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?