The general importance and specific merits of adult education have been increasingly discussed in the press over the last year. Of course, there are numerous reasons for this growing interest – the most obvious being the many sudden recession-fueled enrollments to universities by adults over the last six months – as older learners seek to spruce up their CVs and to make themselves more employable.
Another factor (which is highlighted by the latest report from Professor Tom Schueller and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) is the gradual aging of the UK population – which is perhaps best exemplified by the notion that the first woman to reach the age of 120 is alive and approaching 60. In 2007, the average UK life expectancy at birth (according to the Office of National Statistics) is just over 79 years, an age that has increased by around five years since the early eighties – and that has led to projections that the life expectancy of those born in 2006 is 88.1 years for males and 91.5 years for females.
These are the factors which led to the report by Schueller and NIACE, which highlighted that whilst the average amount spent on the education of an 18 to 24 year old is £8,000 by the government, the numbers are drastically different for older learners – with 25 to 50 year olds receiving just £300, 50 to 75 years olds receiving £86, and those over 75 receiving just £60.
Unsurprisingly, the report calls for change in this respect – and particularly investment in education that is less front loaded and more equally steered toward promoting lifelong learning. The report, and much of the press that surrounded its release, discussed the three significant benefits to individuals in lifelong learning (these are particularly visible amongst those educated in prison): Human Capital, Identity Capital and Social Capital.
Human Capital refers to the ‘learning’ part that is the primary reason for education at all ages: to gain skills and knowledge that are both academic and practical – weather to make the individual more employable or better suited to a particular job or profession.
The latter two, Identity Capital and Social Capital are of particular importance to older people. Identity Capital refers to the self-worth gained from learning, i.e. being challenged, overcoming obstacles and achieving – all aspects of life that are perhaps overlooked especially as an individual reaches retirement age. Additionally, Social Capital refers to the development of a social network through education, those friends and peers who can support and help during times of need.
The importance of the above to adults of all ages is gradually being realised both by institutions, the government and the public at large, and it seems that 2009 is likely to herald an intriguing development in how we view adult education and its worth to everyone throughout their lives.