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Ageism in Education
Lifelong learning is the name given to the government’s drive for people (presumably of all ages) to keep learning new skills and gaining additional qualifications. UCAS says over 40% of students are mature; but they define ‘mature’ as 22 years or over. For more mature prospective learners, such as those around forty or older, the difficulty lies in finding courses for these new skills and qualifications, especially if the older learner intends to go on to university. There are plenty of evening schools and adult learning centers here, which are great for those of us who just want to pick up new hobbies and maybe make a few new friends. However, for those looking to pursue a career or academic route, there is a question; where do they buy it? In the early 1990s adults could go to evening school and get some GCSEs or A levels, as I did before university, but now the only place to get qualifications is in sixth form colleges.
While A levels can be studied at local comprehensive schools in the evening, there is a huge range of courses; all different subjects, recreational, vocational and academic. Halfway through the 7-9 p.m. session, returning students patiently walk down the halls so they can join those who took a break from art appreciation to wait in line for a plastic cup of light coffee and a sponge biscuit, Car repair or yoga class. We would quickly develop a friendship and we were all there for adult learning. But now night classes at local schools and adult centers are purely recreational subjects; it’s all tai chi or reiki, with some sugar crafting to sweeten the deal. The best a mature learner can hope for these days is GCSEs in Maths or English. Yet paradoxically, this administration, and the one before it, are continually encouraging us all to broaden our horizons and consider other careers. The economy slumped and many people were laid off. A clear example is some realtors who are finding it harder than others to keep working, so it makes sense to use the time when there are fewer job opportunities to lay off, re-evaluate and retrain. But what do we do if we can’t get those all-important initial A levels? Even college vocational programs require a high level of education to get into.
While sixth form colleges might be fine for 16- to 19-year-olds, adults with kids that age don’t necessarily want to sit next to their kids’ buddies in order to get the two A’s and one B college they need to go to. Even with night classes, sixth form colleges are still flooded with puberty and testosterone. If one braves all of this and takes the required courses, returning learners can find themselves under pressure from universities to take full courses; return full time! These institutions tell us that this has funding implications for universities, which in turn has financial implications for learners. Obviously, taking a part-time course can run students into hundreds of pounds in tuition fees, unless they opt for a full-time course, in which case students take classes for free. This includes part-time locations where there is no funding, while full-time locations do. Sorry if you thought these classes were free when you applied for benefits. Only GCSE English and Maths are free, which is the minimum you need to get a job. Oh, and if a student’s aim is to study subjects at GCSE level, then fundamental skills are an essential part of the full-time program. It doesn’t matter what qualification students hold when they start their course, PhD or MSc. Or anything else they might have, ‘Essential Skills’ is compulsory as a GCSE level subject.
If a student applies to a university just for A levels, they will find themselves at the bottom of the queue, behind those who have taken GCSEs at that university the previous year. Previous students are given priority, and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, it does create problems for students who just want to get A levels. Universities only have a limited number of places, and if last year’s university graduates have no jobs to go to, they might as well stay and get more qualifications.
I have a Masters in Applied Psychology, but one time I paid Yen to take a class in dressmaking, a class that took a year at night, and I was told I needed to learn basic skills too. “Don’t worry”, the advisor assured me, “when you go for the interview, you’ll have an essay to show your employer!” Excellent; two essays and an essay! And I had to tell that tutor that I was a potential learner there; initially she ticked off the names of three other, much younger women in the room next to me, then claimed that a fourth didn’t show up. I am that fourth person. She treats me like someone’s mother. She didn’t think about the possibility that I might have been there as a potential student. How embarrassing that is!
Universities, like colleges, are a highly competitive field and they are measured in league table to encourage good results in these tables. Life experience is qualitative, not quantitative yardstick, and in today’s day when the bottom line is the main concern, colleges are not opening their doors to less qualified students. In recessionary times, even colleges can pick and choose.
So if you want to get those two A’s and a B into college, better save first. You’ll also get to know who Wagner is (the other one; the one on TV) and the advantages of the Xbox 360 over the PlayStation 3, because you’ll be hearing a lot about them over the next two years. And students in college , all young people, will be reflected in the students in the university.
As for science; even my twenty-year-old son can’t learn it. In 2010, here in Liverpool, no university offered A-level physics.
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