COVID-19 pandemic highlights urgent need to scale up investment in lifelong learning for all, says OECD


15/06/2021 - Countries must step up their efforts to enable people to continue learning throughout their lives to navigate a rapidly changing world of work shaped by globalisation and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new OECD report.

OECD Skills Outlook 2021: Learning for Life says that public policies should play a key role in facilitating effective and inclusive lifelong learning, but much remains to be done.

It will be crucial to invest part of the resources devoted to the recovery to lifelong learning programmes, involving all key stakeholders and with a focus on vulnerable groups, particularly young people, the NEET (neither in employment, education or training) and those whose jobs are most at risk of transformation, says the report.

“It’s essential that lifelong learning becomes a reality for everyone since the crisis has further accelerated the transformation in our economy and skills needs. Today, too many adults do not participate in workplace learning and the pandemic has further reduced their opportunities to do so,” said OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann, launching the report in Paris. “In the recovery efforts, skills will make the difference between staying ahead of the curve or falling behind in a world in constant flux. Countries need to invest part of the resources devoted to the recovery to lifelong learning programmes, involving all key stakeholders and with a specific focus on vulnerable groups – including young people, women and workers whose jobs are most at risk of transformation. ”

Even before the pandemic, only two out of ten low-educated adults took part in formal or on-the-job training, compared to six out of ten high-educated adults. Participation in adult learning also differs greatly across countries: fewer than 25% of adults in Greece, Italy, Mexico and Turkey report participating in adult learning, compared to over 55% in Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.

The pandemic may also affect the learning attitude of children and youth. The disruptions to regular schooling led many children to progress less than expected in skill development. In the short term, the pandemic could lead to increases in early school leavers. In the medium and long term, lower engagement could result in the current generation of students failing to develop positive learning attitudes, at a time of profound structural changes that will require individuals to upgrade their skills throughout their life, warns the report. Furthermore, the report identifies potential cause of gender inequality in training opportunities. Up to 28% of “inactive but motivated” women mention family obligations as a barrier to participating in training, compared to only 8% of men. The gender gap widens when children appear in the family.

To enable more people to continue learning and updating their skills, the report says countries should focus on three key issues:

  • Place learners at the centre of learning: diversified learning opportunities can enhance the quality of education and training. Policy design must be inclusive, affordable, accessible and adaptable.

  • Skills for a lifetime: lifelong learning rests on strong foundation skills, such as literacy and numeracy, the willingness to learn, and a habit of learning. Policies should harness the power of technology while also considering the effects technology can have on existing skills inequalities and the creation of new ones.

  • Strong co-ordination for high quality, inclusive learning: policies should build strong co-ordination, knowledge management and information sharing to bring lifelong learning to the required scale. Policies should aim at improving recognition, validation and accreditation procedures to enhance the visibility and transferability of the skills taught in these programmes.

The report is available at


For more information, journalists should contact Francesca Borgonovi of the OECD’s Centre for Skills or the OECD Media Office (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00).


Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to preserve individual liberty and improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world


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