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Palgrave Macmillan

Lifelong Learning, Global Social Justice, and Sustainability

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  • © 2021


  • Addresses immediate concerns like the EU’s ‘employability’ discourse and the UN’s SDGs and moves quickly to promote an international discussion on lifelong learning
  • Examines migratory populations in light of the global responsibility for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Demonstrates the tight link between achieving sustainable economic development and continuing education

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About this book

This book examines lifelong learning from different angles and follows the trajectory beginning with the expansive notion of lifelong education promoted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its subsequent version intended to better suit the neoliberal framework and make EU countries more competitive in the global economy. The authors critique this version of lifelong learning by contrasting it with the notion of critical literacy. They also devote attention to the UN’s advocacy concerning lifelong education and sustainable development, arguing that for lifelong learning to help realize this goal, it needs to become more holistic in scope and engage more globally conceived social and human-earth relations. The book concludes with a discussion on lifelong learning and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Table of contents (8 chapters)


“This book presents several brilliant, counter-hegemonic ideas on numerous topics focussing on the evolution of education policies in a neoliberal world which is facing social and environmental challenges as never before. … I would recommend it to students in this field … . People who are interested in how education can herald social justice, sustainability, and create communities … will get numerous insights into the struggles of practitioners and researchers who are out to achieve precisely… .” (Brigitte Goodman, Erziehungswissenschaftliche Revue - EWR,, Vol. 21 (4), October, 2022)

“A valuable contribution to the scholarly literature on lifelong learning … . The book is a treasure trove in the sense that it gives a very good overview of writers and theorists who have engaged with the concept of lifelong learning in its broadest sense … . The book provides its readers with the opportunity to revisit the rich history of lifelong learning, which holds many lessons for us to make the world a better place.” (Maren Elfert, International Review of Education, Vol. 67, 2021)
“This book provides a fascinating account of the emergence of current concept of ‘lifelong learning' from its origins in UNESCO's notion of Lifelong Education and as subsequently transformed through the work of the OECD and the European Commission. What was originally an expansive and essentially humanist idea, the authors argue, mutated into a narrower and more instrumentalist concept with pervasive influence on global education policy. This critical account is distinguished by giving due attention to the meanings of lifelong learning in the Global South and makes a forceful case for a new vision of the concept geared towards a global citizenship. It is written in an accessible style and is likely to resonate with a wide audience of adult educators.”
Andy Green, Professor of Lifelong Learning, University College London, UK

“This excellent study reconnects us with the multidimensional theory and praxis of lifelong learning: a book that lifts the spirits in a timeof crisis.”
— Maren Elfert, Lecturer in Education and Society, King's College London, UK

“This book is an important and wide-ranging critical exposition of the prevalent contemporary neo-liberal discourse of lifelong learning in the EU and the Western world in general. It narrates the appropriation of the UNESCO-based humanist agenda of lifelong education in the 1970s and 1980s by an agenda intended purely to serve the ambitions of economic competitiveness and the labour market. In this context it can be read as a passionate appeal to progressive educators in the contemporary world to serve the true purpose of education—learning to be. As such it is as much a must read book for them as for scholars.”
Kenneth Wain, Professor of Education, University of Malta, and author of The Learning Society in a Postmodern World (2004)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Department of Adult education, St. Francis Xavier university, Antigonish, Canada

    Leona M. English

  • Faculty of Education, University of Malta, Msida, Malta

    Peter Mayo

About the authors

Leona M. English is Professor and Chair of the Department of Adult Education at St. Francis Xavier University, Canada. She is former co-editor of Adult Education Quarterly and former President of the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education. Her previous publications include Learning with Adults (Springer, 2012), co-authored with Peter Mayo, winner of the Cyril O. Houle Award for Outstanding Literature in Adult Education.

Peter Mayo is Professor of Arts, Open Communities, and Adult Education at the University of Malta. In addition to Learning with Adults, he has written and edited more than one hundred journal articles and book chapters and twenty-four books. He also edits the series Postcolonial Studies in Education.

Bibliographic Information

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