An increasingly complex and tumultuous world requires individuals and communities to be able to continually develop and utilize different kinds of knowledge frameworks, value systems, intelligence structures and skills in order to make sense of, adapt to and contribute to change in their social and physical environment in constructive and non-violent ways. Within this broader vision of human consciousness and participation, notions of lifelong and lifewide learning must take on new meanings. Learning can no longer be viewed as a ritual that one engages in during only the early part of one's life with an occasional refresher course to cater for incidental needs during adulthood. Nor can the value of learning be seen in one-dimensional terms as related only to obtaining a job.
However, education systems throughout the world are ill-equipped to address the multiplicity of individual and community learning needs that healthy societies increasingly require. This is not only illustrated by the 900 million illiterate people around the world and the 130 million school-aged children who are out of school, but even more dramatically by the vast majority of learners who leave the education system with limited accomplishments, learning capacities and motivation to learn that hardly sustain beyond the schooling cycle. More problematically, conventional education systems fail to reflect (and, in fact, often contradict) the vast range of new ideas, experiences and understandings from a variety of disciplines that relate to processes of learning. Furthermore, conventional education systems are poorly prepared to deal with the challenges and opportunities inherent in the emerging information and communication technologies, and in the predicted "information society." They have done little to address a growing problem of social fragmentation, human frustration and dis-empowerment, cultural dislocation, and technological alienation.
As a trans disciplinary initiative, "Learning Without Frontiers" (LWF) represents UNESCO's pro-active response to addressing the deep social and political problems that confront humanity as they relate to the role of learning in society. It views the processes of engaging in collaborative, multi channel and innovative learning as being critical for both the development of the individual and the building and linking of culturally diverse communities. Learning ((meta-)cognitive and socio-cognitive processes that we engage in together and inter-generationally in all spheres of our lives) is differentiated from traditional notions of education (products that we transmit to others through schooling, whether in a classroom or through distance education).
LWF seeks to empower individuals to choose and to actively construct the learning communities to which they belong. This involves lowering barriers (e.g. space, time, age, circumstance) that stand in the way of individuals and communities wishing to engage in different learning opportunities. More fundamentally, it involves a supra-national effort in critically rethinking some of the basic assumptions, processes, roles, relationships, approaches and discourses underlying conventional education systems and in creatively constructing new learning communities, and environments in which such communities can flourish, that are more responsive to diversity of learning needs, (meta-)cognitive styles and cultures around the world. To engage in a dialectical process of developing and implementing a new vision(s), LWF seeks to connect dynamic partners throughout the world (ranging from governments, NGOs, private companies, donor agencies, universities, foundations, etc.) and to initiate on-going dialogue, critical reflection and creative action with them around diverse inter-connected themes, such as local knowledge systems, mind/brain research, complex adaptive systems, social justice, mediated environments, organizational learning. The action and reflection undertaken by its partners ultimately defines what LWF is and what it will become.
LWF's strategies have been developed along three interdependent
layers of activities.