Education, schooling, Gove and Gramsci

‘Education’ is rarely out of the news these days, with a conveyor belt of reviews and reforms. Some recent social media exchanges have highlighted the distinction, made by the Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci amongst others, between ‘education’ and ‘schooling’.

While we should acknowledge and welcome the fact that existing funding for adult and community learning was protected in last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review given the current economic climate, it seems that most of the reported policy discussion about ‘education’ is actually about ‘schooling’. The main focus appears to be on ideology and control in primary and secondary education.

Speaking at the recent Sunday Times Festival of Education, Prof. A C Grayling suggested that, “Teaching to the exam has squeezed out education in favour of schooling” (Earlier this year, Grayling placed a bid to open a free secondary school in Camden.)

In this context, it’s interesting to remember that Education Secretary Michael Gove told the Social Market Foundation of his admiration for Gramsci in a speech in February this year.  There’s a profile of Gramsci and his work at http://infed.org/mobi/antonio-gramsci-schooling-and-education/.  Comparing and contrasting Gove and Gramsci’s thinking on education is a thought-provoking exercise.

Gove & Gramsci

The purpose of education continues to provide fertile ground for critical inquiry but adult educators argue that there should be a much greater emphasis on lifelong learning beyond school within policy debate and development.

There are many compelling reasons why education for all stages of life is important – not least so that parents and carers can support their children’s education and improve their attainment. We can’t rely on schools to educate children in a vacuum or assume that we’ve learnt all that we need to know or understand for the remaining 60+ years of our lives after we have left school.

Although it was published in 2009, Tom Schuller and David Watson’s report, “Learning Through Life: Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning” (http://shop.niace.org.uk/ifll-learningthroughlife.html), shows that education is relevant throughout life and should not be defined narrowly as ‘schooling’ for children and young people.

Will pensioners become NEET?

Here’s a scenario. Retired people who are fit for paid work will be treated as being NEET – not in employment, education or training – and required to get jobs.

No-one’s pushing this as a policy but David Willetts, the universities minister, has been in the news this week encouraging older people to return to higher education to keep their skills updated for employment throughout their sixties and beyond. (See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/9884301/Over-60s-are-told-go-back-to-university-and-retrain.html)

He made the comments after a recent government report said that the UK’s future economic success will depend on older workers’ skills and contributions. Campaigners for older people aren’t convinced that many will want to commit to degree-level courses and to the possibility of student debt, but figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the average life span in England and Wales increased by around 10 years for a man and 8 years for a woman over the 50 years from 1960 to 2010. The most common age at death in England and Wales in 2010 was 85 for men and 89 for women.

There many issues to think about as people are living longer and technology is changing the ways that we live, learn, work and socialise. Will 60-year-olds be expected to train for extended careers – competing against younger people who aren’t in employment, education or training – or for long, active and healthy retirements?

Joyce Patrick, featured in a past edition of WEA News, learnt to read at the age of 83.

Joyce Patrick, featured in a past edition of WEA News, learnt to read at the age of 83.

Willetts’ proposal is set against a current decline in the number of older students in higher education. A recent report, ‘Older People’s Learning in 2012: A Survey’ by Professor Stephen McNair, Senior Research Fellow at NIACE, found that the proportion of older learners (aged 50+) studying in further education colleges and universities had dropped significantly between 2005 and 2012, from 21% to 9% in colleges and from 14% to 8% in universities.

The report is available at: http://shop.niace.org.uk/older-peoples-learning-2012-summary.html

Stephen McNair reported that more than a quarter of older people said that learning had helped them to pass on skills and knowledge to others. 14% reported ‘Getting involved in society’ as a benefit and 13% cited the value of ‘improving my health’. ‘Getting involved in the digital world’ was a benefit for 10% of respondents in his research and significant numbers reported that it had helped them to manage caring roles and to cope with life crises.

Despite these benefits, older people are much less likely than younger people to be learning. Only 20% of over-50s are ‘learners’, compared to 40% of the adult population as a whole. The proportion falls to only 7% of those aged 75 and over.

older

The WEA is not a university but we have a long tradition of attracting students of all ages into high quality adult education covering a wide range of courses. 37,749 WEA students in 2011-12 were aged 65 or older and a recent analysis of our student data showed 11 active learners who were 100 years old or older.

It’s worth noting the 96.3% retention rate for students aged 65 or older in our part-time, community-based courses last year. Their 96.2% success rate shows that age didn’t stop them meeting their learning aims.

Many of our active volunteers are older people who are contributing to community life in their neighbourhoods. Audrey Constable, 77, voluntary chair of the WEA’s Great Missenden, Prestwood and Wendover Branch is good example. Audrey, a piano teacher, left school without going on to further education immediately. Taking part in a course with the Association in 1970 encouraged her to do a degree in philosophy and linguistics. She says that the WEA changed her life. Michael Davis, 79, a retired surveyor of Prestwood, has been involved in the same branch for 10 years. He says, “We all have a good common interest and enjoy the group learning. It is worthwhile.”

Older people are often overlooked in public debates about education so it’s refreshing that David Willetts has highlighted over-60s and their potential.

What do you think about education’s role in older people’s professional, social and personal well-being? What about pensioners’ rights and responsibilities compared to younger people?

Obituary – Eric Frith

Warm tributes are being paid to Eric Frith, a committed and active volunteer for the Workers’ Educational Association. Eric, who was the Chair of our Walthamstow Branch, died on Christmas Day at the age of 90.

Eric Frith

Eric Frith

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Eric and his late wife Elise had wide-ranging interests and were very well-known in their community. They first started to organise courses at what is now the Adult Education Centre in Greenleaf Road, Walthamstow in the 1960s. Eric and Elise founded the Walthamstow branch of the WEA in 2005 to make sure that courses could still run at the Centre after the original service changed. He and his wife were over 80 years old when they took on this challenge.

He served as the Branch Chair and continued to do so after Elise died in 2010 at the age of 88. He chaired an active committee which meets regularly for typical WEA Branch activities such as planning and reviewing courses, approving finances, organising social and educational events and liaising with others in the WEA as well as partner organisations. Eric’s many interests included theatre, history and local developments. These were reflected in recent Branch visits to the Globe Theatre, the British Library and the National Theatre. 30 Branch members and friends also took a guided tour of the Olympic Park during its development and were able to see the velodrome, aquatics centre, the press centre and main stadium being built.

Walthamstow WEA colleague Joan Carder said: “Eric and Elise embodied the ideals of the WEA, and the Branch will not be the same without them”.

Eric was a keen campaigner for the protection of Epping Forest and the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. He also supported drama productions across the area, preparing and playing music and sound effects for hundreds of performances.

Eric’s funeral will be held on Wednesday, January 16, at 11.45am at the City of London Crematorium.

A tale of two cities (Nottingham and Chelmsford)

I spent last Friday morning at the launch of the WEA’s “Women Leading Learning” project in Nottingham. It was one of those mood-boosting days that happen in adult education when people share their stories. Students gave their testimonies about how learning had transformed their lives for the better. Occasions like this are almost evangelical. Each person’s story could be the makings of a novel, drama or film. Some women had got jobs, some had overcome depression and some had gone into local politics as a result of adult education courses. One had done all three. It was a joyful celebration.

Antonia Zenkevitch was an expert compère as WEA tutors, staff, volunteers and people from partner organisations added their voices and took part in creative activities. There are more details about the event, links to photos, including the one above, and some video clips at http://womenleadinglearning.wordpress.com/5th-october-launch-event-programme-and-details/ You can also scroll down ‘Other WEA Blogs’ in the right hand column of this page to a find a link to ‘Women Leading Learning’.

(For the record, I also support the Men’s Sheds movement http://menssheds.org.uk/.)

On Saturday I joined branch volunteers and staff at the WEA Essex Federation’s Annual General Meeting in Chelmsford. I’m grateful to their Chair, Ron Marks, for inviting me and for the opportunity to share thoughts on teaching, learning and assessment and our ambition for WEA education over the next 3 years.

There was a good turnout from the county’s 43 volunteer-led branches with reports, presentations and group discussions. Colchester MP and WEA Patron, Sir Bob Russell joined the meeting, where people raised issues about democracy and change as key themes for discussion. As well as reporting on the year’s highlights, people debated various concerns and niggles. This is natural in a democratic organisation where students, volunteers, members and staff can express their views and they can now be explored further through the appropriate channels.

WEA Essex Course Brochure 2012-13

It was encouraging to hear and read about branch activities and educational projects in Essex including a Cultural Olympiad and plans to digitise the Region’s archives. People from at least two branches mentioned that they had 96-year old students in their courses. This reminds me that I should re-check how many WEA students are over 100 years old. It’s amazing that there are some.

The balance of work done in the previous year was interesting and there were yet more descriptions of great tutors and of adult education that had given people a fresh start when their lives had seemed almost without hope. An account of student Tammy’s aspiration to become a midwife against all odds had people spellbound. Tammy had been in and out of care as a child, left school at 13 and was on a life path that seemed destined to repeat the same cycle for her own children. Her story, like Alice’s, Mel’s, Keren’s and other women who spoke in Nottingham on the previous day, offer living proof that education can be an escape route from one life path and onto a better one. We also saw evidence that learning helps to keep people active in their communities as well as stimulating their brains into their 80s and beyond..

Over the two days I heard about some of the WEA Award winners who will be honoured at our Parliamentary event on 7 November. That will definitely be another day with a feel-good effect.