Commercial adult education: graffiti

As I’ve said before, you can learn quite a bit about commercial adult education just by wandering around. GraffitiArtist, who run a shop in Birmingham’s Custard Factory, claim on their website to offer “the ultimate positive Urban Art experience, and provide graffiti workshops for the general public as well as classes tailored to particular groups. They even offer a basic introduction to graffiti as a party for hens and stags. And its a lot cheaper than learning to make cupcakes in Edinburgh…

You can probably figure out for yourself who the participants are likely to be, and what the benefits are – or aren’t – to the budding graffiti artists and the wider community. Who knows – maybe in thirty years time, a new Banksy will look back fondly on her days at the Custard Factory.

blog graffiti

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Does anyone know what became of the Liberal Democrats’ Lifelong Learning Commission?

Last summer, the Liberal Party announced that it had put together a Commission on Lifelong Learning. This followed a conference speech by party leader Vince Cable in autumn 2017, backing the widely-discussed idea of a national system of learning accounts, accessible at any stage of life. This in itself followed the Party’s manifesto commitment in the 2017 election to an ambitious expansion in adult learning, including those famous learning accounts.

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Vince Cable – image licensed under Creative Commons

Chaired by Rajay Naik, a prominent specialist in marketing higher education and formerly Director of Government and External Affairs at the Open University, the Commission was supposed to flesh out these bold ideas. It was launched with the promise that the membership and timescale would be announced in weeks, with the formal consultation process following ‘shortly’ afterwards. The membership was revealed in June 2018, with a number of high profile individuals in its ranks, including Stephen Evans from the Learning and Work Institute, Ruth Spellman from the Workers Educational Association, Matthew Taylor from the Royal Society for the Arts, and Polly Mackenzie, of the think tank Demos.

Since then, I’ve seen and heard nothing further. Of course Cable has announced his plans to retire, and his Party – as the only organised parliamentary expression of support for the European Union – has its hands full. And this year yet another group has established its own commission on adult learning, with Ruth Spellman once again among the members, so we’re not facing a sudden dearth of commissions and reports. Still, it’s a pity if the Liberal Democrats have lost interest in lifelong learning as a result.

Unlike some of my chums, who see the Liberal Democrats as a marginal, I think their views matter. Quite apart from their possible role in any future coalition, they have significant influence in local government, and they can help shape public debate. Further, the idea of learning accounts is worth exploring, and any constructive thinking should be welcome to policy makers of any colour. Creating a lifelong learning commission attracted press publicity and generated hope. Is anyone in a position to say whether it still exists, and if so what it is doing?

 

Commercial adult education: cupcakes

Demand for adult learning shows no sign of diminishing, yet in many countries the volume of public provision is in decline. That is certainly the case in the UK, where the Learning and Work Institute tracks participation on a regular basis. Meanwhile, provision by voluntary and commercial organisations appears to be thriving.

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It isn’t hard to find examples of new forms of private provision: you can spot them simply by walking around with your eyes open. I photographed these images in a shop window while we were heading for coffee in the Edinburgh suburb of Roseburn. While I mustn’t over-generalise on the basis of a narrow and unrepresentative sample of advertising placards, a few thoughts occur to me.

Businesses sometimes offer courses as a by-product of their main activities, as in this case. Consequently the additional costs of running even an extensive course programme alongside the core activity appear to be quite modest. Prices can seem high (my partner, who is not an adult educator, was shocked in this case by the fee of £65 for a two and a half hour class). The offer is unconstrained by government regulation, or by expectations of a community benefit. There is no bar on participation, but there is also no focus on social or educational disadvantage.

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Alan Tuckett sometimes compares adult learning to an infestation of weeds: “However hard you try, you can never kill it off”. If it dies off in one place, it soon pops up in another. And while there are benefits from a healthy range of private and voluntary sector provision, I also think there are risks; what we need is a balance, with public policy playing its part alongside other actors.

2018: the top ten posts on this site

Blogging platforms provide you with all sorts of data about your blog. Most of it is fairly basic, unless you opt to pay for a superior version. For what it’s worth, here are the top ten posts for 2019, a year when this site had 12,793 views from 9,361 visitors (no, I don’t know what that means either, but it gives you a rough sense of scale).

I’m surprised by the popularity of the post on holistic evaluation, which isn’t much more than inconclusive rumination on what the term might mean. I’m intrigued that the award of honours to adult educators created so much interest. I’m concerned that so many people want to know more about online scholarly scams. I’m not surprised by the interest in learner funding. And I’m mildly disappointed that none of my posts on work camps got close to the top ten.

The end of a year always provokes such stock-taking. The main lesson is that blogging is a great way of communicating, but not great at promoting dialogue. Or perhaps I need to do things slightly differently – your suggestions would be most welcome!

Adult education in fiction: the rhythms of the year in Jon McGregor’s “Reservoir 13”

I’m constantly impressed by the regularity with which adult education features in German crime fiction. What stands out is that in most cases, adult education doesn’t stand out – it is there in the background as part of every day German life. That’s rare in English language fiction, where adult education is either the main setting or serves as a marker of difference.

In Jon McGregor’s award-winning Reservoir 13, though, adult education features as a marker of passing time. The novel covers 13 years in the life of an English village, mirroring the age of a missing teenager. And every year, as regular as well dressing (Derbyshire perhaps?), harvest festival, or the village panto, the Workers’ Educational Association holds a class in the village.

McGregor doesn’t go into detail about the WEA classes. Their role in the novel is to mark the turning of the months, as one of the threads of continuity that are woven into the changing relationships and lives of the villagers. Who takes part, and why, are not particularly important.

McGregor also has one of his villagers – Susanna Wright – arrange a yoga class in the village hall. This provides something of a contrast with the routine rhythm of the WEA class:

It had taken a while but by now the classes were more popular than some had assumed they might be. She kept saying it was open to everyone, but whenever a man showed up he found himself the only one there, and soon decided not to come back. Most of the women were regulars, and after a few months some of them were disappointed by how few poses they could hold. Susanna tried to tell them yoga wasn’t about goals. There are no badges or certificates here, she said; it’s all about finding your own point of stretch.

This time, the class gives us an insight into some of the characters involved. It also serves to provide an example of change in village life, contrasting with the steady rhythm of the WEA. Susanna is new to the village, arriving in the third year of the narrative, and she is initially greeted with some suspicion. Her first attempt to organise a yoga class attracted three people, and only later does it become popular.

Reservoir 13 is an outstanding novel, and I heartily recommend it. It’s gently experimental in form, but thoroughly engaging, hypnotic even, and the disappearance at its heart remains unresolved. Quite aside from its treatment of adult learning, I really enjoyed it, and despite my general efforts to downsize my book collection, I’m hanging on to this one so I can read it again.

Integration courses in German adult education: who participates?

German adult education provides relatively generous (compared with other European nations) opportunities for migrants wanting to develop their language skills and integration prospects. A 2018 study, called Who Visits the Integration Courses?, reports on a survey of participants. While many are migrants of all kinds, the courses increasingly include those who have come to Germany as refugees.

The survey covered 606 participants, equally divided between those from the previously dominant participant groups (EU migrants, migrant workers, existing migrants’ families) and refugees. The sample were following 42 different courses spread across five different states.

  • The majority of refugee participants were male (80%) with an average age of 30. The non-refugee group were slightly older, and a majority (56%) were female
  • The refugees came from 19 different countries, with 71% from Syria, while the non-refugee migrants were largely from central and south-eastern Europe
  • A quarter of refugee participants and a sixth of the other migrants had spent less than ten years at school
  • A high proportion of the refugees were Arabic speakers, followed by those who spoke both Arabic and Kurdish
  • Three quarters of the refugee participants had some competence in English, and a quarter in French, as foreign languages; the non-refugee migrants showed a broadly similar foreign language profile, though with a slightly larger number clsiming some prior knowledge of German
  • Both groups of participants made considerable use of digital translation services, with Google Translate predominating

While the refugee group shows considerable diversity, and thus a range of different needs, the authors identify a clear sub-group of disadvantaged learners, who have relatively short schooling, limited occupational experience, and little foreign language competence. This group is mainly male (70%) and from the near/middle East, followed by participants from central/south-eastern Europe.

Transforming Adult Learning: the case of South Korea

South Korea is a fascinating country for a lot of different reasons. To snatch a few random reasons why I love the place, public transport is fantastic, the food is superb, and you’re never without a view of the mountains. It has high education standards, though these are infamously linked to high stress levels among students. And the fine walled city of Suwon is busy becoming a model learning city.

Now the country is transforming its support for adult learning. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Education announced its fourth Lifelong Learning Plan. Covering the period 2018-22, the Plan envisages

  • a guarantee of lifelong learning rights (including paid training leave and targeted learning vouchers) for every citizen;
  • a focus on lifelong learning in preparation for job change, exploiting the potential of MOOcs and personalised learning;
  • promoting lifelong learning in other areas of life, with stronger local and regional instgitutions and support for civic completence;
  • improving quality, for example through monitoring performance and making better use of participation statistics.

Th use of vouchers was already proposed in the country’s second lifelong learning plan, which set out proposals for a pilot scheme involving 50,000 basic livelihood support recipients aged over 20. What became of the pilot scheme I do not yet know, but I will return to it here if and when I find out.

Broadly, the Plan seems to me strategically focussed, while broad enough to embrace people’s different life areas. Hopefully we’ll be able to see how it develops over time, as there are bound to be interesting lessons for other nations.