Education Beyond School: A Digest

Learning happens throughout life as a life long process and education beyond school is formed of many formal structures and pathways. Participation by young adults (aged about 18-21) in higher education has significantly increased in the last twenty years (first published 1989) and the growth has been particularly marked in the non-university sector of polytechnics and colleges.


But it remains only a relatively small proportion of this age group who enter higher education, and, despite the steady increase in enrolments of older, mature, students, it is unusual for an older adult to become a degree student.


As for the broader and more varied expanses of what is variously called adult, continuing, community, recurrent, or lifelong education in Great Britain, adults participate in a great range of often ill-resourced and discontinuous provision. Such participation is always a minority interest and takes place in varying proportions according to such social indicators as age, sex, social class, race, and domicile.


Percy indicates that much systematic adult learning can be found outside the classes and courses of formal providers of adult education such as colleges and local education authorities…


Brennan indicates the future of higher education to be with the development of part-time, modular, discontinuous units of study ‘tailor-made to meed the needs and interests of the individual student at different points in his or her life’…When Duke and Ward illustrate that the debate on what constitutes education, and what training, and how each should be resourced, is alive and active in adult and continuing education, they cover ground which is being simultaneously turned over in British higher education…colleges of further education, in their best forms, touch both higher education on the one hand, and the more general forms of adult education on the other. Their prospectuses contain technical, vocational, and general courses of all kinds,; their courses are full and part-time, day and evening; their students of all ages from 16 to what Glendenning calls ‘the third age’…


…Glendinning, who laments the lack of research and the absence of ‘scientific data’ in British educational gerontology. ‘A clearer ground-plan’ has yet to emerge, he says…Brennan implies, the notion that there is anything justifiably special or separate about education in a university is no longer part of public policy…If resources are released through shifts in allocation or through more efficient management then the issue is what use will be made of them – for example, to improve access for disadvantaged students, to promote curriculum reform, or to enhance student performance through student-centred learning and teaching methods.


It is interesting that many of the articles in this section contain a rhetorical undertow of approval for non-didactic, non-pedagogical (i.e. more ‘androgogical’), and more ‘open’ methods of teaching and learning. The received opinion is that adults learn best in different ways, and under different conditions, from children.


Their experience, interests, and diversity should be respected, their confidence built or rebuilt, and curricula and teaching methods individualized and negotiated. It may well be so – although there is more advocacy here than proof. There are others who assert that ‘good’ teaching is the same whatever the age of the learner. What is interesting is that some of the authors in this section imply, through their advocacy, that good teaching is sometimes not present in educational situations beyond school.


It emphasizes that learning is not synonymous with children sitting in school classrooms. Learning, both formal and non-formal, is part of all stages of life: it is lifelong. It is not a life sentence, it is a life opportunity.  At least, that is the ideal, but in Great Britain it is an ideal recognized neither in public policy nor in the public mind…It is not clear that British educators have put together a coherent vision of what they can achieve in education beyond school. As Legge points out, work (whether paid or not) is one of the major status and life-style defining roles in adult life, and educators must relate to it.


Indeed, what we must all feel towards in the 1990s in an over-arching concept of lifelong education which transcends divisions of education and training, which convinces the guardians of the public purse, and which enthuses fellow citizens with the belief that education beyond school is different from, perhaps better than, education within school, and is equally important.


This is a digest of Professor Keith Percy’s work, Director of the School of Lifelong Learning and Widening Participation

(Keith Percy; Education Beyond School; Handbook of educational ideas and practices, 1989, ISBN: 0415020611; pp 313 – 322)