Learning for Life
Yet again, the publication of this year’s GCSE results led to a public debate about whether the examinations are too easy (or indeed, too hard). However, with all the political gesturing and media coverage it’s easy to forget that GCSEs are not just the result of a few hours in an examination hall, but the accumulation of a learning journey that begins at the earliest stages of a child’s development.
A study by the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Adult Learning showed the influence parents’ own education can have on the attitude (and aptitude) of their children. The study found that: ‘People who do well at school and who obtain higher qualifications tend to have children who do the same.’ According to the study these differences ‘show up very early in a child’s development.’
The Millennium Cohort Study (which is tracking more than 15,000 children born in 2000 and 2001), also reported that ‘The quality of the home learning environment – for example, parents reading to their children and teaching them letters and shapes – is important for children’s social, as well as intellectual, development.’
This evidence does not question the importance of good schools, which are critical, but it serves as a reminder that the education of young people and the education of adults are not distinct and separate policy issues. Unfortunately, compulsory education and adult learning are often seen as competing forces when it comes to the allocation of scarce public funding, with the former winning hands-down.
The examples we see on a day-to-day basis highlight the intergenerational impact of adult and family learning. Interviewed for the Inspire! Learning Awards in 2011, Basic Skills Learner of the Year, Rachel Morgan remembered how she had ‘absolutely hated school’. Always labeled as ‘the naughty one’, Rachael was diagnosed with severe dyslexia and eventually made it to college but found that she couldn’t cope and soon left.
As the years passed Rachael’s disillusionment with education became ingrained and it began to impact on her life and that of her young daughter, Bethany – ‘We were living in a flat but I wouldn’t go out and just stayed in watching TV. Bethany was about four, and I knew something had to change for her sake as well as my own. I didn’t want her going through what I went through. Growing up, unable to read’.
Initially reluctant to even consider the idea, Rachael was persuaded to return to the classroom by her father, who had himself found a love of learning later in life. He knew it could transform his daughter’s life and with the help of Karen Workman from Communities First, they finally managed to get Rachael to attend a family learning class with Bethany.
The confidence the class gave her enabled Rachael to not only support her daughter with her school work, but also to speak about her experiences at a Family and Intergenerational Learning Conference and on BBC Radio Wales with Roy Noble.
When asked about how it felt to win the award, Rachael was typically candid ‘If you told me ten years ago I would have been doing this, I’d have told you where to go! I am proud of what I have achieved, but I know I still have a long way to go. I like learning now, I am a totally different person to the one I was in school.’
You don’t need a degree to be a good parent, you may have even left school with no qualifications at all, but as Rachael’s story and the research shows, the impact of adult learning on a child’s progression can be profound. Each class that Rachael took was motivated by the desire to help her daughter, but by doing so she has led them both on a journey which will brighten their prospects and change their lives forever.
Richard Spear is the Director for Wales, NIACE Dysgu Cymru
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