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Education is not just about the young.

December 9th 2010

This week we have had a couple of posts about one of the great political issues that engages with almost everyone – education.  On Monday, Anne Crowley noted that the broken promises over fees are likely to alienate young people even further from Politics, and yesterday Professor David Egan responded to the recent release of the PISA results by arguing that a major rethink of educational structures in Wales was necessary.

Tuition fees and pre-16 schooling are regularly discussed because the vast majority of the population have children, or aspire to have children, and naturally want the best for their children. Education is thus seen as something primarily about children and young people, and thus understandably raises passions. But today I want to focus on the missing parts of the education puzzle, ones that are seldom discussed.

In discussions on poverty and long term unemployment, adult education and retraining are often mentioned as part of the solution. But by and large education is regarded as a debate about what happens to young people, with retraining and adult education left at the margins. This partly explains why it is so often left to third sector organisations, (or the private sector in areas where commercial loans to pay fees become feasible such as IT training) to run basic skills courses and education for adults in areas suffering from many kinds of social exclusion. Such courses often end up under-funded, under-appreciated and operating on a short term basis as a result.

Furthermore, for many of the people who attend these courses, there is the difficulty of supporting themselves (and maybe family as well) whilst on the courses, because some benefits have rules that limit the period which somebody could study. There are no loans on the same terms as the standard student loan for these people. Other courses, carrying approval from the benefits system, can also end up being seen by students as merely designed to keep the unemployment statistics low. One of the stories in our new book illustrates this well. The person concerned was sent on numerous training courses for little results, when all that person wanted was a job.

So there is a need, in the debates on education and how it is funded, to conceptualise education as something not for children and young people, but for us all. There is a need for us to focus on seeing education as a lifelong process (many of us will have to retrain, learn new skills etc during our careers) that effects all of us. And social justice demands that it is funded adequately and accessible to all.


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