighted the need to strengthen lifelong learning in the current context of an increasingly dynamic labour market.
In its opinion, the Committee calls on the European Commission and the Member States to ensure quality and inclusive lifelong learning as a right for all citizens in Europe at workplaces and beyond and to support the implementation of these principles with sustainable public funding agreed with the social partners and civil society.
The EESC believes that there is a need for financing mechanisms which mobilise national resources and involve adequate sharing of costs between public authorities and private entities as well as, individuals and other relevant stakeholders (e.g. social partners, training providers, NGOs).
The EESC reiterates its call for a greater focus on social investment inter alia in education, training and lifelong learning. The EESC suggests discussing whether the "golden rule", i.e. on excluding future-oriented public investments from the calculation of net public deficits under the European Monetary Union’s fiscal rules, could also be applied to social investment supported by the EU Structural Funds.
The Committee believes that the democratic governance of lifelong learning policy development and implementation, including effective social dialogue and consultation with organised civil society, makes investment more effective in terms of achieving policy aims.
The EESC calls on the Member States to ensure effective support for the employed and unemployed people who face difficulties in accessing quality and inclusive adult education and training by ensuring targeted funding for those in need, such as the unemployed, the non-standard workers, the low-skilled, people with disabilities, older workers and people from socio-economically disadvantaged groups, while taking into account the gender dimension.
In addition, the EESC calls on the EU institutions to agree on a single inclusive Key Competences framework going beyond school education, thus addressing the need for adult learning and acquiring life skills, and emphasising in particular the skill of learning to learn and the skills for democratic citizenship that are essential to support adults in taking an active role in society. The EESC also calls for increased investment in non-formal and informal learning environments, which are particularly relevant in terms of acquiring these competences.
The EESC calls for a more nuanced understanding of learning environments' needs to be integrated into education, training and lifelong learning policies, guided by the overarching principle of supporting learners' individual and unique potential. This means recognising, including through sustained investment, the value of learning environments beyond formal education.
The Committee notes that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was seen that learning can adapt quickly to changes in circumstances. Learners develop a variety of new approaches, such as independent or project learning, become more curious and enhance their IT skills to engage in remote learning. A number of digital platforms are being used, provided free of charge. Essential transversal skills are helping both learners and teachers adapt to this change. When life returns to "normal", society should draw lessons from this experience and continue to develop these approaches and skills, investing in them sufficiently, in order to enable every learner, whatever their social situation, to get involved and benefit from them.
Finally, the Committee appeals to all EU and national decision-makers to address the current challenges for lifelong learning environments – that the opinion is detailing – and to financially support solutions for these issues.