The opportunity for lifelong learning must be universal, and it is fundamental to improving the lives of people across Scotland. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“Everyone has the right to education.”
Investment in lifelong learning for adults must be seen as preventative spend, particularly in areas of adult literacy and numeracy, digital access and social isolation. Unfortunately, in this age of austerity, cuts to education affect the opportunity to access learning for people of all ages.
The financial settlement for local authorities will deliver real-terms cuts to budgets, as it has done in recent years. If we want to be proactive in supporting adults to learn, particularly those with the poorest literacy or numeracy skills and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and communities, we need to recognise that local authority budget cuts will limit how proactive we can be.
Reaching out and engaging with adults who could benefit from programmes such as the one in Midlothian is a difficult task, and cross-agency partnerships are key to overcoming that barrier. Community learning and development has a key role in helping people from disadvantaged and vulnerable groups to access learning and prepare for study and employment. Engaging with adults in their own communities limits the barriers or fears that some may face when thinking about education. Many of those whom we are talking about have no qualifications and no post-school education, so creating a safe place to learn is crucial to that engagement.
Although the aim for adult learning is rightly focused on some of our most disadvantaged people, it is crucial to ensure that some of our smaller groups—often the most marginalised groups, such as asylum seekers and refugees—can access adult learning programmes. I was pleased to see a focus on community learning and development in the Scottish Government’s “New Scots: refugee integration strategy 2018-2022”.
In speaking about adult learning, it would be remiss of me not to mention adults in prison, given my interest in that area. Statistics show that levels of poor literacy and poor numeracy are high in the prison population. There are education and learning programmes in the prison system, but we must ensure that CLD is available to those who are being released. Again, that is about engagement and preventative spend.
Community learning and development is necessary to tackle the problems that are associated with isolation and poor levels of numeracy, literacy and digital access. It must be properly resourced. We need a national strategy for adult learning that reflects the importance of community learning and development and the critical role that those who work in the sector can play.