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Let's give learning to the people;Comment;Opinion

A funny thing happened on the way to the recent UK launch in Edinburgh (a coup for Scotland) of the European Year of Lifelong Learning (EYLL). Mutual misapprehension between UK north and south is undoubtedly alive and well.

Kirsty Wark, professional choreographer of the day's proceedings, had asked researchers to obtain titillating background information on ministers and speakers to enliven dull introductions. One such researcher telephoned panellist Nick Stuart, training supremo at the Department for Education and Employment. At the end of the conversation Kirsty's lad from Glasgow stunned the man from the ministry by asking: "What does DFEE stand for? Some sort of agency?"

A pixilated Stuart was heard repeating this story to all and sundry.

Better luck for the researcher with his next call: to the retired teacher who taught Education Minister Raymond Robertson. Reminiscence revealed a gem: among this pedagogue's alumni are seven murderers, seven men of the cloth and just one Tory education minister.

A large and vocal contingent of invited guests, both continental and British, made their way to see Edith Cresson launch the Year. From London to Liverpool, from Clwyd to Canterbury, came the far-flung movers and shakers in UK education and training. As a multicultural exercise, it was fascinating. To the bemusement of some Scots present, speaker after English speaker betrayed ignorance of the state of Scottish educational play. To name but three surprises for English guests: the Euro dimension to the Scottish curriculum; the primary language project; Aegis, the adult education guidance initiative.

Of course, the world of learning is hungry for the essential underpinnings of quality guidance, preferably in national and networked format. Scotland's contribution to the day included the Secretary of State's announcement of an exciting collaborative Scotland-wide development for Aegis: one of the first fruits of the recent Scottish Office marriage of education and industry.

Edith Cresson, European Commissioner for training and education, had been well briefed on Scotland. She even congratulated us on our personal record of achievement initiative, which is influencing Euro thinking on plans for personal skills cards. So perhaps the great divide in British education is after all the responsibility of The Times Education Supplement? By publishing a Scottish version which presumably few read outside Scotland, the deprivation of our southern friends is serious.

Actually the English version is quite a good read, too. It is amusing to speculate on the educational and political consequences were the two versions to be published in one. Combining the two for an experimental year could be a constructive contribution by this respected publication: both to mark EYLL and to develop a fair number of personal learning curves.

Some of the most interesting conference themes often emerge from its workshops, and the EYLL launch was no exception. In her electronically aided summing up, Wark placed schools foursquare in the centre of UK lifelong learning. Delegates believed that the school of the future will be a centre for its community's learning: pupils by day, adults by night. Local adult literacy campaigns; outreach to traditional non-participants; parent and family learning; the learning needs of local industry and commerce: the school of the future will be focal.

A key element will be the shift of responsibility for learning to the learner. Clydesdale Bank produced a model case study which identifies exciting possibilities. The concept of training is out. Instead, employees have certain key resources including highly flexible individual Lifelong Learning Portfolios; informal learning contracts; quality learning and progression options in bite-sized chunks. The aim: a popular shift in the sense of ownership of the learning process.

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