International Seminar on Digital Transformation Reshaping Lifelong Learning for All successfully held in Shanghai

From 20 to 21 April 2023, more than 20 Permanent Representatives to UNESCO and officials from different countries, heads of several UNESCO’s Category I Institutes, as well as experts and scholars from China and abroad gathered in Shanghai to participate in the International Seminar on Digital Transformation Reshaping Lifelong Learning for All. In the context of the global education revolution, especially digital transformation, the participants exchanged experience and opinions on how to develop a more inclusive and fairer mechanism to promote lifelong learning for all with more diversified approaches, richer resources, and more convenient learning, shared first-hand experiences and vivid practices, and discussed future collaboration. This seminar was co-organized by the Secretariat of the National Commission of China for UNESCO, the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (UNESCO IITE), the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and Shanghai Open University.

Digital technology is rapidly changing the way knowledge is created, acquired, disseminated, verified, and used, enabling people in different scenarios to have equal access to educational resources and channels and expediting the realization of “learning by all, learning at all times and learning everywhere”. The report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China proposes to “promote educational digitization and nurture a learning-oriented society and nation characterized by learning for all people”. Last year, the United Nations Transforming Education Summit also issued a visionary initiative to promote education transformation, especially emphasizing the essential role of lifelong learning and calling for including the lifelong learning concept in the education system.

Chen Jie, Vice Minister of Education of China and Director of the National Commission of China for UNESCO, said in a speech at the opening ceremony that lifelong learning for all is a vital engine for sustainable development. China is actively building and continuously optimizing a lifelong learning system for all and establishing a national smart education platform, accessible to the whole society, to provide high-quality digital learning resources. Advocating the cultivation of learning-oriented government authorities, enterprises, communities and cities, China has established a national university for the elderly to help them learn and takes an active part in international exchange and cooperation on lifelong learning. Chen Jie called on countries to join hands to propel the digital transformation of education and build a learning society of lifelong learning for all.

Liu Duo, Vice Mayor of Shanghai, pointed out in his speech that Shanghai vigorously participates in international exchange and cooperation in building learning cities. As the coordinating city of the Education for Sustainable Development group, Shanghai actively assists more than 100 cities worldwide to carry out educational practices and research and supports Shanghai Open University as the host of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network in Distance and Open Learning (East Asia) to facilitate knowledge dissemination, resource sharing and academic development in open and distance education.

In the view of Zhan Tao, Director of UNESCO IITE, we shall ensure that people in all countries have equal access to the benefits of technology applications. “Technology cannot replace teachers and educators, especially their ability to guide, support and motivate learners. While embracing the benefits of digital learning, we need to ensure that learners also have access to authentic human interaction.”

David Atchoarena, Director of UIL, focused on how to avoid digital technologies exacerbating educational injustices while promoting knowledge sharing. The data he cited showed that 34% of the global population had yet connected to the Internet. In the speech, he said that lifelong learning is undergoing a digital transformation and that we should prioritize on availability of learning technologies in the future, focus on the disadvantaged group and support lifelong learning as a common benefit.

Qin Changwei, Secretary-General of the National Commission of China for UNESCO, moderated the opening ceremony, pointing out that as the new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation gains further momentum, the wide application of digital education in various sectors has generated far-reaching impact on global socio-economic development, including education. ‘This seminar is organized to emphasize the importance of lifelong learning, discuss how to drive the development of a comprehensive lifelong learning mechanism in the context of digital education transformation, share effective and practical experiences and explore future cooperation.’

In the following “Sub-Forum: Policy and planning on reshaping lifelong learning for all through digital”, Permanent Delegates to UNESCO and officials from Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Argentina, Kenya, Palestine, Angola and Senegal shared their visions of lifelong learning for all and national policies and plans for promoting digital education.

Chen Ziji, Director-General of the Department of Vocational and Adult Education at the Ministry of Education, pointed out that China will respond to the international initiative and launch the learning society cultivation promotion project in line with the national education digitalization strategy. China will, first, take innovative action in developing learning cities; second, expedite the development of the national university for the elderly; third, continuously promote the reform and innovation of continuing education; fourth, carry out diversified lifelong learning activities for all; fifth, actively promote the construction of digital universities; and sixth, strengthen international exchanges and cooperation.

Asha S. Kanwar, President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning and Chair of the GBoard of the UNESCO IITE, stated that the differences in the current state of global education are not entirely due to the digital divide but partly due to the gap in the learning power of different groups.

According to Jia Wei, President of Shanghai Open University, digital transformation has brought three major challenges to contemporary people: survival skills, life quality improvement and self-development. Through digital transformation, the value of digital learning tools, learning styles, teachers’ roles and certification systems should be reshaped to create a learning community engaging the government, society, educational institutions, market and citizens.

In the “Sub-Forum: Open education and open educational resources” and “Sub-Forum: Inclusiveness of lifelong learning for all and ethics and security of digital learning” held on the afternoon of April 20, the participants offered their views on how to promote the sharing and exchange of lifelong learning educational resources and achieve equity of lifelong learning education in different countries and regions worldwide.

In the “Sub-Forum: International Cooperation on Lifelong Learning for All” held on the morning of April 21, the participants reached a consensus on promoting educational cooperation, equity and opportunities, establishing a wider alliance of open learning communities, strengthening the cultivation of learning cities, providing more programs and training, enhancing the development capacity of teachers and the public, and promoting the development of information technology.

During the seminar, Shanghai Open University and UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education launched the jointly developed Data and AI-driven Smart Teaching Design Guide, emphasizing teaching interaction, including teaching motivation, teaching model, teaching design (e.g., pre-course preparation, in-course immersion and post-course enhancement) and teaching evaluation. It links theories to classroom teaching, designs teaching implementation steps and offers diagnostic methods and suggestions to improve teaching effectiveness.