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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 02:04 GMT 03:04 UK


Lifelong learning is for others

People want free courses at convenient times

Most people in Britain think the country needs more adult education - but half say nothing will persuade them to take it up, a survey suggests.

Four out of five agreed "we need more education in the future" in a survey commissioned by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers - most meaning throughout life, rather than in childhood.

A fifth were actually on some form of educational course. But, when people were asked what would encourage them back into education or training, 48% said nothing would.

For the others, the biggest motivator (20%) would be that the courses were free, and were held at convenient times (19%).

The prospect that the learning would lead to a pay rise at work was important for 16% overall - and for more than a fifth of the men. Time away from the workplace was regarded as being just as important.

Childcare factor

The availability of childcare, such as a creche, was a key factor with 36% of those who had children under two - the figure tapered off as the children's ages increased.

[ image: The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education holds an adult learners' week each year]
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education holds an adult learners' week each year
Having to take exams was not a significant deterrent to more than a tiny minority.

The survey involved 2,126 people aged over 16 in England, Wales and Scotland. It showed up clear geographical differences in the appetite for learning.

In the North of England, nearly two in three - 59% - said nothing would persuade them to continue in education, compared with 31% in the North West and 42% in East Anglia and the South East.

The biggest proportion actually taking part in ongoing education was in the South East of England - 25% - nearly three times as many as in East Anglia, where only 9% were on courses. The figures were 14% in Scotland and 19% in Wales.

'Serious cash injections'

Commenting on the findings, the ATL's General Secretary, Peter Smith, said: "It is evident that people in Britain do believe in learning from 'womb to tomb', but they feel there are too many barriers to education.

"Employers have a major responsibility in encouraging employees to enhance their skills and knowledge," he said.

"The government must recognise that serious cash injections need to be made to ensure that courses are accessible to everyone."

Ministers are keen to see more adults learning, not least to try to tackle the chronic shortage of basic literacy and numeracy skills. Seven million adults have no formal qualifications at all.

In a White Paper for England this summer, the government said: "All adults need the opportunity to continue to learn throughout their working life, to bring their qualifications up to date and, where necessary, to train for a different job...

"That means that everyone must have access to high quality, relevant learning at a time and pace, and in places that suit them. Not only do individuals, families and communities benefit, learning throughout life also delivers tangible results for business - improved productivity and competitiveness."

'Culture shift'

The Scottish Executive aims to make Scotland a "country of lifelong learning".

The Lifelong Learning Minister, Henry McLeish, has said: "Scotland has not yet signed up fully to this concept. We need to promote a shift in culture and acceptance.

"Colleges and government need to say to all Scots that 'lifelong learning is for you'. Some will require to make a change in lifestyles and the key will be the empowerment of individuals.

"The reality is that the key to personal success is continuous education. "

An Education and Training Action Plan for Wales is being considered by the National Assembly in Cardiff. And in Northern Ireland, a skills task force has been established and a review of the planning, funding and management of further and higher education is going on.

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