Majority of adults opt out of lifelong learning
the majority of Irish adults do not return to studying once they leave school, surprising new figures reveal.
The statistics explode the myth that we have very high participation rates in lifelong learning and adult education.
New Central Statistics Office (CSO) data show we are near the bottom of the class when it come to adults taking part in lifelong learning through formal or non-formal education.
Best in Europe are the Swedes, where three-quarters of adults aged from 25 to 64 engage in organised learning, with the Finns in second place at 55pc and the UK next at 49pc.
On average, 36pc of EU adults engage in organised learning but in Ireland the figure is 26pc with only Poland, Italy, Greece and Hungary worse than us.
The younger age group -- 25 to 34 -- is more likely to return to formal education in schools or colleges or begin non-formal education such as night classes or other courses. But even here, at 33pc, we are below the EU average participation rate of 45pc.
A higher proportion of adults from urban areas undertake lifelong learning when compared to rural areas -- 27pc versus 17pc in Ireland.
Some four out of five Irish adults who engaged in lifelong learning did so for job-related reasons. Professionals were most likely to avail of educational opportunities while plant and machinery operatives were least likely to.
Social sciences, business and law were the most common fields of study followed by health and welfare courses with agriculture and veterinary studies being the least popular.
The CSO data relate to the year 2007, near the height of the economic boom, when employment was at its height.
Since then, the jobless rate has rocketed and the numbers going back to study have increased somewhat -- but have risen in other countries as well.
Last night Fine Gael education spokesperson Fergus O'Dowd said the Government's poor record in lifelong learning had left thousands of jobless hopelessly unprepared for the economic crisis. It had failed to ensure ongoing training and education during the boom years, he added.
"In a recession people cling to education in hope of riding out the storm and improving their skills for when the upturn comes. In Ireland, however, that option has been seriously eroded for many by the increased demands on education places," he said.
But a spokesperson for Lifelong Learning Minister Sean Haughey said expenditure in this area increased by 60pc from €256m in 2002 to €426m in 2010. A priority was training the low-skilled, bringing those with skills equivalent to Levels One to Three on the national framework to qualifications up to Levels Four and Five.