On Sunday this week, the annual Cambridge Literary Festival (CLF) takes place. The Festival, like NEC, is a registered charity whose aim is the advancement of education for the benefit of the public by the promotion of literature, language and the arts. With such a lot in common, it seemed only natural that NEC and CLF join up to spread the learning word!
We believe that everyone deserves a second chance at learning — no matter what their age, educational background, life circumstances and interests. Together with the Festival and Festival authors, we are hoping to highlight the importance and benefits of second chance learning.
Everyone has a different reason to study, a different goal to aim for and different experiences of education in the past. Whatever the reason, learning is not a given once you have left school, and there are thousands of men and women in the UK who left school earlier than they would have liked, or did not thrive in the classroom.
For some though, returning to education can be an intimidating prospect. Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty and author of On Liberty, says, ‘Returning to education can seem daunting, but it is the key to so many doors — regardless of when you study.’
In 2011, a study undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the children of parents who frequently read with them in the first year of school still show the benefits when they are 15. Even so, the Literacy Trust reports that only one in three parents read to their children every day. Second chance learning can really make a difference by helping parents become more confident readers and writers so they can read to their children and learn as a family.
The number of people studying at university has been falling, in fact it has fallen by 50% in the last four years. Flexible routes to A levels for people who are working or have family or caring responsibilities are essential in providing second chances to people, and helping them to realise long term goals.
Margaret Drabble, novelist, biographer and critic, author of ‘The Pure Gold Baby’, ‘The Radiant Way’, ‘The Millstone’ and ‘The Needle’s Eye’, is a great believer in second chance learning. ‘Sian James, memorably portrayed by Jessica Gunning in the Film Pride, is one of the most impressive of late learners,’ she reminds us. ‘A miner’s wife, she was an activist during the strike, then went on to take her A levels and study for a Welsh Language degree before becoming a Labour MP. She is a shining example of what can be done in middle life.’
Trade unions also play a role in second chance learning for workers, working with employers to make sure that they get the training that they need. Alan Johnson MP, author of ‘This Boy’ and ‘Please, Mr Postman’, has seen this first hand. He says, ‘The untold story of social mobility in this country is the role of trade unions and second chance learning. Becoming a trade union official opened up a whole new world of educational opportunity for me via TUC correspondence courses.’
A 2006 study for NIACE (the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education) shows that learning later in life helps to prolong active life, delay dependency and sustain independent living. Ali Smith, novelist and author of ‘How to be both’, ‘Artful’, ‘There but for the’ and ‘The Accidental’, agrees. She says, ‘The older we get, the more exciting new learning gets. An image to sum up second chance learning? One of those beautiful spring trees loaded with blossom all along its branches.’
There are so many more reasons to support second chance learning, from reducing rates in reoffending (see our previous blog: Second-chance learning: prisoners need education too) to preparing to leave the forces and take on a new career. We could go on!
We’re asking you to get involved in spreading the learning word on social media. Why not write a 50-word story and post it on the Festival’s Facebook page, about your own learning experience for the chance to win a copy of Alan Johnson’s ‘Please, Mr Postman.’ You can also get involved on Twitter, using the hashtag #thelearningword. Keep up with how we’re spreading the learning word on our website.
To learn more about distance learning and some of the inspirational learners studying with NEC, visit our website, or ask us for a copy of our Guide to Courses. The Cambridge Literary Festival takes place this Sunday, 30th November. More information and a timetable of events can be found on their website.