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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Is Education only for the young?

Of course, to an Adult Educator like myself, the answer is so obvious it really doesn't need to be spelt out. But in Britain, listening to statements from recent Secretaries of State for Education, and we have had a few of those, you could be forgiven for thinking two things, viz

  1. Education is aimed primarily at schools and then only secondarily at Further and Higher Education. Of course adults, ie defined as those who are returning to education after a gap of some years, can be found studying in Further and Higher Education establishments alongside the young.

  2. But the underlying philosophy of all education politicians, and sadly of some educators too, is that education should be geared to getting jobs, and thereby boosting the economy. A Benthamite approach to learning.

Adult Educators still passionately believe, what earlier generations never really questioned, that education should be about so much more than training for jobs. It should be about producing balanced adults with wider interests than mere work. In short there needs in schools to be greater emphasis placed on The Arts and Humanities, from music and drama to history and civics. In the field of Adult Education itself, which has all but disappeared from the Public Sector in Britain, it means courses from aerobics to Zulu language, from acting to environmental studies (all of which I have organised in the past) with no examination added at the end. The benefit is producing better balanced people not giving them certificates of attendance or certificates of test completions. As a student at Oxford in the mid 1960s I was encouraged in my first Summer term to attend a lecture series away from my degree course in Law. Can't imagine that happening today.

I have embedded in my memory one older student in Lancashire, who having studied jewellery for a term, came up to me and said 'I lost my husband earlier this year, and became suicidal. This class has literally saved my life' Adult Education, all education, is so much more than mere subject learning.

I have chosen to wear my heart on my sleeve because earlier this week, in its thought for the day, The Times gave a quote from Disraeli

'Upon the education (no reference to training) of the people (no reference only to children) of this country the fate of this country depends.'

Disraeli's words ring true as ever in whichever country you happen to be reading this.

The great Education Act of 1944, produced whilst the war was still on and largely written by RAB (RA Butler, a member of Churchill's Cabinet) insisted that the opening phrase of the Act should read,

'It shall be lawful for His Majesty to appoint a Minister .... whose duty it shall be to promote the education of the people (not simply children) of England and Wales.....'

In my own career back in the 1970s the great Christopher Hill came up to South Warwickshire where we were running a study weekend for Shipston on Stour and surrounding villages to give a talk about The Civil War in the area. He was of course brilliant and refused a fee. He didn't think Adult Education was nothing to do with him in the same way as RAB Butler didn't either.

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