Cultural barriers to women learning need to be overcome to help ethnic groups break out of poverty
Bangladeshi communities will stay locked in educational exclusion and poverty unless more women are lured into the classroom, ministers have been told.
The warning came this week from the organisation behind the latest report on participation in post-19 education, and was timed to coincide with Adult Learners' Week, which starts tomorrow.
While families with south Asian heritage are the least likely to have taken part in formal education, the most enthusiastic students are black Africans, says the study by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace).
Alan Tuckett, director of the institute, said the report shows the Government was right to spend more on English for speakers of other languages. But he warned that action is needed to ensure education is taken up more widely among some of the country's poorest ethnic communities.
In some cases, this would involve persuading people of the merits of existing provision, while in others it could mean creating courses more sympathetic to the needs of local communities.
Mr Tuckett believes cultural indifference to women's education is part of the problem among Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, but that there is also a failure to work closely with communities to identify their needs.
He says the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) needs to be more pro- active in encouraging an even take-up of education among different ethnic groups.
"There is an issue about women being excluded from education - or education not being seen as something for them," he said. "There is also an issue about the need, in some of these communities, for women and men to be allowed to study separately. If that means we have to provide separate places where women can study together, then we need to look at that.
"Some of this is about cultural traditions, but it is also about opportunity. You have to think about outreach work. We need to understand that if the mother develops reading and writing skills, then the children will too.
"This is about the basic human right of being able to participate in society - not just about whether you have an NVQ in plumbing."
The study analysed data from the Office of National Statistics, which looked at participation rates from 2004-06. While 70 per cent of people had taken part in post-19 education in 2004, this had dropped to 66 per cent in 2006.
While the overall fall in participation rates is well known and believed to have continued more recently, the breakdown of figures reveals a sharp contrast in the levels of activity of different ethnic communities. At the top of the post-19 education league are black Africans, 80 per cent of whom reported having taken part in formal learning in 2006. Black Caribbean and Chinese people came in at 72 per cent; Pakistanis at 67 per cent; Indians and white people at 66 per cent; and Bangladeshis at 57 per cent.
The figures relate to people who have taken part in any type of "taught learning" in a 12-month period, including one-day courses or activities that do not lead to qualifications and are not provided by educational institutions.
Adult Learners' Week is designed to raise the profile of post-19 education. It is co-ordinated by Niace and supported by the DIUS, Learndirect and the European Social Fund.
Alan Tuckett, page 7.