As thousands of adults begin to celebrate lifelong learning in the fifth annual Adult Learners' Week next Monday, a major survey will reveal that Britain is increasingly becoming two nations - one which realises the value of learning and the other which doesn't.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, which was commissioned by the Government to carry out the survey, says that Britain is 35th in the international educational achievement league. One-third of school leavers have no qualifications. Fewer than a sixth of adults get training at work. More than half have not done any education or training since leaving school.
The report provides a sombre backdrop to the event organised by NIACE which director Alan Tuckett dubbed as "like Christmas in summer as it is a combination of serious purpose and parties".
More than 5,000 local events will take place in colleges, museums, libraries, leisure centres, prisons and pubs. Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, will join entertainer Willie Rushton to present awards for outstanding learners. Education and employment leaders will meet at a London conference to find ways of producing a learning society.
The Science Museum is offering adults the chance to produce a radio programme. The Arts Council is supporting a learning carnival in Doncaster, Turkish women's poetry in London and a song workshop for deaf people in Bristol.
The week is the main feature of the European Year of Lifelong Learning and is sponsored by the European Social Fund. It is supported by the Department for Education and Employment which will be publishing recommendations on lifetime learning soon. The department received more than 400 responses to consultations which has delayed publication.
Last year nearly 10,000 people over two weeks rang the freephone helplines for advice on education and training. The vast majority did not know where to turn to for help and half were unemployed. This year the lines (0800 100 900) will be open from 10am to 8pm, May 13-19, and a 60-page guidance booklet will be sent free to every caller.