The more education you have, the more interested you are in lifelong learning

gallupAdult education researchers have long taken the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus said “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath”, as a parable for their own field. The so-called Matthew Principle in adult learning states that the more and better your initial education, the greater the likelihood that you will return to learning throughout your adult life.

This basic insight can be seen in virtually every survey of adult learning, and has now been confirmed in a new Gallup poll. As part of its work on a national Well-Being Index, the company asked American adults for their reactions to the statement: “You learn or do something interesting every day”. They then weighted the responses to adjust for age, gender, race, income, region and marital status.

The results showed that while most Americans agreed with this statement, the proportion varied at every stage by prior educational level. Thus 74% of those with some postgraduate education agreed that they learned or did something interesting each day, falling to 63% among those with a high school diploma or less.

Like all surveys, the results end up bundling together a number of different people who have different experiences and understandings of the issues. Still, they can be insightful, and thought-provoking. This particular poll interested me for two reasons.

The first is the question asked, which is extremely broad and includes all kinds of informal learning. The survey doesn’t tell us anything more, and it may be that our prior education shapes our tendency to define an experience as ‘learning’ or to see it as ‘interesting’. Or it may be that the highly educated are more confident when faced with a new experience, and more likely to see it as intriguing and less likely to see it as a threat. And – most probable of all in my view – the highly educated are unlikely to find themselves in routine jobs that bore the socks off them.

The second thought-provoking feature is the conclusions that the authors draw. Rather than expressing concern over inequality, they recommend that universities should devote more energy and resources to tracking intangible outcomes of higher education. Presumably this would then allow the universities to beef up their marketing claims, while drumming up more business for the Gallup Well-being Index.

“I learnt my Italian at the Adult Education Centre in Medway”: languages and adult learners

Kelly Tolhurst, MP, businesswoman and adult learner

Kelly Tolhurst, MP, businesswoman and adult learner

Kelly Tolhurst, the Member of Parliament for Rochester and Strood, recently explained the importance to her of learning another language. Working in marine services, she found herself dealing with Italian firms, where her language skills had a business pay-off. She also enjoys watching the Italian TV detective series Montalbano.

And how did she learn this important skill? “I learnt my Italian at the Adult Education Centre in Medway over 10 years”. Fair play to her: that’s a long haul, and learning another language – even one as beautiful as Italian – is work, real hard work.

Yet however hard-working, persistent and competent the learner, it’s virtually impossible to develop language competence without support. The attack on adult education across Britain has eradicated much provision – an attack often accompanied by politicians’ jibes about adult learners’ frivolous interests – and many adult modern language courses have disappeared.

So I was delighed to see that Medway Council’s Adult and Community Learning Service still offers four Italian classes and a Saturday morning ‘conversation cafe’ at its centre in Rochester – and much else besides. Just imagine what the sneerers would say about even a penny of public funding going towards a ‘conversation cafe’ in Italian.

I very much hope that Kelly Tolhurst, who is clearly a woman who knows her own mind, will share her views with the next politician to jeer at people who fail to show the properly serious and vocational mindset when tackling a foreign language.