Why adult and community education matters

Posted: September 1, 2021

This guest blog is written by Fiona Chapel, who works within the Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds and is a partner of the Festival of Learning campaign; a national celebration of adult learners.

At Leeds City College, we’re working with partners across the region to prioritise adult education. 

As part of the festival, we’re encouraging adults to develop skills, enhance employability and improve wellbeing through taster sessions, open days and short courses. Find out more with our calendar of events.

Creating new opportunities 

Adult and community learning, whether this is to develop skills, gain qualifications or pursue a hobby, has the potential to open up new opportunities for people. 

Taking part in community-based learning allows adults to reflect on their situations and consider their options, building their skills and confidence along the way. 

This holistic approach to education means that the focus is not confined to skills development, but also includes the chance to take part in learning which is meaningful to a person’s situation as a whole.

My journey

My first step into adult learning was volunteering to teach adults English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in a local community centre in Leeds. This was a profound learning experience for me, as it gave me an insight into how people can use education to transform their lives. 

I was paired with an adult learner who wanted to change her situation, and coming to English language classes helped her to do this. In addition to improving her language skills, the classes raised her confidence, helped her make friends and strengthened her networks. 

She also learned about organisations that could provide her with support so that she could leave her abusive relationship and find a safe place to rebuild her life. 

When I met her a few years later, she was enabling other women to come to ESOL classes by bringing them along to the community centre and encouraging them to sign up. 

This story illustrates how extensive the power of adult learning is; as well as providing a means to improve skills, it can lead people to consider their potential much more widely and increase their power to engage with broader society.

Community-centered learning

A recent report on the importance of local adult and community education illustrates the crucial role community-based learning can play for individuals and communities in the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic:

“Put simply, adult and community education transforms people’s lives. As the Covid-19 crisis continues to grip our communities, it is a more important lifeline than ever before. It is the cornerstone of adult learning. 

“Without it, many of the 600,000 adults – including some of our hardest to reach, vulnerable or isolated residents – that access it every year, would not progress into further learning and work or be able to cope with what life throws at them.”

Benefits of lifelong learning

Adult and community learning provisions provide an accessible way into a supportive, student-centred way of learning which values people’s previous experiences. 

This is often very new for people who may not have had a positive experience of education previously and provides them with the confidence and aspirations to take the next step in their learning. 

This could involve more adult and further education courses that lead to qualifications and the development of skills for employment, as well as learning for enjoyment. 

Lifelong Learning Centre

Our work at the Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds engages with adults at whatever point they are at in their learning, to raise their awareness of their educational options. 

The Festival of Learning is an excellent opportunity to celebrate our well established partnerships with local adult education providers. These include Leeds City College and Leeds City Council’s Adult and Community Learning provision, which runs valuable family learning courses, and other educational providers such as the Swarthmore Centre

It is clear from the number of adult learners who progress into higher education from our partner organisations, how vital these organisations are in enabling adults to transform their situations, especially if they are starting from a base of no or few qualifications.

Working in partnership is key for the Lifelong Learning Centre and the Festival of Learning has allowed us to build on this work and help to raise the profile of adult learning and its benefits in general. 

We have enjoyed running events for the festival, including ‘Studying as a mature student’ and ‘An introduction to student finance’ and have more events planned for the new academic year.  

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