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Bottom of the heap blues

Radio Five Live has been running a series this week on why the Scottish system of education wins plaudits and whether its strengths could be exported south of the border. One aspect that the English would not want to take on board is the Scots' record in adult education and training. A Gallup poll commissioned by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (page one) shows that six out of 10 Scots do not see themselves taking up any educational or training opportunity. Across the United Kingdom only Northern Ireland shows greater reluctance.

The figures are of most immediate concern to the Scottish Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets, which sees its goals fast receding. Upgrading and updating technician skills remains a problem, especially when Scotland's record is set alongside that of European competitor nations. Our school system has much to commend it, hence the Radio Five Live series. Higher education is a national industry, with 15 per cent of UK graduates coming from a country with 9 per cent of the population. In between lies the challenge.

It goes further than a shortfall in technical training. Although Scots continue to place faith in education and are willing to rally to its defence, especially when there is a Conservative Government to blame for undervaluing it, their personal engagement does not match the protestations. Despite the traditions of the country, not enough Scots now see commitment to education as a way of bettering themselves. Disinterested study can be even more of a turn-off.

Past studies have shown that working-class men are the least likely to become involved in adult education, despite the collapse of older industries and the need to meet the requirements of the new labour market. Enrolment in adult classes, vocational as well as leisure, is linked to a level of prosperity and to prior educational experience. Therefore a society whose skills were traditionally manual is ill equipped to take advantage of study opportunities.

Most further education colleges have tried to overcome the obstacles, recruiting in high streets and housing schemes. They have a good way to go before psychological barriers are broken down. Tom Schuller in his Commentary (page 32) argues that people are not being asked to take enough responsibility for their own learning and do not see sufficient link between learning and reward.

But as the headline on his article puts it, why study when I'll still be at the bottom of the heap?

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