Naomi Sargant Memorial event: Lifelong Learning

Horizon from Wikimedia CommonsI’m at the Channel 4 Naomi Sargant Memorial Debate on new technology and lifelong learning in an ageing society.  I’m liveblogging the event so please keep refreshing the page for updates.

On our panel tonight is David Puttnam (Chair), Julia Middleton, Michelle Mitchell, Charles Clarke and Trevor Phillips.

18:25 Just getting settled here.  Should start close to on time at 18:30.

18:33 Sir Jeremy Isaacs opens the evening, talking about Naomi’s role at Channel 4 as director of educational product.  He says that at the beginning of C4, there was insistence that educational content comprise 15% of total output.  Naomi Sargant brought keen mind and fierce determination to her task.  With no previous experience of television making she produced 7-8 hours of educational content a week.  Many of these were in peak viewing time.  They did well even at an early stage of C4’s existence.  All sorts of programmes to get more out of their lives were the focus of her programming.  All were intended to help us better understand the world. Seems impossible to commemorate Naomi today without also remembering husband Andrew McIntosh, who passed last summer.

David Puttnam, deputy Chairman of C4 set up the Memorial debates in the name of Naomi.  Isaacs thanks C4, Open University and NIACE for making these debates possible.

18:45 David Puttnam begins by noting that Naomi Sargant was a force of nature.  He asks the panel to introduce themselves and then to do a ‘riff’ on the subject.

18:47 Charles Clarke begins by acknowledging both Naomi and Andrew. Clarke says his role in advising Open University in considering what kind of coursework should be offered as people as they get older.  As secretary of state for education he says he was committed to lifelong learning.  As a politician, tutoring adults in maths has taught him about the fantastci potential that people have.  The most powerfuk truth is that everybody has within them potential.  The challenge is at institutional levels to allow people to express themselves as they can.  So feel at home talking about lifelong learning.

Clarke’s argument is that world is changing dramatically and will continue to change.  Vehicle through which people can control or interpret that change is through education.  Hates the view that retirement is end of people being educated or having their aspirations fulfilled.  At a time when people are ageing rapidly we need to find new ways to stimulate people’s lives as they age and to ensure their quality of life is maintained.

18:52 Trevor Phillips starts by saying he was moved by Jeremy Isaacs’ opening.  He spent a great deal of time making programmes which he says “noone watched” (!).  He wants to thank Jeremy Isaacs for allowing him to make content like Black on Black.  Naomi was part of that.  He knew Naomi and Andrew when he was young and found them stimulating.  He is also an honorary graduate of the Open University.  He’s incredibly proud of that, because he comes from a family where university wasn’t part of their background.  Education gave his father a chance to be “a professional”.  The foresight of what C4 did for education was to say that education isn’t just good, isn’t just utilitarian, it is transformational.  Puttnam had said in the past, that in the future, teachers will become stars and stars will become teachers.  This has no come true for television programming.  Because of globalisation and rate of change, the significance of learning has become more transformational than ever.  When our parents were in thier 50s and 60s, we saw them preparing for retirement, we are now seeking our ‘third professional/personal life’.

Phillips says that broadband accessibility is as important as access to railways and roads.  It is the way that content is made available to society.  If we don’t make access equitable then we will create a new educated class.  Phillips concludes that tv is a teaching medium, but digital technologies give people a chance to learn because it is flexible. The new world is not just about affluence but autonomy and choice – this is the route to a more fair society.

19:03 Michelle Mitchell introduces herself as the Director of Age UK.  She notes that we do live in an interdependent world.  Central to understanding that world is technology.  Our experiences of the world and technology is profoundly different from a generation ago.  Technology is a means for education and communication.  Some of the programmes Age UK is running such as My Friend Online is designed to combat loneliness.  There are also needs to use technology to assist in healthcare and even managing finances.  To remain competitive in labour market, technology literacy is essential.  Training isn’t being provided by government in adult learning or in technology literacy.  We do not yet understand the impact on people’s lives.

In addition to technology as a transformative medium, there are also challenges of demography. Massive differences in the shape of over 60s population in the UK over the past few years (and ongoing).  We need to overcome the belief that there is lack of interest in technology and broad educational opportunities among older people.  We just need to ensure that access is enabled.

19:10 Julia Middleton says that by 2025 she will be 66.  At 52 she is 8 years older than the average person on LinkedIn.  The work Middleton does is on civic leadership.  As a younger person she would not have imagined a life where the Berlin wall had fallen where communications had opened up in Asia and the middle east and that this revolution would be led by internet geeks.  But this has happened.  As adults if we stop learning we stop deserve to be listened to.  Middleton says we need to know the crude facts.  It’s not just about infrastructure – it’s about communication skills too.

19:14 Puttnam opens the floor to questions.  First question is that there is nothing out there that is appealing for 60+ people. Only thing out there is University for the 3rd Age.  Not qualified teachers so it seems boring and uncomfortable.  We need proper places for 60+ people.

Panel response:

Mitchell says Age UK Calendar has resources for the age the questioner wants.  Clarke says that Open University content is designed for all ages.  Open University needs to create more courses and activities that are of interest to 60+ market.

19:19 – Question: Would you agree that the Open University is the right course for lifelong learning, rather than polytechnics and vocational education?

Phillips says that he values the quality of Open University beyond the distance education aspect, in terms of meeting and exchanging ideas.  He notes that in virtual learning environments we need to consider options about holographic participation.  This may seem fanciful but they are possible.  This will open new possibilities for engaging comfortably.

Puttnam notes that Open University was established in a hostile Labour govt, and that Thatcher didn’t scrap it.  C4 was also a vision of something that could be better.  Tragedy for the moment is that visions are established on whether they’re cheaper than whether they are better.

Clarke says there is a massive battle that has gone between sieving or sifting.  Used to be that if people didn’t get past hurdles in eduction, people were directed to vocational education.  But Open University simply challenges that.  Initial users of OU were teachers without degrees. This gave them the chance to professionalise their experience.  It is useful to have an opportunity to enable access to qualifications.  Shouldn’t necessarily limit education to qualifications – need to provide both qualification-oriented education and non-certified education in order to enable access to personal fulfilment.

Mitchell says that due to the changes in pension and increased ageing, there is increasing need for both formal and informal training and education.

19:32 Question – NIACE rep says that looking forward to 2020 a whole range of skills are needed beyong button pushing – creating content rather than consuming content.

Middleton says that there is a culture shift in education which is about education itself.  There is a traditional assumption that education is done to you.  Need to start thinking about self-driected learning.  Young people acquire skills by playing, not by being taught.

19:34 Question – what is C4 doing about death?  Lot more people being conscious of waiting to die.

Mitchell says that managing a good death is important and at particularly catastrophic points there are insufficient support mechanisms to make decisions.  Talking about death still remains a taboo.  Part of the role of Age UK is to create debate and to generate content to educate about death.

19:37 Question – Naomi Sargant was passionate about using media as an educational medium – formal and informal.  Traditional media can break down barriers in access.  Cuts to media institutions in a digital age may negatively affect capacity of C4 and BBC to deliver quality educational content.

Clarke says that licence fee should be used to support all public sector broadcasting and we need to create content that will help fund educational outputs of broadcasters.

Puttnam says that unless someone takes responsibility for technology literacy we won’t be educated.

19:43 Question – the killer app for the 60+ market has not yet been identified in the manner of Facebook.

Phillips says it’s a problem to get fixated on apps and on technology.  What happens over the next few years? There will be an economic recovery.  A critical responsibility of the government is that we don’t return to the same mix of workers as before.  Need to get beyond the white, middle class men society and start focusing on variety of workforce.  Technology will help that to happen.  Technology can enable access.  Not the app that matters, but enabling opportunities of technologies.

19:48 Question – How do we overcome employer prejudices?

Mitchell says that that Age UK is working with firms that have emplyed older workers in order to generate stories to inform employers about ROI on older workers.

Middleton says that the army has the least generation gap between workers.  Everyone has to do physical and skills tests to remain in the army.  In most workplaces that physical/skills test would be in IT.  And most older people would fail it.  Need to introduce these tests in all workplaces.

19:52 Question – Can’t we enable people to develop their own apps?

Clarke says that it’s a fallacy to believe that older people are not accessing and developing skills in IT.  Family and communication has fostered that.  But it’s vital to team up older and younger people beyond the family in order to educate about technologies and to collaboratively solve problems and create new apps.

Middleton notes that very few internet startups are run by institutions.  if you want to build an app go out and do it.

Phillips says speed of technology development is phenomenal. We don’t need to learn to use source code.  Just need to team up coders with 55+ people who are looking to solve a problem.  Need to articulate a purpose first, and think about what the older person can offer.

Mitchell says that there is a need to divide groups of older people from Baby Boomers.  Big difference between training and other lifelong learning issues.  One of the problems with discrimination is the lack of contact between generations.  Need to encourage teaming up of older and younger people to increase understanding about issues across ages.

Middleton concludes that it is necessary to reinvent ourselves and the world around us.

Puttnam thanks the panel for their contributions and the C4 team for making this event possible.  he concludes with 3 points.  When he was young he used a single encyclopaedia to pass O levels.  Wouldn’t be able to do that now.  TED possibly the best content online – including content from older people.  Finally as a 70 year old, Puttnam believes his investment in tablet technology is best investment in quality of life as he ages.

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