CDTL    Publications     Mailing List     About Brief



Lifelong learning has become an imperative for people living in the 21st century. This CDTL Brief on Lifelong Learning discusses various issues on the subject and why it is a necessity for self-preservation and survival.

August 2005, Vol. 8, No. 5 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Lifelong Learning: The New Imperative for Living in the 21st Century
Mr Koh How Eng
Director, NUS Extension
Teo Siok Tuan
Publications Officer, CDTL

The 21st Century Population Trends

Like most North Americans, Japanese and North Europeans retirees, the post-war baby boomers in Singapore retiring from the workforce in 20-30 years are of relatively good health and mentally active. Though a greying population in a first-world economically advanced country is a boon in that financial resources are available for lifelong learning for intellectual, utilitarian or spiritual needs, it is a bane for those seeking new employment as most jobs have become knowledge and information intensive.

Why Lifelong Learning?

Characterised by rapid globalisation and the rise of the knowledge-intensive economy, the 21st century is an era where unprecedented changes in the political, social and economical arenas are happening at a breakneck speed. These, coupled with technological advancement in biotech and materials science, make the 21st century an extremely challenging time to live in.

Amidst the overwhelming concerns and issues, lifelong learning, though not a modern phenomenon, holds the key to survival in the 21st century. Generally, the economic rationale for lifelong learning comes from two principal sources. First, the rise of the knowledge-intensive economy means that the level of skills demanded by employers is constantly being raised. Thus, employees need to constantly acquire new skills and update their knowledge. Failure to do so could render one obsolete or 'handicapped' in the workforce.

Second, technological developments demand continuous renewal and updating of skills as job descriptions evolve and diversify rapidly under shifting market conditions. The 'iron rice bowl' of yore (i.e. a job for life) is gone for good. In today's corporate world, cost-cutting measures such as retrenchments are common even in industries once thought sheltered and stable. For some people, this may mean two to four career changes in their 40-50 years of working life. Thus, employees of the 21st century must be prepared to move from one employer to the next throughout their working lives/careers by keeping themselves abreast of the skills and requirements of their field or industry.

Education Beyond the University

Given all these characteristics of the 21st century landscape, education beyond the university and lifelong learning are essential to ensure individual success as well as the nation's future prosperity. In a knowledge-intensive economy, school is never out and one never stops learning. Without a lifetime of education, training and retraining, Singaporeans will not be able to understand our world in the 21st century, much less catch up with the demands of the new economy. Table 1 shows how the learning needs of an adult change as he/she goes through different stages of life.

Table 1. 21st century careers and roles in a lifetime

Learning Needs
(25 years)
Intellectual and utilitarian
objectives dominate
(15 years)
Utilitarian, recreational and spiritual needs dominate
(25 years)
The Third Age
Recreational and spiritual needs dominate

The NUS Extension has been playing a unique role in lifelong learning since its inception in 1966. Modeled after its counterparts in top US universities (e.g. Harvard Extension, UCLA Extension, MIT Professional Institute), NUS Extension provides a channel for continuous learning to help individuals succeed in the 21st century environment where lifelong learning is imperative.

NUS Extension provides a wide range of quality programmes and courses in science and technology, business management, language, culture and history. These are professional certificate and diploma programmes, short courses and online courses. In addition to teaching resources from the NUS community, the Extension sources for professional courses from its partner university extensions in the U.S. and renowned training institutions (e.g. American Management Association). NUS Extension also offers some of the best language and culture programmes in Mandarin, English and Bahasa Indonesia for executives entering the huge markets of China, India and Indonesia. Not only do course participants acquire professional knowledge and management expertise, they will also be equipped with the 'cultural DNA' to excel in these markets.

To help prepare and equip Singapore's work force, the Extension is currently focusing on professional education/management development courses for adults in stages 1 and 2 of their lives. In addition, the Extension offers high quality lifelong learning courses for mature adults across all three life stages. By year 2007/8, the Extension's projected annual enrolment of 10,000 for both categories of courses and programmes.

As a lifelong learning institution, the challenge for NUS Extension is to continue to structure our education and lifelong learning programmes to meet the needs of our economy, and also offer mature adults opportunities to learn and re-learn to live fulfilling and purposeful lives.

 First Look articles

Search in
Email the Editor
Inside this issue
Lifelong Learning and the Virtual University
Lifelong Learning: Continuous 'Nourishment' for the Mind
Lifelong Learning and the Study of Cell Biology
Lifelong Learning: The New Imperative for Living in the 21st Century