I always knew lifelong learning had its benefits, but nothing could prepare me for the way it had impacted people at the recent Festival of Learning awards.
Adult Learning has always faced an uphill battle where funding and perception is concerned. Often seen as the option for low achievers, the awards revealed a side to further education rarely shown to the masses.
From passion projects to overhauling entire lives, this year’s winners ranged in age, background and objectives for wanting to further their learning. This individuality is what makes further education special because everyone comes with a different story and reason for doing a course.
The inclusivity of it all is what makes further education meaningful but also necessary.
Stephen Evans, the chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute said: “Every year we get an amazing set of winners. We've been doing this for 25 years now, we've had over 300 winners and they're all amazing examples of adult education and amazing ambassadors for the power of learning. What really strikes you is the diversity of the different types of winners. There are people learning to improve their health and wellbeing, to get a job or progress their career, or to build their role into society as well.”
A shining example of this was Habib Rezaie, who was the recipient of the Outstanding Individual Learner Award. After moving to the UK as an unaccompanied asylum-seeker aged 16, Rezaie was taken into care by Leicester City Council. He had to play catch up having never attended school in his home of Afghanistan, but against all odds, he’s now a graduate of De Montfort University with a degree in Computing for Business.
‘University is not just about learning. University is a place where you have people from all around the world and obviously you integrate into different societies, different cultures, you meet loads of people and you learn a lot from university – it really makes you set for life. It is a different environment, and a great atmosphere to be in!’ he told us.
Talks about funding and shortages facing colleges often drown out the positive impact further education has on people. This is why the Festival of Learning is pivotal in showing people what can actually be achieved through lifelong learning and that despite the obstacles, its place in society is crucial.
Emily Chapman, VP for Further Education at the NUS said, ‘It shows me that the Further Education sector is alive, it's kicking, it's amazing, it's everything it should be. I've been saying to a couple of people when it comes to these events, I love it because it celebrates adult education for what it is.’
A far cry from the dreary picture often painted, The Festival of Learning awards reflected a strong sense of pride, motivation and achievement. It was refreshing to see people from all walks of life being celebrated and now living a life that they were proud of.
The attitudes most definitely turned the mainstream dialogue of Further Education on its head and will give policymakers hefty food for thought because surely a service that improves the lives and wellbeing of individuals is worth the investment?
Safeera is Editor of Whatuni and a journalist from Kingston University. Always the inquisitive, her writing spans across a number of areas such as sustainability, fashion, lifestyle and now education. Her belief that you never stop learning and passionate nature has taken her to New York City as part of her degree and across the airwaves on national radio talking about the issues that matter to her.