A Facebook message from active campaigner Linda Hawkins alerted me to a posting on the JISC website from Michael Ayton that wondered why there is no specific category for ‘lifelong learning’ within the DIUS. While I have written here and elsewhere about the vital importance of lifelong elarning for all, I am not sure that a separate category for lifelong learning is the way forward – especially within the DIUS. A department for Industry and Skills, never mind the universities, that does not put lifelong learning at the heart of its agenda can hardly be doing its job.
The emphasis that is rightly placed on the need for basic skills and the determination to ensure that if these are not acquired in school (why not?), then they will be acquired in adulthood sometimes seems to obscure the other arguments in favour of adults as learners. For most adults, learning is fun, it comes in many varieties, much of it is informal and little of it is directly associated with work. However, that learning which is associated with work is carried out by (almost) everyone who is employed. What is more, much of that is carried out by people in their own time and without their employer’s knowledge because individuals want to learn and want to keep up to date or find a better/different job. How much better for them and the economy as a whole if they could find classes at an appropriate level whenever they wanted on both for-credit and informal bases. PhDs do not need to be a three year in-university academic apprenticeship; they can be done in near-tandem with work projects. People do not always need or want whole Masters degrees when they have one already but popping in for a module just to ‘top-up’ or add a new area makes sense. People with degrees may have excellent skills in some areas but a new work project or team might mean it would be socially useful to learn a language or a non-work-specific skill in order to foster the team relationship.
Work-related reasons for lifelong learning are, of course, not the only reasons for encouraging it. Those who have passed the days of compulsory employment are still economically and socially active. Learning helps people stay that way and that can only be a benefit to all.
Lifelong learning is part of life; it is not a special category but should be a central commitment in any government’s education strategy.