Another view - England earthlings, your insult to adult learners is illogical

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
How would aliens view our further education system?

Do not be afraid, humans. Our mission is to learn, not to conquer. We wish only to find out how you order your education system and to report back to our masters far away on the planet Zog.

Our ship was blown off course, away from the homeworld, forcing us to land in this strange little land you call England. So it's the English system we have decided to study.

First we looked at your schools. They seemed logical enough until we looked a bit closer and found they were not logical at all. Here we found comprehensives that are not comprehensive and grammars that teach everything except English grammar. Strangely, your schools are all run by the state . except when they aren't! Even more strangely we found the best of your private schools - which are clearly not open to the public - are called . public schools.

But this confusion is as nothing compared with what we have found in your further education. Earthlings, this is not so much a system as a smorgasbord. The age for leaving school is set at 16; but instead of leaving then, many cling to their teachers' apron strings in what you call sixth forms. Or maybe they go into a consortium of sixth forms. Or a sixth-form college. Or, if not that, into an FE college - which may or may not have another little college "captured" inside it called a sixth form or "academic" college; which strangely seems to have been set up in the name of integration.

Then we found yet more colleges, called tertiary, the recipe for which involves all the above being thrown in together and stirred. And what are these chimeras you call apprenticeships? In the mouths of your politicians they are as common as mud, but in reality as rare as diamonds.

When they leave this muddle you call FE, they move to another one that you call university. Again, this is not so much one system as five or six systems, all sewn together to create a show of unity. You call it higher education, but students see it more as legalised extortion, with the money going not to numbered accounts in Lagos but into a bottomless pit known as The Treasury.

But all this seems trifling when we look at your provision for adult students. In typically confused fashion, some adults can be found in all of your colleges; and in all of them they are treated like poor relations. This we find strange because often these same adult students are the ones that your so-called system has already short-changed - the ones it has failed, abandoned or forced out.

We also find it strange because we have discovered the expression "lifelong learning", which was once to be found in the mouths of all your mandarins and ministers, but has become the phrase that dare not speak its name. Like that other repository for lost hopes, Care in the Community, we have discovered that lifelong learning is principally a device for appearing to say much while doing very little.

To us, it looks as if your adult students are subject to a form of educational apartheid. While you pass laws against age discrimination, at the same time you ensure that those over 25 will pay higher fees than their younger contemporaries. Bit by bit, the two groups have been prised apart; and bit by bit it is the adults who have been given less and charged more.

We have even heard of one college which has decided to pay the teachers of adults less than their colleagues who teach teenagers. No doubt the authorities thought that if those higher up the pecking order were already putting the boot in, why shouldn't they join in, too?

So earthlings, Englanders, we have a message for you before we depart for other parts of the planet - Albania and Somalia, for instance, where we hear they do things better - it's time you started treating your adult students as adults, and not as idiots.

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