Another lifelong learning strategy document, at this early consultation phase, provides opportunities, for those who have education and broader social solidarity issues at heart, to dream. They imagine a world not simply as it is, though this would always be the starting point, but how it can evolve to be.
The challenges of an ever-evolving multi-ethnic or multicultural society, marked in the latter case by gender, class, age and racial/ethnic differences, are given short shrift in this LLL document. The great challenge for lifelong education at all levels, among children and adults, is to engage in and foster interpersonal and inter-group understanding among people who are different but not antagonistic.
What role does lifelong education play here? How can community centres, such as schools as lifelong learning community centres, or other community centres and ‘peoples museums’ (community museums), serve as hubs for intercultural dialogue, where people, who are socially different, teach and learn from each other?
The mark of a truly lifelong educational community or ‘educating community’ is an accessible, in Malta’s small state’s case, provision of an electronically connected multimedia library system, fostering community spaces. Each would be equipped with three or four computer terminals and reading material. They would be capable of accommodating locals at certain times, especially those who lack ‘connectivity’ at home.
Furthermore, the different multimedia resources available online can be accessed electronically by the majority, who are connected from home.
Our community libraries need to move from being simply appendages to the locality’s school to being community hubs, especially outside school hours. They would be equipped with all the modernising facilities for a truly welcoming place for community members of all ages. And by people of all ages, I would include older adults in our homes for the elderly.
Surely any strategy would target people of this age to foster among them an educational purpose in life, to make them look forward to getting out of bed next day to partake of educational experiences both as learners and teachers (imparting skills in danger of dying out).
The idea of an Open University in Malta should be revived
A strong programme nationwide should be developed targeting community hubs and homes for the elderly which would employ not only nurses and other medical staff but also animators and community educators who can help generate the much needed creative energy.
In an age when our planetary survival is threatened and our health is constantly jeopardised by fast and processed food, there is no indication, in the document, of any learning strategies, at the community or national levels, to counter this danger.
Healthy living and sustainable development are key targets of lifelong public education in this day and age in keeping with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Any discussion concerning LLL or education for ‘employability’, which does not necessarily mean actual employment, must be complemented by an education that engages with the economy. It would be LLL that poses questions about not only how we produce, i.e the power-social relations involved, but also what we produce.
Finally, the idea of an Open University in Malta, conceived of as a public facility and not as another source of positional, consumption, market good, should be revived.
I tentatively suggest that courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences would be offered at first, initially at diploma and research master’s degree level. They would be easier to handle. This should be either a new entity or, to save on overheads in a small state, where duplication of resources is costly, it can be a special entity at the University of Malta.
Ever since COVID-19, many academics have been engaging in teaching remotely and some even online in its broader sense. The university department, in which I serve, is spearheading an online MA in Adult Education under the auspices of the UNESCO chair in Global Adult Education, and another on Networked Higher Education.
These are not the only online programmes provided by the University of Malta.
They can serve as trial runs for further courses of this type in more areas. An international catchment (I deliberately avoid ‘market’), including Maltese expatriates or people of Maltese origin ensconced abroad, can prove attractive.
This can possibly also render the idea of an autonomous Open University in a small state, as in Cyprus, a viable proposition.
Being a public good, it would render any fees involved more affordable for foreign students, especially those from low-income sectors and regions worldwide. This alas is not the case right now.
Peter Mayo is professor and UNESCO chair at the University of Malta. He is co-author, with Leona English, of Lifelong Education, Global Social Justice and Sustainability (Palgrave-Macmillan).
The first part of the article was published yesterday.