Binaries, Young Carers and The Barriers to Accessing Higher Education

This is about the barriers to higher education young carers face… “I would like to send a message to staff, teachers and tutors – all young adult carers need help. Some staff need to respect the fact that when we leave college or school at the end of the day, we don’t go home and go out with friends, we go home and take care of someone until they are in bed. It’s a hard job but it’s the best job ever.” Leanne: Voices of young adult carers.

Young Carers


The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, England and Wales starts its 2013 report ‘Access and Inclusion: Young Adult Carers and Education and Training‘ with the above quote. The mind is a funny thing, and we associate it with so much ‘intelligence’, but as I get older and come across more and more clumsy systems for appraising and valuing (or not valuing in many cases), I equate the word intelligence increasingly with listening.


The mind simplifies things for us, presents circles as perfect, and societies as just.  It paints people as noble, or criminals as ‘bad’, the sky as blue and the land as perpetually fertile; all dodgy binaries which are projections.


It suggests and whispers to us convenient fictions so that we can move through the complex nature of the universe until we reach an impasse which defies our progress.  Intelligence is in part a process which enables us to root out the convenient fictions and examine them in the messy light of day.  Listening is key in this.


There are a lot of convenient fictions we can fall in to with regards to education, educational provision and the associations we create around this fundament of human life.  We, as creatures, are prone to myth making – telling ourselves that the story of the world is the story we have lived; in part this is true, but when we allow that part to colour or obscure the whole, all sorts of calamities run wild – these mythical creatures, these animal spirits, start affecting the real lives of people.


The assumptions which people make about the accessibility of education often create further barriers for the people who cannot or have not accessed education.  The idea that ‘education is free in Scotland’, is woefully deficient in the picture it paints.  The opportunity costs which people face are usually prohibitive for those who do not, or have not, engaged in education.  That means, they are faced with choices, and if they do one thing, then they cannot do another…


I have been made more aware of the minuscule level of engagement of people from the ‘most deprived’ (MD20) areas, but even more so, the rarity of people from a care background going into higher education.  I have also met people who do not believe that poverty exist (real poverty, they exclaim) in modern Britain, and that everyone gets the same chances and opportunities.  This is deeply troubling, as when we listen to people who are ‘not achieving’ or ‘not engaging’, they paint pictures which are often more what we associate with Charles Dickens than humanity in the new millenia.


There are increasing types of poverty as well; in our technocratic society, we find a massive number of highly intelligent people in the prison system because they suffer from dyslexia or similar problems with certain forms of information.  If you have not been taught how to do something, or cannot optically engage with a bureaucracy, it can be such a disadvantage that unfortunate alternatives are the only option for some.  It costs £90 in Edinburgh to have an opticians dyslexia test, and the question is posed, which week of the year do you go without living expenses to pay for this test. This is without mention of the further cost of prescription glasses.


When George Wilson sent me this presentation saying that it gives some good insights into young carers and the barriers they encounter, I thought I would share it.  It is important that we listen, understand the realities other than our own (particularly the advantaged), and try and work towards a more humanised society where we critically examine the systems we have created with an understanding that they might be failing other people.