The benefits of adult learning

By Mark Malcomson CBE, Principal and CEO at City Lit

At City Lit, our guiding philosophy has not changed since our foundation nearly a century ago: we believe all Londoners should have a right to learn and improve. Tens of thousands of Londoners of varying ages, backgrounds and ability levels study with us each year, all motivated by different ambitions, however grand or small. They all share the same common goal: a desire for self-improvement and self-actualisation.

We believe there has never been a more important time for adult education, both in the capital and nationwide. It could be argued 2017 marks a tipping point for the sector, with several challenges on the horizon that we need to tackle head-on, both as a sector and as a society. Firstly, perhaps the most significant change we’ve noticed over the last decade is the volatility in the job market. The adult education sector needs to adapt to the ongoing transition in the jobs market, with advances in technology putting pressure on traditional roles, and workers of all ages increasingly seeking flexible training opportunities at all stages of their career, to help them upskill, retrain or change their career plans completely. Secondly, the recent indecisive General Election result, coupled with Brexit, has added further uncertainty into the UK’s economic outlook, further underscoring the need for a robust adult education sector.

Although there is little doubt shifting cultural, political and societal changes will create inevitable strains on the adult education sector over the next few years, our resolve in providing Londoners the opportunity to pursue their ambitions must not waver. In a time of increasing uncertainly, I believe there has never been a more important place in society for the lifelong learning, retraining and upskilling initiatives offered by organisations like as City Lit. Adult education courses also open up opportunities to communities often under-served by education provision elsewhere.

Our Centre for Deaf Education, which has origins dating back to our work helping shell-shocked soldiers emerging from the battlefield after the First World War, is just one example of this. Our continued work with deaf and hard of hearing students across the capital provides immeasurable benefits to a large section of the London community that can often struggle to find similar assistance elsewhere.

It’s for all these reasons and more that we continue to be a proud advocate of campaigns such as the Festival of Learning, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary at a ceremony hosted here at City Lit. We were honoured to welcome the patron of Learning and Working Institute, HRH The Princess Royal, who was in attendance to hear inspiring stories from various award winners from across the Festival of Learning’s last quarter century.

In today’s ever-changing world, campaigns like the Festival of Learning play an invaluable role in ensuring that lifelong learning is recognised for the vital contribution it makes to developing people’s skills, confidence and self-esteem, and help underscore the economic importance adult education initiatives have in helping transform the lives of Londoners on a professional and personal level.

Festival of Learning has championed the benefits of lifelong learning for over 25 years, and we believe it will continue to be a powerful force for good in continuing its important work in the decades to come.