Lessons in how to mind the gap

19th May 2006 at 01:00
For 15 years, Adult Learners Week has celebrated the achievements of men and women who have resolutely refused to believe it is ever too late to learn. People, who, with the help of such bodies as the National Association of Adult Learning, the European Social Fund and their local colleges, have overcome personal circumstances and returned to the classroom en route to jobs or healthier, more fulfilled lives.

It is difficult to quantify how each learner benefits from the opportunity to continue their education but throughout these pages you will find personal triumphs that stand testimony to its value. But adult education is not all about the needs of the individual. The nation also needs learners to remain active long after their 16th birthday. Economists predict that in 10 years the UK will not have enough young people to fill all its job vacancies, so are we doing enough to prepare migrant workers, women and the disabled or the long-term sick to join the workforce? (See page 4).

Older people, faced with redundancy or retirement, could also help fill that employment gap, given the right training and skills. A less formal course can also add purpose and structure to their days, as well as the hope of long-term health as an over-50s club in Gateshead demonstrates (see page 6). And yet it appears their needs and aspirations are being sidelined while the under-25s take centre stage.

Another major, and ever-growing, group missing from the labour market are prisoners. But as an innovative radio station at Wandsworth prison proves, practical education, from basic skills upwards, can offer offenders a way back into society (see page 8).

Local communities are also enhanced by the application of adult learning.

We visit a housing association in Cambridge that takes its role as landlord further than most, while a residents' network in Wolverhampton helps bring courses to its members (see page 10).

The attraction of education for the unemployed, or under-employed, is obvious. But what of those already in work, why should they add lessons to their life? To discover the answer spend some time with employees such as those at the Royal Mail in Stoke-on-Trent (page 12).

We are not the only country to have benefited from the Adult Learners' Week legacy. The word, variously translated, is spreading across the world. We look at how countries from Albania to Swaziland are encouraging adults to continue learning and what lessons we can learn from them (see page 14).

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