Learn, learn and learn again: why adult education matters

“Learn, learn and learn again: why adult education matters”, Let’s Go Further Podcast, Series 3, Ep 1

Kicking off series 3 of Let’s Go Further Joe Mcloughlin talks to John Holford (Robert Peers Professor of Adult Education Emeritus at the University of Nottingham) about the importance of adult education in society. The Centenary Commission on Adult Education, to which John is the Joint Secretary, recently marked 100 years since the influential 1919 Report on Adult Education, setting the stage for Joe and John’s conversation about the development of adult education in the last 100 years.   

The episode began with a look back on the words of Mamello Atisa from series 1 (a Skills and Education Group Foundation grant recipient and Learner of the Year finalist in the FAB Awards 2022), who reflected on her passion for adult learning: 

“So, for me, education was, I guess, a therapy of some sort, and trying to figure out how I can engage in this world and what my place was. And by discovering what my skills are, what my interests are, and what my capabilities are.” 

Mamello Atisa, Let’s Go Further (Oct 2023)

Beginning the conversation, John gives a summary of the status of adult education in society since the early 20th century. From the 1919 report which established the importance of non-vocational and vocational adult education, through the rise and heyday of adult education in the post WW2 period, to the 1980’s when the emphasis of adult education became purely vocational and focused on meeting the needs of the economy. John argues that the exclusively economic outlook of the 1980’s remains in the discussion on adult education, which holds us back from social progress. 

After establishing this context, the pair move on to discussing how the 1919 report was significant in establishing the social importance of adult education. John argues that the social side of adult education is important for 2 reasons.  

Firstly, adult education is crucial for community engagement and identity. When education moves away from focusing on purely individuals gaining qualifications for themselves education becomes a space where communities can work together in a “civilised and thoughtful way” to solve internal debates and social problems.  

Secondly, the 1919 report coincided with the expanding of the electorate to include all men and some women. As such adult education was discussed as essential for a functioning democracy. John’s view is that this is still the case, arguing that: 

“providing education for adults was essential for making a democracy work, making a democratic community work, and making the institutions of our democratic society work…And I think that my view at any rate, is that the crises of democracy that we see in recent decades, are not solely connected with or caused by the decay of adult education. But I think that is a significant contributor to it.” 

Prof John Holford, Let’s Go Further (Oct 2023)

The pair then turn to the current debate on adult education in the context of the Government’s Levelling Up policy. John argues that many committees such as the Centenary Committee and House of Commons Committee on Education have agreed on the importance of adult education for building communities, maintaining democracy, creativity and individual wellbeing. Despite this the policy world appears driven by purely economic motives as in the 1980’s.  

“That implies that the whole of the education and skills system – certainly the post-compulsory education and skills system – has to be directed at making the workplace more efficient and effective. And that has led to a great narrowing of the nature of adult education and to a diminution of the richness of education in the community.”   

Prof John Holford, Let’s Go Further (Oct 2023)

Finishing the conversation, the pair discuss John’s hope for the future of adult education. John stresses the importance of the government re-establishing partnerships with society organisation, including adult learners in the shaping of the education system and changing the cultural attitude towards adult education. 

Subscribe now to listen to series 3 first and stay up-to-date on latest developments in adult education.   

The Let’s Go Further Podcast is produced by the Skills and Education Group in collaboration with Research Podcasts and is published fortnightly.  

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