Forget Postman Pat and get a life

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Adult learning can help people become better parents, regardless of whether their courses involve parenting skills, a new study shows. Older students said doing courses made them more confident in their parenting abilities, better able to communicate and more understanding and patient with their children.

Adult learning can also improve relationships with partners and parents, the study found. Researchers from the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning at the Institute of Education, University of London, looked at 145 case studies of people aged 16-plus in three UK locations to find out how learning affects well-being and social and family relationships.

The research also drew on the British birth cohort studies, involving the analysis of the lives of 10,000 people. The interviewees said they acquired skills that helped them in a practical way, such as in inventing good games, and became more open to other people's approaches to parenting.

They found it easier to see things from a child's point of view and to understand the child as a member of a peer group. Taking parents of young children out of the home and their daily routines also alleviated stress and depression, led to more tolerance and understanding and made participants more willing to compromise at home, the study found.

One parent spoke of her relief at getting out of "the Postman Pat mentality", which lacks adult conversation and stimulation.

Cathie Hammond, a co-author of The Benefits of Learning, said: "Parents might be getting out with their child and meeting other parents, but the chat is still about children.

"Taking a course took them out of that world for a while and allowed them to meet other people and focus on different things."

But adult learning may also place a strain on family relationships, for example where family members are seen as obstructive to, or negative, about learning. It can also prove difficult for people having to juggle family life, work and education.

By boosting confidence and bringing people into contact with the wider world, it can also result in beneficial family break-ups, as in the case of a woman gaining the strength to leave an abusive relationship.

Ms Hammond said: "Taking courses changed women's attitudes, plans, social circles and self-perception, sometimes causing difficulties in relationships with partners and relatives. But some relationships improved because there was more to talk about and the partner respected the learner's achievements."

The Benefits of Learning: the impact of education on health, family life and social capital is published by RoutledgeFalmer on March 11, priced pound;21.99

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