A green paper released on 23 January made reference to the growing challenge when it comes to training for older people.
Robert Halfon spoke to FE Week saying that, ‘We wouldn’t have put this in the industrial strategy if we weren’t serious about it. At the moment government and I are looking at it in terms of how does it meet skills needs, how do we help the socially disadvantaged, how does it work for the modern age.’
Over 60 MPs were said to have called on Halfon to commit more effort to adult education.
According to an FE Week article, government figures show that ‘there are around 1.5 million fewer adults aged 19 or over participating in adult FE than there were during the Labour MP David Lammy’s stint as minister between 2007 and 2008, when the figure stood at 3.75 million.’
Halfon explained in his first speech in November last year that it was important to ensure that learners of all ages and those from lower income backgrounds are able to get on to the work ladder. At the moment though it’s unclear whether there will be a strategy or some kind of framework in place for lifelong learning.
Adult learning college WMC-The Camden College welcomed the inclusion with Principal Helen Hammond saying, ‘We are delighted to see this announcement reflects exactly what WMC-The Camden College has been championing for over 160 years. We and all other adult colleges, are glad to see this is now gaining a higher profile on the agenda so that our work with Adult leaders can continue to be championed.’
The effects of lifelong learning stretch far beyond economic value. There are both health and social benefits to continued education at all ages, which can have a positive impact on adults.
Former top skills civil servant Sue Pember said, ‘We would like to see any lifelong learning framework addressing the poor basic skills of the workforce, support those with low skills into further training and start preparing those who are at the risk of losing their present jobs because of technological advances into learning new skills.’
This is exactly why further education colleges exist. Not just for young school leavers, these establishments are there for adults to broaden their knowledge either in basic skills or advanced courses that can help them prepare for higher education or the workplace, depending on what type of course they take – and they make a significant difference.
‘We have many learners who study ESOL and their lessons enable them to feel confident in speaking, reading and writing English in order to help them integrate better in the community and help them in progressing to employment. We have a huge mix of learners who come to us to achieve an accredited qualification or to learn a fun hobby type skill. Plus, our courses help disadvantaged learners when it comes to learning. It’s their opportunity for a second chance at education which they didn’t necessarily manage to achieve when they were younger. We are such a culturally diverse college in a diverse area of London so our learners not only learn skills for their own pursuits but also other skills such as cultural acceptance and social inclusion,’ Hammond explained.
‘Our learners at WMC-The Camden College come to us from a hugely diverse background and with a vast range of abilities. They each have their own individual reasons for studying with us and they have benefitted in many ways. We have learners who have progressed in employment, gone into new lines of work, achieve promotions at their current workplace or are able to set up their own business. Learners benefit by boosting their confidence, improving their social skills and being able to help their children with their homework.’
Finally giving the attention lifelong learning needs will according to the FE Week article and Halfon, ‘fit in the framework of government priorities, meeting our skills deficit, helping the disadvantaged, ensuring that people get jobs.’
He also stressed in a speech he gave in November that it was important that ‘individuals from the lowest-income backgrounds get on the ladder of opportunity and benefit from the best education and skills training.’
This will in turn help to tackle unemployment rates and keep this demographic abreast of things like technological developments, which can hinder their chances of getting a job.
Halfon has yet to highlight how funding cuts will affect this but we and WMC-The Camden College are in agreement that this is the first step in the right direction. Hammond also echoed a lot of what Halfon touched on in his speech in November.
‘Adults need to be able to adapt to social and technological changes if they are to keep up with developments. We believe adult courses should be available to everyone and not only to those who can afford them. But this becomes increasingly difficult with consistent funding cuts. When educated and employed, adults rely less (or not at all) on Government resources and contribute to the economy.’
Lifelong learning is not only important to us. We have a host of adult learning colleges who offer a wide range of courses for all interests. Start your search today and see what you will achieve.
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.