In the Indian context, adult education can broadly be divided into two categories: the education of illiterate adults, and the education of educated adults who wish to resume their education after an interval.
It is unfortunate that successive Indian governments were unable to introduce free and compulsory education in the country in line with the Directive Principles of State Policy embodied in our Constitution. As a result, large sections of our adult population today remain illiterate.
When people talk of adult education in connection with this segment of our society, the ‘education’ they refer to may more correctly be termed ‘functional literacy’. Elaborating on its interpretation of ‘functional literacy’, the National Literacy Mission of the Government of India has included in it the following features:
1. Self-reliance in the three R’s, namely reading, (w)riting, and (a) rithmetic;
2. Participation in the development process;
3. Skill improvement to enhance economic status and general well-being;
4. The inculcation of values promoting national integration, conservation of the environment, women’s equality, and observance of small family norms.
Some of these criteria are, of course, subjective in nature, but researches have found a close correlation between illiteracy and such problems as poverty, functional inefficiency, poor sanitation, early marriages, and over-population. It may also be added that genuine, meaningful democracy requires a literate and educated citizenry.
We next come to the situation where an adult decides that he wants to continue his studies. This may be for the sake of knowledge, or for professional reasons, or for a combination of both.
It may so happen that, after completing school and college, one enters the workaday world and, before one knows it, one’s life slips into a fixed routine. One yearns for some involvement at the personal, non-professional level. Perhaps one had a favourite subject in college which one could not pursue because the demands of one’s life ruled out such a possibility. Well, now it is quite different.
Recognised universities and institutions run correspondence courses for ‘regular’ students and Open University courses where the only requirement for enrolment is to be a literate adult. There are online courses as well. Besides, one can study in the privacy of one’s own home, at such times when it suits oneself.
Knowledge has grown so fast and is increasing at such a rapid pace that there are circumstances when adult education becomes a professionally desirable requirement. Thus, a veteran in a particular field may discover that a working knowledge of computers, which was not given much importance when he joined work, can greatly enhance his efficiency at present. This may well persuade him into enrolling for a computer course.
One main difference between the education of adults and that of children is that the former is voluntary, because of which the participants are more motivated. They also bring greater maturity to the learning process. On the other hand, adults are more prone to having formed bad learning habits that are difficult to get rid of because they have existed for a long, long time. However that may be, is it not wonderful that we live in a world where more and more people, both young and old, are learners? Surely, that is the best way forward to a better world.