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Rethinking Learning for the Future in the Asia-Pacific

In light of emerging societal and economic changes in the Asia-Pacific region, it is critical that learning be central to education of the future. Indeed, learning across the lifespan and in different contexts is necessary to respond to these changes, as concluded at a recent regional high-level expert meeting “Beyond 2015 – Rethinking Learning in a Changing World,” held in Bangkok. The three-day meeting from 26 to 28 November 2012 was hosted by UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok, with support from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology through the Japan Funds-in-Trust.

Over 70 high-level experts, researchers and practitioners representing education think tanks, universities, governments, UN agencies, international and regional institutions and UNESCO National Commissions from more than 20 countries in and outside the Asia-Pacific region discussed what future learning should be like in fast-paced and ever-changing world, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Beyond 2015 – Rethinking Learning in a Changing World” follows UNESCO’s work around the future of education including a regional high-level expert meeting held in May 2012 which identified learning as a core focus in shaping future education goals and strategies.

“This is a most important and most timely discussion about shaping the future of education and learning in the Asia-Pacific region. Our reflections are also part of a much broader international debate on the global development agenda post 2015, a debate that will ultimately shape the lives of so many, for so many years to come,” said Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education.

“Whether we are talking about early childhood care, about primary or secondary schooling, about literacy, technical and vocational training or higher education; and whether our geographical focus is on poor, low income or wealthy countries, one challenge remains central: the quality and relevance of education,” said Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO.

In addition to this challenge, young people in the region have to face global and local constraints, ranging from climate changes, natural disasters, demographic changes, globalization, to the ubiquitous spread of information communication technology (ICT). These “grand challenges”, termed by Masuo Aizawa of the Cabinet Office of the Japanese Government, have become threats to sustainable growth. “Thus, children cannot be passive in learning, but instead have to nurture the minds to bring about innovation to society. Innovation has become a key to live and survive emerging issues in the 21st Century,” said Mr. Aizawa.

The meeting identified main messages for learning for the future, which include:




1) There is a need to move from the centrality of schooling to a centrality of learning including learning processes and learning outcomes in shaping education for the future and the development of the post 2015 education agenda. Learning is no longer confined to educational institutions as ‘transmitters’ of knowledge but is increasingly acknowledged to happen beyond the schools.



2) Early learning is crucial as it has a significant impact on long-term life outcomes. While recognizing the importance of early childhood care and education as yielding the greatest rates of return, there should be no tradeoffs as regards investing in all levels of education, including higher education.



3) New insights from neuroscience may help to inform pedagogy and education policy and practices. However, findings should be applied cautiously, avoiding ‘neuromyths’. Findings from neuroscience show the brain’s capacity to change in response to environmental demands over the lifespan, a process called ‘neuroplasticity’, in other words, its potential for lifelong learning.



4) Life-long learning is a key principle for education for the future. The foundations for life-long learning are developed in early years through developing the confidence and curiosity to explore and master entirely new skills. It requires solid foundation skills as basic building blocks for participation in life and further learning.

5) Education systems for the future must equip young people with the knowledge, skills and competencies required to function in rapidly changing societies and labour markets. Education for the future has to go beyond academic achievements and cognitive skills to include non-cognitive skills and competencies, as well as education for social cohesion, creativity, and social and emotional development.

6) Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) today provide new avenues for pedagogical approaches and learning. However, ICTs in a classroom should be used as enablers and need to be embedded in a quality teaching-learning process. There should thus be no stand-alone policy for ICTs, but rather integrated policies for education in which ICT is part.

7) Teachers of today are key for quality learning and have to evolve from ‘transmitters of knowledge’ to ‘enablers of learning’.

8) Learning is culturally situated and the way learning is taking place in a certain cultural context needs to be considered in education policy and practice.

9) In the new education agenda, learning should be given a prominent position and must be locally relevant, with due regard to the diverse cultural contexts that abound in the Asia-Pacific region.


10) UNESCO should function as a knowledge broker and clearing house, a ‘connoisseur’ of scientific research and facilitator of academic cooperation around the forging of a vision for education beyond 2015.

For Education Research and Foresight Team Leader, Margarete Sachs-Israel, “This meeting has provided an important platform to forge partnerships and networks with UNESCO around how we can all learn better and continue learning in a changing world.”

“It has facilitated sharing of ideas on learning based on cutting-edge findings across disciplines and it’s helped us to underscore the centrality of learning in discussions around the future of education. To cope with inevitable challenges that continue to arise, particularly here in the exceptionally complex and diverse Asia-Pacific, nothing could be more important than ensuring lifelong and life-wide learning for all is at the very heart of education,” she said.

For further information please contact Margarete Sachs-Israel [m.sachs-israel(at)], Team Leader, Education Research and Foresight Programme, Education Policy and Reform Unit

Written by Margarete Sachs-Israel [m.sachs-israel(at)] and Kar Hung Antony Tam [kh.tam(at)]

Related Link:

Education Beyond 2015
Beyond 2015 - Rethinking Learning in a Changing World
Towards EFA 2015 and Beyond – Shaping a New Vision for Education