How can adult education ensure better outcomes for women in Wales?

by Catherine Marren, Researcher, Learning and Work Institute


11 10 2023


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Exams, pass-rates, and qualifications are often used to judge the effectiveness of learning. Yet new research published by Learning and Work Institute and Chwarae Teg suggests focusing solely on hard outcomes risks undervaluing other benefits women experience through adult learning.

Drawing on interviews with training providers and learners, the report finds that there is a clear, positive link between women’s participation in learning and improvements to confidence, wellbeing, and determination.

  • Women learners described feeling more comfortable meeting new people, being better able to express themselves and live independently, and having the confidence to return to work.
  • Engaging with learning was linked to an increased sense of purpose and optimism and positive changes to mood and general outlook.
  • Women also reported feeling more determined and motivated to pursue career or learning aspirations.

These changes can act as catalysts for wider outcomes too. Women described a ripple effect arising from initial improvements in confidence, wellbeing, and determination. Strengthened relationships with friends and family, gaining knowledge and skills, and progressing at work were just a few of those reported.

Clearly the value of adult education goes far beyond hard outcomes like qualifications, but women face a range of barriers which can prevent them from engaging with learning. Childcare issues, inadequate public transport, and a lack of confidence to engage with learning were some of the key challenges noted by women and providers in the study.

Why is this important?

There have been considerable declines in overall participation in adult learning over recent years. This is particularly concerning with regards to gender equality because the current profile of learners suggests that women typically occupy part-time Further Education, adult community learning courses and family learning provision, the areas that have been most damaged by financial cutbacks over the past decade.

Understanding the barriers women face, and how they can be addressed, is key to ensuring more women have access to learning opportunities which can improve their position in the labour market and provide wider benefits for personal development, social networks and community engagement."

So, how can we make learning more accessible for women?

A one size fits all approach does not work. To engage women in learning, provision needs to be designed and delivered with their needs at the forefront.

  • Many women need access to high quality, affordable childcare. Adult learning provision which is mindful of learners’ caring responsibilities and offers flexible timetabling also makes it easier for women with children to participate.
  • Location is also an important consideration. Online learning has made adult education more accessible for those with caring responsibilities and certain health needs, whilst family learning in schools helps to overcome barriers faced by parents of young children.
  • The opportunity to engage in free or subsidised courses helps women to access learning. Providers interviewed as part of the study were taking steps to reduce the financial burden on learners through arranged funding.

What’s next?

Learning and Work Institute and Chwarae Teg have produced a number of recommendations for Welsh Government and the Commission on Tertiary Education. These recommendations include suggestions for further research, to ensure that the full value of lifelong learning for women is understood and provision is designed in a way that best suits their needs.

You can find the full report and recommendations here.

A recording of the report launch is available to watch here.

Impact of engaging in learning on increased and sustained confidence, wellbeing, and determination among women in Wales

Explore the findings and key policy recommendations
Download the report
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