Who and what is education for?

Eavesdropping on a Twitter conversation this week, I ‘overheard’ this snippet from NIACE’s David Hughes: “Some people think the only need is for education in transition from childhood into work…”

David H tweet

His tweet summed up a view of education that has to be challenged and changed. Of course education is for children and young people and it’s about preparation for work but it’s also about a lot more.

Education is not just for children and young people

Data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that approximately 23% of the current population is aged under 19. The biggest growth in the next 20 years is forecast to be in the over 65 age group.

Age distrib

Children’s education and their transitions into work don’t just depend on schools. They also rely on adults who are themselves adapting to parenthood, changing stages of life, relationships and circumstances. These adults should have access to education too, for their sakes and for their children’s, especially if they are among the people who left school with poor levels of skills and confidence.

School leavers will have to adapt to many developments as they grow older. Jobs that exist now will disappear and they will need to adjust to changing demands for new and as yet unknown skills. As England’s last deep coal mines close, marking the end of an era, coal mining will disappear as a job. It will join the list of roles that have become obsolete during my lifetime along with working in typing pools, film processing, type setting and many more employment options.

Changing jobs need new skills

Changing jobs need new skills

Adults who are in the workforce now will need to learn new skills for new jobs. Learning how to be adaptable, resilient and creative will help them to deal with change. Better still, developing critical thinking and problem solving expertise could equip people to shape progress instead of simply responding to it.

People don’t have to work for someone else despite the dominant messages about learning to please employers. They can learn to be self-employed, to work in co-operatives or social enterprises or to become employers themselves. The current narrative for school leavers and adults can be quite limited in its implied ambition.

Education is not just for work

One online calculation about the proportion of a person’s life spent in paid work suggests that someone who works for 40 hours per week from age 18 to age 65 will spend approximately 14% of their life working. That’s a very rough estimate but it gives an indicator of non-working time, including an eventual transition from paid employment into what should be an active, independent and healthy retirement.

The WEA has three educational themes as well as Employability. You can find out more about the four educational themes here. These themes, including Health and Wellbeing, Community Engagement and Culture, reflect a belief that education has social and cultural purposes and not just a narrow economic focus – although there are economic benefits of living in healthy, tolerant and inclusive communities.

There is a strong alignment between these approaches and the “Purpose of Government Supported Community Learning”, which is outlined on page 14 of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ 2011 policy paper, “New Challenges, New Chances: Further Education and Skills System Reform Plan“, but not enough recognition beyond the community learning sector.

Education in a civilised society is for collective as well as individual benefit. It should be lifelong, life-wide and full of inspiration and challenge, whatever the student’s age, stage of life or circumstances.

Who and what do you think education is for?

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About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1GI0QK1

10 Responses to Who and what is education for?

  1. AM says:

    Reblogged this on A.M. and commented:
    Very precise explanation of the importance of education in life 🙂

  2. Peter Threadkell says:

    An interesting post but I feel David is very provoking ..Education in whatever form is a lifetime activity,not just for employment skills but to enhance quality of life .Having left school at 16 it was educational bodies such as the Open University ,WEA and Keswick Hall College of Education . that gave me the opportunity to become what I am today..It is wrong that education stops in ones teens or early twenties Everyone should have the chance to engage in lifelong learning which is much more than skills for employment

    • Ann Walker says:

      Thank you Peter. Your own experience is an excellent illustration of how important it is to have educational opportunities throughout life.

      Sorry if I caused any confusion by including a copy of David’s full tweet, which was part of a longer Twitter conversation. His comment that,“Some people think the only need is for education in transition from childhood into work…”, was describing other people’s views rather than his own. He is a strong advocate of adult and continuing education.

      Your final sentence sums things up very well.

  3. jmiskin says:

    Having read your blog I pulled Jonathon Rose’s fantastic book – The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes – off the shelf. Here are some quotes which are useful in this debate.
    In the Preface he writes:
    “The authentic value of a liberal education lies not so much in acquiring facts or absorbing “eternal truths”, but in discovering new ways to interpret the world.”
    And in the Chapter looking at the WEA he says:
    ” Far from doping the workers by imposing middle-class cultural hegemony, Ruskin College and the WEA did precisely the opposite: they made their students happier but less than content.”
    I very much like that and it fits with our notion of social purpose education. Being less than content is understandable given the state of the world we live in – austerity, wars, increasing inequality etc. – but creating a better world needs to be the imperative and our type of education should help towards that. A lot of so called education boxes people in…………..ours shouldn’t.

  4. Hugh Humphrey says:

    A quote which I particularly like comes from Helena Kennedy’s report of 1997 where she says;
    ‘Education has always been a source of social vitality and the more people we can include in the community of learning, the greater the benefits to us all. The very process involves interaction between people; it is the means by which the values and wisdom of society are shared and transmitted across generations. Education strengthens the ties which bind people, takes the fear out of difference and encourages tolerance. It helps people see what makes the world tick and the ways in which they individually and together can make a difference.’
    Quite clearly this is a lifelong process and not one merely facilitating the transition between childhood and work.

  5. Ann Walker says:

    Hard to believe that so much time has passed since Helena Kennedy’s report, Hugh.

    It’s well worth looking at again and I’m grateful for your reminder of her insightful commentary and recommendations.

  6. Chris Morton says:

    Dear Ann Well said. I hope you get lots of feedback and comments. Very best wishes Chris

  7. Absolutely agree with all you say, Ann – a very clear summary of the arguments. All the research in schools (including our own at the Campaign for Learning) demonstrates that teaching young people throughout their formal education in ways that develop their thinking, problem solving, teamwork and communication skills raises achievement, narrows gaps – and is much more motivating and engaging for participants, thereby potentially reducing drop-out. If schools were all run on this basis, there would be much less focus on the sort of employability education that obsesses governments, making it easier for policymakers to take on board the broader benefits of adult learning.

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