Lifelong learning is a necessity in a rapid changing environment.
Lifelong learning is defined as the development of human potential through a continuous supportive process which stimulates and empowers individuals to acquire knowledge throughout their lifetime.

UPON her return from a sabbatical, the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine found her 26-year-old former assistant taking charge of the editorial floor. Armed with a business degree, naked ambition and an iPhone, the former assistant announces she has been brought in to turn the magazine into an app.

Feeling left out and lost among the 20-something online writers at their desks day and night, the editor-in-chief is not ready to give up her hard-earned career without a fight.

She started to pick up technology know-how, the lingo and even learnt how to create an app.

Though this is just a fictional character in Lucy Sykes’ and Jo Piazza’s latest novel, Techbitch, it reflects the real world where Generations Y and Z plus rapid changes in technology are taking over traditional ways of doing work.

It is this kind of scenario that probably prompted the Higher Education Ministry, in 2011, to publish its blueprint on the Enculturation of Lifelong Learning in Malaysia that outlines strategic initiatives to develop the lifelong learning industry for the 10-year period of 2011-2020.

In this blueprint, lifelong learning is defined as the development of human potential through a continuous supportive process which stimulates and empowers individuals to acquire all the knowledge, values, skills and understanding they will require throughout their lifetime and to apply them with confidence, creativity and enjoyment in all roles, circumstances and environment.


Mansor Md. Isa,

University of Malaya Centre for Continuing Education (UMCCed) director Professor Datuk Dr Mansor Md. Isa said lifelong learning should benefit participants in the form of increased competency in their work, upgrade skills, widen and update knowledge and improve social networking.

It also equips people with skills and knowledge that will advance their career.

A study conducted last year related to the achievement of UMCCed Executive Diploma graduates indicates that the programmes have been beneficial in terms of development of their careers including a better job offer, promotion and salary increase as well as an opportunity to further studies at a higher level.

“The target group is working adults and there are two types who participate in lifelong learning programmes. The first are those who did not have the chance to continue their education at the tertiary level upon finishing secondary school and who are now presented with a second chance,” said Mansor.

“The reasons could be due to poor academic performance, financial or social constraints. After joining the workforce, they find the opportunity to study. The second type of adult learners are those who want to study because they want to advance their career or acquire skills or knowledge.

“These are the core lifelong learning participants. They study because they want to improve themselves to become more competitive, increase productivity and improve their well-being.”

The age cohort of lifelong learners is generally between 15 and 64. Those above 64 but are still able to contribute by providing their services should be included as lifelong learner potentials.

From the age perspective, it is estimated that the number of potential lifelong participants in 2015 to be around 20 million, which is about 65 per cent of the total population of the country.

This number is expected to increase to almost 23 million by the year 2020.

Mansor said in this fast-changing environment, knowledge is the key asset that can expand the opportunity of individuals to grow and excel in their respective fields as well as enhance their ability to compete, especially in the evolving economic landscape.

A study by the American Society of Training and Documentation found that the rapid development of knowledge nowadays has made its lifespan shorter.

“Therefore, it is important for an individual to continuously improve his knowledge and skills to deal with changes either in terms of technology, skills, working methods, policies and procedures.Be ready to compete with other individuals who are always trying to improve their knowledge from time to time.

“This is to ensure that their knowledge and skills are always relevant to the needs and requirements of the current job market and to face competition, especially from the younger generation, many of whom have qualifications and skills that are more recent.

“Experience alone may no longer suffice to keep up with the younger generation,” he added.


Norhamidi Muhammad

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Centre for Educational Extension director Professor Dr Norhamidi Muhammad said the Higher Education Ministry intends to make lifelong learning among Malaysians a norm by 2025.

He said this is important in developing countries because it leads to efficiency, higher productivity and quality standard of life.

There must be a trained and skilled workforce to cope with advances in technology and the market.

“Lifelong learning is an ongoing and self-motivated process of an individual to pursue knowledge for either personal or professional reasons without any age limit. It is the third pillar in the National Human Capital Agenda,” said Norhamidi.

“Academic qualifications are important to improve the quality of human capital.

“However, individuals must also be equipped with other attributes such as good communication skills, leadership and management skills, ability to think critically and problem-solve in the age of globalisation.”

The Centre for Educational Extension was established in 1995 to manage UKM’s academic and special programmes for executives and those who cannot enrol in normal academic courses due to their commitments.

“The centre has collaborated with government agencies and the private sector with the aim of giving a second chance to those who are working to improve their skills, career opportunities and academic qualifications. It also offers a variety of quality programmes at competitive cost. It gives working individuals a chance to further their education without leaving their jobs.”

The centre requires a minimum of Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia qualification with at least five years of work experience for its undergraduate programmes while for the master’s programme, the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree with a good Cumulative Grade Point Average.

The most popular courses are Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Islamic Studies and Master of Education. The programmes are based on a full-time curriculum, operated in accordance with the needs of students who are working.

CONVERGING OF TECHNOLOGY

Monash University Malaysia’s School of Business (research) deputy head Professor Pervaiz Ahmed said as skillsets are evolving quickly and the environment is rapidly changing, anything that you learn becomes obsolete in three to four years.


Pervaiz Ahmed

“In the future, we have to rethink the educational format. The focus may be on-the-job learning or training, online and distance learning and internships. We can’t simply rely on the traditional format of education, which is fairly static. Lifelong learning is the way forward.

“The education system should be shifted from paper- to skilled-based qualification,” he said.


Mahendhiran

Monash University Malaysia vice-president (research and development) Professor Mahendhiran S. Nair said: “Universities should ensure that skillsets, graduate attributes, research and development activities and training programmes are aligned with the needs of the industry.

“A creative and highly motivated workforce is important to push the boundaries of knowledge and translate innovations into value propositions for the corporate sector,” said Mahendhiran, adding that the latter is critical to move industries up the global innovation value chain.

Due to the converging of technology, students and workers need multi skills; hence the need for continuous learning because the skillsets you require today may change in the future.

“The push by the government for industry 4.0 (where human operations are replaced by robotics) is critical because it is going to drive the change. We need to identify the priority industry by aligning training at all spectrums — even at secondary schools because students need a foundation of skills before entering into the workforce.”

Mahendhiran added that technology allows learning via a global environment through online courses from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University or from any part of the world.

“The global environment has now become the learning ecosystem. Students need multiple skillsets such as double majors or a few minors so that they can have wider perspective when entering the workforce.”

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