On the way to knowledge-society

By Nick Pearce

There is nothing directly akin to the Finnish Parliament's Committee on the Future in the UK political system. Here it is think-tanks like the Institute for Public Policy Research which have occupied the role of policy foresight, generating ideas to feed into the political process. So it is refreshing to read a report put together by politicians which looks beyond the short and medium term.

Of equal note is the report's repeated insistence on the values which should structure economic and social existence: social inclusion, democracy, environmental sustainability, and so on. This vocabulary has not permeated official documents with anything like the same resonance in the UK for many years.

In the UK, the challenge for the development of a knowledge-society is two-fold: to ensure equal access to information and communication technologies and to widen and deepen access to learning throughout life. These objectives are clearly interlinked. In Finland, by contrast, communications infrastructures appear well advanced and data transmission costs are low, so that attention is now drawn to the content of knowledge and information as much as its distribution.

Throughout the EU, however, the same knowledge and skills demands are being made. Learning must be increasingly active rather than passive, recurrent not front-loaded, and flexible not provider-led. Public sector education institutions, within their own traditions and ethos, have to evolve and change as frequently as do private sector organisations. This is a prerequisite of lifelong learning for all.

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