Rebuilding educational gerontology – reasons to be slightly more cheerful

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Google ‘older people’s education’ and up comes a Guardian headline with the answer – ‘neglected’. The NIACE report in question was published in 2009. Since then the situation has only got worse. Nor will it change in a hurry. We have to accept that it is the situation in schools – and the people recently failed by schools – which will be the priority for future government action. That doesn’t mean that we can’t make any demands for investment in later-life learning. It does mean we need to look carefully at the situation on the ground and ask hard questions about where we think the money ought to go. This isn’t a case of organisations and services struggling to cope so much as their simply disappearing – I googled ‘older people’s education’ to see where the conversation about this particular calamity might be happening. And by and large isn’t. Nor does this mean there are no older learners – what’s missing is public discussion of any substance. There is one recent crumb of comfort: the National Older Learners Group may no longer be meeting but its future is apparently under review at the Learning and Work Institute.

The conversation

As I’ve previously reported a substantial consultation on adult education is under way. On Thursday the Association for Education and Ageing (AEA) meets in London to work with its chair Professor Emeritus Keith Percy on a response to the Adult Education 100 Centennial Commission’s call for debate. The workshop  Older Adult Education and Learning: the way forward takes place on Thursday, May 30th 2019, 13.30 to 1600 at Futurelearn 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP. You can register here: http://www.associationforeducationandageing.org/aea-events.html

Early autumn will see a major event. Professor Marvin Formosa will give the Frank Glendinning Memorial Lecture 50 Years of Older Adult Learning: Successes, limitations and promises. The Association for Education and Ageing is delighted to be holding its AGM at Glasgow Caledonian University on 10th October 2019 – in a city with a long history of commitment to community education and to life-long learning.

The journal

In the last twelve months AEA has restored its journal – the International Journal of Education and Ageing. Volume 4 Number 3 2018 is now available and two more editions are in preparation. It’s available in hard copy and you can subscribe here: http://www.associationforeducationandageing.org/international-journal-of-education-and-ageing.html

The most recent edition, edited and introduced by Franz Kolland and Vera Gallisti, is the outcome of a conference of the Austrian Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 2017. Two questions were posed: what does it mean to develop self-determination through education and learning and how can these processes be supported? and What is the influence of ageing on self-determination and its associations with learning and education? How does self-determination change when moving from the third to the fourth age? The disciplinary basis leans to the psychological but the data explored in four papers is as wide-ranging as are the theoretical analyses. Gallisti, Parisot and Wanka use Bourdieu’s concept of ‘distinction’ to address power relations in a couple of non-formal learning programmes associated with the arts. The data is limited but finely analysed and the conclusions offer a useful reminder that ‘self-determination’ takes place in structured contexts and is enacted through shared discourses.  This paper could be contrasted with, and read alongside, recent research on theatre and community music education.

Upcoming meetings of the Special Interest Group for Educational Gerontology

Notes from our meeting at Newcastle University on March 12th will shortly be posted on the SIG webpage on the BSG site. We’ll be following up this discussion on the opening day of the BSG conference at Liverpool, and laying the groundwork for the SIG to make its own response to Age Education 100. Anyone registered for the conference will be welcome between 12.45 and 1.45pm on Wednesday, July 10th 2019 just before the conference proper opens: Room 2 62A Eleanor Rathbone Building. Then on Friday 12th it’s the educational gerontology symposium (24): 13.00 – 14.30pm in The Library at the Guild of Students – The Learning Experience, Digital, Educational and Behavioural contexts.

Crossing boundaries

An important sub-theme of the SIG meeting in March was the relationship between gerontology and other disciplines. Looking at the conference programme for, say, the University Alliance for Lifelong Learning at Wolverhampton University in April there does appear to be an issue of parallel conversations. Some joining up is called for – particularly if life-long learners in the upper age-groups are to be heard within these vital conversations. However events somewhat outside the social gerontology mainstream are also reopening doors that have been closed for some time.

So it’s good news that Generations Working Together in Glasgow have Professor Peter Whitehouse, president of Intergenerational Schools International, speaking in the city on 5th June. And in London the Voluntary Action History Society is holding a study day on Saturday, June 15th in King’s College, with Professor Pat Thane as the keynote speaker. Entitled From almshouses to pensioners action groups: The history of voluntary action for and by older people the programme includes  a presentation by Grace M Jones intriguingly and ambitiously titled A final stronghold of liberal learning? The Development of the University of the Third Age Movement and its role and impact in the lives of older people. Lastly, we’ve been alerted by Professor Alex Murdock (who joined us for the SIG in Newcastle) to the Ageing demographic strand at the International Social Innovation Research Conference – again in Glasgow – in September. Is an engagement with business studies on the part of critical gerontology overdue?