I've just been listening to this programme from BBC Radio 4 - School of Thought: Late Learners. Presented by former Conservative MP and universities minister, David Willetts, it's the last of a series looking at education at different stages of life. I haven't listened to the earlier programmes yet, but on this one on adult learners obviously caught my eye (ear?!). He argues for a more flexible education system which takes account of the fact that "life is messy" and makes it easier for people to return to education as adults - the focus is on higher education, so he's suggesting things like better funding schemes and being able to transfer credits for courses studied at different institutions.
Although private music lessons are a bit different to a university course, some similar barriers apply to adult learners. Financially, it's easier (though my no means guaranteed) to find help with learning music when you're younger - some instrument hire schemes are only available to people below a certain age, there are more charities to apply to for help with tuition, summer schools or buying instruments (I had support from several organisations as a child - towards buying an instrument and attending orchestra courses/ tours). It's very rare (impossible?) to find help like this for adult learners. Some schools have free/ subsidised music lessons for children from lower income families, there is some wonderful music work being done for young people who might not otherwise have access to it, but what does an adult with not much money do if they want to learn an instrument?
There are also fewer opportunities to play when you're no longer in school - some of my students can join their school band after a term or two of lessons, but it's much harder to find groups that will take adult beginners. There's no end of term concert if you're not a school kid (one of the reasons I started putting on informal concerts for my students - of all ages - to take part in). If you're interested in entering competitions - something I've heard a lot of discussion about with budding composers in particular - there are often age limits on these. So whether you stopped playing your instrument after school and came back to it, didn't have an opportunity to learn as a child, or suddenly woke up one morning at the age of 46 and decided you wanted to play the flugelhorn, there are definitely some barriers (as well as the ones that adult life itself puts there, as in my previous post).
Apart from being a little disappointed by the implication that adult learning is something you do to 'make up' for missing out on education earlier (e.g. dropping out of school), I thought there were some really strong points in this programme, in particular the discussion of the wider benefits of more people gaining more education, beyond the more obvious outcomes of getting a better/ different job. It was also fantastic to hear from a neuroscientist that our brains are just as capable of learning as adults - the previous thinking that childhood/ teens were the peak learning age has been challenged by more recent research - so any feeling that it's 'harder to learn' at an older age may just be down to preconceptions.
(Mr Messy image from http://www.themistermen.co.uk/mr_men/mr_messy.html)
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