learning_motivation_and_participation_KR_HSO_Link_ping2007.doc - Theorizing participation in adult education and training Kjell Rubenson and Henning

Learning_motivation_and_participation_KR_HSO_Link_ping2007.doc

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Theorizing participation in adult education and training Kjell Rubenson and Henning SallingOlesen April 2007 Introduction The recent political project on adult learning is driven by a discourse in which knowledge and information are being promoted as the foundations for competitiveness, economic growth, and innovation. Policy makers all around OECD countries would agree with Tony Blair that, “education is the best economic policy we have” (Martin, 2003, p. 567). With learning becoming “profitable”, adult education has finally begun to be a public policy issue. Supranational organisations like the EU and the OECD have initiated extensive policy research on adult and lifelong learning (EU, 2000, 2001, 2005; OECD, 2003, 2005a) and national governments give increased attention to how to increase participation in adult education and training. However, concerned adult educators have to go further than just provide critical discourse analyses. What is called for is the construction of understandings of participation that can inform a counter hegemonic struggle aimed at affecting policies on lifelong learning for all . As Jackall and Vidich (1995, p, viii) state: Theory is the historically informed framing of intellectual problems about concrete social issues and the resolution of those problems through the analysis of empirical data . The interest here is not in the construction of abstract paradigms, theories and models as such but in the investigation of concrete social phenomenon. In this tradition social theory means confronting head-on the social realities of one's own times, trying to explain both the main structural drift of institutions as well as the social psychologies of individuals, groups and classes (ibid, p. viii). While the new economy may promise increased productivity and an improved standard of living, there is a growing awareness that it also introduces a set of transitions and adjustment challenges for individuals. These have the potential to cause the permanent exclusion or marginalisation of segments of the population and to exacerbate socio-economic divisions. On this point, policy makers can draw on welfare researchers who maintain that adult learning is part of the solution to the exclusion dilemma (Esping-Andersen, 1996, p. 259). The argument is that adult learning can promote competencies that can help the individual to achieve fuller participation in social and economic life. To address the danger of exclusion countries need to revisit the social contract (Richards, 2000). Similarly, Esping-Andersen suggests that under a knowledge economy and knowledge society the accent of social citizenship might move from a “preoccupation with income maintenance towards a menu of rights to lifelong learning and qualification” (Esping-Andersen, 1996, p.260). This broadens the policy discourse on adult learning and adds themes like opportunity, self fulfilment and empowerment. This perspective reflects the recent shift from a pure neo-liberal discourse to an emergent social policy discourse labelled “inclusive liberalism” (see Deacon et al, 1997; Noel 2005).
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