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A single forum needed to effect necessary change

Scotland's falling population makes lifelong learning an even more urgent necessity, according to a leading think-tank.

A report issued last week by the Goodison Group in Scotland, Take Hold of Our Future, will set alarm bells ringing in the education and employment fields as the population decline gathers pace.

"The adult population will have longer working lives," the paper states.

"They will need to change skills much more frequently than has been the case in the past."

One solution suggested by the group is "a major shift of public investment"

from the brightest and most advantaged towards early years learning and adult learners. Schools, colleges and universities must also recognise the importance of informal and practical learning. The emphasis should be on skills and learning, not academic versus vocational education.

Scotland is one of only two EU countries (the other is Germany) projecting a significant reduction in its population over the next 20 years. More acutely, the period will see a major shift in age groups - those aged 75-plus will increase by 60 per cent while 30 to 44-year-olds will fall by 20 per cent.

The report notes, however, that people have to be persuaded towards lifelong learning: "People's aspirations have to be trusted and, for lifelong learning to succeed, it has to be demand-led, involving people's aspirations and touching their motivations."

The Goodison group, which is a UK-wide independent group chaired in Scotland by Andrew Cubie, believes that Scotland is the right size to engineer change and that some policies are on the right track - but it will have to overcome an "aversion to risk, fear of failure and lack of recognising success."

While the report extols the value of lifelong learning, it accepts that educational institutions cannot effect change on their own and calls for business, government and education to meet together in a single forum.

Such a forum should lead to better mutual understanding, the group believes. It notes "powerful misleaders for teachers" from the differing perceptions between employers and teachers about what is demanded of schools. The report describes a qualification as merely "a first sift" for employers in ranking job applicants.

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