In a 2016 paper titled “Lifelong Learning: History and the Present State of the Politically-Educational Concept”, Ekkehard Nuissl and Ewa Przybylska state: “People who fail to continue learning and rest on their laurels, believing in the enduring value of the acquired diplomas, will remain behind others; it runs the risk of social exclusion, and professional failures in their personal life” (Nuissl & Przybylska, 2016).

This strongly worded statement underscores the increasing importance ascribed to the concept of Lifelong Learning among present-day educational paradigms. It is further affirmed by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, which states that its Lifelong Learning Policies and Strategies programme advocates and advances Lifelong Learning as a conceptual framework and education reform in the current century (Lifelong Learning, 2017), thus emphasising the global nature of both the interest in and subsequent pursuit of this paradigm.

However, before discussing the potential, implementation, and impact of Lifelong Learning, it is necessary to consider the question of exactly what this concept refers to. It does not take a very in-depth literature search to reveal that there is no universally agreed upon definition for Lifelong Learning, with Marjan Laal arguing that trying to search for consensus on one is akin to searching for a chimaera (Laal, 2011). Laal does, however, provide a valuable starting point when referencing a 2007 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Policy Brief, titled “Qualifications and Lifelong Learning”, which states: “Globalization and the growth of the fast-changing knowledge economy mean that people require upgrading their skills throughout their adult lives to cope with modern life, both in their work and in their private lives” (Laal, 2011).

Multiple approaches point towards Lifelong Learning as being representative of both an attitude (i.e. continuously seeking to learn new skills or refine/hone old ones) and an active practice unto itself. In the context of educational circles, this then begs several questions: How can an educational environment cultivate Lifelong Learning — both as an attitude and practice — among students? What key competencies or abilities are required in order for a student to develop a mindset attuned towards Lifelong Learning within them? Through what processes can a student’s acquisition of these competencies be measured?

In the majority of given contexts, most primary, middle, secondary and higher secondary school systems have placed a high emphasis on the measurement of content knowledge, but not of skill acquisition/development. This trend is further carried on into higher education, where ‘expertise’ is presented as the static measurement of knowledge an individual has on a particular subject. On the contrary, gaining essential skills for Lifelong Learning through a continuous academic process and subsequent assessment throughout their entire schooling should be the norm.

 Development of competencies essential for Lifelong Learning

If we accept that the development of Lifelong Learning attitudes hinges on both acquiring and accurately measuring particular skills within students, then it logically follows that these skills can also be considered as representing essential competencies that equip a student’s mind for such a goal. Such competencies might include communication skills, critical thinking skills, etc. (Otten and Ohana, 2009). It would, however, be incorrect to assert that the active development and measurement of skills during a child’s school years is a recent development (Silva, 2009).

For instance, in a 2011 paper focusing on medical education, Deborah Murdoch-Eaton and Sue Whittle argue that the actual development of Lifelong Learning attitudes comes from the acquisition of generic skills  (Murdoch-Eaton and Whittle, 2011). In other words: Skills that are not explicitly focused within one academic discipline, but which should be considered necessary for the development of a well-rounded graduate, regardless of what profession or future field of academic study they choose to engage in.

The authors also point out that stakeholders in business and commerce, for instance, list key areas such as communication, interpersonal skills, higher-order reasoning, critical thinking, and the ability to use technology as valuable characteristics of individuals hoping to enter this field (Murdoch-Eaton and Whittle, 2011). From this, we can infer that dismissing these skills as not being of equal importance to medical students is a mistake: Lifelong Learning attitudes do not only make for better students but actively ensure that workers possessing these skills are seen as valuable in the labour market.

Applied Education Services, a United States based curriculum development unit, lists a remarkably similar skill set (i.e. common themes such as creativity, critical thinking, communication, etc.) under the umbrella of 21st-century skills (What Are 21st Century Skills? n.d.). In other words, it suggests that 21st-century skills constitute the very same “generic skills” referenced by Murdoch-Eaton and Whittle, as well as by Montessori education, that encourage an approach towards Lifelong Learning.

Through multiple examples and available literature it becomes clear that there is a remarkable amount of overlap between the skill sets listed, suggesting that while there may not be a complete consensus on what constitutes an approach towards Lifelong Learning, there are many overlapping skills that most would agree contribute to it.

The role of existing education systems: Expectations versus reality

In an increasingly globalised economy that is shifting from an industrial age to one that is digital and focuses on the exchange of original ideas, there is a growing demand for workers who are able to adapt, reason, unlearn-and-relearn (i.e. Lifelong Learning), so as to be able to adjust quickly to shifting circumstances in a variety of given contexts.

Montessori education, which usually applies to children between 2.5-6 years of age, utilises the approach of Italian psychologist and educator Maria Montessori, focuses on skill development by providing a source of continuous feedback and skill monitoring among its students (Marshall, 2017). These skills are not merely considered static acquisitions by the student, but are continually assessed, and viewed as both growing and evolving alongside the student. Elements such as curiosity, writing, collaborative learning, and even learning how to play together fairly are all emphasised as being core tenets of a Montessori education — and by no mere coincidence, they have also been identified as being essential components of developing Lifelong Learning attitudes. Parents also play an essential role in Montessori education through their ability to act as relevant sources of guidance during the development of these skills, as well as their ability to both observe and assess the progression of a child’s skill development. Montessori education thus places a strong emphasis on building core social, emotional, and communication skills in children, which, ironically are only now being recognised for their value.

Unfortunately, these skills become abandoned mainly after the typical period of Montessori education is concluded, with purely knowledge-based education being favoured in most further education from primary school up till higher education. These formal schooling years, which constitute a significant and formative period of a student’s learning attitude instead emphasize marks and grades based on knowledge acquisition instead of the development of skills and attitudes. A higher emphasis is placed on a student’s “ranking” relative to others (i.e. first, second, or third in class) rather than a holistic development of each’s own capabilities. This directly leads to a student’s inability to cope with challenges of personal and professional life in the future, due to being unequipped with the skills needed to function in environments that emphasize both independent thought/input while still operating within an interdependent globalised context. Moreover, parental/familial expectations upon children during these years can also exacerbate the pressure they face, particularly if a greater emphasis is placed upon grades and performance in tests of knowledge, rather than a demonstration of their competencies based on the acquired knowledge, skills, and attitudes (Yamamoto & Holloway, 2010).

At the university level, while there is still a more significant emphasis on assessing knowledge instead of skills, there is increasing evidence that at least some institutions of higher learning have begun to recognise this attitude as problematic and are addressing it. In the context of most schooling systems, however, the critical issue remains an absolute lack of Lifelong Learning skills being imparted or assessed in formal contexts.

AKU-EB’s approach towards imparting Lifelong Learning skills

The Aga Khan University Examination Board’s Middle School Programme (Board, 2017) (MSP) represents an attempt at imparting 21st-century skills (and thus, by extension, Lifelong Learning attitudes) to students from Grades 6-8 through the use of project-based learning (Board, 2018). Individually, students from these grades complete projects that are integrated within the existing framework of what they are already studying, aimed at developing eight critical competencies identified by AKU-EB.

As depicted in Figure 1, these competencies include:

  • Listening, Reading, and Observation Skills
  • Information Gathering
  • Communications Skills
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Responsibility
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity and Innovation


Figure 1: Eight key competencies for 21st-century skills identified by AKU-EB

Notably, AKU-EB’s status as an examination board operating within the developing world with the specific aim of bringing quality education to lower and middle-income households, has meant that the MSP has been designed with the intent of imparting these skills to students in a relatively affordable manner. The programme has been praised by visiting delegations (Board, 2018) from international examination boards, and represents a model that could potentially be used on a larger scale in multiple nations.

Students under the MSP gradually improve upon these skills once acquiring them. AKU-EB’s own internal research has established a positive correlation between the MSP and future academic performance on examinations, which demonstrates how the programme forms a strong base upon which Lifelong Learning attitudes are established. As of the writing of this article, this research has already been presented to the broader university community and continues to be conducted in the hope of further findings being generated. AKU-EB intends to detail the process of conducting the research as well as its findings in more depth during future articles.

About the Author: 

  1. Shehzad Jeeva

Director, Aga Khan University Examination Board (AKU-EB)

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, AKU

Dr. Shehzad Jeeva was appointed as Director, Aga Khan University Examination Board in October 2014 and holds joint appointment as Assistant Professor of Faculty of Arts and Sciences, AKU. He has transformed the institution from a start up to a robust organization through his enthusiastic leadership. He has also re-defined the institution’s vision and mission to make AKU-EB a model of excellence and innovation in education for Pakistan and developing countries. Dr. Jeeva is also registered as a Consultant with the Asian Development Bank and is currently working with the Govt. of Balochistan on a project funded by UNICEF/EU and to enhance the capacities of the Balochistan Examination and Assessment Commission. Dr. Jeeva obtained his B.Sc. (Hons) in Chemistry at the University of Karachi (UoK) where he was awarded the Best Young Chemist Award. He earned his M.S. in Organic Chemistry from the UoK. He received the Aga Khan Foundation Scholarship, Cambridge Commonwealth Scholarship, and Lundgren Award to complete his PhD in Chemistry from the University of Cambridge, and subsequently received the Toby Jackman Prize for the most outstanding PhD thesis in any subject (St. Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge).

  1. Dr Naveed Yousuf

Associate Director, Assessment, Aga Khan University Examination Board

Assistant Professor, Educational Development, Faculty of Health Science, Aga Khan University

Dr Naveed Yousuf is Associate Director, Assessment & Research and Assistant Professor, Educational Development at the Examination Board and Faculty of Health Sciences, Aga Khan University. His Ph.D. thesis focused on psychometrics and standard setting in assessment. Dr Yousuf is responsible for the psychometric quality of national level assessments and for psychometric research projects at AKU. He also serves as thesis supervisor and faculty member for the Master of Health Professions Education Programme. He is an Editorial Board Member for Education in Medicine Journal.

  1. Mr Kamil Hamid

Associate, Storyteller, Aga Khan University Examination Board

Mr Kamil Hamid is a member of the Communications team at AKU-EB, with a focus on content development, social media management and editing. In this capacity he captures high-impact stories in multiple media formats from various AKU-EB stakeholders across Pakistan, in order to highlight the transformational power of education in changing lives and uplifting communities. He is a graduate of Earlham College, where he completed a B.A. in Peace and Global Studies, as well as an alumnus of the Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong, where he completed the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.


  1. Board, A. K. (2017, November 22). Retrieved April 16, 2019, from
  2. Board, A. K. (2018, January 11). Retrieved April 16, 2019, from
  3. 4Board, A. K. (2018, September 11). Retrieved April 16, 2019, from
  4. Cook, E. (2009, June 23). The Extent That Montessori Programs Contribute To Students’ Academic And Social Gains And How Montessori Programs Differ From Traditional Programs. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from
  5. Dunlap, J. C. and Grabinger, S. (2003), Preparing Students for Lifelong Learning: A Review of Instructional Features and Teaching Methodologies. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 16: 6-25. doi:10.1111/j.1937-8327.2003.tb00276.x, from
  6. Dunlap, J. C. (2005), Changes in Students’ Use of Lifelong Learning Skills During a Problem‐based Learning Project. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 18: 5-33. doi:10.1111/j.1937-8327.2005.tb00324.x, from
  7. Laal, Marjan. (2011). Lifelong Learning: What does it Mean?. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 28 (2011) 470 – 474. 10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.11.090. From,
  8. Lifelong Learning. (2017, February 15). Retrieved April 3, 2019, from
  9. Marshall, C. (2017). Montessori education: A review of the evidence base. Npj Science of Learning, 2(1). doi:10.1038/s41539-017-0012-7
  10. Murdoch‐Eaton, D. and Whittle, S. (2012), Generic skills in medical education: developing the tools for successful lifelong learning. Medical Education, 46: 120-128. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2923.2011.04065.x, from
  11. Nuissl, Ekkehard & Przybylska, Ewa. (2016). Uczenie się przez całe życie. Historia i teraźniejszość koncepcji polityczno-oświatowej. Studia Paedagogica Ignatiana. 19. 33. 10.12775/SPI.2016.4.002. From,
  12. 1Otten, H., & Ohana, Y. (2009, December 9). The eight key competencies for lifelong learning: An appropriate framework within which to develop the competence of trainers on the field of European youth work or just plain politics? (Rep.). Retrieved April 12, 2019, from Competence_study_final.pdf
  13. Peat, M., Taylor, C. E., & Franklin, S. (2005). Re‐engineering of undergraduate science curricula to emphasise development of lifelong learning skills. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 42(2), 135-146. doi:10.1080/14703290500062482, from
  14. Pivec, M., & Dziabenko, O. (2004). Game-Based Learning in Universities and Lifelong Learning: “UniGame: Social Skills and Knowledge Training” Game Concept. Journal of Universal Computer Science,10(1), 14-26. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from
  15. 1Rathund1e, K. (2001). Montessori Education and Optimal Experience: A Framework for New Research. NAMTA Journal, 26(1), 11-43. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from
  16. Silva, E. (2009). Measuring Skills for 21st-Century Learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(9), 630-634. doi:10.1177/003172170909000905, from
  17. What Are 21st Century Skills? (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2019, from
  18. Yamamoto, Y., & Holloway, S. D. (2010). Parental Expectations and Children’s Academic Performance in Sociocultural Context. Educational Psychology Review, 22(3), 189-214. doi:10.1007/s10648-010-9121-z


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