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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The Tories Should Steal Jeremy Corbyn’s Plan For A National Education Service

Jeremy Corbyn - National Education Service - Education Policy

A version of this article was first published on the Conservatives for Liberty blog.

A top-down reorganisation of Britain’s education system, giving the state full control over education at all levels and for all ages would be a terrible, frightening idea. But could conservatives pick up Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for a National Education Service and give it a libertarian twist to inspire a genuine consumer-focused revolution in life-long learning?

Whether you hail Jeremy Corbyn as the left wing saviour of British politics or intend to hide behind the sofa on 12 September lest his election as Labour Leader ushers in a dark new era of Soviet communism, no one can deny that Corbyn’s candidacy has brought a certain level of partisan excitement back to drab, consensual British politics.

But as always happens when an outsider threatens to show up the bipartisan political elite and their soul-sapping sameness, the media has focused on whipping up hysteria about some of Corbyn’s off-the-cuff pronouncements, like his remark that we might potentially learn something from Karl Marx (as though we can only learn from historical figures who we 100% agree with) or twisting Corbyn’s words to suggest that he supports re-instating Clause Four and the historic Labour commitment to public ownership of industry.

You don’t have to be a fully paid-up Tory to realise that this headline-bating and click-chasing detracts from the serious discussion of any policy specifics which Corbyn has announced, and which might lead to the start of a real debate if only the media did their job properly. Take Jeremy Corbyn’s recent proposal for a National Education Service to rival the National Health Service.

While failing to provide many concrete details of what this “cradle to grave” education system might look like, Corbyn did offer this glimpse:

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Ambition For Britain: Building A National Education Service

 

“What if the rise of Corbyn, a man with a political philosophy, is not an aberration, but the future?” – Douglas Carswell

For someone who is supposed to be a political dinosaur, a fossil, a cantankerous relic from a long-gone political age, Jeremy Corbyn can sure talk a lot of sense when he puts his mind to it – and when the pressure is really on.

Sunday’s long set-piece interview on the Andrew Marr show (see video above) proved that Corbyn could withstand tough personal scrutiny and difficult questions designed to throw him off-balance, and not only get through the encounter intact but also managing to leave his centrist rival candidates for the Labour Party leadership looking somehow diminished and superficial.

None of this is to say that Jeremy Corbyn has the right answers – he doesn’t – or that he is the Saviour of British Politics. And none of this changes the reality of what Britain was like the last time people like Corbyn had their hands on the levers of power, back in the 1970s. But of the four people competing for the leadership of the Labour Party, Corbyn is the only one who seems to make his supporters actually feel good about their candidate and their party.

Why is this? Well, in this age of sanitised soundbite politics, you really can’t place enough of a premium on a politician who dares to say what he or she actually means, someone willing to think out loud rather than simply regurgitate pre-rehearsed talking points.

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