Politics and making adult education a priority

(A Twitter exchange with Prof. John Field prompted this blog. You can read his latest tweets here.)

Some politicians are drawing attention to the severe threats facing FE and adult education, with criticism of cuts from across UK parties and in all four UK nations. The politicians speaking up most loudly against the savage cuts tend to be in opposition  – but the balance of power between parties varies geographically in the individual countries that make up the UK.

We need to get beyond negative point scoring

We need to get beyond negative point scoring and campaign for positive action

Tories are criticising the impact of Labour party policy on FE in Wales and condemning the SNP’s record in Scotland. Meanwhile, Labour politicians in Wales are slating Tories in Westminster for their handling of FE and adult education budgets. No nation is showing a shining example of good practice in adult learning policy as they wrestle with managing public spending and investment but at least there’s some understanding of the serious implications and of the need to prioritise.

It’s worth knowing that there are Westminster MPs, Welsh AMs, MSPs and Northern Irish MLAs who are taking a stand for adult learning – and then building positively on that knowledge to create more momentum for current campaigning.

An article on the Wales Online website under the headline, Tories warn of ‘fatal damage’ to Wales’ further education sector as number of students enrolling falls, reports that the Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns (Conservative) has warned that the downward trend must be stopped “before it’s too late”. She is reported as saying:

 “Such a significant fall in further education enrolment raises extremely serious questions, particularly within deprived areas.

Labour claim they’re committed to closing the attainment gap – yet these figures confirm they’re failing spectacularly.

It’s in deprived areas where the most significant support is required to encourage further education, advance skills and boost jobs growth.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis (Labour Co-operative) hit back, highlighting the worsening financial situation facing colleges across the border. He said:

“Wales won’t be taking any lessons from the Tories on further education, given the mess the UK Government are creating in English colleges.”

Criticising FE cuts in Scotland last month on the Scottish Conservative website, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said:

“We knew the Scottish Government had cut tens of thousands of part-time college places and replaced them with only a smattering of full-time ones.

But now we know where that axe has fallen geographically.

Thousands of people, from Glasgow to Aberdeenshire, the Lothians to Lanarkshire, have been denied the opportunity to study in a way that is flexible to them.

The SNP has slammed the door of opportunity in the face of thousands – people trying to change career, single parents and mothers simply trying to get the skills they need to get back into the workplace.

It’s no wonder businesses are increasingly worried about the skills gap.

The Scottish Government’s approach to colleges is failing students and failing business – the First Minister needs to explain what she is going to do to turn this around.”

Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph has reported redundancies that slash the FE workforce in Northern Ireland by just over 12%. The chairman of the Assembly’s Department of Employment and Learning’s scrutiny committee has said the redundancies were “another casualty” of the continuing impasse between the DUP and Sinn Fein over welfare reform.

Robin Swann of the Ulster Unionist Party said that:

“money would be better spent investing in further education to equip young people to enter the workforce “rather than divesting it of the staff that are there to support and develop their students”.

Whatever the party politics and underlying point scoring, FE and adult education must be kept in the spotlight as a priority for political debate and, more importantly, positive action.

It’s interesting to know that the following Westminster MPs expressed active support for FE and adult education during Adult Learners’ Week and as part of the #Love FE campaign.

  • Alan Campbell (Lab) Tynemouth.
  • Jeremy Corbyn (Lab) Islington North
  • Pat Glass (Lab) North West Durham
  • Stephen Hepburn (Lab) Jarrow
  • Caroline Lucas (Green) Brighton Pavilion
  • Andy McDonald (Lab) Middlesbrough
  • John McDonnell (Lab) Hayes and Harlington
  • Cat McKinnell (Lab) Newcastle upon Tyne North
  • Fiona McTaggart (Lab) Slough
  • Chi Onwurah (Lab) Newcastle Central
  • Cat Smith (Lab) Lancaster and Fleetwood
  • Catherine West (Lab) Hornsey and Wood Green
  • Ian Wright (Lab) Hartlepool
  • Daniel Zeichner (Lab) Cambridge

David Lammy (Lab) has also written positively here about the value of evening classes.

Which other politicians should be included as supporters?

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10 blogs about adult education

There are many excellent blogs about education. Most of those that I’ve come across focus on teaching, learning and leadership in schools and there’s a lot to learn from them, but it’s good to find some that focus specifically on adult education, including part-time adult and community learning.

You can find a list of sample blogs from WEA colleagues in the right hand side bar of this blog if you scroll down the page on full screen versions or at the end of the text on smartphone formats. Some of the blogs are more active than others and they represent different aspects of our work – from tutor and branch blogs to payroll support. Many are informal but ‘weaadulted‘ is Ruth Spellman’s official blog as our CEO.

Here are links to 10 other interesting blogs that are relevant to adult education. They’re listed in alphabetical order of their authors and are all UK-focused unless stated otherwise.

  1. The Learning Professor – John Field is an academic interested in lifelong learning.
  2. Education Post 2015 ICAE – The International Council for Adult Education.
  3. Stuffaliknows – Alison Iredale is a teacher educator working at Oldham College as Centre Manager for the PGCE / CertEd (Lifelong Learning).
  4. JISC Regional Support Centres – (formerly Joint Information Systems Committee) Supports the use of digital technologies in UK education and research.
  5. teachnorthern – Lou Mycroft is a teacher educator, working at The Northern College, Barnsley. This blog links to a ‘Community of Praxis’ and ‘Teachdifferent’.
  6. More, Different, Better – A multi-authored blog from NIACE, the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education.
  7. Working in Adult Literacy – Kate Nonesuch has worked in adult literacy and numeracy for more than twenty-five years, most of that time at Vancouver Island University. (Canadian).
  8. Sam Shepherd’s Blog – Sam is an ESOL tutor and teacher trainer.
  9. The Learning Age – Paul Stanistreet is a journalist who edits Adults Learning, a quarterly magazine for people working in adult education.
  10. Union Learning Voices – The unionlearn blog.

I’ll write a future post listing more blogs about education that are relevant to adult educators but not written directly from, or for, the sector.

Apologies if I’ve missed your personal blog or your favourite adult education blog. Please let me know. I’d appreciate your comments, suggestions and additions.

P.S.

The following blogs have also been recommended via comments on Twitter:

Carol Goody – Carol is an Adult Literacies & ESOL Worker in Community Learning and Development with a local authority in Scotland.

Improvisation Blog by Mark Johnson, suggested by Alison Iredale.

http://azumahcarol.wordpress.com/ by Dr Carol Azumah Dennis, a researcher, writer & teacher.

I’ll add more if people send me links.

Social movements, social media and manipulation

Speaking at the WEA Scotland’s AGM in Edinburgh on Saturday, Professor John Field focused attention on the decline of some traditional social movements that supported the WEA’s birth, the flourishing of social media and adult education’s role in promoting democracy, fairness and social justice.

Can social media give us the means to reconnect, rethink and revive social movements or develop new ones? Can they help to reverse the decline in adult learning shown by recent research, such as the 2012 NIACE Adult Participation in Learning Survey? (http://shop.niace.org.uk/2012-participation-survey-headline-findings.html)

Jayne Stuart, Director of the WEA in Scotland talked of, “great strength in connections”, as she introduced the “world of difference” theme at the AGM and encouraged people to tweet from the event. John Field reinforced the view that it’s never been easier to connect and to create online educational movements and opportunities for civic engagement.

We soon saw Twitter connectivity in action as people way beyond the room commented on proceedings in Edinburgh’s City Chambers and joined in discussions from near and far. The WEA’s AGM in Edinburgh was linked to the WEA’s Southern Region AGM at the Wellcome Institute in London. People from the Northern College for Adult Residential Education, NIACE, the University of Cambridge and Edinburgh City Council joined in the communication, which reached people as diverse as Members of the Scottish Parliament and a genealogist in Harrogate.

This unprecedented level of instant networking reinforces a feeling of collective agreement and shared purpose. This is very encouraging but we might need to stop and think about whether we are reaching, influencing and listening to people whose views might be different from ours. We can become complacent if we don’t see the challenges.  As John Field said, “education is a social process and is most exciting when we’re challenged and confounded”.

With this in mind, are we sufficiently aware that social media and web search engines such as Google actively filter out views that we might disagree with? Eli Pariser’s book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, makes interesting reading on this issue. It’s described as, “An eye-opening account of how the hidden rise of personalization on the Internet is controlling – and limiting – the information we consume.”

Pariser describes how Google began customising its search results for each user in December 2009, presenting us with the predicted links that we are most likely to click on. In effect, Google, Twitter, Facebook and other web-based systems now manipulate how we access and share information on an individual basis.

Knowing this kind of information is highly relevant to how we work and also to the kind of education that we offer. How big is the leap from personalisation to propaganda? Understanding society, communication, censorship and control is fundamental to high quality and relevant adult education that encourages critical thinking.

Is the internet controlling how much we are confounded and challenged? If so, what are the likely consequences?