November 2019 will mark an important educational centenary: the publication of the Ministry of Reconstruction’s Final Report on Adult Education. The report, largely authored by R.H. Tawney, set the groundwork for liberal adult education in Britain for the rest of the 20th century. Its centenary is, we believe, a vital opportunity to reflect on the needs and possibilities for adult education today.
What we propose is a programme of activities around the theme “Reconstructions of Adult Education”. This would include historical research and a wide-ranging debate designed to open up new avenues for future development. Much of the historical research would be undertaken jointly with adult students and adult education organisations.
Following exploratory discussions between ourselves, we now invite you to add your weight to this programme of activities.
The challenges we face today differ, of course, from those of 1919 – but they are also massive. For example:
- For millennia, work has been a vital part of the human condition. But, as Alan Tuckett wrote recently in The Guardian, “robotics and artificial intelligence promise to do for white collar jobs, as globalisation did for their blue collar counterparts”. Billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk suggest a “universal basic income” instead. That may prevent us starving – but what will we do?
- Our population is ageing. We know that people stay healthier, and make a bigger contribution to society and civic debate, when they are active and engaged learners. How can we engage the wisdom of elders?
- Our democracy is increasingly strident and polarised. While social media facilitate new forms of connection, exchanges are often ill-considered, and even ill-tempered. How can we develop a more thoughtful and civilised civic culture?
Adult education, according to the 1919 report, is an essential part of citizenship. Yet over the last three decades, opportunities for adult education have been swept away. Though we celebrate organisations – the WEA and Oxford University among them – which have resisted this tide, most adult education now focuses on relatively narrow training for younger adults in workplace skills.