Adult Education is a Permanent National Necessity17-October-2019
In 1917 the Ministry of Reconstruction was established under Lloyd George’s wartime coalition government – Lloyd George, may I remind you, was Welshman with English his second language! Two years later in 1919, the Ministry of Reconstruction’s adult education committee published a Report on Adult Education, arguing that a population educated throughout life was vital for the future of the country. The report set the groundwork for British adult education during the 20th century.
The report made a number of important assertions:
• Adult education is a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and therefore should be both universal and lifelong”;
• it “should be spread uniformly and systematically over the whole community”.
• The state “should not … refuse financial support to institutions, colleges and classes, merely on the ground that they have a particular ‘atmosphere’ or appeal to students of this type or that. All that it ought to ask is that they be concerned with serious study.”
Here we are 100 years on, and those assertations continue to be the solid foundations to build a society which can thrive and grow through access to education and training. So much can still be learned from those early assertions which highlight the value and significance of investment in adult learning.
In 2014, there were 150,000 enrolments within adult community learning, and part-time courses in higher and further education. The latest stats for 2017/18 show a drop of 57% to just 85,000 enrolments.
However, there is a glimmer of light and hope that the tide is changing. Today, we have renewed energy and commitment from Welsh Government in developing a “new Welsh right to lifelong learning” through the Progressive Agreement between the Minister for Education and the First Minister.
We have seen the introduction of the Diamond package of financial support for full and part-time higher education students; the restructuring of community-based adult learning is now underway; some colleges have seen growth in their part-time allocations and, the 1919 Centenary Commission which marks the centenary of the Ministry of Reconstruction’s Final Report will be reporting soon on the needs and possibilities for adult education today and into the century ahead.
Where we consider the learner’s right to lifelong learning, it is crucial that we look to nurture the skill of learning over a lifetime to secure informed, flexible, intelligent and healthy workforces and communities. We know that the economic, social and civic advantages of developing a truly lifelong learning society in Wales are profound. This would provide the cutting-edge needed for our communities to be resilient, for our economy to adapt to changing circumstances and for our democracy to thrive.
It is a real privilege to be working with partners across Wales where there is such passion and commitment from everyone in delivering as many opportunities as possible for the citizens of Wales, and driving forward future strategy to enhance the lifelong learning offer.
As The National Community College for adult learning in Wales, we contend that any proposed reform of current strategy should be modern, efficient and provide added value. We also believe that it must be socially responsible and sustainable. Adult and community learning is part of the fabric of Welsh society and enhanced provision would help ensure every citizen across Wales gains the right to lifelong learning, cementing key foundations for our society.
We can do this.
Kathryn Robson, Chief Executive
Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales