Adult Education: vision, reality and policyPosted: June 13, 2012
So with my fifteen years of experience working in the field of disadvantage and having a particular interest in the topic of adult education, off I went on the train to the ‘Adult Learners’ Week Policy Conference; Widening Participation in Adult Education: vision, reality and policy’, to see for myself what is happening.
Despite the damp weather, the atmosphere in the conference hall was lively, The 2012 Adult Learners Week Awards celebrations had taken place the day before, so there was lots of feel good factor about adult education and anticipation of hearing from an impressive line up of speakers talk about their visions for the future of widening participation in adult learning.
Tackling inequalities in adult education
David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, opened the event with a poignant reflection on the persistence of inequalities in participation in adult education. He spoke passionately about the need to still find solutions and ideas to tackle inequalities in relation to class, age, location and prior learning.
Throughout the day speakers identified the ways in which the challenge of widening the participation of adults in learning was being met. We heard about the use of technology and the rapid rise of its development and ability to deliver learning to people previously excluded from education. Andy Parker from BT talked about the drivers of technological learning as being relatively low delivery costs and its capacity to reduce the carbon footprint. He also mentioned ‘e learning’ and technology’s ability to produce multiple ways to access knowledge.
As part of the Grundtvig team I am familiar with the development of Technology and Learning projects. One particular project, Blackpool City Councils ‘Being a Digital Citizen’ project, focused upon enabling people with learning difficulties engage with technology.
Introducing Student Loans into Further Education
The major discussion point of the afternoon was always going to be the introduction of Student Loans into FE; a controversial and contentious decision which was demonstrated in the afternoon panel speeches between some eminent Senior Politicians.
John Hayes MP, Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Life Long Learning gave delegates a passionate speech about his commitment to adult leaning and the rational for introducing the new Student Loans system. In a nutshell students who wish to study level 3 and above qualifications will fund their own learning by applying for student loans which they will later repay. A system introduced by the Conservative government in the 1990’s.
Mr Hayes acknowledged the tensions within the proposed changes but believed change is necessary to continue funding Adult Education.
Gordon Marsden MP, Shadow Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning questioned the introduction of student loans arguing instead for a better balance in the funding of Adult Learning between the Individual, State and Employers. He also raised the interesting point that the benefits of learning were so multi faceted that it would be justifiable to use the Health, Culture and Employment budgets to fund Adult Education.
Baroness Margaret Sharp of Guildford stated plainly that she believed the introduction of student loans was wrong and argued that adult education plays a ’vital role in improving Social Mobility when other mechanisms fail’.
Committment to Adult Education
Following on from the afternoon session was the final presentation of the day the ‘Findings from the 2012 NIACE Annual Participation Survey’. I don’t know why I wasn’t surprised that the findings made for some pretty disappointing reading. Perhaps it is from my years of involvement in ‘solutions’ tackling disadvantage? I heard someone in the room ask the question ’will it ever change’? and I thought to myself, I am not alone!
Outside it was raining. The news from the survey was glum. But inside the hall the fires were burning for adult education. More and more Grundtvig projects are funded every year. Check out our ‘Projects Around the UK’ Map to read some inspirational examples.
Will it ever change? I do not know! But I am happy to report that people are still passionate about adult education and we have not given up trying!
I’m Tracey Guiller and I joined Ecorys Grundtvig Small Cooperation Projects Team in Autumn 2011 as an Assistant Project Manager. Prior to that I worked for 8 ½ years as an Education and Employment Advisor, a Project Manager and a Residential Social Worker in a Adolescent Crisis centre.