Today is the UN’s International Day of Education, celebrating and highlighting the importance of education for peace and development.
I’d begin this blog by thanking each and every person involved in the education sector for their unfaltering dedication and commitment to Bristol’s students during a truly difficult time. From teachers to tutors, caretakers to cleaners – thank you for all that you’ve done and continue to do. Bristol will be forever grateful.
This year has been a uniquely challenging time for educators and students the world over. School closures, isolation periods and social distancing have meant that the majority of learning in the past year has relied on the ingenuity and adaptability of our parents and educators, who more often than not have had to contend with a new teaching environment of online and distance learning.
Whilst schools, colleges and universities have been put under a microscope during the pandemic, it is important that we don’t overlook those adults in our community who are either already enrolled in courses or looking to return to education. For many adults the pandemic has impacted jobs and career progression. So far an estimated 8,000 jobs have sadly been lost to the pandemic in Bristol. We continue to work hard to protect jobs and create new ones, but know that this rise in unemployment represents a monumental changes for people’s lives and support is available from the Council for anyone who is struggling.
Since the pandemic hit, some Bristolians have been searching for the opportunity to re-train as teachers or nurses, for example, so it is clear that this time is also offering the opportunity for reflection and re-evaluation.. Education is a lifelong journey and it is never too late to return to the classroom and change the course of your life. If you are interested, a range of educational institutes and businesses offer the option for adult learning courses such as Bristol City Council and City of Bristol College. There is also often financial support available for those who need it, though more investment and support is doubtless needed.
Of course, adult education isn’t always about changing career course. It is also important for career progression and contributes to improving businesses’ bottom line. The Union Learning Fund (ULF) supports working people to access skills and training at work, through their unions. Last year more than 200,000 learners acquired new skills through union learning including thousands who received their first ever qualification. Every £1 spent on union learning returns £12.30 to the economy due to increased productivity and higher wages. Unfortunately, the government has decided to end the ULF from March 2021. Considering the economic implications of the pandemic, this is not the time to cut funding for skills, training and adult learning. I would urge a rethink on this decision and reversal of these damaging cuts.
Investing in education leads to gains in opportunity, equality and pride. It is never too late to invest in yourself and in your development. And whilst the past year has been anything but easy, education can be the key that unlocks the door to a much more hopeful and optimistic future.