Feeding the roots of lifelong learning: embedding critical reflection in skills-based programmes

Marr, Liz and Rose-Adams, John (2010). Feeding the roots of lifelong learning: embedding critical reflection in skills-based programmes. In: 19th EAN Annual Conference. From Access to Success: Closing the Knowledge Divide (Higher Education for Under-Represented Groups in the Market Economy), 14-16 Jun 2010, Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden.

URL: http://www.ean-edu.org/


Evidence suggests that students from under-represented groups in universities undertake higher level study to enhance their career prospects and are more likely to seek out vocational courses. The UK government's current policy for higher education emphasises the need for higher level study to meet the skills needs of a knowledge economy. It thus advocates Foundation degree routes, work-based learning, fast-track degrees and part time provision as alternatives to full time, three year courses. It might be argued, however, that these developments are likely to result in a diversified sector in which research intensive institutions limit their teaching to an elite few who can afford access to 'higher education' and the critical thinking and creativity which is integral to it and teaching-only universities deliver skills and competences for work.
Fears that under-represented groups are further marginalised by these processes obscure a more insidious problem - an assumption that such students are 'judgemental dopesï' incapable of reflection and reacting to learning in a positive way. One disadvantaged group in particular stands out - those young and adult learners taking vocational qualifications at Further Education or Community colleges. They are encouraged to apply to universities, if at all, for Foundation Degrees (the UK's primary mode of delivering higher level vocational qualifications) or other work-based routes as ends in themselves, on the assumption that they will already have internalised the norms which set limits to their aspiration. In other words, students from poor backgrounds may aspire to higher education, but only so high.
This paper argues that there is no inherent incompatibility between skills for employment and the transferrable skills of problem solving, creativity and critical thinking. Furthermore in a global economy, transferrable skills need to take account of international contexts and ways of working which in turn require greater reflexivity, self- and inter-cultural awareness. Using a range of examples such as engaging students as co-researchers and co-producers of content or developing 'shell' awards which allow learners to bring their own experience into their learning, it will argue that a skills-based reflexive curricula is not just desirable but also achievable.

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