18 May

Growing pains

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Ata time of great flux in the field of adult learning, a new report tracks its developmentsince the Industrial Revolution and comments on the current policy frameworktowards adult learning. By Elaine EsseryAdultLearning in England: a review is a collaborative report by the Institute forEmployment Studies (IES) and the National Institute of Adult ContinuingEducation (NIACE) launched during Adult Learners Week last month.Itcontributes to a thematic review being carried out by the Organisation forEconomic Co-operation and Development (OECD) across nine countries. The OECDstudy aims to review whether the quality and quantity of learning opportunitiesfor adults are adequate and to suggest how access to adult learning could beimproved. The DfEE asked IES and NIACE to prepare the report as background forOECD experts who recently visited a variety of workplaces and institutions inEngland as part of their review.Thereis little new in the IES/NIACE report – it is based on a review of existinginformation backed up by the authors’ considerable knowledge and experience inthe field. But it provides a comprehensive and useful reference source on adultlearning in England at the turn of the century.OverviewThedocument gives an overview of relevant institutional and policy framework,shows the current state of play on participation in adult learning and examinesthe needs and motivation of adult learners – along with barriers to learning. Alook at the benefits of learning and recent moves to widen participation inlearning activities are followed by the authors’ conclusions on the currentpolicy framework towards adult learning.Thebalance of evidence suggests that learning activity among adults is rising, thereport says, yet there remains a persistent group of non-learners. Factorsbehind non-participation in learning include the lack of learning opportunitiesof a kind which people want or are able to access.JimHillage, an associate director of the IES and one of the report’s principalauthors, explains, “Learning needs to be made simple and at a modular level,allowing people to learn things they want to learn at any given time andletting them return to learning when it suits them.”Thisis the underlying philosophy of learndirect, the brand name of the Universityfor Industry (Ufi). According to Hillage, “Ufi is an interesting innovation asit’s going to make learning more bite-sized, more downloadable, more immediate.And that might change some of the current policy thinking which concentrates onqualifications.”Hillageis critical of the Government policy focus on qualifications which, he says,can act as a deterrent to learning. “Often people want to engage in smallamounts of learning. They may want to know just a bit more about something butdon’t want to do a course with a qualification at the end of it, which is whatthe Government tends to package up. You may want to do, say, a three-day courseand if your employer is willing to pay for you to do that, or if you’re willingto pay for it yourself, that’s fine. But if the only way you can access moneyis by going on a publicly funded course leading to an output, it makes a mealof it and makes life more complicated.”Hillagequestions the importance of qualifications, believing them to be little morethan convenient measures of the quality of training provision on which governmentcan base payments. “Qualifications are not as important to individuals oremployers as policy tends to think. Ask employers and most of them will saythat they treat them as a filter but what’s important is that people have donethe learning and can do the job,” says Hillage.Qualificationsdo, however, impact on earnings. The report shows that academic qualificationsattract a higher premium than vocational qualifications. Men with a degreeearn, on average, 60 per cent more than average earnings and men without anyqualification earn 40 per cent less than average earnings.“Thereis some suggestion that the differential is narrowing but I think it’s true tosay that employers would on balance still have an inclination towards anacademic qualification which they know,” says Hillage.ProgressTherehas been considerable progress in recent years in raising the level of skillsamong the UK’s population, but Britain has alarmingly low levels of basicskills which contribute to the skills gap between it and other industrialisedcountries. Sir Claus Moser drew on figures from an OECD study to illustratethis in his report last year. Of the 13 industrialised countries surveyed, onlytwo – Poland and Ireland – have a greater literacy problem than Britain.Changesin the occupational structure have caused basic skills deficiencies to becomemore measurable, Hillage claims. “People who slipped through the education net10 to 20 years ago and never fully mastered the art of reading and writing, tosome extent never really had to, as there were many jobs available to them. Nowit’s more difficult to find those sort of jobs and people are having to admitthat they have very low levels of literacy,” he says.Untilrelatively recently there has been little support to help people read and writeonce they have left full-time education. Now, tackling poor standards of adultliteracy and numeracy is high on the Government’s agenda.“Partof the trick is getting people in the workplace to encourage those who do havelow levels of literacy and numeracy to learn. “Oneof the most interesting things in the last 10 years has been the involvement oftrade unions, through schemes like the Union Learning Fund, in bringinglearning to the workplace. It has to be made very, very easy for people. Thelearning has to come to them,” says Hillage.“Employershave a role. Some think: ‘This is not my problem, this is the state’s problem.We will teach people to use a machine but if they can’t even read that’s notour problem.’ I think employers need to take a wider view. If they want to havea better labour market from which to recruit they need to give more support toeverybody.”ConclusionAdultLearning in England: a review concludes that “the next decade will be the testboth of government intentions and the efficacy of its proposed solutions.” Itsuggests that there remain a number of challenges. Perhaps the greatest ofthese is raising the demand for learning among those who need it most – but areinterested in it least – and ensuring that new initiatives focus on those inneed. Previous Article Next Article Growing painsOn 1 Jun 2000 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. last_img read more