The second approach is exemplified by the exchange of views and discussions during regional conferences which bring together ministers of education and those responsible for economic development. The general debate which opens such conferences is usually devoted to an analysis of the status of education in the region with its innovations, successes and failures, and prevailing trends set against a background of social and economic development.

In a global perspective, the sessions of the International Conference on Education, organized by UNESCO at the International Bureau of Education, provide similar information at a world level. Reports submitted by governments provide a wealth of information and insights into the main developments in education at national level that have taken place from one conference to another. These reports are then published in the International Yearbook of Education.

During the fifty years covered by this review, education has evolved considerably due to rapid social changes, often the result of scientific progress and technological innovations. This background of social change has been taken into account in the analyses, debates and recommendations of the various conferences organized by UNESCO. Moreover, two Commissions chaired respectively by Edgar Faure and Jacques Delors were set up to examine, at twenty-five years of distance, the impact on education of social change both at national and global levels, and suggest paths to be explored to respond to the new problems, responsibilities and challenges. Both commissions highlighted the ever greater interdependence of education and of society.


The late 1960s were years of striking contrasts: after the destructions and losses caused by the Second World War, the industrial countries had made a surprisingly fast recovery. Social change had accompanied economic growth with an ensuing rise in standards of living. Newly independent countries were attempting their economic take-off and the notion of the contribution of education to development was accepted. In developing and industrialized countries alike, enrolment figures were reaching levels never seen before. Yet, the organization of education systems, their methods and their contents remained substantially the same and the goals of education had not been redefined to match the challenges of the emerging new world. This led to unrest among students, generally referred to as the 1968 education crisis which started in the United States and France, but soon spread to a large number of countries. In 1970, René Maheu, then Director-General of UNESCO, thought that the time was ripe to set up an International Commission on the Development of Education which was to submit its report in 1972. The Commission, chaired by Edgar Faure, former Prime Minister and Minister of Education of France at the time of the 1968 crisis, was composed of six eminent members selected in their personal capacity as high-level educators or scientists, former ministers or international civil servants.(1)

The Commission’s work was based on four assumptions: first, that the world community had common aspirations, problems and trends, despite differences of all kinds between nations and peoples; second, a belief in democracy, to which education was the keystone; third, that the total fulfilment of each individual is the aim of development; and fourth, that only lifelong education could shape a complete human being. It identified a number of characteristics and new trends common to the majority of education systems and progress achieved, as well as dead ends to which the current situation of education seemed to have led. However, on a more optimistic note, it also considered some reasons for hope such as the benefits which could be expected from scientific progress and new technologies. The Commission gave much thought to the relationship between education and society, and to education as a reflection of society, as well as a factor of societal change.

A working session of the Faure Commission. Looking to the future, the Commission considered that, rather than being subject to restricted reforms, education needed to be rethought and focused on the two interrelated notions of lifelong education and of the learning society. As a result of rapid scientific and technological progress, and accelerated social change, nobody could expect that their initial education could serve them throughout life. Education, therefore, could no longer be considered as a period preceding - and distinct from - active life. Every kind of experience should be used to acquire further knowledge; education should no longer be restricted to formal schooling, nor limited in time. School, while remaining the essential mode of delivery for transmitting organized knowledge, would be supplemented by all components of social life, institutions, working environment and leisure, as well as by the media. This led to the concept of ‘learning society’ fully integrating education and social environment. In addition to no longer being based on teaching and on the precedence of the teacher over the learner, education would in fact replace the ‘teaching’ approach by the ‘learning’ approach, the learner - particularly during his adult life - directly assimilating the knowledge provided by society. ‘A social configuration which accorded such a place to education and conferred such a status on it deserves a name of its own - the learning society.’(2)

These ideas, well received by educators, were widely discussed. Their application, however, seems to have been partial and fragmentary. Moreover, it is possible that the future role assigned to education by this Commission might have been considered too ambitious, and that it expected too much of education. Nevertheless, the ideas of lifelong education and of a learning society seem to have remained entirely valid, and can serve as a grid for analysis as well as principles for action. The report remains one of the most complete and boldest attempts to derive the educational implications of societal change and of the impact on society of the on-going scientific revolution.


Photo of Asher Deleon‘Lifelong education’ and ‘the learning society’ were the report’s two key ideas. The former was considered as the ‘keystone’ of educational policies; the latter as a strategy aimed at committing society as a whole to education. The approach was based on the idea of osmosis between education and society, and sought to steer clear of a number of misconceptions such as the ideas of education as a ‘sub-system’ of society, of instruction as a tool for solving all individual and social problems, and of the compartmentalization of life into ‘learning time’ and ‘time for living’.

As its title indicates, the report focuses on learning, a process that goes beyond education, and a fortiori, teaching. Education and teaching are described in it as dimensions that are subordinate to the learning process. School and out-of-school activities (formal, non-formal and informal education) are treated without hierarchical distinction, and the importance of basic education for all and of adult education is taken as a premise: ‘learning is a process that lasts a lifetime, both in its duration and in its diversity’.

However, the Commission did not regard lifelong education as a process of permanent schooling, adult education or continuous vocational training. It was seen neither as an educational system nor an educational field, but rather as ‘a principle on which the overall organization of a system and hence the elaboration of each of its parts, are based’. Lifelong education is a need that is common to everyone.

Learning must be redistributed not only in time, but also in space. Thus the Faure Commission called into question the monopoly of institutionalized education. All institutions, whatever their field of competence (economic, social, cultural or informational) can be used for educational purposes and thereby help to build ‘a self-aware learning society’.

The Report focused on personal development and put learners, not teachers or educational institutions, at the core of education. The important thing is not the path followed by the learner, but the outcome of the learning process. Each one of us must be free, as our judgement grows stronger and our experience becomes richer and more varied, to choose the ways best suited to our own needs, expectations and abilities.

One criticism that could be made of Learning to be is that it expected too much of education and did not take sufficient account of economic and political conditions.  Learning to Be was translated into 33 languagesTranslated into 33 languages It also overestimated the material resources of the developing countries and the extent to which the industrialized countries were really willing to provide them with substantial aid. The by-passing of religious phenomena and their impact on education and the overlooking of the ever-widening education gap between individuals, and between ethnic groups, social classes and nations also reflect a lack of realism that has given rise to disappointments.

Asher Deleon
Executive secretary of the Faure Commission Excerpt from ‘Learning to be in Retrospect’, The UNESCO Courier, April 1996.

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(1) Felipe Herrera (Chile), Abdul-Razzak Kaddoura (Syrian Arab Republic), Henri Lopes (the Congo), Arthur V. Petrovski (USSR), Majid Rahnema (Iran), and Frederick Champion Ward (United States).

(2) Learning to Be, Paris, UNESCO, 1972