The age debate: £10,000 for everyone – but is it really Lifelong Learning for all?
I’m not neutral when it comes to discussions about funding FE colleges, community-based education and Lifelong Learning. I disliked school (attested by 1 O’ Level in Pottery), got the learning bug aged 30 (it led to a Masters degree) and began teaching aged 50. Now, at 62, it saddens me to think that student loans and ten years of cutbacks mean that I and countless like me couldn’t make that journey today. So, the recommendations of A National Learning Entitlement: Moving Beyond University Tuition Fees (2018) pushed all the right buttons. £10,000 for everyone over the age of 18 who does not have a degree to be spent on accredited courses of their choice. I like that idea.
I also liked The Learning Revolution (published by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills back in March 2009) and the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) which between 2007 and 2013 had a budget of `nearly €7 billion [and was] designed to enable people, at any stage of their life, to take part in stimulating learning experiences, as well as developing education and training across Europe.’ (ec.europa.eu 2015) No more. Erasmus is now all about exchanging students, who judging by the images on the web site are all youthful and sexy. Not that that would surprise any of my learners. All are over the age of 50, and being mostly retired have a modal age of 70+.
So, my heart went pity-pat when I read of a need `to re-balance the debate, so that it deals with the population as a whole and does not identify learning with youth.’ (A National Learning Entitlement: p15) Yes, yes. Learning should be lifelong. And, while we’re at it can we teachers address this by thinking about basic training?
When studying for my Post Graduate Certificate in Education and Training (2016) I regularly read the phrase `Lifelong Learning’ yet there was almost nothing in my textbooks about older learners in spite of a UK population of 1.6 million people aged 85+ projected to double to 3.2 million by mid-2041 (www.ons.gov.uk).
Start talking about older learners and there are questions to be asked, both political and pedagogical: their capacity to learn, their motivations and the purpose of their learning. Also, are funders simply trying to keep the old folks away from the bottle, loneliness and depression so that they won’t become a burden on the NHS or is there an expectation that the learning might have genuine social, economic and personal benefits?
Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places but, as a practitioner, it seems to me that there’s a lack of theory addressing these issues. As a teacher I, of course, note the ways my older learners prefer to study. But how far can I extrapolate from my experience to other groups? From my end of the lifelong learning continuum it seems that the issue isn’t so much about re balancing the debate as having information out there. Then we can start.
Author: Robert S Silver
Since 2004, Robert S Silver has been a writer of film scripts, a journalist and a teacher who lives and works in London, England. He also helping people with disabilities to access the Internet; managers and staff of children’s homes with effective report writing skills, and 16- to 19-year olds who had previously been unable to access education. He currently teaches Creative Writing to people over the age of 50. http://www.robertssilver.com