Community schools still have a vital role to play in adult education and lifelong learning. That’s according to Dr Leo Casey, Director of the Centre for Research and Innovation in Learning and Teaching in the National College of Ireland.
“Recent strategy documents are based on the premise that the sole purpose of education and adult education is to prepare people for employment, through pre-employment skills or upskilling,” he said. “What about lifelong education? What about people who participate in non-work activities, who are active at community level, in micro enterprises or sustainable development.”
Educators – including community schools and adult education directors – should not necessarily follow the labour-market driven and qualifications approach slavishly. “The very name ‘community schools’ indicates a link between the school and society – that the school is a part of its local community.” This closeness to its community allows schools to inhabit the space of lifelong education, whereby the needs of people change from practical career or parenting concerns to larger societal issues as they get older.
Community schools are satisfying the need for lifelong learning. “That might not be in vogue, but it’s not wrong,” he said, adding that lifelong learning – in topics such as psychology, social justice, mentoring – contribute towards democracy by facilitating people to engage in active discourse and to make complex decisions about their lives and society. “Is it possible to have a functioning democracy without open, informed and truthful discourse among the citizenship? Perhaps we are so busy ‘training’ people to develop instrumental, economically viable skills that we overlook the ‘skills of democratic participation’ such as reasoning and critical literacy.”
And, those values are in danger of being forsaken. “I’m very much in favour of qualifications but not an over-engineered approach to delivery and outcomes – that’s a flawed approach.”
Instead, it would be better if we regard “learning as part of life itself, it is something that we continue to do so long as we live. Learning may be regarded as a gift we give to our future selves and, so long as we have a future, we will need to learn.”
This article originally appeared in the NACED May 2016 newsletter