Adult education is a very good way to help sustain and improve society; it is relatively low cost and can easily be justified by it’s many benefits.

However, in recent years government funding for adult education courses has plummeted. In 2009 the Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said that although adult education courses benefited students, it was a question of whether taxpayers should foot the bill. Joyce said: “We support continuing education and will continue to support courses that deliver clear economic benefits. We simply cannot justify spending millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on courses that do not clearly deliver these benefits.”

First, why does everything have to have an economic benefit, what about social and environmental benefits? The reason we pay taxes for a variety of infrastructure, services and amenities is that they would otherwise not be available in a purely commercial system.

Second, many adult education classes teach skills that support self-sufficiency. Courses that teach cooking, clothes-making, DIY, gardening, exercise, yoga, natural health care, and meditation all help improve the well-being of people. Being self-sufficient does not show up in measures of GDP though, so it is not valued by policy-makers.

Third, it can be argued that all education has an economic benefit either directly and/or indirectly. Adult education courses offer benefits far beyond short-term returns on investment. A quick look at any adult education programme will see that they offer courses that increase people’s competence, confidence, self-sufficiency and general well-being. In purely economic terms this means that people are more productive because they are healthier, motivated and more competent.

In addition to learning opportunities, adult classes also provide people with opportunities for social interaction, networking, collaboration and sharing, all of which help the health of the economy and of society in general.