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Introduction to the ASEM Lifelong Learning Initiative

Objectives of the Initiative


Almost all cultures espouse the notion of lifelong education. However, lifelong learning has not been formally established in educational systems throughout the world. This is because most countries have been focusing on the provision of universal primary education, the expansion of mass secondary education and the development of tertiary education to meet the human resource needs of the countries. With the exchanges of ideas on education and the agenda of educational development shared by international agencies like UNESCO, and the World Bank, national educational systems begin to take the idea of lifelong learning seriously. In the contemporary world, there is a wide-ranging consensus on the values and purposes of Lifelong Learning. Its contribution to citizenship, enhancement of potentialities, organizational and national competitiveness and cultural development is documented in numerous official, academic and popular publications.

Mega trend forces in the last twenty years have given greater impetus to the exploration of the idea of lifelong learning. International and regional organizations and national development agencies begin to see lifelong learning as central to the human resource development agenda and the agenda of development of the national social and intellectual capital. Lifelong learning is now an agenda in the policy debates on development in many of the ASEM countries. Lifelong Learning is acknowledged as a key enabling strategy in dealing with the content and direction of changes and challenges in the contemporary world. Two major dimensions are covered by the concept of lifelong education and training. First is that of the human and social aspect of the role of the individual in society. The idea of self-actualisation and meaning in life is that of the human dimension, while the social dimension encompasses ideas of democracy, and responsible citizenship. The second dimension deals with employability seen from employee perspective and productivity, seen from employer perspective. This dimension of lifelong learning demands the acquisition and updating of knowledge and skills, which is required in order to be employed or to be marketable in the employment market and in order for organizations to be productive.

The necessity for education, training and retraining of individuals across the life-span become more urgent because of the rapid pace and exponential rate of information creation in the knowledge era. The changing lifestyles being shaped by the influence of science and technology in everyday life creates the need for continuous mastery of new life skills, particularly, those related to scientific and technological literacies and the challenges of significant and emerging new phenomenon such as globalisation, digitalisation and unfettered capital markets.

The various ASEM nations are at various stages of national and educational development. Notwithstanding the different stages of development, most ASEM states have encouraged political, economic and educational discourses on lifelong learning. In several of the ASEM states, measures have been taken to bring about fundamental changes in societal attitudes towards lifelong learning. Programmes of awareness regarding the need and desirability of continuing to learn as well as the various alternative methods and delivery systems of lifelong education are being debated upon. Countries may be at a particular stage of focus on the following stages or they may be simultaneous actions on all these foci:

a) Ensuring basic qualification for all

b) Integrated approaches to lifelong learning and recognition of skills

c) Policies and incentives to promote access to lifelong learning.

To ensure the development of educational opportunities to all citizens at all stages of their lives, leaders in each country need to keep pace and cooperate with leaders throughout the world to develop and promote lifelong learning

The literature on the challenges to Lifelong learning tend to be aspirational and inspirational. Throughout the world, there is an overwhelming endorsement of the notion of Lifelong Learning, but to date, the best means and mechanisms for the promotion and implementation of lifelong education are not very clear. There is an urgent need, therefore, for international initiative and cooperation to map or chart out philosophies and formulate direct policies for operational impact.

The idea of an ASEM initiative on Lifelong Learning originates from the recommendations of the Conference on "States and Markets" which took place in Copenhagen on 8-9 March 1999. One of the main conclusions of the Conference was to give significance and priority to the improvement on all aspects of Lifelong Learning. The Lifelong Learning Initiatives is considered important in contributing towards mitigating the negative effects of globalization and also in ensuring the social inclusion of marginalized groups in development. The Conference agreed that ASEM countries should continue to identify and exchange experiences and ideas on how to promote Lifelong Learning. At the 3rd. ASEM Summit in Seoul, in October 2000, the Heads of States encouraged the further development of an ASEM Initiative on Lifelong Learning. A Proposal regarding the Lifelong Learning Initiative was formulated by Malaysia, Singapore, Ireland and Denmark. The Proposal was approved at the ASEM Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Beijing in May 2001. Further work on the Proposal was continued by the contributions of the Expert Group Meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark from 23-24 August 2001 and the Steering Committee Meeting on 28 November 2001 in Dublin, Ireland.



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Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur 50603, Malaysia

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Last updated: May 14, 2002