Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yet more cuts

More grim news about adult education has just dropped into my inbox from the Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning (CALL). There will be £240 million of "efficiency savings" (what a disgusting euphemism that is) taken from the FE adult education budget in 2010/2011.

And how about this gem:
Funding has been shifted away from education provided in response to adult learner demands towards employer responsive training.
In plain English this means that you will not be allowed to learn what you want, only what employers want you to learn (in reality, what the government thinks that employers want you to learn). This is an unequivocal restatement of the abandonment of the historic mission of adult education, its roots in the labour movement and the working class autodidact tradition, and the idea of a continuing, liberal, life-enhancing education. Instead, learning is only permitted to be about work, and not even about what you need to improve your working life (like knowledge of legal employment rights) or change your career. No, it is only supposed to provide what employers want you to know so that you are more useful to them.

I get a combined sense of weary resignation and intense anger when I read this stuff. However, it was this article by Robert Skidelsky that put the whole dismal affair into perspective. The article deals with the failure of Keynes' prediction that there would come a time that we would have sufficient to live a good life, aspire to possess no more and the working week would drop to around 15 hours. Of course, Skidelsky doesn't mention that the reason why we continue to work longer is less to do with the social aspects of work or the continuing desire for more goodies, but because we bloody have to unless you hit it lucky with the chance of early retirement (phew!). However, Keynes also had a pessimism about a leisure society, one not shared by all his contemporaries.
He writes: "It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself, especially if he no longer has roots in the soil or in custom or in the beloved conventions of a traditional economy."
This horribly snobbish sentiment does have a grain of truth lurking in it that a leisure society needs leisure activities, and not just the mind numbing ones that I am about to open and switch on. Skidelsky, with a similar scant regard for popular pleasures, wrings his hands in Buntingesque misery at our collective failure:
Finding the means to nourish the fading "associations or duties or ties" that are so essential for individuals to flourish is the unsolved problem of the developed world...
Well one of the solutions was the joy of learning - skills, crafts, art, literature, history, philosophy, language, music, dance, drama, the list goes on and on. It was called adult education, and, you know what is happening now, we are killing it.


Anonymous said...

You would not believe the adventure it was to import this http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/6637225/An-excellent-art-teacher-ousted-by-paperwork.html.

I hope I managed to do so properly. I think your view on education is fearfully Utopian; the dividing line in this debate is the purpose of education. Is it utilitarian or has it an intrinsic value. The rest is detail.

For most of human history, no one would have believed such a debate possible. Had education no intrinsic value, why purusue it at all? Utilitarian ends can be achieved in different, and more efficient, ways.

I think we have arrived at this pass because the political need to expand education as a goal in itself has then driven a need to justify the cost. The justification is an enhancement of earning power. Any other approach is elitist.

I beleieve that universities ought to be ivory towers. There should be an educational elite. Retired civil servants should become heads of Oxbridge colleges. That environment leaves room for education, for its own sake, for those who choose to grasp it, with a fairly modest helping hand from the taxpayer.

Yes, that smells of elitism, but the smell is rather sweet, I fancy.

The Plump said...

the dividing line in this debate is the purpose of education. Is it utilitarian or has it an intrinsic value.

This is not a dividing line for me. I think that education is both. People can get intrinsic gains from vocational courses and vocational gains from non-vocational learning.

My enemy is a monist view of education, and that is what I am arguing against here. I am firmly of the opinion that there is no bad or good learning. It is all good and equally valuable.

Elitist? I do not agree if you mean access, it should be open to anyone who wants to do it - note, not those weasel words 'able to benefit', want to do it. The arbiter is desire. Education is a human need and a human right, whatever direction it takes you.

Utopian? I am an admirer of Geddes, so I would not accept that label. Call me a eutopian and I will gladly plead guilty.

Will look at the article later - just back from sitting an exam - aka a pub quiz. Didn't win but the beer went down a treat.

Anton Deque said...

I do not accept that Keynes' remarks are "horribly snobbish". At the date these were made it would have been exceptional for a snob to consider the issue, perhaps even understand the question in any form.

I do not much admire elites. Their record in protecting themselves is admittedly impressive; fed, cleaned and cosseted by a staff of underlings, while occasionally sprinkling bon mots on to the heads of the great unwashed. No, it simply will not do for the 21st century and, arguably masked serious faults in British society in the 20th.

Learning for its own sake is neither impractical or practical. It is one of those assets off the balance sheet as far as accounts goes. Like clean water it's achievements are 'invisible' but compared to all the medical research of recent centuries the simple provision of drinking water did more for public health.

Dave said...

Libraries gave us power.

DorsetDipper said...

I'm surprised that the EU hasn't banned subsidising vocational education as its an illegal subsidy to a country's industry

George S said...

'Funding has been shifted away from education provided in response to adult learner demands towards employer responsive training...'

I have seen some of these. Most notably at one institution when there was a serious budget miscalculation as a result of which students found that half the courses they had opted for had disappeared.

Management sent round a notice that began:

'In order to enhance your educational experience...'

...then argued that, for the sake of greater focus, students would find it better to concentrate on core areas of interest.

Students saw through it immediately of course.

Result: a compromise in which the institution dug deep and restored as many of the cancelled courses as it could.

Certain minor forms of corporal punishment for double-crossing management-speak might fruitfully be re-introduced.