Here We Go Again

I’ve written before about the inherent problem with instituting an adult education requirement in order to qualify for a government benefit (as have others), but in light of this recent Labour proposal in the U.K., it’s worth repeating the basic problem with this kind of proposal: it’s only fair, and only works as policy, if access to adult education is free and universal. There are other problems, potentially, with adding new requirements to benefits already earned (which is the case with unemployment benefits in the U.S.) but such proposals are fundamentally flawed at the start if a lack of available adult education opportunities make the education requirement impossible for beneficiaries to meet. If Labour is also proposing a massive new investment in adult education and training (and I mean truly massive), that’s one thing, but it’s not clear from this piece in The Telegraph  that such an investment would be accompanying the new education requirement in their proposal:

People receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance would be forced to sit a basic skills test within six weeks of signing on or face being stripped of their benefits, Labour will say, in a move designed to challenge the Tory’s popular welfare policies.

Anyone who does not show basic competency in literacy, numeracy and IT will be sent on training programmes.

Labour believes that around 300,000 people could be sent on courses every year. If they refuse, they will be denied welfare.

Maybe I’m completely uninformed, and the U.K. has 300,000 empty seats in their adult education and training programs. But if not, I’m not sure how this plan is supposed to work.

Note also that expanding a system to accommodate 300,000 more learners is not just a question of pumping more money into programs. To achieve anything close to universal access to adult education, you’d have to think through a strategy that puts in place some combination of physical program and/or on-line learning that is distributed in such a way that it is truly accessible by all, and you’d also have to figure out some way to ensure that individuals could carve out the time and distraction-free space to successfully engage in learning (all of which might require additional investments in broadband access, transportation, and childcare—just to name three examples).

U.K. Report: Millions of Children Held Back by Their Parents’ Poor Basic Skills

The U.K.’s National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) has just released a report that serves as something of a response to the latest international survey of adult basic skills conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), aka PIAAC (the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies). Adults in England and Wales generally scored below average in the survey—especially among 16-24 year-olds.

The NIACE’s Inquiry into Family Learning was launched about a year ago to look at the impact of family learning and “develop new thinking and to influence public policy.” The Inquiry commissioners’ report, Family Learning Works, cites a strong link between children’s success in school and their parent’s educational attainment and suggest that learning opportunities for the entire family should be an integral to the country’s strategies to raise children’s attainment in school. They argue that investing in family learning programs would save money in the long run by cutting back on the need for other government programs that serve vulnerable families.

In the forward to the report, the Chair of the Inquiry writes:

“The recent results of the OECD’s survey of adult skills show that parents’ educational attainment has a stronger-than-average impact on adults’ proficiency in both literacy and numeracy. Adults whose parents have low levels of education are eight times more likely to have poor proficiency in literacy than adults whose parents had higher levels of education. Surely it is a moral outrage that a nation such as ours should be in this position. Evidence shows that family learning could increase the overall level of children’s development by as much as 15 percentage points for those from disadvantaged groups. Family learning has multiple positive outcomes for adults and children, for families and communities. It could, in one generation, change the lives of a whole generation. We would be foolish to miss such an opportunity.” (my emphasis)