From education to employment

Adult Learners’ Week: Let the adventure start

Adult Learners’ Week launches in Wales on the 18 September, a national campaign to promote lifelong learning opportunities, with a celebration of life-changing stories through the Inspire! Awards and 400 have a go events and outreach taster courses taking place. Kay Smith, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Learning and Work Institute reflects on the introduction of Adult Learners’ Week in 1992, its promotion worldwide and why it remains relevant to the policy context in Wales today with Welsh Government’s renewed focus to create Wales as a nation of second chances.

Education is an adventure; when you start down that path you never know where it’ll take you. Doors open and shut, but when a door opens, you’ll have the confidence to walk through it.” – John Gates, Adult Learners’ Week Award Winner

Adult Learners’ Week kicks off in Wales from the 18th of September, still moving forward after it was launched by NIACE in 1992, the invention of Sir Alan Tuckett. It started with the aim of showcasing adult learners’ stories, the concept was adopted by UNESCO and spread to 55 countries worldwide.

Inspiring others to have a go

We’ll open the festival with the Inspire! Awards a celebration of the people who have transformed their lives through adult education and those who go further to create new ways of learning to reach deeper into communities or plug gaps in provision. We’ll use the stories of our award winners to inspire others to have the confidence to give learning a go.

We know that once learning re-starts it can ignite a thirst for more, it provides more than a qualification – it creates activists, it provides the tools to manage health and wellbeing, it broadens horizons and understanding of different people and cultures, it provides hope and opportunities for better lives.

From coal seams to French seams

We’re revisiting the story of John Gates – he first won an Award during the 1998 campaign. His life has been dominated by mining but when it all disappeared, he reinvented himself. He is the ultimate adult learner as he refashioned his whole life after years underground. Now in his eighties he continues to be a teacher and a learner.

When he was made redundant, he found a new life through adult learning. He became a dress maker and an embroiderer. He made his daughters’ wedding dresses and began teaching his skills to a whole new group of interested learners and more recently creating opportunities through Men’s Sheds both in the community and at Parc Prison.

John had left school in 1956 with no qualifications but then in the 1990’s he graduated from the Open University in his forties and gained a PGCE so he could embark on a new career as an educator.

After winning his award in 1998, he spoke at the Millennium Dome in 2000 and was then invited out to Australia in 2002 as their international guest for their Adult Learners’ Week, sharing his experiences of using education to overcome redundancy.

As John’s story illustrates, we need adult learning to thrive and for opportunities to be available in our communities and workplaces at times and places that suit them. Moreover, learning opportunities offered need to be engaging and supportive for those who are making their way back into learning.

National promotion combined with local action

That’s why as part of Adult Learners’ Week we are working with partners from across Wales, delivering hundreds of free events, taster classes and information and advice, we’re combining national promotion – listing activities on our platform and linking to advice and support from Working Wales – alongside local outreach and engagement.

Adult Learners’ Week is about opening doors and our Inspire! Award Winners are a vital part of our festival – we want them to tell their stories, to share their experiences, to create bridges into learning for others.

A nation of second chances

We’ve got much to look forward to in Wales – we have an ambitious programme for government, a mission to drive up the number of adults participating in adult learning and to open more doors for many more people. The new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CETR) will have a remit to promote lifelong learning and create a landscape for learning and skills that is based on collaboration, innovation and listening to the voices and experiences of learners, whilst delivering on the vision of Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language to make Wales a nation of second chances, where it’s never too late to learn.

Policy, partnership, and outreach

We will be using Adult Learners’ Week to show that education can be an adventure. It provides a focus for reaching out to new learners and celebrating the achievements of those already on their journeys. We’ll look forward to a week of collaboration and dialogue around policy development. We’ll be listening to the voices of learners, sharing research around the links between learning, confidence and wellbeing for women and learning from the experiences in Ireland with the launch of a 10-year adult literacy strategy.

We’re looking forward to four hundred or more taster sessions and events organised by a diverse range of valued partners; the Football Association of Wales, Amgeuddfa Cymru | Museum Wales, Wales TUC as well as online sessions from Unison and Unite, BT Skills for Tomorrow, together with outreach events from higher and further education, training providers, as well as community-based learning and engagement from organisations like OASIS in Cardiff who provide language and integration support for people making new lives in Wales.

By Kay Smith, Head of Campaigns, Development and Policy, Learning and Work Institute

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