In its Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, the European Union notes that “the advent of a knowledge-based society requires improved means of communicating and using knowledge and opportunities for lifelong learning.” In response, regional and local programmes have arisen to help Europeans take advantage of these opportunities.
The Ismaili Council for the European Union (ICEU) began their initiatives in lifelong learning in 1996 with the Learning Community Project that set about to transform the European Jamat with regards to continuous learning. Drawing lessons from that project, the ICEU has now initiated the Lifelong Learning Programme which aims to turn learning into a continuous and natural process in the life of every Ismaili in Europe.
Among the first major projects of the programme is the Certificate in Lifelong Learning, a partnership with the London School of Economics targeted at Jamati members.
Over 300 learners from across Europe are presently enrolled in the Certificate Programme. Not only does it provide valuable recognition for their learning efforts, but the programme also encourages learners to consider areas of knowledge that they may not have previously explored.
To qualify for the certificate, each learner undertakes an initial workshop titled The Journey of Self Discovery and completes seven course units relating to Jamati institutional initiatives or those of external organisations. One of courses must have a European dimension to highlight the languages, cultures and people of Europe.
After completion of the workshop and course units, learners reflect on their journey in a short essay in which they discuss how the programme invigorated them to continue the process of lifelong learning. Participants receive an ICEU Certificate in Lifelong Learning awarded by the London School of Economics upon graduation.
The core of the Certificate programme is the Journey of Self Discovery workshop. It orients candidates on the Islamic underpinnings of learning, while also helping participants discover their personal learning styles and uncover the tools to support them in the process.
The workshop also explains the European mandate of lifelong learning and its importance in the fast-growing knowledge society. At the same time, it encourages learners to reflect on their motivational drivers and personal learning goals, while creating a personalised learning development plan.
After completing the workshop, participants pursue courses that are offered by both their local Jamati institutions and other academic and training organisations.
To support this initiative, the ICEU Lifelong Learning Programme actively reviews and accredits new training programmes and modules, expanding the breadth and depth of choice available to learners. Participants can also request accreditation for courses that they have a personal interest in. All learners receive a Passport of Learning to record how the courses have contributed to their personal growth.
Throughout the process, learners benefit from the motivation of their peers and the ICEU. In addition, the ICEU Lifelong Learning programme also trains individuals known as learning partners, who act as key points of support and reinforcement.
The learning partners – all of whom are or have been participants in the programme and have a minimum of five years experience in Jamati service, as well as professional facilitation skills in training and coaching – are trained in presentation, group dynamics and modelling experiential learning. They provide individual support to learners, and facilitate workshops.
The Certificate is the first step in a longer journey of lifelong learning. Mawlana Hazar Imam's speech at the Annual Meeting of the International Baccalaureate in Atlanta on 18 April 2008 elaborated on the reinvigoration of the concept of lifelong learning in the global collective consciousness:
“In an age of accelerating change, when even the most sophisticated skills are quickly outdated, we will find many allies in the developing world who are coming to understand that the most important skill anyone can learn is the ability to go on learning.”
In that vein, the ICEU Lifelong Learning Programme continues to move forward with unique programmatic initiatives to help foster a spirit of lifelong learning within the European Jamat.