Learning for life

Education shouldn’t be reserved solely for children and teenagers. It is a lifelong journey that should continue into adulthood and beyond. In this blog, Katie Easey, the WEA's director of education: community learning, outlines the 10 reasons why adult education is a great idea.

Our recent 2021 WEA Impact Report highlights the impressive benefits of community learning such as boosting career prospects, building confidence, delivering skills and attributes valued by employers and supporting those who would otherwise be economically inactive and much more.



1. Finding a way into work


Whatever the student’s situation, training can provide help them stand out in the crowd when applying for a job, and it can provide them the networking opportunities which they might not have to hand. If they have had a hard time at school and they’re not sure it will work for them, we would recommend them trying a taster session of just two hours or a short course to see how a small-group, supportive and tailored learning could work for them. There are plenty of short courses that cover topics such as recognising your potential, getting ready for work, computer skills for work and taking the first steps into employment.


2. Safety in numbers


Numbers play an important part in everyday life, from managing money, ordering stock, to weighing out ingredients. So for those who are struggling with basic maths, being better with numbers isn’t a special talent – it’s something that we can all learn at any stage of our lives. And students will find they are not alone – there are many others who struggle with it but there are numerous courses that can help.
Financial literacy reaches far beyond the workplace. Unmanageable debt is a fact of life for many families so there are programmes to help learners deal with their financial transactions they come across in their day to day lives and take some of the stress out of money management.


3. Getting digital


According to The Lloyds Digital Index half of adults lack the digital skills they need in the modern workplace. To combat this hidden disconnect in society, there are plenty of courses that can help beginners take their first steps across the digital divide. Within several weeks students can learn how to set up their technology, write emails, shop online, find essential services and reach out to friends and loved ones. Few social interventions have such a rapid and profound impact on quality of life.


4. ESOL students find their voice


According to Nesta, three-quarters of employers would prefer their recruitment candidates’ softer skills than technical skills. And of these, the absolute top priority are communications and presentation skills. Learning at any level develops these skills, be it collaborating in groups, sharing ideas of formulating a critical evaluation to completing a written assessment. 7.7% of the population have English as a Second Language (ESOL) so without language skills families can struggle in a wide-ranging number of ways such as helping children to success in school, securing work and house, accessing services and developing independent skills and using transportation. So learning at any level develops skills to overcome these barriers.


5. Developing social care skills


Sometimes high-level technical skills and qualifications are not necessary for those jobs such as care workers and assistants who have been in short supply and high demand during the pandemic. There are numerous programmes that prepare future employees to develop practical knowledge and skills such as the WEA ‘Step into Care’ programme. 


6. Leadership and progressing at work


In this challenging environment, people are pressurised to simply remain at work, no matter their role or to move into poorly paid and gig economy work. However that status quo can be changed by attending courses that boost confidence, give employability skills to take the next step on their journey to part or full time work. WEA research found that 65% found work within six months of their study or felt confident about doing so.

7. Protecting and enhancing health and wellbeing


Many research studies celebrate the positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing.  The WEA Impact report found that courses made a vast impact on students’ mental and physical health and wellbeing.  The community setting and small group context provided by WEA courses builds connections and provides students with a safe place to develop their confidence with the support of a tutor and a new network of fellow students.  During lockdown, online courses succeeded in protecting those relationships, bringing valuable support to students on a regular basis.


8. Escaping isolation


According to Campaign to End Loneliness, 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. The lack of social connection has been linked to cardiovascular health risks and increased death rates, blood pressure, depression and risk of demonstration.  Tackling isolation head-on needs to be a national priority. Courses provide an invaluable network of like-minded students and a regularity of contact to build and develop new relationships. 96% of WEA students said their course helped to keep their minds active whilst 54% said their course helped them feel more resilient.


9. Cultural inspiration


The pandemic gutted the UK cultural sector as exhibitions, theatre productions and live performances closed their doors to the public. However, students interested in the arts, crafts and humanities were able to be inspired by courses that opened up these cultural doors. For many the courses have been an important enrichment, stimulating students with a love of arts and crafts. Many students join cultural classes for the love of learning, or to develop culturally and personally with clear impacts on their holistic development. 


10. Volunteering


An active citizen is often described as a person who cares enough about their community they want to change it for the better. Recent research shows that this volunteering trend is seeing a strong growth in younger age groups giving their time to good causes, bringing new ideas and enthusiasm to complement the skills and experience of the more mature. The WEA’s community-based learning provides skills at the hearts of the communities they serve, enabling students of all ages to play a full, involved and supportive role in their communities.


WEA
Established in 1903, the WEA works to address educational disadvantage by bringing inclusive and accessible adult learning into local communities across England and Scotland. 
For further information on the charity, please visit http://www.wea.org.uk