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Learning divide as third of Scots adults switch off

A third of adult Scots have not taken part in any kind of learning since leaving full-time education, the latest survey reveals. And 58 per cent said they had no intention of doing so within the next three years - a stark message for the Scottish Executive's flagship lifelong learning agenda.

Evidence of a stubborn "learning divide" emerges in Scottish data from the 2002 adult learners' survey carried out by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), published at the end of last week.

The Scottish figures, analysed by Professor Maria Slowey of Glasgow University, suggest that the older, less qualified and more disadvantaged people are, the less likely they are to be interested in pursuing learning.

The overall 58 per cent figure of those unlikely to undertake any learning, for example, becomes 80 per cent in the case of those who had not taken part in any "recent learning" (within the previous three years).

Class and educational background remains a key determinant in stimulating learning: 46 per cent who were not current or recent learners were from the bottom two social class DE categories compared with only 15 per cent from groups AB.

And 43 per cent of recent learners had a degree or similar qualification - in contrast to just 14 per cent who had undertaken no recent learning.

The picture may be even more bleak, however. The NIACE survey defines adults as those aged 17 and over and therefore includes youngsters who have gone on from school to college and university. Professor Slowey suggests the data should focus on those who have had time out from their initial education.

She also acknowledges that the definition of learning is wide-ranging and "generous", including self-directed and non-formal learning as well as more traditional forms. On this measure, 65 per cent of adults in Scotland had undertaken some learning since leaving school.

This appears to be a major improvement on the findings of a Scotland-only study published in 1988 when the figure was just 42 per cent. But that research classified an adult as someone aged 20 or over who had had at least a two-year break from initial full-time education.

Professor Slowey therefore concludes that "it cannot necessarily be assumed that participation in adult learning in Scotland has increased so significantly in the past 15 years".

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