Lifelong learning and the post-MDGs agenda

Centre for the Advancement of Research & Development in Educational Technology (CARDET)
Sotiris Themistokleous (Assistant Director)
Chrysovalanti Charalambous
Charalambos Vrasidas

The main problem with the MDGs, globally, is that the overall approach towards development they represent is quite narrow, limiting countries’ incentives to institute structural changes that would foster development. This is particularly evident in the case of Goal 2: ‘Achieve Universal Primary Education,’ which excludes economically active people in developing countries who are in need of further education, re-skilling or vocational training. Using the case of Cyprus, we can examine how the Lifelong Learning strategy it adopted made the link between LLL and sustainable development, and ask whether the Cyprus model provides a potential model for developing countries in the post-MDG agenda.

It is evident by now that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched in 2000 are facing many challenges in terms of implementation, as well as limitations in mobilizing universal support. The eight goals that United Nations (UN) identified as the most critical objectives to be attained by 2015, range from the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger to provision of universal primary education.

The main problem with the MDGs, globally, is that the overall approach towards development they represent is quite narrow, limiting countries’ incentives to institute structural changes that would foster development. This is particularly evident in the case of Goal 2: ‘Achieve Universal Primary Education’. It can be argued that this specific goal is restrictive for large sections of the population, excluding people in developing countries who are of economically productive age and who are in need of further education, re-skilling or vocational training. These persons could be immensely benefited by an all-embracing approach towards education aiming at developing a Lifelong Learning (LLL) and knowledge-based society. Using the case of Cyprus, we can examine how the Lifelong Learning strategy it adopted was able to make the link between LLL and sustainable development, and ask whether the Cyprus model provides a potential model for developing countries in the post-MDG agenda.

Lifelong Learning and development

As a concept, LLL is relevant to all educational and skills levels as well as all phases of life. The concept, and the aspirations that derive from it, posits that citizens are endowed with tools that allow their personal development, as well as social integration and contribution to the knowledge economy. It is evident that knowledge constitutes an effective tool in the efforts to build a sustainable future, in social, economic and political terms. Especially for developing countries, investment in education constitutes one of the main tools in the fight against poverty. Therefore the notion of knowledge societies should not be restricted only to the developed North but should also be extended to the developing South. Despite the fact that for many developing countries basic education is a priority, adult education as well as LLL should also be prioritized since they both have been identified as very important conditions for development.

Lifelong Learning in Cyprus

In recent years the Republic of Cyprus has emphasized the value of LLL through the implementation of various initiatives designed to boost access to the programmes offered through LLL. The support for LLL in Cyprus can be seen by looking at the percentage of the people who participated in LLL education and training, which has increased by 1.6% in a period of six years, reaching 7.5% in 2011. This improvement can be attributed to the implementation of the Lifelong Learning Strategy for Cyprus, 2007-2013.

Broadly, the goal of the Lifelong Learning Strategy for Cyprus is to support formal, non-formal and informal education as well as training for all citizens, throughout their lifetimes, as an imperative contribution to their individual success and completion, and their ability to adjust to ongoing changes. Essentially, these changes derive from the rapid substitution of new knowledge and technology for existing forms, ongoing demographic transformations, as well as the need for the acquisition of new skills for new jobs. It is imperative to stress at this point, the value of LLL especially in the rapidly changing environment that we all live in today. LLL has become a vital determinant of people’s prospects to work, integrate, and flourish in society as well as an essential factor in the country’s potential for social as well as economic sustainability and development in a time of global financial and social crisis. The importance of LLL for Cyprus and its connection to sustainable development is also highlighted in the Revised National Strategy for Sustainable Development (2011-2015), where it is also stressed that LLL is a vital instrument to foster and sustain development.

LLL for Cyprus follows the European Union (EU) vision, based on which lifelong learning constitutes a process that includes every learning person’s activity during his/her lifetime, and which aims at strengthening their competence to face the challenges that can arise in the market and the society. Thus based on these premises, Cyprus aims to establish a system which guarantees that everyone will have the motivation, support, and the resources to participate in training activities throughout their lives, with the objective of creating a society in which every citizen will be socially and economically active and contribute to the overall development process of the country.

It is important at this point to specify, that Cyprus in its National Lifelong Learning Strategy 2007-2013 addresses the EU recommendations for specific key LLL competences. These recommendations constitute a reference instrument for Cyprus to guarantee their full integration into the strategies as well as the infrastructures of the country in regards to LLL. There are many opportunities for LLL in Cyprus that go hand in hand with the specific key competences specified by the EU and which can nurture development and sustainability within Cyprus and constitute a path to be followed by developing countries.

As an illustration, Cyprus in its LLL Strategy 2007-2013 as well as in its Digital Strategy 2012-2020, places considerable importance on issues such as digital competence which entails the acquisition of basic skills as far as Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are concerned. Furthermore, the integration and use of ICT in every critical sector of the country’s economy such as education, health, tourism, transport and more generally in the exercise of every business activity, is considered immensely important to the development of the country into a regional service centre, with the potential to attract foreign investment. The use of ICT constitutes a medium through which productivity and economic growth can be boosted. For instance, the digital strategy promotes themes such as digital entrepreneurship which essentially means the use of ICT by businesses for increasing their productivity and for boosting their competitiveness in relation to the domestic as well as the international market. In addition, the use of ICT has also a direct effect on the increase of GDP, the improvement of productivity, the enhancement of transparency and the endorsement of democracy. Moreover, through the use of ICT in the field of public administration, the government will become smart, sustainable, innovative, and more efficient. When public services are provided electronically, there will be a decrease in the bureaucracy, which will benefit citizens and businesses, and there will be a reduction in business’s cost as well. Through the use of ICT the realization of a smart, sustainable as well as inclusive economy and society can be facilitated not only for Cyprus but for every society that implements a similar agenda.

Among other issues, financial and environmental education as well as social and civic education, are highlighted through LLL. Social competence includes personal, interpersonal, as well as intercultural skills that provide individuals with the knowledge necessary to take part effectively and constructively in social and working life. Furthermore, through civic competence and the knowledge of social and political ideas and structures, such as democracy, equality and citizenship, individuals are provided with information that can potentially allow them to actively participate in democratic processes. Thus through the acquisition of civil and social competences, as well as of ICT skills, citizens will be able to have better access to information and actively participate in civil society.

Nevertheless it should be noted here that more things should be done, so as to promote the LLL Strategy 2007-2013, as well as the Digital Strategy for Cyprus 2012-2020. Even though there is a basic infrastructure for the promotion of the ideals presented in both strategies, there is a need to infuse a learning culture in the society which will promote access both to digital mediums and LLL opportunities.

LLL opportunities in Cyprus and the engagement of civil society

As stated, Cyprus’ vision for LLL aims at improving the competences of every learning person throughout their lifetimes. Therefore it should be noted at this point that there are several opportunities for people in Cyprus to take part in LLL activities, since there is a wide LLL system which covers individuals of different ages, and comprises formal, non-formal and informal learning. The Ministry of Education and Culture, the Human Resource Development Authority, the Cyprus Productivity Centre as well as other organizations, offer several opportunities for people that are interested in participating in LLL activities. Even though the results of the country’s performance are encouraging in terms of LLL participation, it should be noted that more stakeholders should be involved. It would be encouraging to see more partnerships at the level of public administration not only at national but also at regional or local level; partnerships among suppliers of educational services, as well as at the civil society level which means between social partners, businesses, local associations, and the local community.

Cyprus has extensive knowledge and experience in the provision of public as well as private education, which has been essential to its economic and social development in the past 20 years. This accrued experience as well as the technical capacity which has been enormously developed over the years should be disseminated. The introduction of local civil society in the National Development Policies could constitute an immense development for both the Republic of Cyprus and local CSOs, given that there is still mistrust by the public authorities towards the CSOs’ expertise and experiences in the area of development. Furthermore, it would be beneficial for the Republic of Cyprus to broaden the public dialogue and invite civil society to present its proposals and have a more active role in drafting and formulating policies for development. Civil society constitutes an important actor as far as development is concerned and a valuable medium for education and training services. International civil societies as well as CSOs also have the potential to become a medium for solidarity and social justice. It is important to note at this point that Cypriot CSOs have direct involvement and experiences in fields such as civic education, digital literacy and social justice, among others.

MDGs Critical Assessment and Post-MDGs Agenda

One of the problems with the MDGs is that they failed to account for disparities in initial conditions; another is that they represent an agenda rather than a strategy for development. For instance, the MDG agenda does not present an overview of the structural causes of issues such as poverty and social exclusion, nor with respect to the strategies as well as policy actions essential to tackle those issues. Thus, the emphasis placed on “outcomes”, rather than on the actual “processes” that lead to development is perceived by many people as the main weakness in relation to the effectiveness of this approach. Furthermore, in some cases, the overemphasis of MDG 2 on primary education has had a negative effect on secondary as well as post-secondary education, a fact that consequently has significant implications for economic growth and development. Such a limited target for MDG 2 essentially excludes a vast portion of the population which are in a work/labour productive age/condition and could potentially set the foundations for development in a more timely and effective manner.

It is therefore for all of these reasons that we propose that LLL should be one of the core pillars of international efforts for development in the Post-MDGs era. It is obvious that LLL is an element which is missing from the MDG agenda and it is something which could immensely contribute to growth and gradual development of developing countries. Through its own LLL strategy Cyprus can aid developing countries, especially through partnerships with civil society organizations that have extensive experience in social and service sectors, such as education, healthcare and tourism. Cyprus can export its own model of LLL, which encourages learning in every stage of the individual’s life, and through this approach, local communities in developing countries can acquire the necessary skills as well as the necessary motivation to engage in this learning process which ultimately will trigger the development cycle. Furthermore, the empowerment of local societies which is a prerequisite for development will be further aided through the export of LLL to these countries through the contribution of government departments as well as civil society organizations that can constitute a major player in the development process and in the effective allocation of aid and education related services.


United Nations, “We Can End Poverty 2015: A Gateway to the UN System’s Work on the MDGs,” New York. Available at: <> (accessed 29 November 2012).

Europa, “Lifelong learning.” Available at: <> (accessed 4 December 2012).

UNESCO, Towards Knowledge Societies,Paris, 2005. Available at: <> (accessed 4 December 2012).

Government of Cyprus, Ministry of Education and Culture, Interim Report on the Implementation of the Strategic framework for European cooperation in Education and Training (ET2020), Nicosia, 2011. Available at: <> (accessed 29 November 2012).

Eurostat, “Life-long learning Statistics”, 3 October, 2013. Available at: <>, (accessed 4 December 2012).

Ministry of Education and Culture, 2011.

Government of Cyprus, Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment, Revised National Strategy for Sustainable Development, Nicosia, 2010. Available at: <$file/NSDS_revised.pdf> (accessed 29 November 2012).

Planning Bureau Cyprus, National Lifelong Learning Strategy 2007-2013 in the Republic of Cyprus – Summary Text, Nicosia, 2008.

Ibid.; Government of Cyprus, Ministry of Communications and Works, Department of Electronic Communications, Digital Strategy for Cyprus, Nicosia, 2012. Available at: <$file/Digital%20Strategy%20for%20Cyprus-Executive%20summary.pdf?openelement> (accessed 4 December 2012).

Europa, “Key competences for lifelong learning.” Available at: <> (accessed 5 December 2012).

Planning Bureau Cyprus, 2008.

Europa, “European area of lifelong learning.” Available at: <>, (accessed 4 December 2012).

Reinhart Kössler and Henning Melber, “International civil society and the challenge for global solidarity,” Development Dialogue, 2007. Available at:<> (accessed 4 December 2012).

UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, Review of the Contributions of the MDG Agenda to foster development: Lessons for the post-2015 UN Development Agenda, New York, 2012. Available at: <> (accessed 4 December 2012).