Distance learning and adult education are certainly in the spotlight at the moment. As economic problems spur individuals to improve their CVs or consider a change in career, and universities begin to offer more and more distance and e-Learning courses, now seems the perfect time for adults to think about going back to school. But adult education is not only about teaching older learners new skills and subjects, it also has a wider social importance – and can achieve far more.
In order to have this far reaching achievement, adult education must be taught and used with such prospects in mind. In his essay, The Liberating Role Of Education, Julius K. Nyerere argues that wanting to learn should not be for the goal of achievement itself, in his words: ‘such a desire is merely another aspect of the disease of the acquisitive society’.
Consequently, adult education should be aiming to liberate the student in all senses of their character. Nyerere’s example is thus: “Learning how best to grow soya beans is of little use to a man if it is not combined with learning about nutrition; or the existence of a market for the beans.” It seems that adult education during a recession needs to be wholly encompassing – involving the learning of a new subject, along with the best ways to absorb and reinterpret the information on the subject (then and beyond), and to develop an understanding of how best they can utilize that knowledge in relation to the wider world.
In an article at guardian.co.uk, Paul Mackney of Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning discusses the importance for the government to promote adult education currently, but also the difficulties that come along with it. He states, “Employers are going to have a problem in delivering training when they are simply trying to survive. Short courses will be needed to encourage people back into learning.” Yet, society itself is dependent on social inclusion and cohesiveness that comes with employment and training. He argues, “the 19th century had been about developing elementary education, the 20th century about developing secondary education and the 21st century would be about developing mass further education and higher education.”
As a result of these arguments, it seems that one of the primary roles of adult education is almost beautiful in its simplicity – to give confidence. After years of working a job the idea of a change and going back to school is a huge step, and one that involves great bravery. Yet, an adult education course should not only inspire confidence in an individual’s knowledge of a subject, but also should show they can connect with their world and themselves in a more rewarding way – and that education can and should be continued at any point in their life.