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Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

August 28th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Sort of like that saying. I don’t have much time ot post here – am constantly traveling – but will make a few quick commnets from the road (as an aside – countries like Estonia put other countries to shame when it comes to intrenet access – free fast wireless access is available almost everywhere).

Maybe it is juts the people i am talking too, buut there seems to be growing appreciation of the importance of informal learning and learning acquired in the workplace. At the same time I am slightly concerned that this appreciation for workplace and informal learning is being counterposed to formal training and qualifications. In this respect I think people are mixing up the schooling system and formal learning. Yes – I completely agree that our formal schooling system is out of date, frequently ineffective and promotes formal accreditation at the expense of learning. Putting it simply there are better ways to learn – and the money spent of formal schooling could be much more effectively deployed elsewhere.

But this is not to say there is no place for formal training and learning and for qualifications. Qualifications can play an important regulatory role – both for quality and in terms of preventing employer exploitation. Moreover such qualifications can prove aspirational – especially for young people. Yes – there are many issues around curriculum (I will return to this issue in a further post). Formal learning and training can provide a structure for learning. And formal learning and qualifications are not in opposition to informal learning – the two can go together.

I think there are problems in a fast changing economy as employment and work tasks and roles are fast changing. There is no guarantee that training for one particular occupation will guarantee employment in ten years time. Yet, all the empirical surveys we have carried out show that those who have undergone a formal training programme – regardless of subject – are more likely to participate in on-going learning in the future. Thus, even though the link between qualifications and employment may be weakening (especially in liberal market economies such as the UK) there remains a macro economic benefit to the provision of formal learning opportunities.

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