Postcard From America: Adult Education Is Key To Future Prosperity

I’m currently back in the United States to celebrate Christmas in Texas. These short “Postcards from America” will document a few of my thoughts as I escape the political whirlwind of Westminster and look back at Britain from the vantage point of our closest ally

In America, not everyone waits passively for government to improve their life circumstances. Aided by a thriving community college sector, people take their futures into their own hands

While sitting in the cinema waiting for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to begin, I was struck by the number of local advertisements for regional schools, community colleges and universities which were shown.

By my reckoning, at least 40% of the commercials screened over a fifteen minute period were promoting some kind of educational service. Contrast this with the United Kingdom, where local commercials of any kind are a rarity, and most national commercials these days tend to be for banks, fast-moving consumer goods, the EE mobile phone network (featuring Kevin Bacon) or one of the limited number of other companies able to afford a national cinema campaign.

An example of the type of commercial screened at the south Texas cinema I attended is shown above. Typically, they feature personal testimonials from ordinary people who explain simply and positively how going back into education has helped them in their careers, how the various modes of study fitted in around their existing home and work commitments, and how easy/affordable it turned out to be.

These degrees and diplomas provide a springboard into skilled, middle class jobs, many of which are well paid and non-outsourceable. Dental nurses, IT engineers, electricians, car mechanics and many other such career opportunities. Recognising that not everybody can be – or wants to be – an elite lawyer or doctor, these institutions equip people with tangible skills which actively help them in the labour market, ensuring that their career options are far greater than the prospect of 40 years working at the 7-eleven, or some other minimum wage drudgery.

This emphasis on adult education is one sign of a more active and engaged citizenry, of a people who understand that their self advancement and personal destiny is in their own hands, not those of the government.

To be fair, some British politicians are also coming to realise the importance of adult education to keep our own workforce skilled, adaptable and capable of commanding high wages rather than minimum wages. During the Labour leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn floated his plan for a National Education Service to do for lifelong learning what the NHS did for healthcare.

From the Conservatives, however, there has been nothing. Not a squeak from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who supposedly has future leadership ambitions of her own and therefore might be expected to have a substantive policy or two up her sleeve. What are the Conservative government’s bright ideas for a more market-oriented, privately delivered solution to the adult education gap?

Banging on about apprenticeships is all very well, but what of adults over 25 who cannot take an apprenticeship under the current schemes, or who want to work in a field where none exist? What of the 55-year-old steelworker made redundant with few other transferable skills?

A conservative government worth its salt would look at Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for a National Education Service, balk at the more nakedly socialist aspects, but then consider how a smaller and leaner government might be able to promote the education of the adult workforce in pursuance of the national interest. But of course our current Coke Zero Conservative government is not worth its salt.

If Britain is to prosper in this globalised age – and if our poorest, most disadvantaged fellow citizens are to be spared from a harsh life of minimum wage drudgery – we need a learning revolution in the United Kingdom, a British Apollo Program for education.

What party, what future leader will rise to the occasion and propose a solution equal to the task at hand?

Community College

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