Thursday, 5 December 2013

The true potential of second-chance learning

Society’s conventions on education dictate that you do your GCSEs at 16, your A levels at 18, perhaps a degree after that, then enter work until you retire sometime between the ages of 65 and 70.

Naturally, this isn’t always the way that life works out.

The value of second chances in education is something that has always been at the core of NEC’s work, and it has become ever more important in today’s changing economic climate. The recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills has recommended that adults need more second-chance opportunities to learn, and NIACE believes this to be critical for our economy.

Flexible studying methods such as distance learning and on-the-job training mean that education and full-time work do not have to be mutually exclusive. Not everyone retires when they reach a pensionable age, and swathes of learners study when they want to and go on to achieve more than they ever imagined possible.

Last year, British developmental biologist Sir John Gurdon was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering work in cloning. His discovery that mature cells can be converted to stem cells completely transformed global understanding of how cells and organisms develop.

However, it wasn’t always apparent that Sir John was destined for such greatness. Educated at Eton, he was ranked last out of the 250 boys in his year for achievement in Biology, and was in the bottom set for every other science too. In one school report his schoolmaster commented, ‘I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous.’

What would that schoolmaster have thought if he’d known that decades later, at the age of 79, Sir John would go on to collect one of the most prestigious awards in the scientific world?

Sir John is not the only person to work around the constraints of society; thousands of people go back into education every year and gain qualifications they may once have thought they could never achieve. Singer Beyoncé Knowles left school at 15 and went back after the birth of her daughter to achieve her General Equivalency Diploma. Actress Emma Watson took time out from her thriving career to get her A levels and go on to university. And director Steven Spielberg returned aged 55 to finish the film degree he’d dropped out of years before.

The National Extension College was set up by Michael Young in 1963 to provide exactly this sort of opportunity: to ensure that all adults could have that essential second chance at education. Lord Young understood the potential for loss of knowledge and discovery that would be caused by denying adults access to education if they missed out the first time around, and that the right course at the right time could change someone’s life.

Fifty years later, the College continues to provide second chances to learners who want to try again, whether to pursue an interest or change a career. Sir John’s success against the odds will be an inspiration to everyone whose first experience of education may have been a negative one.

If you feel like you missed out on an opportunity to fulfil your potential earlier in life, and would like to learn something new or gain a new qualification to help you take the next step, visit our website to view our full range of courses, or get in touch and speak to one of our team.

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