The rise and fall of adult learning?
One of the major principles of education over the past decade or two has been the promotion of ‘lifelong learning’. Although the concept is sometimes presented in a somewhat nebulous way, and though it mixes phenomena which are not necessarily all related to each other (professional continuing education, for example, raises very different issues from those relating to mature student entry to undergraduate courses), it has been widely accepted that today’s society needs to be a learning community that encourages and supports education at all levels and at every age. Universities have gradually adopted new assumptions about pedagogy and demographics for the future based on the concept of lifelong learning.
Given that all this is so, should we draw any conclusions from the survey recently conducted in Britain by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education? This has suggested that, for the first time in a number of years, the percentage of adults engaged in continuing education has dropped. The drop has not been large – from 21 per cent to 20 per cent – but it has changed the trend. More worrying might be the finding that the proportion of adult males engaged in learning has dropped more substantially.
It is hard to be sure what is behind these changes, but it may be worth doing some further analysis to ascertain the causes. They may still be nothing more than a statistical blip, or they may be part of the fall-out from the recession, or they may reflect changes in aspirations and expectations. Certainly any risk to the vitality of a learning society needs to be evaluated carefully, as does any suggestion that the commitment of men to education and learning is being further compromised, with the social issues this may bring in its trail.
This may not be a major issue, but steps should be taken to ensure it does not become one.