Nights draw in for learning

1st September 2000 at 01:00
AT one time schools started in August, further education in September and universities, leisurely, in October. Time has sped up and all that has changed, except for schools' stubborn adherence to the farming calendar. There is, too, another signpost often ignored. September is the month when thousands of students enrol for evening classes.

Most of them would hesitate to call it lifelong learning. They do not inscribe themselves in a Henry McLeish crusade, but their zeal (and the scale of their tutors' omniscience) gives the lie to the belief that, after tea, no one across the nation has a care for life outside the Big Brother house.

The range of courses is legion and legendary. Some are vocational, a prized gateway to a better qualified future. Many are for interest only, like macrame, butt of jokes that must nedle its devotees. Interestingly, the apparently arcane study of Goethean botany described on the opposite page is promoted primarily for Rudolf Steiner teacher training, welcome evidence that continuing professional development takes forms unappreciated by the McCrone committee and the General Teaching Council.

Most twilight carpenters operate their lathes without thought of a Scottish Vocational Qualification, although colleges that put on courses may like to stack up the formal credits in face of a funding formula whose mastery would take many a long evening's study. If looking for credits, choose carefully. Edinburgh University's Open Studies programme awards 10 for beginner's Java but only five for Microsoft Office. And surely anyone brave enough to tackle elementary Hungarian deserves more than six.

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