Leonardo Award

Prof. Dr. Jacques Delors

Acceptance Speech

Ladies and Gentlemen, First I owe you my apologies and gratitude.

I apologise for not joining you in Cologne, for reasons that were truly beyond my control.

I offer my apologies and regrets first of all to Mr Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a long-standing friend with whom I have worked, or rather, been privileged to work, on many occasions, as he is a prominent personality in both Germany and Europe. I also want to extend my apologies and regrets to the European Corporate Learning Forum, its organisers and all those attending the meeting.

The topic I want to discuss in detail before you today concern the central position education has in our society. In fact, when talking about education, we inadvertently extend the topic to life, work, development through work for the benefit of the community and the future of our young people who will be entering the labour market. Actually, we find ourselves in a difficult situation today. Furthermore, given the civilizing objectives of education, I would also like to discuss each individual’s personal capacity to take control of their own lives. As business leaders, you have taken these topics on board in an effort to try to improve your own performance, your business results and to ensure the successful production of goods and services. But, of course, to do this you need a trained and mobile workforce of men and women, who are capable of completing the task in hand, either independently or as part of a team. This is why there is such a strong link between education and your own concerns.

UNESCO is the responsible organization for addressing education within the framework of international organisations. It has carried out several missions in this regard, one of which was entrusted to me - the Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, whose members include education specialists, philosophers, business leaders, intellectuals and novelists. Although this Commission submitted its report 14 years ago, in 1996, certain aspects of that report are to this day still relevant and urgent, and serve as reference points in a number of works devoted to education, vocational training and lifelong learning. In reality, without wanting to digress too much into philosophical concepts, I would like to say a few words about the dual requirement for reliability and adaptation, which is necessary when dealing with education.

What is unchanging and changing in the world? To what extent should we only teach what is unchanging and to what extent should we give way to what is changing? In fact, we witness traditions and difficult tensions between tradition and modernity, the universal and the singular, the spiritual and the material. What’s more, and here we are addressing your own concerns, the world is facing a substantial geopolitical change, which we call globalisation, and a fairly constant upheaval in technology, business innovation, innovation in how we do things, as well as the goods and services we produce. To this we must also add the task of protecting the environment. Last but not least, an increasingly worrying phenomenon, but which must be mentioned when speaking of the foundations of education, is the increase in ideologies founded on the rejection of the other - what we sometimes refer to as racism or populism. These ideas are currently spreading throughout Europe. The tasks you have to confront and the working conditions you have to define must encompass all these dimensions. How do we prepare each man and woman to confront these challenges? How do we allow them to renew their capacities when there is often loss of knowledge or poor assimilation of knowledge? How do we enable them to stay involved, be in the running...both for themselves and in the name of history and progress? This is the role of lifelong learning.

The section of this report that met with the greatest success concerned the pillars of education. Indeed, faced with the complex problems that were raised at the time and still apply to education today, as well as the differing points of view, it was still necessary to find agreement, a wider consensus about the pillars of education. It is because we found this consensus that it was adopted on a worldwide scale by leading figures in the field of education, teaching and even by the politicians who manage the departments for education.

These pillars are as follows: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be. A few words of explanation on these phrases, which speak for themselves:

  • 'Learning to know' is acquiring a package of knowledge that enables you to better understand yourself, to better grasp the society in which you live and to prepare yourself for the labour market. Consequently, given the upheavals, 'learning to know' is also learning to learn, having a thirst for knowledge and continuing to learn throughout life.
  • 'Learning to do' is slightly different. At the beginning of industrial society, in the times of craft industries, it was about knowing how to transform a material into a product, or knowing how to make repairs. Today, 'learning to do' means acquiring an intellectual or practical set of skills that enables you to meet your job requirements. Of course, skill has broader and richer connotations than knowledge.
  • 'Learning to live together' has been on the agenda for a long time when speaking about unequal opportunities. How can we enable so-called gifted and less-gifted children, children from wealthy, educated families and children from poor families to coexist? These were the questions that arose and are yet to be answered, particularly for me as a person who is very concerned about the fight against unequal opportunities. But another factor has been added to this: the opening-up of the world. The fact that there are children and teenagers in our classrooms, who were born in countries outside Europe. I never say foreign countries, as this, in my opinion, is contrary to the perception we may have of the world. These young people who come from other countries, who bare within themselves other cultures, other types of education and with whom we need to work, co-exist at school and also teach. They should be taught in the same way as others. 'Learning to live together' is therefore learning tolerance and mutual understanding. In other words, being able to live in the increasingly multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious societies of most European countries today. It's all the more important that I should now allude to the danger posed by the rise of ideologies that reject others.
  • And finally, 'learning to be'. UNESCO has been interested in this topic for some time. Mr Edgar Faure presided over a commission, just prior to mine, which dealt with this issue. 'Learning to be' is about how education can help us - not to live happily, as there are too many definitions of happiness - but how it can help us overcome the problems of our existence, problems in our personal lives and problems in public life.

So, these are the four important pillars that, united, form a thoroughly ambitious education programme. But with education being, I repeat, at the core of society, as well as an essential element of democracy and pluralism, and of respect for freedoms, it is worth our while to persevere in this task, even if we are not completely sure of its success.

You will have understood that, as we have to deal with differences (learning to live together), confront changes (technological changes, changes in civilisations or a part of civilisation) and protect the environment, education cannot stop at the age of 15, 20 or 25. It must continue throughout a person’s life.

When it comes to technology and the production technologies that are changing due to innovation and scientific breakthroughs, the immediate question that arises for business leaders is: "How do we adapt to all of this?" Returning to school or retraining in the workplace is thus one way to approach this inevitable change, because if we ignore it, we are no longer in the running, either in terms of production or on a human level in our relations with others.

Consequently, this is what, it seems to me, led to the vocational training scheme, "Lifelong Training" (I prefer the English phrasing of "Lifelong Learning"), being developed. Thus, this lifelong training programme allowed us to meet different challenges: adapting to a job position, integrating a new technology, introducing a new way of working together, working as a team, or working independently. You are in a job position, but you do not have to depend on others: it is you alone who is going to do the work, check it and sometimes present it directly to the customer. We must adapt, improve and deepen our knowledge, to better understand these changes in both our private lives and our professional settings; and then we must retrain when it is not possible to continue in the profession for which we have been trained.

The Germans have well understood this. They did so through collective bargaining agreements, at branch or company levels, and thanks to work-study programmes they even invented this combination of theoretical training and practical workplace training before anyone else. This dual education system has allowed Germany to be the leading industrial nation for some time. I know that this dual education system must be adapted today, because we require more theoretical knowledge, or because we no longer produce only goods, but also services. Yet, I have always considered that, even in terms of its contribution to equal opportunities, the dual education system was a great German success story. This is the first objective of lifelong learning. The second is to uphold the fight for equal opportunities. I have spoken about a dual education system, because I know that many young people in Germany have been able to resume their studies and climb up the professional ladder after starting in the dual work-study education system. But I would also like to speak to you about giving each child the capacity - the capability as some may say - to do well in life and in the job market. And that is what the constant struggle to fight against unequal opportunities is about. We still see too many young people in our societies leaving school without obtaining their secondary education certificate and too many young people who drop out without qualifying after their first or second year of university. Qualifications are not the only way into the job market, but we attach much importance to them, if only to initially verify the ability of the persons concerned.

The objective of equal opportunities is an ongoing task in which we must all be involved. Leaving the moral aspect to one side, the consequences of unequal opportunities on a practical level are people failing in their working lives, more unemployment and income inequalities. Every manager must be concerned about this issue, which is much more complicated than the traditional educationalists’ debate of nature versus nurture. Nature - meaning, what you have in yourself, what makes you gifted - and nurture, what we learn through education. I myself have always considered nurture to be of paramount importance.

Therefore, there are, it seems to me, two very important objectives for lifelong learning. For you, as I have already alluded to, it was a question of introducing employee participation in business and the increased practise of collective-bargaining negotiations into your social system. You have done this in various ways. If you joined us today, it is because you think that the challenge still exists. This challenge is the challenge of science, the challenge of growth, the challenge of prosperity, it is the pleasure of doing things well and, on a social level, it is also a concern for enabling everyone to develop in their lives. At this point, we must stop distinguishing between forced work and emancipating education. It is true, that work is not always fun - it comes with duties and constraints, but work is a way of finding fulfilment. How many young (and not-so-young) people do we know who have failed in life, who suffer misfortune in life because they have not succeeded at work? Work isn't the only passport. The true passport for success is education. But work is necessary. Only, how can we combine work with a successful and happy personal life, full of self-confidence? Those dealing with vocational training must also bear this in mind. And that is why I end by saying, I do not like to focus too much on "Lifelong Training", I far prefer "Lifelong Education". Thank you.