Lifelong Learning and Vocational Education and Training for Teachers

Introduction

In the course of history, such concepts as lifelong learning (LLL) and continuous education have been thoroughly analyzed by many philosophers and scholars such as Plato or Rene Descartes. Yet, their importance has become even more crucial in contemporary society due to the ever-increasing globalization and the development of information technologies. This paper aims to define LLL and discuss views on this notion. Furthermore, it is necessary to show how new workplace standards can impact vocational education and training (VET). This paper focuses on VET provision for teachers, who bear responsibility for the education of the young generation. Many of them graduated from colleges and universities more than twenty years ago and since that time pedagogical science has made some progress. Therefore, it is vital that their knowledge is brought up to date on a regular basis. Undoubtedly, their experience is vast, but it is not sufficient especially if we take into account recent advances in psychology, behavioral studies, technology and so forth (Polk, 2006). Furthermore, it should be pointed out that some views on pedagogy, which were dominant in the seventies or eighties, are now considered obsolete. All this evidence indicates that LLL in the sphere of education is a necessity rather than a luxury. Overall, it is quite possible for us to argue that life learning can be interpreted as permanent pursuit of knowledge that is motivated by a desire for financial prosperity, professional growth, personal development and responsibility to the community. Finally, the government should make everything possible within its power to provide adequate VET services to aging educators.

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A critical account of conceptions about lifelong learning

At this point, it is critical for us to analyze current conceptions of LLL. Overall, one can say that there is no unanimity among modern scholars especially when they explain the motives for constant education and major goals of LLL. There are several popular sentiments, for example, 1) the desire to achieve individual progress, 2) commitment to social justice and equality, and 3) the necessity to adapt oneself to the new standards established by public and private organizations (Bagnall as cited in Billett, 2009 p 5).

According to individual progressive sentiment, people try to update or extend their knowledge mostly because their want to foster their personal growth, widen their horizons, or open new sides of their inner world. They attempt to enlighten themselves and the only way to do so is to fight against one’s ignorance, stereotypes and prejudices (Billett, 2009). This approach is quite understandable however it does not take into consideration external forces, like demographic changes, the sophistication of production processes, globalization, etc. Certainly, an individual may enter into a Master’s or Ph.D. program because he or she likes his own profession, but the overwhelming majority of the population normally does that in order to satisfy the demands of modern employees.

There is a different approach to this question; it is believed that the main task of LLL is to create a civil and tolerant society, in which every human being would behave with equal chances for personal, financial and social well-being (Billett, 2009). Undoubtedly, such a theory represents the ultimate objective of LLL, to create a harmonious community. However, at the present stage of social development, such an objective seems to be slightly unrealistic because almost every human is driven primarily by one’s own interests rather than the interests of other people (Singh, 1999). This is one of the reasons why this theory is frequently questioned or even criticized. Finally, we need to mention the most widely-held opinion on this issue. It states that that the key purpose of lifelong learning is to help a person adjust oneself to the ever-changing environment.

Judging from this discussion, we can presume that LLL can perform a great number of functions. It can serve the interest of the individual and community. Provided that we apply these conceptions to the educational area, we may argue that all of them are acceptable. A teacher can participate in vocational training for different reasons: first, he or she may need to elaborate one’s skills to be more effective in one’s position. Secondly, he or she may want to carve out a successful career. Secondly, we should not forget that teacher must also derive enjoyment from his work. LLL enables him or her to reach a higher level of satisfaction (Day, 1999).

Certainly, each of the abovementioned conceptions is valid, but in this case, we need to emphasize the importance of social responsibility. The teacher plays one of the most important roles in the formation of a childs identity and personality and it is essential that he or she is competent and knowledgeable. Hence, LLL must be regarded as a professional duty rather than personal desire or luxury.

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Changing work requirements and implications for vocational learning

As it has been noted before, globalization and automation have brought dramatic changes to work requirements. First, in contemporary society, a great number of skills have proved unnecessary, particularly, in manufacturing and some jobs have become virtually useless. This is why it is vital that adults have an opportunity to acquire new qualifications. Secondly, contemporary science makes new discoveries almost on a daily basis; these discoveries cast doubt on our previous knowledge. Education is not an exception to this rule. First, in recent decades new methods of teaching have emerged. In this regard, we need to speak about online courses and distance education (Aldridge & Christensen, 2008).

Thus, the present-day teachers must be able to operate in different environments (Polk, 2007, p 25). Secondly, many aging educators are more accustomed to the teacher-centered approach, which means that they are more used to guiding students throughout the lesson and be the key players in the classroom. Nonetheless, according to modern principles, a student must have a higher degree of autonomy. In fact, the problem of conservatism among educators was identified approximately twenty years ago but now it has become even more conspicuous (Ryan & Kokol, 1988: Dinham, 1995). It appears that this conservatism is due to the lack of support from the state, which needs to encourage and promote LLL among aging teachers. Yet, this is just a hypothesis that will be tested in the following section.

Additionally, retirements rates in Australia as well as in other countries have risen. Currently, we have to face the so-called generation gap, which means that the older generation leaves due to age or inability to accommodate new requirements, while the younger generation lacks experience. Lifelong learning is arguably the best way to bridge this gap. Certainly, high retirement rates may also be explained by low wages but this does not seem to be the case. Many school teachers have often complained of being underpaid but only very few of them are inclined to leave jobs in search of a more profitable occupation.

At the present moment, several educational institutions in Australia offer post-graduate courses to aging teachers so that they could redevelop their skills and acquire new ones. But such courses are not easily affordable to everyone. The thing is that VET provision in Australia has been largely commercialized. It is now driven mostly by market interests (Forward, 2004, unpaged). Apart from that, lifelong learning is now considered a personal pursuit. In other words, it is not compulsory. Probably, such an approach is acceptable in other areas, but it is entirely inapplicable in education.

Consequently, this discussion shows that LLL is an inseparable element of a teachers career because he or she is operating in a changing and competitive environment and most importantly, this person is directly responsible for the upbringing of children. The evolution of information technologies, psychology and pedagogy set entirely new standards for them. Inability to meet these demands results in dissatisfaction with one’s works and subsequent retirement. The most dangerous risk is that such dissatisfaction may produce very adverse effects on students. Finally, modern VET provision is now functioning according to marketing principles and this is not always permissible because such an approach excludes many aging teachers from participation in these programs.

Case Study: The importance of lifelong learning for aging teachers

This case is based on my personal experience and the findings of several scholars. First, I would like to say that current conceptions of LLL are not quite appropriate because they view vocational training and LLL mostly as a luxury. The teacher can take part in post-graduate educational programs only if he or she wants to do so. As a matter of fact, the government has left many professionals to their own devices. The aftermaths of such policy will manifest themselves only in the future and, it seems that this policy can considerably worsen the quality of public education in Australia. It seems that VET provision must be made more accessible to aging teachers because this may improve retention in Australian public schools, reduce the generation gap between young and old educators, and diminish retirement rates in educational institutions (Day, 1999).

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There are several examples that substantiate this argument. First, many studies report a higher degree of satisfaction among those teachers who have successfully undergone post-graduate training (Day, 1999, p 138). This is quite understandable because a person, who feels confident in one’s competence, is more likely to derive enjoyment from one’s work. Moreover, moreover, he or she normally does not want to leave one’s job. Secondly, several systemic reviews show that students display better academic performance if their school teachers are continuously refreshing their knowledge and skills (Polk, 2006, p 27). Certainly, these ideas may seem self-evident but contemporary society still tends to underestimate the importance of LLL.

Another example that definitely requires the attention of modern policy-makers is that the relations between young and aging students. Sometimes, they are unable to cooperate effectively, because they have been trained in different ways. This controversy immediately touches upon students who cannot adjust themselves to different requirements. The thing is that assessment criteria, established in the seventies or eighties are different from modern ones. The same goes for teaching and learning techniques. The discrepancy which exists between the generations cannot be fully resolved unless the vast experience of aging teachers is not combined with the new discoveries in pedagogical science, psychology and IT.

Again we have to emphasize the idea that the government is unwilling to assist educators. The stance, taken by the state, slightly reminds laisser-faire philosophy, as if education is none of their business. Many post-graduate training programs are insufficiently funded and this is the reason why teachers cannot improve their performance. In the previous section, we have mentioned the so-called conservatism among the aging population. Actually, many of them are not conservative, in the overwhelming majority of cases, educators readily accept new ideas if they are useful ones. This problem takes its origins in their inability to afford lifelong learning. In recent years, it has turned into quite an expensive treat. The overall recommendation is that the state, local government and educational organizations should allocate more costs to vocational training of teachers in order to enhance their effectiveness. It is rather difficult to measure return on investment (ROI) from this policy. It cannot be evaluated by any numerical method. The benefits of such investment can show only in the future.

Conclusion

In this paper, we have tried to overview modern conceptions about lifelong learning. It has been determined that this notion can be interpreted as permanent pursuit of knowledge that is motivated by a desire for financial prosperity, personal development, professional growth and responsibility to the community. This definition is based on the analysis of scholarly works. According to them, LLL can be viewed from various perspectives, namely, desire to achieve individual progress, devotion to social justice and equality, and the necessity to meet the new standard set by public and private organizations.

It has also been established that LLL is essential for the aging population among teachers mostly because contemporary requirements to educators are significantly different from the previous ones. In this essay, we have ascertained that modern society views LLL and vocational training as individual pursuits even despite the fact that educators must refresh their knowledge almost regularly. In turn, this gives rise to many issues such as lack of experienced workers, poor retention of the staff in high schools, and poor education. This eventually calls for new governmental policies.

VET must not be taken as a commodity but as a helpful tool that can alleviate many problems of the Australian community. At this point of our discussion, it is quite clear for us that the so-called conservatism of aging teachers is not connected with their unwillingness to accept new ideas. More likely, it is connected with the reluctance of the state to help them. The major suggestion is that the government should invest more heavily in this sphere. The teachers must be offered an opportunity to learn evidence-based practices and get used to new methods of teaching and learning. In addition, they must be able to establish networks so that they could share experiences with one another. Still, this goal can be achieved only if society overcomes deep-rooted stereotypes about vocational training and LLL. People need to understand that the efficient functioning of any school is utterly impossible if the educators have no opportunity for personal and professional growth.

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