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42 European civil society organisations engaged in the LifeLong Learning Platform

In this interview, meet Erika Somlyay, Policy and Project Officer at the Lifelong Learning Platform 

The Lifelong Learning Platform is an umbrella that gathers 42 European civil society organisations active in the field of education, training and youth. Can you tell us more about your organisation and how do you deliver on your mission?

The Lifelong Learning Platform is a European civil society organisation currently representing more than 50 000 educational institutions and associations covering all sectors of formal, non-formal and informal learning. Our mission is to voice citizens’ concerns about lifelong learning and promote a holistic vision of lifelong learning, “from cradle to grave”. The idea is that no one should be left out and that bridges are built across sectors to increase access to quality education for all. Our vision is to ensure equity and social cohesion as well as active citizenship. We strongly believe that the objectives of education and training should not only be described in terms of employability or economic growth but also as a framework for personal development.

We deliver our mission by bringing together actors from all sectors of education and training, creating a space to exchange innovative practices, Europe-wide. By doing so, contributing to an increased flexibility between systems, and proposing concrete solutions to make lifelong learning a reality for all. Moreover, we  strive to set up a strengthened dialogue between civil society organisations and public authorities in order to modernise our educational systems as well as to support public sector innovation.

How do you advocate for Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Development and where do you operate?

The LLLPlatform is based in Brussels and our members are present in all EU countries and beyond. Our advocacy focuses on several cross-cutting topics such as investment in education and training, support for educators, digitalisation, validation of formal and informal learning and education for sustainability. Our main activity is to facilitate the dialogue between civil society from all sectors of education and training and EU institutions in order to reform our education systems.

The LLLPlatform also conducts policy monitoring, takes part in relevant EU funded projects, leads ad-hoc working groups and coalitions and conducts research in order to develop evidence-based position papers, statements and policy recommendations. In the last few years, these efforts have taken a stronger focus on education for sustainability and related initiatives such as education for sustainable development, climate change education and education for environmental sustainability. 

Why should education stay a public good?

The idea of education as a public good is in many respects an aspiration. It is a normative demand that sets out a framework of what education should be, and whose interests it should serve. Positioning education as a public good, first and foremost, is to reaffirm and safeguard the interest of the public – that is, of the learners –  and to ensure, as far as possible, that education is accessible to all based on need, preference and personal aspirations.

This responsibility for its delivery to all is one side of the public good concept, with the other reflecting the commonality, education’s belonging to all while all being responsible for it, and the role of education in delivering a shared vision of where societies should be headed.

In this sense, education as a public good is the way to reject education’s increased for-profit privatisation or commercialisation. Any such commercialisation would preclude learning from meeting the aforementioned function, failing to empower learners as members in their community, able to interact with it, to act upon their own rights and to preserve them, and to pursue the community’s development. This is in the interest of the individual but also of the community at large.

As with any public goods, their provision has to be financed by public institutions, out of general revenues – this is both a necessary and desirable function required to reaffirm and preserve education as a public good. We developed our position around this topic more in depth in our 2022 position paper Investment in education and training: a public good for all.

Is the youth involved in your initiatives and if so how are they involved? 

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A number of our member organisations come from the youth sector. Organisations such EEE-YFU, EFIL, Volonteurope, YEU and WOSM work tirelessly to ensure quality volunteering and learning mobility experiences for young people, developing relevant competences for their personal and professional paths.

On the same line, organisations such as OBESSU, AEGEE, ESU and ESN take a strong stance in protecting student rights, fostering active citizenship and exchanges across Europe. LLLP members make up our general assembly which guides the work of the Secretariat. Moverover, youth organisations take direct part in our advocacy work through consultations, events, projects and structured dialogue with decision makers at EU level. 

What are you planning during the LearningPlanet Festival?

We are planning on shedding light on the connection between and the importance of public investment in education and training systems and education for sustainability through a lifelong learning approach. By merging the work conducted as part of our annual theme 2020 on Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Societies and our latest paper on public investment in education, we want to spark the discussion and underlined the importance of ensuring education remains as a public good and allows individuals and communities live in harmony with each other and nature.

We will have in our panel one of our Vice-Presidents, Marta Concepcion Mederos, coming from the Scouts movement which is renowned for their work around participatory and outdoor learning, and the Director for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems in UNESCO, Dr Borhene Chakroun.

Do you have any announcements or news to share with us?

Throughout 2023, the work of the Lifelong Learning Platform will have a strong focus on the Year of Skills. The LLLPlatform aims to ensure all skills and competences are given proper attention throughout the year, going beyond skills for employability to sustainability competencies which allow learners to live in harmony with themselves, others and the planet. 

Some of our events which will be touching upon skills include cooperation with European agencies such as the European Training Foundation to highlight the role of civil society organisations in delivering skills and influencing policies.

Moreover, the Lifelong Learning Lab, an exercise focused on bringing together the EU with national and regional levels of policy making, will take place in Girona, Spain on June 26 and 27. To close the year, in close cooperation with the European Commission the LLLPlatform will organise the Lifelong Learning Stakeholders forum in late November which will feed into the EU’s Education Summit.

The Lifelong Learning Stakeholders forum will be part of the Lifelong Learning Week, a staple in the education and training calendar in Brussels. The LLLWeek is a long week of events organised by our members to showcase their work around our annual topics and engage in dialogue with policy makers and other key stakeholders. 

Biography

Erika Somlyay is Policy and Project Officer. She is responsible for monitoring EU education and training policies with a focus on sustainability, global citizenship and democracy. She is also responsible for the implementation of Erasmus+ projects and conducting research for LLLP’s publications such as position papers and policy recommendations.

Erika also supports the work of LLLP members and partners through internal Working Groups and represents LLLP in external alliances such as the European Alliance for Just Transition. Her professional experience includes project and research work in Higher Education cooperation for sustainable development. She is currently on the Board of Directors of Teach the Teachers, an NGO focused on improving the competences of Peruvian high school teachers. Erika’s educational background includes a Bachelors in economics and an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in sustainable territorial development.

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