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Adult Learning and Skills for a Stronger and Fairer Society and Economy

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Meg was invited by Niace (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) to speak on ‘Adult Learning and Skills’ her contribution is below.


If you have ever done a bit of reading into the history of the socialist movement you may have been surprised to see just how important these early pioneers regarded education. It was widely thought that education was the way that individuals could ‘better themselves’ and that society had a responsibility to help them do that.


Their view is still right today, though it gets more complicated. How would those early pioneers have coped with some modern challenges learning to work MP3 players or the Iphone. It used to be setting the video player that older people couldn’t do; now it’s the digital recorder!


The particular skills we need changes as society changes, but the requirement for people with a good level of skills remain. Society still has the responsibility to help people get the necessary skills in order to do well.


The people who get left out of the skills equation are those groups familiar to the early pioneers working class people who did badly at school, and women. There’s lots of statistics showing us this, and given you’re here, I don’t propose to spout them. We know which groups in society need help to become skilled, the question is ‘how do we reach and persuade them to take the plunge?’


It’s not only for their benefit should we try - in the bigger picture it means their abilities are not being fully used, which holds everyone back. Who can tell what inventions don’t happen, new processes not appear, improvements in ways of working not proposed. The economy suffers when significant parts of the population are not engaged.


But the bigger societal picture is also bad. Some illustrations provided by Niace:

  • Taking part in adult education is associated with a greater likehood of voting.
  • Men with the poorest literacy and numeracy skills tend to lead a solitary life.
  • Older people engaged in adult learning resulted in 28% reporting an increased involvement in social, community and/or voluntary activities.
  • Participation in adult learning brings people together, helping to reduce depression.
  • Adult learning appears to slow the development of two brain lesions that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. 

So there’s no question that adult learning of all shapes and sizes is good for the individual, good for the economy, and good for society.


The hard question is one I asked earlier - ‘how do we reach and persuade the groups of people who traditionally have been less keen to take part to take the plunge?’ 

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