Are EU statisticss good enough to enable us to promote the benefits of later life learning?
The text below is taken from a Word Document. To download a Word version of this text, please visit the ForAge homepage.
One of the initial concerns of the ForAge network was the lack of regular, consistent and comprehensive pan-European statistics showing the participation of people in education programmes using criteria such as age. The ForAge network believed they were needed for many reasons including the following:
• To enable comparisons between different European countries
• To show changes over time
• To provide data on participation according to different criteria, such as age and gender
• To enable comparison of participation rates against population data to reveal the proportion of people in different age bands who are taking part in later-life learning
• To provide the data necessary for informed discussions about public policy and practice and funding priorities
In some countries, good data on participation have been available for some time and this has enabled us to see changes that have occurred and to reflect on their possible causes.
The ForAge project expressed the wish at the outset of the network to see comprehensive European data on lifelong learning by age groups to be made widely available. The project suggested that there should be a standardisation of the data, for example in the use of the same age bands, to permit comparisons across data sets.
In some ways, the development of Eurostat data has helped to solve the problems. Data on participation rates are now regularly available and it is possible, for example, to obtain evidence of the low levels of participation of older people (aged 50+) in adult education.
The position varies a great deal across Europe and depends on various factors. These include whether there is a well-established traditions of adult education, the economic circumstances of individual states, whether countries are emerging from social conflict, differences between rural and urban contexts, and whether there are low levels of adult literacy.
These variations, which exist within as well as between countries, make analyses of the Grundtvig programme even more vital as the programme has benefited large numbers of older people in different locations. The practical experiences of how the older people were reached and what they achieved are clearly of great importance and value to others wishing to reach similar target groups of people.
In the recent past it has often been difficult to provide statistical evidence to show that there is inequality amongst later-life learning provision, but the new statistical data now lends supports to these arguments.
Eurostat participation and population data collected in 2012 indicated that only 1 person in every 25 people participating in lifelong learning within the (then) 27 EU states was aged 65 or more. This low level of participation is all the more telling as increasing evidence of the health, social, economic and personal benefits of learning is now emerging. The most recent Eurostat publication looking at quality of life issues (published in June 2015) adds to the evidence:
The figures assess the impact of educational participation and achievement on health and well-being, self-perception, and the capacity to seek assistance or discuss personal matters. The data refer to people aged 25 to 74 years of age and do not provide any further break-down of participants based on their age. The results suggest there are many widespread benefits for adults who participate in lifelong learning and education.
The section on health also indicates that later life produces a decline in self-perception of good health amongst many people. This seems to prove the importance of the adage ‘It is never too late to learn!’ What is problematic is making the link between learning in later life and improved health, even though the evidence in my mind is clear. The question remains: ‘where is THAT evidence?’